Disclaimer: I obviously have no first hand knowledge about what Apple is or is not going to announce this Tuesday. The following will simply be a “gut feeling” look at all of the rumors that have cropped up around the “Let’s talk iPhone” announcement. After the announcement I’ll be writing up my thoughts as well as pointing out where I nailed it and where I got it completely wrong.
I’m going to tackle these rumors in no particular order.
Steve Jobs/Tim Cook
In the fifth season of “The West Wing” the Republican Speaker of the House Glenallen Walken (played by John Goodman) had to temporarily assume the office of the President. When President Bartlett was ready to resume his office there was a discussion of how to announce to the country that the transfer of power had taken place. Bartlett suggested that both he and former President Walken should hold a press conference. Upon hearing this idea Walken put up his hand and said “Thank you sir, but I think the country is best served by seeing one President at a time.”
Likewise, Steve Jobs will not make an appearance because Apple is best served by people only seeing one CEO at a time.
Tim Cook will be the first person we see take the stage at the keynote. He’ll talk about what an incredible year Apple has been having, new Apple Stores, the numbers behind the iTunes Store, etc…He’ll then spend the rest of the keynote introducing other people to talk about other announcements.
iPod Shuffle/iPod Classic Discontinued?
Currently the Shuffle costs $49, making it a very tempting entry level price point for the iPod product line. I can only see Apple getting rid of the Shuffle if they could bring the iPod Nano down to around at least $99. This assumes that Apple either keeps the current model of Nano (maybe newer colors) and drops the price, or they’ve somehow figured out how to make a newer version of the Nano at a much cheaper price. Either way, I just don’t see Apple getting rid of the Shuffle without something filling that low cost space.
The iPod Classic really is a different animal; it’s an updated Apple product based off a nearly 10 year old design. (It would be as if Apple was still selling an iMac shaped like the iMac G3.) The only thing keeping it around is the large 160GB of storage space (and perhaps nostalgia?) If Apple comes out with a 128GB iPod Touch it would likely cost $400-$500 compared to the $249 of the current iPod Classic. Of course Apple could always make the argument that those who need such large amounts of storage are such a small market it’s not worth going after (call it the “XServe” part of the iPod market). I’d say it’s 50/50 on the iPod Classic finally getting the axe.
My hunch is no physical redesign, A5 chip, 512 RAM, with the same camera. Expect the entry level to get back down to $199. (Update: And of course a version in white.)
Will be talked about by Scott Forstall and the Gold Master released after the keynote to developers. No new features, just bug fixes and speed improvements. iOS 5 will officially launch around October 10th a few days before the new iPhone launches.
Will be talked about by Eddie Cue. Basically a rehash of what was discussed back at WWDC. Launches concurrently with iOS 5.
Like Apple has done for several years now, the current iPhone will be retooled with 8GB of internal storage and sold as “the cheaper iPhone”. The question in my mind is whether it’ll be sold at $99 or the (crazy) current price of the $49 iPhone 3GS.
This was always the most obvious and “minimum” upgrade Apple could do to the hardware. I think it’s a done deal at this point that we’ll be seeing a new iPhone named and marketed as “iPhone 4S”. Here’s what I predicted way back in January:
- launches June/July
- dual core ARM
- 512 MB ram (maybe 1GB)
- same “glass sandwich” look of the 4, but modified antennae design
- Slightly improved specs overall, basically the. 3GS to the 3G sort of leap
Besides the woefully mistaken time frame I think my predictions are going to hold up pretty well come Tuesday. The only thing I missed was the camera going from 5 to 8 megapixels and the fact that this phone will probably be a “universal phone” that will work on AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.
Both TechCrunch and 9to5mac had the scoop on this. Macrumors even contracted Jan-Michael Cart to create a video walkthrough of what the interface could look like. I think from a general look and feel perspective they’ve pretty much nailed what the service will be. I expect that this will only run on iPhone 4S and be the biggest differentiator between the 4S and the 4. (much like the 3GS had the exclusive on the current form of voice control).
I expect this will be what a lot of tech press and gadget fans will tuning into their live blogs to find out about.
I’m going to go on the record now and say they’ll be disappointed.
The” iPhone 5″ Rumor Timeline
Let’s back up a bit and look over this rumored device. Depending on who you talk to the basic tenets of this rumor are:
- a larger screen
- an edge to edge screen
- a metal back like the iPad or iPod Touch
- much thinner than the iPhone 4 but a bit thicker than the iPod Touch
- a wider home button used for gestures
- a teardrop shape the like MacBook Air
The first time I can recall hearing about this was from Joshua Topolsky way back in January when he was still working at Engadget. Reading through the article in October it’s pretty striking all of the information he got wrong about the then unreleased iPad 2:
From what we’ve been told, the thinner, sleeker tablet will sport a new screen technology that is akin to (though not the same as) the iPhone 4′s Retina Display and will be “super high resolution”
and… there’s an SD slot. That’s right — our sources say with near certainty that the device will have a dedicated SD slot built in
The new iPad will feature a dual GSM / CDMA chipset produced by Qualcomm and will mark Apple’s shift away from Infineon as its chipset maker to Qualcomm for all of its mobile devices.
Our sources say the new model (or at least one of the new designs in testing) looks “more like the iPod touch than the iPhone 4.” The phone will be thinner than the iPhone 4, and may have a “teardrop” shape which goes from thick to thin (something along the lines of the MacBook Air profile).
From there we started seeing pictures of 3rd party cases designed to fit an “iPhone 5″.
Until today this has been the only corroborating “evidence” of a radically redesigned iPhone. Whereas we’ve recently seen pictures of the 8GB iPhone 4 and found strings in the iTunes beta referring to an “iPhone 4S”. Neither of which are “hard proof” of course, but are generally pieces of information in the Apple rumor-sphere that have an uncanny track record of being right.
Why No “iPhone 5″?
Prototypes are not Products
Of course Apple has been prototyping new designs for the iPhone, but the question is whether or not those prototypes will ever see the light of day. Just look at the prototype MacBook Pro with a 3G antenna that recently surfaced on Ebay. Imagine if that prototype had leaked out before a MacBook Pro refresh. How many blog stories would have been written about the upcoming MacBook Pro with built in 3G? How certain would people have been before an update? And imagine the disappointment from people after looking forwards to the new feature for months. My hunch is that this radically redesigned “iPhone 5″ was a leaked prototype that people have spent months building up (unreasonable) expectations.
Cases and Inventory Screens
The only physical “evidence” we have for a totally redesigned iPhone are third party cases and the occasional mention of “iPhone 5″ in Best Buy/Radio Shack inventories. Both of these can be chalked up to “just in case” scenarios. There’s big money to be made in being the first case maker to have cases for a redesigned iPhone. And in the case of Best Buy/Radio shack, retailers often create placeholders for upcoming products in their inventory systems for unannounced products. The fact that they they have “iPhone 5″ as the placeholder only means “this is the inventory placeholder for the iPhone that comes after the current iPhone 4″.
Skepticism of Design
Apple has been delighting and surprising people with innovative and beautiful hardware designs for a few decades now (especially starting with the iMac G3). The “trouble” with doing that is that people start expecting that Apple is capable of things that aren’t physically practical or desirable. Let’s look at each rumored design points of the “iPhone 5″ and ask some critical questions:
- a larger screen (Does Apple feel compelled by Anroid phones to bump the screen size? How much “better” does Apple consider a 3.7″ screen compared to the current 3.5″?)
- an edge to edge screen (Does the technology even exist for such a phone screen? What are the ergonomic considerations of a hand held touch-based device that doesn’t have a side bezel?)
- a metal back like the iPad or iPod Touch (Unless it’s radio transparent metal how would all of the phone radios work? Could Apple create a back plate that is the radio bands? Could Apple send all of the radio signals through the front glass plate?
- much thinner than the iPhone 4 but a bit thicker than the iPod Touch (Has battery technology advanced that much in a year that Apple could make a substantially thinner phone and still maintain the same battery life of the iPhone 4? (The current iPod Touch doesn’t get the battery life of the iPhone 4 despite having fewer radios)
- a wider home button used for gestures (The beauty of iOS devices is the drop-dead simplicity of “push this button and you’re back at the home screen”. If the home button is now wider and touch sensitive how would users not accidentally trigger a gesture instead of just going back to the home screen? In other words, how much do users gain by complicating the simplest part of an iOS device?)
This is the most controversial rumored design element of the “iPhone 5″ (Believe me, I’ve gotten into several curse filled shouting matches over it). There are basically three reasons I find this element to be the most unlikely:
- Aesthetic Considerations
- The Camera
- Battery Technology
John Gruber perfectly argued, from a purely aesthetic perspective, why a wedge-shaped iPhone makes little sense:
Symmetry is a hallmark of Apple’s iOS devices to date. They look right in any orientation. In terms of weight and thickness, they feel balanced when held in either orientation. These things are true of all existing iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads.
The MacBook Air is symmetric despite its teardrop shape because it has only one orientation. A teardrop iPhone, when held in landscape, would be thicker (and presumably heavier) on one side than the other. That seems wrong to me. Not shockingly wrong, but wrong nonetheless. The iPhone is not as orientation-agnostic as the iPad — the iPhone homescreen and multitasking tray, for example, are portrait-only. But still, all previous models look and feel right when held in landscape.
Consider, for example, how many iPhone games are played in landscape and use the accelerometer for control (e.g. almost all driving games). Seems to me that games like those would suffer on an unbalanced asymmetric iPhone.
Another consideration is that the thinnest an iPhone can get depends on the thickness of the camera sensor. The current iPhone 4 (at 9.3mm thick) has a camera module 6.5mm in height. (The front and back plates make up the 2.8mm difference) A thinner camera sensor is being developed but won’t be available until 2012. That means that an “iPhone 5″ would be at least as thick on one end as the current iPhone 4, which doesn’t line up with the thinness of any of the “iPhone 5″ cases that have been showing up. This would also support my theory that everyone has been basing the “iPhone 5″ rumors off a forward looking prototype rather than a soon to be released product.
The last reason a wedge shaped iPhone is unlikely is a much more mundane (but surprisingly overlooked) reason: battery technology just isn’t there. Look at the tear-downs of the iPhone 4 and the iPod Touch, there is zero empty space in either product. In order to maximize battery life for either product that battery has to be as big as possible. Here’s the trick though: due to immovable, real world physics lithium-ion batteries only come in round or flat rectangular shapes.
So how does the wedge-shaped MacBook Air do it? If you look at the battery of the MacBook Air you’ll notice it’s actually four separate flat rectangular battery packs in a staggered formation. You’ll also notice that they don’t go right up to the thinnest edge of the MacBook Air, there’s actually about a half inch or so of “empty space”. This is what happens when you put flat rectangles into a wedge shaped space. I suppose you could argue that Apple could make really tiny iPhone battery packs and stagger them like they do in the MacBook Air, but no matter how you arrange them you’re always going to have “empty space”. (Not to mention that you’ve now taken a fairly small battery in a tightly confined space and “chopped it up” and made it more complex).
Of course come Tuesday I may be proven completely wrong. We’ll find out.
I’ll be live tweeting my reactions during the keynote. You can follow me @thisischadolson.
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