There’s not much to say when you look at the graphic above – other than a) There is indeed going to be an Apple event on September 12th, and b) it’s a virtual lock that at least one of the product announcements will be the next generation of the iPhone – which I think we can agree based on the shadow numeral above – will be called the iPhone 5.
Will there be other announcements such as the heavily rumoured smaller, iPad Mini? Or more details on the shadowy presence of an improved Apple TV? We’ll let you know as soon as we know!
I’ve got some bad news for folks who are expecting the next iPhone – widely predicted to be launching next month – to be a total ground-up redesign of the iconic smartphone. It won’t be.
But I’ve also got some good news: It doesn’t need to be.
Take a look at these photos pulled together by Chinese repair shop iLab. They tell a story of an iPhone that is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Surprised? Don’t be. This, for the foreseeable future is going to be Apple’s approach to their existing products.
Here’s why I think Apple will be “doubling down” – to employ an over-used expression – on their established formulas instead of ushering in completely new devices.
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it
The first iPhone was a surprise. Not just to the industry but to Apple as well. They knew they had created something that was different and unique, but the degree to which consumers started rabidly buying up the iPhone was a shock – even the iPod, Apple’s most successful product in terms of sales, had never enjoyed this degree of enthusiasm.
After that, the course was set. Apple’s belief in the power of an all-touchscreen device and the versatility of downloadable apps had been vindicated by consumer demand. From here on in, the challenge was to find ways to improve on that formula, without disrupting what had become the hallmarks of iPhone’s design language.
Faster chips, better screens, a sleeker case design, better software, improved cameras… each and every part of the iPhone has undergone incremental improvements while maintaining an experience that would be as familiar to an owner of a first generation device as it would to someone whose first iPhone was the 4S.
Especially when you consider that a) the iPhone 4 and 4S have been ridiculously successful despite being identical on the outside, and b) nearly every Android phone on the market is simply a variation on Apple’s design, what would compel Apple to rethink their most profitable product along dramatically different new lines?
Just Enough To Make You Want One
These photos have already garnered criticism amongst Apple die-hards. They feel the design isn’t revolutionary enough, given how similar it looks to the current iPhone. But by now, these people should know that Apple prefers to tweak successful designs instead of reinventing them. Here’s how the next iPhone will offer up improvements over the current model:
– Slightly bigger screen. Apple already has one of the best mobile screens on the planet, so the trick will be to give it more real-estate without compromising the measurements of the phone itself which Apple spent a great deal of time and money developing. You’ll notice that the home button now has a little less breathing room above and below it, and the FaceTime camera has been relocated above the ear-piece speaker grille from its current side-car location. These changes, plus a slight lengthening of the phone’s body itself could yield a small but nonetheless noticeable increase in overall screen real estate. The current size is 3.5″ diagonal. A new iPhone could hit 3.9-4.0″ with the re-jigged design.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Apple manages to bump the specs of the screen too. Better contrast, better brightness, better off-angle viewing? All likely. It doesn’t take a lot to make a screen better when compared to an earlier model. When Apple released the iPad 2, they didn’t even mention that the screen was better than the first iPad – yet to anyone looking at it, it was obvious that they had made some improvements.
– 4G LTE. 4G, or LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the latest standard in high-speed data connectivity for mobile phones. Where supported by carriers, it enabled speeds of up to 150Mbps which is significant leap over the previous 3G standard. As such, this one is the most obvious feature for the next iPhone. The new iPad already has it, and given the increasingly wide-spread availability of the new high-speed wireless standard, it’s time for the iPhone to get the new technology too.
– Bigger, longer-lasting battery. Increasing the size of the case doesn’t just allow for a bigger screen, it means a bigger space for the battery too. And if the next iPhone is going to have LTE, it will need a bigger battery. LTE is fairly power-hungry technology and presumably Apple doesn’t want battery life to suffer. So while the next iPhone may last longer between charges if you restrict it to 3G, running LTE will probably result in the same life you’re used to now.
– NFC. NFC or Near Field Communication is a relatively new technology which lets devices communicate with one another over very short distances, without using WiFi or Bluetooth. In mobile phones, NFC can be used to let people “tap to share” (e.g. photos or web links) or “tap to connect” (instead of needing to configure a Bluetooth speaker – just tap it), but the biggest feature of NFC is its ability to enable mobile wallet applications. This is how you can pay for purchases using nothing but your smartphone at retailers that can accept NFC payments. NFC on the next iPhone might be a long-shot, especially given that the technology has so far been very slow to be adopted at retail in North America. However, it is progressing and there’s no question that if Apple wants to play in the digital wallet space as they undoubtedly do, NFC is pretty much mandatory.
– Smaller, possibly mag-safe-based dock connector. There have been far too may rumours pointing to this: The new iPhone will absolutely have a new, smaller dock connector. Yes, that will mean that all existing docks and accessories will now require adapters in order to work with the next iPhone, but the 30-pin dock connector is now 10 years old and wireless technologies like Bluetooth and AirPlay have made it largely unnecessary for anything other than charging. A smaller connector also means they can now move the audio-jack to the bottom of the phone.
– Audio jack on the bottom. Why does this even matter? Well, for folks who never use the jack, it doesn’t matter at all. But those who do will have noticed that it is kind of inconvenient to stick your iPhone in your pocket with the bottom of the phone facing down. Not only do you have to flip the phone around when you pull it out, but it’s much harder to reach for the home button quickly. And given the importance Apple has placed on Siri, being able to grab that home button when you’re on the go is definitely a benefit.
– A little thinner. The newest Android phones from HTC and Samsung have put an emphasis on ever thinner dimensions. The next iPhone will lose a few millimetres too. Take a close look at the photos above. They clearly show that the metal sides (which double as the phone’s antennas) will be bevelled and the front and back surfaces will sit flush to the edge. The current design is 9.3mm thick, with at least a millimetre or two of front and back surface extending beyond the metal rim. The new iPhone could easily come in at 7mm or less. Given that the world record holder, the Oppo Finder comes in at an anorexic 6.65mm, 7mm seems realistic for a new iPhone.
– Another spec bump on the processor, possibly to quad-core, and more memory. This will be mostly to keep pace with the rest of the industry and because faster chips means more powerful applications – the life-blood of the iPhone post-sale revenue.
Am I convinced that these photos are 100% what the new iPhone will look like? No. There are a few details that don’t seem right:
– The power/wake button at the top looks like it has almost no height to it at all, which would make it difficult to press.
– In picture 6, it looks as though the front face of the phone starts flush with the metal sides at the top of the phone but then progressively ramps away from the sides as it meets the bottom edge. That definitely seems out of place. It may be that the folks who assembled this mockup didn’t fit the pieces together quite right.
– There are visible seams where the top and bottom pieces of the phone meet the back plate. Given that Apple went to great lengths to make the current design nearly seamless, I can’t imagine they would now be ok with seams. But this could easily be a pre-production mockup, with the final product getting a much smoother finish.
– There is a strange, small hole sitting between the LED light and the rear camera lens. It could be a mic, and I’d place bets that’s what it is, but why is it there? The current design doesn’t employ such a visible mic so it’s hard to imagine why the new design calls for it to be so prominent.
These reservations aside, I think we are looking at the next iPhone. It’s a design that is in keeping with Apple doing what they do best: Give owners of an iPhone 4 or older model a strong reason to upgrade once they’re free of their contract, while not making people who just bought an iPhone 4S feel like they’re the proud owners of obsolete technology. This iterative, evolutionary approach to their product development can be seen across Apple’s line of devices and the next iPhone will follow this model.
Now, in case you’re sitting there feeling glum that Apple won’t be surprising and delighting you with a new, magical and revolutionary product come the fall, don’t fret just yet.
There’s still plenty of reason to think that Apple will finally make good on its much-rumoured move into the HDTV space, plus we keep getting hints of a new, smaller iPad model. This may yet shape up to be one of Apple’s most interesting years.
Speculation that Apple might release a smaller version of their category-dominating iPad has been swirling for years. After all, nearly every one of Apple’s competitors have released sub-10″ models and while they haven’t achieved anywhere near the iPad’s success, they have been selling. The belief was that Apple would want to address the emerging threat from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both of whom released $200 7-inch tablets last year. New, lower pricing on the BlackBerry PlayBook was giving RIM’s embattled tablet some new life too.
But two factors argued against an iPad-mini: First, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that the Amazon/B&N products hadn’t dampened people’s enthusiasm for the iPad at all – a fact that was illustrated by the very strong opening sales numbers for the new 3rd generation iPad. Second, when Steve Jobs was reporting on the success of the original iPad, he claimed that the new crop of 7″ tablets would be “dead on arrival.” He hated them: ““7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad.” Apple had spent a lot of R&D on coming up with the size and shape of both the iPad and the iPhone, and there was a growing sense that the company wasn’t going to abandon those formulas in favour of a me-too strategy.
Things, however, inevitably change.
Steve Jobs, the man who was known as much for his stubbornness as for his visionary role in the industry, is now silent and any influence he still wields at Apple is mostly cultural in nature. For the next few years, it’s a good bet that Apple will follow the course he laid out. But he can no longer shout-down ideas he doesn’t like and that means Apple is a different company when it comes to new product development.
While Tim Cook and his management team continue to adjust to an Apple sans-Steve, they must also grapple with another situation: despite Apple integrating iBooks into iOS and even developing an authoring platform for publishers to create rich and dynamic textbooks for the iPad, iBooks has so far failed to become Apple’s next iTunes.
This has got to be a sore point for the company. With very few exceptions, most notably their anaemic Ping social network built into iTunes, Apple’s product offerings tend to do very well with consumers. So why has iBooks foundered? A simple explanation would be that Amazon and B&N (and Kobo here in Canada) are too strong, too entrenched and too good at e-books. Apple has always succeeded by bringing something new to the game, or finding a simplification to a process or gadget that was overly complex (even when others didn’t realize how complex they were). But Amazon’s e-book experience is nearly perfect from the point of view of selection, simplicity and price.
That’s one explanation. The other possibility is that the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, for all their magic when it comes to creating mobile experiences that people love, are second-rate e-book reading devices. Even with its extraordinary Retina display, the new iPad is too big, too heavy and much like every other tablet, is backlit – which increases eye-strain for many users. If you were to take a poll amongst people who own both an iPad and an e-ink reader like the Kindle, and ask them which they prefer for reading books, I suspect the answer would be the Kindle – and overwhelmingly so. I’m one of those people and I only reach for my iPad or iPhone when my Kindle isn’t handy.
Which brings us back to why rumours of an iPad mini simply won’t die. When you take the e-books landscape into consideration and then throw in this week’s revelation that Apple has placed a large order for 7.85″ touch-screens, suddenly the speculation becomes plausible. When you further consider that the loudest voice at Apple in opposition to a small tablet is no longer calling the shots, an iPad mini starts to sound like certainty – with only the launch date remaining to be debated.
Obviously no one can confirm that an iPad mini is coming. Nonetheless, here are some observations on what such a product could feature:
- Roughly 7″ Retina display. The retina-level pixel density is key, especially if Apple hopes to make a bigger dent in e-reading.
- Front and rear cameras, but with specs to match the new iPad, not the iPhone 4S.
- 4G LTE as the cellular option.
- Between 6 and 14 oz (168 and 392 grams): the lower amount is the weight of Amazon’s Kindle, whereas the higher amount is the Kindle Fire. It’s probably unrealistic for an LCD-based tablet to ever come in at 6 oz, but Apple should definitely aim to beat the Fire which by all accounts is a twin to RIM’s PlayBook.
- Thin design – with a smaller screen, the battery can be shrunk as well. It may only lose a few millimetres but it will be the thinnest iPad yet.
- A5 processor from the iPad 2. Keeping an iPad mini as cheap to build as possible will critical for Apple if they’re going up against $200 tablets. The newer A5X chip from the new iPad would offer better graphics performance, but unless the Retina display on the mini requires it, it’s not a must-have.
- Starting price: The new iPad is $519, the iPad 2 is $419. So the logical price for an iPad mini is $319 (all prices in $US for simplicity). That’s still way more than a Kindle Fire, but it would be the cheapest iPad to-date. And though it would likely squeeze Apple’s margins to a new low, if the device succeeds in kicking Apple’s iBooks into high gear, they could easily justify the price.
You’ll notice that I’ve omitted any new technology from the specs list. That’s because I don’t think Apple has to offer anything new in order for an iPad mini to be a roaring success. The current feature set of new iPad isn’t the best in the tablet world (still no SD card slots or USB ports, no HDMI out, no replaceable batteries, no quad-core CPU). Doesn’t matter. Even without these features, the iPad outsells the tablets that have them by a ridiculous amount. An iPad mini doesn’t need them either.
An iPad mini really only needs to do one thing: Give everyone who was thinking of buying a Kindle, Kindle Fire, Nook or PlayBook (or any other 7″ tablet) a reason to stop, take a deep breath, and then buy Apple’s product instead.
There’s only one possible down-side for Apple: cannibalization of iPad sales. A worst-case scenario for Apple would be if all (or many) prospective iPad buyers decided to buy minis instead. Going from a high-margin model to a lower-margin model would hurt the company a lot. But if Tim Cook was correct (that Kindle Fires an the other small/cheap tablets haven’t hurt iPad sales), and if an iPad mini successfully attracts people who would have otherwise bought those devices, Apple could expand their reach significantly rather than water it down. There was some speculation that when Apple launched the Mac Mini it would have a chilling effect on sales of iMacs. After all, why buy an expensive all-in-one when you could have the same computer running on the monitor and keyboard/mouse you already own? It never happened. Sales of both Mac Minis and iMacs grew after the Mac Mini launched.
So Sync reader, what do you think of a smaller, cheaper iPad? Is it just the tablet you’ve been waiting for, or simply another i-device that you’ll take a pass on?
Though I would be shocked to learn that you haven’t already committed every single iPad rumour to memory, for those who haven’t been glued to their twitter feeds, here’s what we’re likely to get from Apple’s announcement today:
- Higher resolution screen (possibly an iPad version of the iPhone 4/4S Retina Display)
- Faster processor (maybe even Quad-core)
- Faster data connectivity thanks to 4G LTE
- Siri (Apple’s intelligent assistant/voice-recognition software)
- Better front and rear cameras (HD in the front, up to 8MP in the rear)
Those are all very good bets and I fully expect the next iPad to include all of these features.
Good as they are, these improvements are all incremental, not big steps forward. And while they would be sufficient to keep Apple in the driver’s seat as far as the tablet wars go, no one is going buy it if Tim Cook attaches the words “magical” or “revolutionary” to such a device.
But what if Apple does indeed have something magical and revolutionary to announce? The guys over at BGR seem to think that’s exactly what will happen and that it will be a new screen technology which will give the newest iPad a tactile feedback system. Imagine being able to “feel” bumps, vibrations and textures through the screen of your tablet, and that these could all be controlled in real-time to correspond to actions on the display.
Such is the promise of a company called Senseg, which uses a patented process they call “Tixel technology.” It’s an electrostatic process that manipulates the difference in electric charge between the screen and the skin of your finger to fool your sense of touch into thinking it’s experiencing changes in the surface of the display. And according to some still-sketchy reports – Apple has licensed Senseg’s tech.
Wild speculation of this kind has proven completely wrong in the past, and this idea of a screen that could respond to human touch so dynamically may just be another case of wishful thinking. But there’s no question that Senseg’s Tixel tech has Apple written all over it. And if the iPad 3 (HD?) incorporates this tactile tech, it will truly be a product announcement to remember and a boon for Apple’s dominance of the touchscreen market – be it tablet or smartphone.
The good news for folks who recently bought an iPhone 4 and were dreading today’s announcement: you don’t need to feel foolish.
Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook and his team unveiled the iPhone 4s. It’s a phone that looks outwardly exactly like the iPhone 4 (see image above). All of the changes are on the inside.
Those changes are all incremental improvements to an already very successful formula. Improved are the CPU, the data speeds, the graphics performance and the camera. The phone also gets an innovative interactive voice-controlled assistant known simply as “Siri.”
But as welcome as these enhancements are, they are barely enough to keep the iPhone ahead of an increasingly competitive field of smartphones, most of which are running Google’s Android OS.
iPhone 4S announced:
- body remains the same as iPhone 4, gets A5 chip which gives 7x faster graphics performance, 2x faster CPU performance (Dual core processor/dual core graphics)
- it Supports HSDPA at up to 14Mbps downlink
- Supports GSM and CDMA – giving it world-roaming capabilities
- Gets an 8MP rear camera 3264×2448, with improved backside illumination. Photo lag has been reduced and sharpness increased thanks to a 5-element lens design. Macro settings for extreme close-ups. Face detection.
- Video recording at 1080p, with image stabilization
- AirPlay mirroring: anything you can see on the iPhone’s screen you’ll be able to see via AirPlay on an Apple TV
- Voice-activated personal assistant “Siri” – ask a real question, get a real answer. Deep integration into iOS, settings, maps, calendars, reminders. You can ask it to define a word and it will scour the web for the answer. It can do voice dictation, but only where data connectivity is available.
- New iPhone line-up: iPhone 3GS (8GB, free on contract) iPhone 4 (8GB, $99 on contract), iPhone 4S (16GB, $199 32GB, $299 64GB, $399 – all contract prices) N.B.: All prices in $USD
- Sprint added as a U.S. carrier
- The iPhone 4S will be available for pre-order October 7th and ship October 14th in U.S. and Canada and in 70 other countries by December. Bell, TELUS and Rogers are all confirming they will carry the iPhone 4S.
Of these features, the biggest reason to buy an iPhone 4S – especially if you still own an iPhone 3GS – is the camera. Phil Schiller, SVP of Product Marketing at Apple made it clear that with the iPhone 4S, Apple isn’t going after other camera-equipped phones, they’re targeting the point-and-shoot category of cameras. They seem to be on the right track.
The iPhone 4S has a remarkably better camera than the 4 – it now shoots 8MP stills with macro capability and full 1080p video with image stabilization. With these specs, the only thing the iPhone 4S can’t do is optical zoom.
People who spend a lot of time commuting in private cars, or folks who have trouble navigating their phones with their fingers, will appreciate Siri. From all accounts, the demo Schiller gave of Siri’s abilities was impressive. Siri can understand natural language questions and respond in kind. It also understands context, so certain activities will feel more intuitive. Finally, Siri can even act as your personal dictation servant, though this feature requires data connectivity and there’s no word yet on just how much of your data will be consumed when connected via
Frequent travelers will appreciate the fact that with CDMA on top of HSPA, the iPhone 4S can literally go anywhere and keep you connected.
But none of these features are going to cause current iPhone 4 owners to gaze mournfully at their phones and wish they had waited for Apple’s next product. They’re good. But they aren’t must-haves.
What Apple didn’t deliver were any next-generation features such as LTE, NFC or a larger display. Rumours of a thinner, wider body and re-designed home button failed to materialize.
What we see here is Apple once again mastering the art of the leap-frog. True-to-form, the iPhone 4S gives 3GS owners a strong incentive to upgrade. iPhone 4 owners can now sit back, relax and calmly tell themselves that they’ll wait for the “next one.”
The iPhone event, which took place at Apple’s headquarters at 4 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California also included updates on some of Apple’s other products, including some small tweaks to their iPod line of portable music players:
- OS X Lion update: six million copies sold to-date
- MacBook Pro and iMac are the best selling laptops and desktops in the U.S. respectively
- There are 60 million Mac users worldwide
- iPods are still 70% of the portable music market. Over 300 million have been sold
- 16 billion songs have been sold via iTunes
- iPhone ranks #1 in customer satisfaction according to JD Power but is only 5% of worldwide market share
- Every state in the U.S. has pilot programs for the iPad in educational settings
- 92% of Fortune 500 is testing or deploying iPads
- 3 out of 4 tablets sold in the U.S. are iPads
- With 250 Million iOS device, iOS is the #1 mobile OS worldwide
- 61% of mobile browsers are using iOS
- 1 billion apps are downloaded a month
- Apple has created a new app called “Cards” that let you create greeting cards on iOS and Apple prints them for you. App is free, each card costs $2.99 including trackable postage in the U.S.
- a re-cap of iOS 5 features
- iOS 5 will be a free update October 12th
- new feature: “Find my friends” – Like a highly customizable 4Square with better privacy controls
- iCloud launch October 12th – Free
- iPod nano gets an update: improved fitness features, navigation, 16 new clock faces, new pricing: $129/8GB
- iPod Touch now comes in white, $199/8GB
Details are slim, but according to a report on BGR, Collins Stewart analyst John Vinh has reason to believe that Research In Motion is no longer making any new BlackBerry PlayBooks and intends to exit the tablet market completely.
Here’s the quote from Vinh:
While Quanta last week acknowledged that it had laid off a significant number of production workers from a factory focused on producing the PlayBook, our research indicates that the ODM has essentially halted production of the tablet. Additionally, our due diligence indicates that RIMM has canceled development of additional tablet projects.
We’re a little shocked to hear this, especially given our recent post asking why the PlayBook isn’t selling better than it is, but times being what they are we can’t say we’re totally surprised. After watching HP fold their TouchPad tablet after only a few weeks of worse-than-expected sales, it may simply be that RIM has lost its appetite for a market segment that has failed to yield the results it was hoping for.
Could RIM actually be planning to halt the PlayBook? Yes.
In recent days we’ve seen retailers slash prices on the gadget and layer on additional incentives for buying one – once again raising the specter of the TouchPad which went through its own series of price cuts before ultimately being given the fire-sale treatment. These price drops will not sit well with RIM. The company is used to selling its devices for healthy profits and then making additional dollars on the enterprise software side to manage those devices. The PlayBook never really capitalized on this ecosystem the way the BlackBerry handsets do.
But this should all be taken with a grain of salt. After all, only yesterday RIM announced how it was planning to support the promised compatibility with Android apps on the PlayBook. And while that announcement disappointed many developers given the features RIM had decided not to support, it was nonetheless a signal that things were still moving ahead as far as the PlayBook platform was concerned.
RIM has responded to Vinh’s report with the following email:
RIM doesn’t typically comment on rumors, but any suggestion that the BlackBerry PlayBook is being discontinued is pure fiction. RIM remains highly committed to the tablet market.
Though it seems a little odd that Apple has chosen the 4th day of a month to announce the 5th version of the iPhone, that’s what the gang at All Things D are reporting today. They feel very confident that this will be the date that newly-appointed CEO, Tim Cook, will take the stage and introduce the highly anticipated successor to the iPhone 4.
The report also suggests that the next Apple smartphone will be available at retail mere weeks after it makes its worldwide debut.
But this is by no means a sure thing. T-Mobile in the U.S. has already said that it is not going to offer it this year – a surprising statement given the cloak of secrecy that Apple usually enforces around all of their new products. Perhaps T-Mobile is right, insofar as AT&T is likely to be Apple’s chosen launch partner in the U.S., a relationship that dates back to the very first iPhone. T-Mobile might just have to wait their turn.
Of course, most of the speculation so far has been around which features will or won’t be a part of the next iPhone. We’ve pretty much heard it all. Every one of the following items has been tossed around as potential inclusions:
- LTE (the next iteration of 4G connectivity which both Bell and Rogers have recently launched in Canada)
- NFC (Near Field Communication) which is the technology behind Google Wallet and which has already been included in several other handsets including the newest BlackBerry and Google Nexus S phones.
- A5 processor – this one seems almost a given because it’s already at the heart of Apple’s iPad 2.
- 8 Megapixel rear-facing camera – I think this is a strong contender as Apple has made it clear they consider the iPhone’s camera to be a major feature. I would add to this that a dedicated camera shutter button on the iPhone 5 makes sense, given that the volume buttons are poorly positioned on the current iPhone 4 to act as shutter releases, even thought that is exactly what Apple is enabling in iOS 5.
- Larger display, thinner chassis – While it’s unlikely that Apple will re-tool the pixel ratio and resolution of their Retina Display, they might very well enlarge the dimensions of the screen itself. Most of the new “superphones” that have come to market this year are sporting displays in the 4″ range and it definitely gives these handsets an edge when it comes to readability and multimedia. A thinner chassis feels logical but I expect Apple to maintain the heft associated with the iPhone 4 – it’s one of the reasons the phone feels so solid in your hand.
But the other thing that some folks feel is a strong contender for October 4th’s announcements is a cheaper iPhone 4 – likely to be dubbed the iPhone 4s – that will be used to give Apple a more competitive product for emerging markets where price is a bigger barrier and where Apple has traditionally been outsold by RIM and other players.
We hope to find out more in the coming days so stay tuned!