Apple is widely expected to announce a new iPhone at an event in San Francisco on 12 September. Given the present feeding frenzy, it better had.
The release pattern for iPhones so far goes along the lines of a major design update every two years and an internal hardware update in between. This pattern is reflected in the nomenclature. iPhone 3G was followed by the 3GS, and the iPhone 4 by the 4S.
There’s nothing at this point to suggest the hardware iterative cycle development will change. After all, it’s a neat way of catching users coming to the end of their standard two-year contract.
However, with the launch of the ‘new iPad’ instead of the ‘iPad 3′, the writing may be on the wall for the branding, with the new device being simply called the ‘new iPhone’.
That said, the Apple ad announcing the event features a prominent 5 beneath the date. For the sake of clarity in the article we’ll stick to the iPhone 5 name.
The six months leading up to a new Apple product are a slick of rumours and guesswork based on leaked shots of rumoured parts and divination from analysts on deals in the supply chain.
Now a week away from the likely launch, barring any huge surprises, we have a reasonable consensus of what’s in and what’s out.
Looking down the list, it’s not a hugely exciting inventory of new hardware features.
Although the iPhone 5 is likely to be a solid improvement on an already impressive phone, I suspect it will be a case of evolution when most are hoping, or insisting, for revolution.
For all the new technology that will be packed into the iPhone 5 I suspect that the initial response to the new iPhone will be disappointment. At least from the media.
So what are the likely new features of the iPhone 5?
We should expect support for the next-generation LTE wireless standard. The technology appeared in the new iPad and users report speedy performance away from wi-fi. However, only the US, Canada and a handful of other countries support the standard.
In the UK it’s difficult to care as we don’t 4G - and sometimes struggle to get half-decent 3G - but if this is the kind of thing that floats your boat then go crazy with excitement. I’m betting they’ll be a little more careful how they market 4G after the ruckus that followed the launch of the new iPad.
Improvements to the camera are certain: a few more megapixels, a few more improvements to the optics.
The new iPhone may have a quad-core processor. Hardly marketable to Apple’s core audience but faster is always better.
No near-field communications technology also seems to be the consensus, although iOS 6 will ship with Passbook - Apple’s new app for managing boarding passes, coupons and loyalty cards. One for the 5S probably.
Smaller dock connector
It is predicted to have a revised smaller dock connector. Yay. None of my accessories and cables work without an adapter any more.
A nano-sim: savour its tiny form factor as you slip it into the phone and never see it again.
New physical design
All these features are worthy additions to the existing iPhone, particularly when considered as the sum of their parts. But the new iPhone’s physical design is the thing that will be eagerly awaited.
Yet the design of the iPhone is expected to be an evolution of the present model. Again, no bad thing. But I’ve never looked at my iPhone 4 and thought: “What a grotesquely chubby little brick thou art.”
No doubt the iPhone 5 will be slimmer, due to the speculated screen improvements that will let Apple strip the touch-sensitive level off the bigger screen.
Screen size is the big one for me. My hope - and confession - is that it remains the same size it has always been.
The iPhone has remained relatively true to its initial design as far as the screen is concerned. Same size, same dimensions with only the resolution increasing. It seems to be a sweet spot for screen size.
Rumours have it that the screen size will increase to about four inches, either through taking the screen right to the edge or making the phone slightly taller.
Again, a four-inch screen isn’t something we’re going to get too excited about. Most have larger screens than the iPhone’s 3.5 inches and some like the Galaxy Note are pushing beyond the five-inch barrier.
The iPhone 4 had a killer feature - the retina display. To a lesser extent the 4S had Siri.
I have a feeling the iPhone 5 may lack a killer feature that can capture the media’s imagination. On 12 September I suspect the response from the tech press will be one of disappointment. The reaction is likely to be that NFC is missing, or the screen isn’t quite big enough, or the camera didn’t pack in enough megapixels.
There will inevitably be complaints that this is proof Apple has lost some of its magic with the passing of Steve Jobs. That Samsung, HTC and others have caught up with the Cupertino company.
It won’t matter a jot. The iPhone 5 will be a solid evolution of a mature product and one, remember, that has already been revealed back in June with the iOS 6 presentation - the OS update arriving imminently.
Apple’s real magic lies in bits and bytes of software not in the physical atoms of its anodised aluminium cases and glass displays. The latest software trick has already been revealed to let developers prepare for the platform: an impressive new maps technology, better Facebook integration and improvements to Siri.
The iPhone 5, or new iPhone, will be on sale by the end of the month. The smart money’s on initial disappointment that another revolution wasn’t delivered.
It won’t matter. The launch will swiftly be followed by millions of new iPhone sales from Apple customers old and new and further dominance of the market’s profits. The 13 September headlines will be 14 September’s waste paper.
What I’ve learned from a few years of watching Apple is that it doesn’t design devices for the press or the geek community. It designs them for the other, larger section of the market.