What to Expect in Apple’s iPhone 5

Rumors about the next iPhone are flying fast and furious now. Here’s a list of the features that have been mentioned and the the likelihood we’ll see them in what Apple will probably call the iPhone 5.


First, there that enduring question about what Apple will call it. Certainly, it’s Apple’s sixth generation iPhone (1, 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S). As a placeholder, it’s been called the iPhone 5. That makes sense because there were pretty good rumors that the 4S was going to be the iPhone 5. Something happened there, and we’re not completely sure what.

Another possibility is “iPhone 4G” to reflect the almost certain 4G LTE capability. However, with the extreme competition from Samsung, I think Apple will want to bump the base number for the sake of perception. As for the argument that Apple is giving up on numbering, to wit, “new iPad,” I think that has more to do with marketing the iPad line and the (rumored) forthcoming iPad 7 than the iPhone itself.

iPhone 5 conceptiPhone 5 concept. Image Credit: TechRadar

Almost Certain

Four Inch Display. When the leak goes out to the Wall Street Journal, you know it’s for real. There was also a slip by Sharp president Takashi Okuda that the new display will be 4 inches diagonally — compared to the current 3.5 inches. That will also include a move to in-cell technology that will make the display just slightly thiner and better looking. The competition from Android smartphones, seeking some kind, any kind, of advantage over the iPhone, forces Apple’s hand here. iOS scaling and resolution issues seem to have been addressed.

4G LTE. This is what we were hoping for in the iPhone 4S, and it’s just about a certainty in the iPhone 5. Verizon’s LTE network is well along (200 cities) and while AT&T remains behind, AT&T customers with a 4G LTE iPhone will be a lot happier over the next year.

Quad Core. The issues isn’t what we are doing with the iPhone 4/4S. The processor in the iPhone 4S is plenty fast enough for what it does. However, the data rates from 4G LTE, Apple’s new mapping service, a mature Siri, iOS 6 and NFC all suggest that Apple should get on with a much more capable quad core processor. That’s what HTC is doing, and Apple needs to move sharply ahead or be criticized accordingly.

Smaller Dock Connector. Enough photos have been leaked to put this on the Almost Certain list. The first order explanation is that Apple wanted to make more room inside the iPhone and pave the way for a future, thinner design. Another theory, not contradictory, is that the new connector is designed to comply with European Union directive, the micro-USB standard.

Even though we’ll all be annoyed for awhile, using an adapter, it’s good for all users in the long run. And it will likely carry over to the iPad. The current dock connector is a shaky affair on a slanted surface.

Iffy Prospects

The next list of items have been talked about, but may not be a done deal in the iPhone 5. Listed here in order of probability by my estimation.

Near Field Communications (NFC). Apple appears to be heading down the path of the digital wallet. The purchase of AthenTec and the iOS 6 feature called “Passbook”,a warm up, strongly suggest that direction.

However, we may still be a year away from a solid, refined digital wallet scheme using fingerprint authentication and NFC, so NFC might not make it into this version of the iPhone. Unless Apple has some other interim features in mind.

Typically, what we see before a technology like this rolls out is a host of articles by standards groups and major banks on how they want it to work, and then the carriers and mobile phone makers jump on board. In this case, however, the mobile phone makers seem to be jumping the gun, trying to set the standards before they get squeezed out. Here’s some discussion. Lacking a coherent national standard, it’s still a mess. Will Apple strike out on its own? I doubt it.

Nano SIM. This new standard for SIM cards would allow Apple to save room inside the iPhone, space that could be used for a larger battery. 4G LTE is going to need it. Still, this is still on my “iffy” list until I hear more. However, we do have some leaked images.

AirDrop. There has been some discussion about a new Wi-Fi chip in the iPhone 5 that will support “AirDrop,” the ability to easily transmit a file to another nearby device. Given how much pain users have experienced getting iPhone files moved about, having to resort to Dropbox, Printopia and email, this would be a welcome addition.

Headphone jack move to bottom. I don’t know why Apple would want to do this other than for the sake of economy of design on the mother board. That is, collecting similar electrical components together.

Is That Enough?

Every year, Apple’s iPhone gets more and more popular. Horace Dediu has pointed out a finding from the Samsung trial in which Apple’s Senior V.P. of Product Marketing, Phil Schiller, mentioned an internal rule of thumb. “Each new generation sold approximately equal to all previous generations combined.”

There certainly is enough pent up demand to make the iPhone 5 (or whatever Apple calls it) another hit. The real question is whether the new feature list is even relevant from a pure technology standpoint. Apple customers want to be on and stay on the technology bandwagon. While iOS 6 and the technical changes to the hardware may not seem like an overwhelming technical upgrade, that’s how smartphone technology advances. The race with competitors, incremental improvements, and Apple’s need to advance the state of the art (and prepare for the future itself) may be all that’s necessary to give Apple another blockbuster launch.