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.
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!
Thanks to the famous Apple distortion field, it’s easy to get caught up in the Apple rumour mill. Today for instance, leaked images of a new iPhone case have the blogosphere in full speculation mode as to the dimensions of the upcoming iPhone 5.
Thinner! Bigger screen! Repositioned volume buttons! Can you believe how breathless we’ve become about attributes that should frankly illicit little more than a yawn were they in regards to *any* other company. But this is Apple we’re talking about and the usual rules clearly don’t apply.
Which brings me to my favourite Apple rumour-du-jour, which has nothing to do with the next iPhone.
Instead, it concerns a project that many have been theorizing on for some time: Apple is poised to bring an HDTV to market.
I know, I know, this too – were it from *any* other company – should prompt nothing more than a slightly glazed look and then a quick glance to see if there’s anything interesting on Twitter. After all, the consumer tech landscape is teeming with HDTVs. The aisles of Best Buy, FutureShop and Walmart are littered with them. A recent study (albeit a highly politicized one) out of the U.S. even suggested that they have become so mainstream that even 17% of people dubbed “poor” now own them.
So why would an Apple HDTV matter?
First of all, according to a CNET report, Apple is already in talks with LG to manufacture 55″ OLED screens. Right there, we have a major technology shift in the works. There are for all intents and purposes, no OLED TVs on the market right now. Plasma and LED-backlit LCD panels represent well over 99% of all HDTVs. The primary reason so far has been price. Even Sony’s OLED experiment, the XEL-1, a diminutive 11-inch kitchen-class device cost a whopping $1,700 when it briefly came to market a few years ago. Needless to say, a 55″ beast would be an order of magnitude more expensive, making it prohibitive for all but wealthiest consumers. But nonetheless, LG themselves have announced plans to build just such a TV next year. It lends a lot of credibility to the Apple HDTV rumour. And OLED will be a game-changer.
But if LG is going to make one, it will probably be cheaper than Apple’s, so why would I buy the one with the fruit on it?
It’s safe to say that Apple’s second generation Apple TV unit, that little black hockey-puck of a device, has been much more successful than most anticipated, especially given the luke-warm response their first generation “hobby” was given. It’s also safe to say that any Apple HDTV will have Apple TV or similar functionality baked right into the unit. As cool as I’m sure this would be, it’s not a big deal. Apple TV’s are cheap (relatively speaking) at $119.
But the feature that I think will really set an Apple HDTV apart, is FaceTime. Yes, it would be the same FaceTime that has been available on iPhone 4s, iPod Touches and Macs for over a year now, but with one key difference: The FaceTime camera will be behind – not on top – of the OLED screen.
This is a feature that I had predicted would make its way into the very first iPad. Man was I wrong on that. The iPad didn’t even get a regular webcam until the second version.
But in my defense, I didn’t know that the iPad would be an LCD-equipped device. And according to the patent I was basing my prediction on, in order for a screen to work with a “hidden camera,” it needs to be OLED – not LCD.
In case you haven’t clicked-through to my iPad prediction yet, allow me to summarize: A hidden FaceTime camera would change the nature of video chat. Instead of watching someone gaze at a point in space that seems to be around your lower-neck, they will be looking right at you. All the time. The TV would become a virtual window allowing eye-to-eye communication. FaceTime is already a great chat product – especially on the iPad 2. A FaceTime camera situated behind the screen where you’re already looking, would be, well, magical.
Yes, it seems a little foolish that having been wrong on this once before I’d be willing to stick my neck out again for the same premise. But I guess that’s a measure of how great I think this feature would be, and why Apple could own the high-end of the HDTV market just like they own the high-end of the smartphone and tablet market.
Check back here in 2012 to see if I’ll be eating my words once more.
So here’s something that should come as virtually no surprise to anyone who has marveled at Facebook’s stunning growth and popularity: according to tech blog TechCrunch, the 500 million + member social network will announce on Monday that they are launching their own email platform to compete with Google, Yahoo! and the old stalwart, Hotmail er, Windows Live Mail.
As impactful as such a move will no doubt be, for a massive number of Gen-Y’ers it may elicit little more than a “whatever”. That’s because Facebook has already become their de-facto messaging platform. Yes, they have gmail accounts or other web-based email solutions that they use for traditional correspondence, but wall posts, status updates and private messaging within the existing Facebook ecosystem has largely replaced basic email, which for some has become passé.
So why would Facebook want its own email solution? Well, other than giving the rest of their membership with a reason to conduct even more of their online lives within Facebook’s walls, Gizmodo points out that Facebook knows so much about its members interests and activities and friendships that they alone will be able to enhance the email experience beyond simple threaded conversations into something much more meaningful.
The influence being wielded by Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter is huge, especially in the hardware and web-services development community. Marc Andreesen’s latest venture (he’s the guy who started Netscape) is a new web browser based on Google’s Chrome called RockMelt. RockMelt won’t even run without being signed into Facebook, and its goal is to merge your social and web-surfing experiences into a single application. If this idea takes off, it probably won’t be long before we see Facebook launch its own browser, an idea that has already received wide speculation.
So readers, if Monday does indeed bring us the advent of Facebook email platform, will you be jumping on-board and dumping your current email provider, or is the idea of having that much of your life in one place just too freaky?
D’Angelo isn’t saying how he knows this, other than to cite “reliable sources” who are apparently familiar with Google’s plans. D’Angelo isn’t the only one who is pushing this story. Last week, Kevin Rose – the founder of popular news aggregation site Digg – reportedly tweeted that “Ok, umm, huge rumor: Google to launch facebook competitor very soon ‘Google Me,’ very credible source.” That tweet has since been deleted.
Although rumours of this nature should always be treated with skepticism, it’s not such a stretch to think this story might be accurate. Google already owns a very successful (though nothing compared to Facebook) social networking site, and they have recently been experimenting with integrating social tools into email. But so far they have yet to launch a serious competitor to the social juggernaut that is Facebook.
Moreover, as people look more and more to their friends and other connections for information on everything from restaurant and movie recommendations to opinions on the latest gadget, Google’s primary and most profitable line of business (search) could theoretically become obsolete. Personally I doubt this will happen any time soon, but the company has to take such a threat seriously – especially when it comes in the shape of an addictive service like Facebook.
Facebook has repeatedly come under fire for their sketchy privacy practices. Most notably here in Canada, our Privacy czar hasn’t been shy about telling the company to shape up or face the consequences. But Google is no stranger to the privacy watchdog’s warnings either. All of which begs the question: If “Google Me” is in fact about to go head-to-head with Facebook, will users be willing to give them yet another slice of their online personality profile? Google already knows a ton about its users. A social network will increase this knowledge (and thus its value) a hundred-fold.