Thoughts on Apple’s Next iPhone

I have thoughts, as I often do, on a device that hasn’t been confirmed by Apple, that exists only because Asian parts suppliers are the leaky faucet in an otherwise bulletproof design process.  These thoughts swirl around a product that could be completely fake. This device is supposedly going to be announced on September 12th – just a month away. This device will likely become the most popular smartphone on the planet, sell millions upon millions of devices, and (most importantly) will likely be the best smartphone available for at least a year. These thoughts are about Apple’s next iPhone.

The iPhone is a cultural icon. The iPhone is the one smartphone, challenged only by Samsung’s venerable Galaxy S III, that is instantly recognizable. It’s Apple’s most important mobile device, and it’s Apple’s largest source of income and profit. It was last updated a year ago, with the iPhone 4S. The last update was notable in that it was faster, with a better camera, and Siri. But that was all – this year, it changes.

Industrial Design

Like many, I was skeptical of the design when I first saw it. First impressions matter, but I now realize that it wasn’t so much the device that my negative feelings centered around. Instead, it was the original photos. The original photos of the leaked parts only painted half of the story: a backplate here, a dock there. It wasn’t until the fully-assembled parts came in that I realized just how much I like the design. It’s iconic, but it finally feels as if Apple realizes this device will be used everyday, and not just set on a glass shelf. It’s durable, but beautiful.

There are those who are skeptical of the design. The most popular reason for disliking the leaked design is that it resembles the iPhone 4/4S. While the overall design language of the leaked device does possess echoes of the classic iPhone 4 design, there are notable differences. In particular, this phone will finally feature a unibody design. The unibody design will allow for it to be thinner and lighter, as it cuts down on the number of components, but also stronger – gone are the days of dropping an iPhone, and having a 50/50 shot of the back shattering.

The look of the rumored device is classic Apple: industrial, understated, and unique. No other device on the market can come close to the build quality and attention to detail Jony Ive and his all-star team of designers have bestowed upon this device.

Screen

It is all but confirmed that this device will feature a four-inch screen (or 3.999 inches). Apple has accomplished this by simply stretching the display vertically – the iPhone 5 will be the same, or even slightly smaller, width-wise.

This change is going to be great in that it allows more content on the screen. Four inches is an absolutely fantastic size for a screen. But since Apple has opted to only stretch the display vertically and change the screen to a 16:9 aspect ratio, it could present some issues in the realm of typing, both in portrait and in landscape.

Typing in portrait mode on a 16:9 aspect ratio will result in the keyboard feeling taller. While this doesn’t sound terrible, it creates the illusion that the virtual keys are also skinnier. Obviously, this can cause issues in typing quickly and accurately. Apple can fix this by either tweaking iOS’ keyboard accordingly, or by simply waiting for people to become accustomed to the new size.

In landscape orientation, the new keyboard will have the opposite problem: the keys will be “shorter,” and will therefore feel wider. Again, Apple can tweak the keyboard to hide these issues, or it could simply wait for users to become accustomed to the new size.

Both of these problems will be most apparent to users coming from 3:2 aspect ratio devices, like the the iPhone. To users coming from Android, where the 16:9 aspect ratio is much more common (seen on devices like the Galaxy Nexus, One X, and Galaxy S III), the change will not be nearly as noticeable.

The 16:9 aspect ratio does have some great advantages: for one, the annoying black bars that accompany nearly every movie played on your iDevice will be gone. More content will be shown on webpages, and there will be more text on-screen in reading applications, like Instapaper or iBooks.

As the resolution of the screen will be increased to 1136×640, the iPhone 5 will maintain the same 326-PPI density found in the iPhone 4S. Frankly, I don’t see the need for the resolution to increase beyond this point. The pixels are, at this density, indistinguishable to all but the best of eyes at the closest of distances to the display. There are other ways for Apple to improve the quality of the display. They could make the display easier to read in sunlight, or the display could be optimized to reproduce colors more accurately than its competitors.

Apple’s IPS Retina display was launched with the iPhone 4, and was only slightly changed for the iPhone 4S. Two and a half years on the market, and only HTC, with its One X, has managed to create a display as vibrant and crisp as Apple’s. I wouldn’t put it past Apple leap frog the competition in this area again.

Battery and Specifications

I expect an Apple A6, and nothing less.

While the iPad 3 has Apple’s A5X, which does very well in benchmarks against the competition, that chip is far to large and inefficient, in its current implementation, to be put in a phone.

And efficient is what this device needs. Since the battery is only slightly larger (a bump of only 10 mAh – very, very little), the parts are going to have to be efficient in order to maintain the high standard of battery life Apple sets for its iDevices.

LTE chipsets have become significantly more efficient in even the last six months, and NFC chips were never battery killers. WiFi and Bluetooth 4 should both be more efficient, simply because of how technology progresses: newer chips are more efficient.

The screen could potentially require more power to light, as the resolution has been bumped. However, because the bump is slight, it should not be a major issue.

Overall, unless Apple’s new chips are vastly more efficient, I don’t see the iPhone 5 being able to last longer than the 4S. My gut says that battery could even be slightly less, though Apple will (hopefully) tweak the device to last as long as possible on a charge. Regardless, I don’t see the Mophie dying anytime soon.

Camera

Megapixels don’t matter.

Having eight megapixels on a phone is fine. Apple could bump it, or it could stay the same – either is perfectly acceptable, in my opinion. Instead, I’d rather see even more engineering time and effort go in to maximizing the quality of the images, from the actual hardware on the sensor to the software that processes the photo the moment you tap the capture button. While the iPhone 4S is still on top of the world in terms of image quality, there is always room for improvement in the optics field.

Another area that could be further improved is low light performance – while the iPhone 4S is capable of low light photography, the photos look subpar in less than ideal conditions. All smartphone cameras suffer this same issue, so it could be a unique selling point if Apple was able to really nail this down.

The camera is, strangely enough, one of the few aspects of the device that we know next to nothing about. If that trend continues, it could be that Apple is planning to make the camera a tent-pole of the features of the new iPhone and has something truly special to reveal soon.

Software

iOS 6 is an entirely different beast than the iPhone 5. iOS 6 spans multiple devices, at multiple sizes, and even for different functions. Regardless, iOS 6 is a major step forward. iOS 6 is Apple’s move against Google. While Google Search  is nearly impossible to remove, Apple has already demonstrated that it can hold its own in the cloud.

The iPhone was announced alongside Google. From the beginning of iOS, Google has played an integral part of the experience, providing the YouTube app, maps and navigation, search, and various other pieces of data and services that represented a partnership between the two giants. However, as shown by the more recent developments in the legal battles, it is obvious that Apple sees Android as a stolen product – they feel cheated. Whether this sentiment is correct or not is up for debate, but it only makes sense that Apple removes and replaces Google where can – and frankly, this seems to be a driving force behind iOS 6.

There is likely to be some surprise feature when the iPhone 5 is unveiled. It won’t be included in any other devices. It could be something to do with NFC and Passbook, or it could be something completely different – time will only tell. Since Apple is the only one with knowledge of this feature, it probably won’t leak before it’s officially unveiled.

iOS 6 isn’t the largest update to Apple’s mobile OS, but it isn’t the smallest. It isn’t groundbreaking or earth-shattering, but it doesn’t have to be: it provides the canvas for developers to paint beautiful and useful apps on.

Conclusion

The next iPhone is going to sell like hot cakes. It will outsell every iPhone before it, combined. Any analyst worth his weight in salt can tell you that much.

But more importantly, it’s going to be a great product. If the iPhone 5 is indeed what these leaks suggest it to be, iOS fans are in for a treat, and I imagine that many Android savants will be converted due to the fantastic hardware design, and the ecosystem. As always, Apple’s strength is in the hardware, and the ecosystem, and the experience. It doesn’t have the hacking scene that drives Android’s popularity amongst geeks, and it doesn’t even have all the features that Google’s “open OS” possesses. But it doesn’t have to – the iPhone 5 and stock iOS 6 will be about what 90% of the users need 90% of the time. The rest is left to the amazing developers that publish their work in the App Store.

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