It's a foregone conclusion that the next iPhone will be better than the last one, but people aren't just interested in software features and specs.
The iPhone hasn't undergone a cosmetic change in more than two years, and most Apple fans are desperate for a few design in the "iPhone 5." The only common threads on everyone's wish list are a bigger screen, a better battery, and a thinner, lighter form factor.
Those fans might just get their wish. On Tuesday, Gotta Be Mobile released "exclusive" photos of what it believes to be an engineering sample of the iPhone 5 design, which only helps to validate earlier rumors, reports, and even photos and schematics of the phone. Shawn Ingram of Gotta Be Mobile said that the engineering sample photos came from a "trusted source inside the Apple supply chain" in Asia.
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The photos showed a slightly-larger iPhone from previous generations, even though this "jumbo iPhone" is nowhere close to the size of the Samsung Galaxy SIII, or many other Android phones for that matter.
The alleged iPhone 5 metal mockup measured just over 120 mm tall, 58.6 mm wide, and a depth "slightly thinner" than the iPhone 4S, presumably about 8 mm. In contrast, the iPhone 4S measures 115.2 mm tall, 58.6 mm, and 9.3 mm. In other words, this alleged iPhone would be taller than previous models to accommodate a bigger screen, and while it would also be slightly thinner, the width of the phone would not change.
How Legitimate Is This Mockup?
We don't know if this is the final design we see when the iPhone 5 is released, likely later this year between September or October, but it definitely matches up well to previous rumors, reports, photos and even schematics.
Back in May, unofficial Apple website 9 to 5 Mac posted a series of photos showing new parts and components for a sixth-generation iPhone, which were sent from the repair experts at iFixyouri. The photos showed the faceplates and backplates for a new black and white iPhone, but the designs had lined up with previous reports of the phone, which predicted a smaller dock connector, several migrated components, and a two-toned back with a metal plate.
The iPhone metal mockup released on Tuesday matches every single exterior feature of the phone from the original photo set. Here are the features identical across both alleged prototypes:
Metal Back: The iPhone 4S features a back made of all glass, but the new photos from iFixyouri show black and white iPhones with much of the back encased in metal. It's not clear what function the metal back serves -- if it's simply a style choice, or if it's made out of an extremely-light "liquidmetal" solution -- but all of the photos of the new iPhones included these metal portions. There's a slight chance that the metal back could help improve call reception, given that the metal trim along the sides is molded into the metal backplates, giving it a "unibody" feel.
Smaller Dock Connector: As predicted earlier by 9 to 5 Mac, Apple wants smaller dock connectors for its iPhones, and the newly released iPhone 5 models only confirm this. In addition, after TechCrunch "independently verified" that the next iPhone will kick the standard 30-pin dock connector (a tradition since the third-generation iPod) for a newly-designed 19-pin "mini" dock connector, Gotta Be Mobile released photos of the alleged "iPad Mini," which featured a similar 19-pin dock connector. It's quite likely that Apple plans to make the 30-pin dock, which has been an Apple tradition since the third-generation iPod, completely obsolete.
It's not certain why Apple has broken from tradition to implement these "mini" ports, but one would presume that Apple would not change a significant feature unless there was a good reason for doing it. A mini dock connector must make the device faster, better, or cheaper. Or all of the above. A smaller dock connector is definitely "better" -- less dock space means more room for other insanely great features (more on that later) -- but it's probably also cheaper to mass produce, and potentially faster, too.
New Camera Opening: Photos of the released iPhone show a subtle but interesting difference to the camera infrastructure: On the rear panels of the black and white iPhone models, there is now a small space between the camera lens and the LED flash. Looking at the inside of that space, there appears to be a tiny object that occupies the opening, which could be a small microphone to help with capture higher-quality audio when recording video.
Migrated FaceTime Camera: To better mirror the faceplate of the iPod Touch, Apple has apparently moved the FaceTime camera from the left of the earpiece to above the earpiece itself. Moving the camera likely frees up more space to include more parts and components like LTE and NFC chips, but it also makes the iPhone more symmetrical and appealing.
Migrated Earphone Jack: Photos of the new iPhone show the earphone jack, which has traditionally been located on the top right corner of the phone, has migrated to the bottom left corner of the device. This design change aligns perfectly with a May 14 report from Hong Kong-based components supplier SW-Box, which claimed to have acquired a new headphone jack, ear speaker, and Wi-Fi cable part for a new iPhone. SW-Box's audio components would fit perfectly within the new design released by iFixyouri and 9 to 5 Mac.
Redesigned Speaker Grills: The speakers on the bottom have been expanded and redesigned in the new iPhone model. Now that the dock connector from the iPhone 4 and 4S has been shrunk down, Apple has more room to create bigger and louder speakers.
While these two mockups are extremely similar -- if not identical -- there's a matter of a schematic to attend to.
Following the release of the alleged iPhone parts, the Cydia Blog released what it said is a complete schematic of the new iPhone model, which matched perfectly with the front and rear plates acquired by 9 to 5 Mac. The schematics, which may or not be legitimate, showed the same migrated camera and earphone jack from the photos, and they also describe a bigger display.
The schematic said the new iPhone's display would measure about 121 mm (4.8 inches) tall and 58.6 mm (2.3 inches) wide, which aligns well with 9 to 5 Mac's earlier report of an iPhone 5 prototype, which was said to have a new screen that measured 3.45 inches tall and 1.94 inches wide to create a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is perfect for playing videos at their native resolutions.
iPhone 5: Possible Software Features
At WWDC 2012, Apple announced it will release iOS 6, the next version of its mobile operating system, this coming fall; if that's the case, it's makes sense that Apple will introduce a new mobile product around that time to launch with iOS 6. Given that Apple did the same thing last year -- coordinate the dual releases of iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S -- Apple likely has the same thing planned this year. It worked out well for the company last year: By releasing both products together before Christmas, Apple went on to have its best quarter in history.
But besides all of the wonderful features in iOS 6, what other features can users expect to be showcased in the iPhone 5? Here, we break down the rumors, reports and patent filings that suggest a number of killer features and applications may be included in this year's iPhone:
LTE Connectivity: Despite the significantly higher download and upload speeds of LTE, previous implementations of the high-speed network in smartphones ravaged battery life, which was a major complaint from users. If Apple wanted LTE in the iPhone 4S, it would have been forced to increase the phone's thickness to accommodate a larger circuit board and a bigger battery. As Apple CEO Tim Cook noted in a company earnings conference call in April 2011, "first-generation LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises."
But now, with new LTE chips from Qualcomm now available, it's a foregone conclusion that Apple will implement radio bands for 4G LTE in the iPhone '5', given that Apple introduced the high-speed network on its new iPad, released March 16. Since LTE in tablets isn't a feature users were breaking down doors for, its implementation was likely done as a "practice run."
Advanced Haptics: Another recently published Apple patent describes a new haptics feedback system that allows a user to interact with the content on the screen by touching it, which is accomplished with sensors and actuators working simultaneously. The new multi-tiered system is extremely sophisticated: Using several layers of elastic screens stacked on top of each other, Apple's screen can produce 3D buttons or objects to interact with, as well as give texture to images, like topographical maps.
Apple's haptic system can create different types of actions, including vibration, net displacement, bending, deforming, or any combination of those elements. The technology can also work with a secondary display screen or audio system, which would be useful if Apple ever builds its iTV, but the system can also be applied to flexible organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens. This advanced haptics system would also work with almost every portable Apple device, including iPhones, iPod Touch devices, iPads, MacBooks, and even TVs, video projectors and e-Ink displays.
Crack-Proof Glass: Everyone who's ever had a rough Saturday night would certainly love this patent. Granted on Nov. 15, Apple's patent for crack-resistant glass uses the same alumino silicate glass solution used in the iPhone 4 and 4S, but chemically treats it with potassium and sodium ions to achieve greater compression thresholds on the surface and edges of the glass, making it less susceptible to cracks.
Apple also included a handy feature that will appeal to everyone who's ever dropped their iPhone: The patent calls for a shock mount to be placed between the glass and the body of the device, which will instantly inflate if the device senses it's falling. If the iPhone's internal accelerometer senses it's falling, an actuator within the device sucks in the cover glass as it accelerates to the ground, protecting it from damage.
OLED Display: Apple is reportedly testing the iPhone 5 prototype with an A5X chip, which is the quad-core graphics processor used to power the Retina Display in the new iPad. But why would Apple need such a powerful chip for an iPhone? Given that the A5X chip is a graphics powerhouse, if Apple doesn't drastically change the physical size of the screen to 4.6 inches, it may be changing the display's overall quality.
Apple has plenty of money to afford OLED screens in an iPhone-sized display, and it would make sense for Apple to ask Samsung to help build its iPhone 5 displays. Samsung knows how to build big, beautiful screens for any size device: Just imagine what Samsung could do with Apple's Retina technology implemented into an OLED. Apple would effectively put distance between the iPhone and all other smartphone competitors for another five years, at the very least.
NFC: Near-Field Communication is nothing new. In fact, many current smartphones have the chip built-in so owners can use mobile payments solutions like Google Pay. Apple has held off on implementing NFC technology into its iPhone, but a slew of recently granted patents seem to suggest that will change with the sixth-generation model. Two of the major features said to use NFC rather heavily are the iWallet, andiTunes "Gifting."
The iWallet: If you saw Apple announce iOS 6 at WWDC, you may have heard about a new application called Passbook, which is designed to keep all of your gift cards, coupons and tickets all in one place. With a simple flick, users can summon their Starbucks cards, loyalty cards, train tickets, plane tickets and sporting event tickets, too. While Passbook will work on every iOS device, Apple has reportedly been building an expansion of this software specifically for an NFC-capable iPhone.
Apple won a major patent on March 6 for a piece of technology called the "iWallet," which is a digital system that gives users complete control over their subsidiary financial accounts on their iPhones, and also leverages Near-Field Communication technology to complete credit card transactions directly on the phone as well. The iWallet has many different features, including giving users the ability to see their entire credit card profiles, view statements and messages from their banks, and even set parental controls for their children, should they also want to use their iPhones as digital wallets. Outside of the iPhone, users can keep track of their payments and statements within the iTunes billing system, which keeps credit card information and records safe and secure. There's a possibility that iWallet could also work with other Apple utilities, which could allow users to buy things like movie tickets directly within the apps, but only time will tell with that one.
iTunes Gifting: Speaking of NFC... Another Apple patent unveiled in April described a system for standardized buying, sending, and receiving of media files from a media provider (iTunes) between multiple devices (iPhones, iPads, and iPodTouchs). The process was simply called, "Gifting," and it would certainly work with an NFC-capable iPhone.
Downloading and storing digital media with online service providers has become commonplace -- more so than purchasing DVDs and CDs at physical stores - but it's not very easy to transfer digital files from one individual to another, usually because of copyright laws. Apple believes "Gifting" is the solution.
One method for gifting requires the sender to authorize a gift charge to their iTunes account, which is then transmitted from the sender's device to the receiver's device -- via tapping, or as long as they're nearby -- thanks to the NFC chip. If the recipient of the gift isn't nearby -- or you want it to be a surprise -- the gift-giver may submit an official request with iTunes, which then processes the request and charges the initiator's account for the given file. The patent also allows for multiple gifts to be sent in a single transaction, as well as certain customization options for the gifts -- including voice greetings and custom gift images, likely to conceal the gift's identity before the receipient opens it.
3D Photography. While existing 3D cameras and video recorders can gather three-dimensional information from objects, they're generally incapable of getting detailed enough information in relation to the shapes, surfaces and depth of the objects. Apple's solution involves a series of systems, tools and methods to capture a 3D image by using multiple sensors and cameras. One sensor would capture a polarizing image, while two other sensors would capture two different non-polarizing images, and Apple's system would combine the images into a composite.
3D Object Recognition. On May 10, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a series of Apple patents relating to 3D face and object recognition technology. Apple's system involves taking a picture -- either with a front or rear camera -- and the 3D recognition software would distinguish between the two-dimensional projection of the image and the three-dimensional shape of the objects in the image. The process would be fully automatic, which would help for identifying faces in a group of objects, or even identifying objects in X-ray images.
Apple Avatars. If you want to buy movies, apps, or any content through Apple's iTunes Store or App Store, Apple requires you have an Apple ID. Your Apple ID sticks with you in the company's Game Center, which keeps track of a user's achievements across purchased and downloaded games. But if this recently granted patent has any bearing on the immediate future, Apple users may soon get to make customizable Apple Avatars, which users would use to represent themselves within potential online or gaming environments. Apple users could create a 3D model of themselves, customizing features like hair, eyes, nose, and eyebrows, as well as other features and accessories. While avatars seem to be geared towards kids, it would actually help give users a source of identity while making the Apple brand -- and identification procedures -- a little more fun. Don't be surprised if Apple had Pixar's help on this one: Just look at the eyes.
Multi-Player Gaming. The iPhone 5 might also be the first phone to feature a new piece of software for multi-player gaming. On March 15, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that describes a system for multi-player gaming, which allows groups of people to play the same game together and even see it from different perspectives according to the devices' physical relation to one another. The system actually mimics that of the "Find My Friends" app, in which a user's device detects other nearby devices that it recognizes as "friends," and invites them all to join a common application. The technology also determines the relative position of those devices, so some games -- like turn-based role-playing games or card games -- can be played in a specific order.
Micro SIM Connector: It's not the sexiest feature, but if Apple decides to include this patented micro SIM connector in the iPhone 5, you won't be unhappy. Apple usually doesn't like people tinkering inside its devices, but the company's micro SIM solution is described as "easily removed and replaced," as well as "resistant to damage by an improper insertion of a SIM card, and may provide reliable mechanical performance."