Hardware

Apple’s New iPhone (5? Fifth? Fiver?) Is Coming: Here’s What It Should Look Like

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Apple made its iPhone event date official today after weeks of chatter. What will the new version bring that its predecessor didn’t? What won’t it do that people want it to? Luckily, this may be among the most leaked pre-release Apple devices ever, so we actually have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Screen Stature

Even if you know nothing else about the next iPhone, you’ve probably heard that it will have a bigger screen. At this point, a screen size of somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 inches (4.08-inches diagonal with a 16:9 screen ratio and Retina-qualifying 320 ppi pixel density, if you want to get particular) is almost guaranteed, thanks not only to numerous reported part leaks, but also to software clues found within the pre-release iOS 6 development simulator.

People have been talking about the iPhone getting a bigger screen since before the 4S was released, but a number of reasons have been suggested as to why Apple stuck with the 3.5-inch display despite ballooning proportions among Android rivals. There’s pocketability, of course, and battery life concerns, and also the natural reach of a person’s hand when using their thumb on a touch-screen device. But key rival Samsung’s screen are only getting bigger, and though a larger one might have a slightly negative effect on iPhone ergonomics, the benefit of a big beautiful display as a way to attract consumers looking for a significant material reason to upgrade is a good reason for Apple to introduce one now.

LTE

As much as a bigger screen seems a sure thing, Apple’s also almost bound to include LTE connectivity in its newest phone. Why? Because 3G (and even AT&T’s “faux-G”) is pokey. Of course, that’s a relative term, and that’s exactly the point; since Apple introduced the iPhone 4S in September of last year, LTE has grown. In terms of commercial availability, a July report from the Global mobile Suppliers Association pegs the number of operators looking to at least trial LTE deployments at 338 in 101 countries, and notes that the “number of commercial LTE networks has quadrupled in just over a year.”

Apple has a history of not adopting tech until it gains wide consumer adoption and proves itself in the market (with the noteworthy exception of some it pioneered like Thunderbolt and FireWire), but LTE has achieved significant penetration among mobile users. Battery is another concern when it comes to true 4G cellular connectivity, but Apple proved it has the engineering chops necessary to solve that problem with the latest, LTE-capable iPad, so get ready for much faster mobile browsing with the next Apple smartphone.

The Diminishing Dock Connector

The Dock Connector is less important than it has been in the past for Apple’s mobile devices. Wireless syncing and standalone setup have been available since iOS 5, and I can’t remember the last time I plugged an iPhone into my computer to do something other than charge. Still, a smaller dock connector like the one that’s been rumored and pictured in various leaked and/or doctored shots will cause a lot of people a lot of inconvenience, or incur a $10 adapter fee, if the recent changes to MagSafe connectors are any indication. This could also be the start of a fairly big e-waste problem.

The new 19-pin (or 9-pin – we’re not quite sure) connector is much smaller, apparently foolproof in design, and should be based on faster I/O tech. That could mean Thunderbolt, but I think it’s much more likely Apple will make things easier and cheaper for everyone by going with USB 3.0. Why not both? Apple used to offer FireWire and USB cables for iPod syncing, but that was a mess and the company eventually discontinued the FireWire version. This time they’ll likely stick with USB 3.0, which is in all the latest Macs and is also backwards compatible with USB 2.0 for customers on legacy hardware.

Apple could still theoretically back out of this one to save accessory makers and users some headaches, but the company has been ruthless enough with rendering its own products obsolete with new releases in the past, so don’t expect any mercy here.

iOS 6

This is the one known quantity well publicized and previewed by Apple, though not mentioned in the context of new hardware in official channels. The next iPhone will ship with Apple’s newest mobile OS, which includes features like Facebook integration, a Do Not Disturb mode, a completely revamped maps app, redesigned stores and iTunes apps, and a magical color-changing status bar. Some features have changes quite a bit from beta to beta however, including the appearance of App Store search results, so we’ll have to wait until it hits to know for sure what is and isn’t included.

No Close Contact Comms?

NFC is rumored not to be making an appearance. That may come as a surprise to many, since a healthy percentage of Android phones tend to ship with the feature now. NFC is useful for mobile payments, among other things, so it’s also strange because Apple looks set to at least dip its toe into the mobile payments space with Passbook, though actual payments aren’t planned for launch. Still, technical limitations related to the new design seem to be the key indicator against its inclusion, as outlines by AnandTech. And The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple all but quashed any hopes of NFC in the iPhone 5 with a one word response to the AnandTech sleuthing.

Two-Tone Design

Speaking of design, it also looks like the iPhone will get a fresh coat of paint, following in the tradition of changing things up considerably every two generations. Part of that is accounted for by rumored screen size, but two tone black and white designs seen back in May on 9t05Mac, with primarily metal backs and glass ‘windows’ to enable better wireless signal transmission top and bottom make for a much different picture overall. At first, this new look struck me as a little less refined than the 4/4S design, but it’s grown on me. And so long as Apple delivers on most of the above, I’m not actually that concerned with how it looks.

The Rest

There’s bound to be other new things about the next iPhone, including probably a beefier processor (finally a true A6?), better graphics processing capabilities and maybe expanded storage options. There’s also a chance new, redesigned earbuds will show up, but I’ll wait to see if they’re actually “better,” since Apple has a spotty history with “improving” other peripherals (see: Magic Mouse). Whatever comes next, at least we only have to wait a few more days to find out. And if rumors are true, we’ll be forking over our cash only a few days after that.

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