It’s crunch time. By most accounts, we’re headed into the final weeks beforeApple (AAPL) lifts the curtain on the next generation of iPhone, and that means rumors are coming fast and furious. We know at least some of them can come from legitimate sources, so let’s take a look at the latest crop and see what does and doesn’t stand the test of scrutiny.
The iPhone 5 has good looks, brains, and maybe more
The New York Times‘ Nick Bilton posted an article Thursday night that made reference to information from sources familiar with the new iPhone’s design. “Apple employees,” Bilton says, have described to him a device that’s pretty much in line with what we saw when Case-Mate “accidentally” jumped the gunon its iPhone 5 case page, making it live for a few minutes. These images depicted an iPhone design similar to the iPod Touch, and even more similar to the iPad, with a flat aluminum case back and two elongated black volume buttons on the side. That’s about all you could see in the images, though it was also apparent that the design was thinner, too.
Bilton also reiterated a number of things we’ve heard before about the iPhone. Specifically, he said that according to “an engineer” who’d worked with the new iPhone, it would deliver an 8-megapixel camera, and that it would sport an A5 dual-core processor, as well as a Qualcomm (QCOM) chip, which may include near field communication (NFC) technology, though that might only appear in a sixth-generation iPhone next year.
The iPhone 4S as Apple’s prepaid play
Cases are often one of the first things to give away the design of new iPhones, and Case-Mate’s site also had up a placeholder for an iPhone 4S case, too. The 4S has been the subject of a parallel track of rumors, which say a new iPhone will be largely unchanged on the outside. It’s been speculated that such a device could be Apple’s attempt to provide a lower-cost iPhone offering in order to take advantage of more low- and mid-market opportunities.
Blog 9to5Mac, responding to Bilton’s article, says the 4S is real, and will indeed be one of two new iPhone models put on sale next month. Essentially, the 4S will be visually similar or identical to its predecessor, according to 9to5Mac, and will take the lion’s share of initial production. Apple is planning to price them “aggressively,” the report says, and will offer them alongside both pre- and postpaid plans. If true, that would grant Apple access to a growing part of the cell phone market, and should help it recapture some momentum from Android (GOOG) in the smartphone race.
Stock shortages and delays for iPhone 5
The report from 9to5Mac also addresses the iPhone 5, saying that it will feature a larger-screen, thinner design, and be in relatively short supply at launch. That’s due to “design and production delays, at least on one assembly line,” according to the site’s sources. Still, it says the design is amazing, according to its sources, and that its camera will rival many point-and-shoots on the consumer market.
Where does the truth lie?
While there isn’t any tried-and-true method for separating out fact from fiction when it comes to Apple rumors, we can make some predictions based on these and past reports. At this point, you can almost take for granted that a new iPhone will have an 8-megapixel camera and a dual-core A5 processor. The tech specs are pretty much certain for the camera, since Sony (SNE) Chief Executive Officer Howard Stringer basically admitted his company will supply the sensor that powers it. Specs don’t make a camera great on their own, but I suspect 9to5Mac is right in claiming the camera will be on par with many point-and-shoots. That’s an area where Apple has excelled with recent iPhone devices, and it makes sense as an area to focus on if you want to make improvements that matter most to the average smartphone user.
NFC is still a long shot for this generation of iPhone, I think, despite its appearance on multiple Android handsets. That’s simply because there are so few places to actually use it in real-world situations. I’ve got a Nexus S with NFC, and I’ve never had cause to even turn it on. Apple won’t put it in its phones just because analysts think the technology has a future; it must prove itself first.
An iPhone 4S that’s available for prepaid service makes a lot of sense at this juncture. Prepaid plans are on the rise in most markets, and it’s a good way for Apple to spark sales and give itself a whole lot of marketing power without introducing any revolutionary technical changes. Plus, Apple has demonstrated with the iPad that if it can manage to force the issue, it seems to prefer no-contract cellular service pricing. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook also made comments suggesting that Apple was interested in the low-cost market early this year, and Cook and Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer again said in August they were interested in cheaper iPhone devices so long as they could offer up a category-defining design for that space.
As for the visual looks of the iPhone 5, I’d say there are too many variables at play to call this one just yet. Case-Mate’s early looks might be accurate, but they also could just represent dimensions received from Apple, rather than materials involved in the actual iPhone 5′s construction. Apple probably wouldn’t pass on more info than was absolutely required, if it passed on any at all.
In the end, there’s little we can say for sure about the next iPhone, but at least we shouldn’t have to wait long. Many signs point to a release on or around Oct. 15, and an announcement earlier, maybe even later this month. Buckle up and get ready, because it’s about to get even crazier before we achieve any clarity.