Yes, the Apple Tablet is coming next week! But do you know what gets me even more excited? A new version of the iPhone. But how will it be different? Let's look at the rumours.
Will it be announced on January 27? While the original iPhone was announced in January 2007, a full six months before it was released, the most recent version, the 3GS, was announced a mere month before its release. There's no real reason for Apple to announce a new version of the iPhone months before its release at this point, and if they really are announcing the tablet on the 27th, there's no reason to overdo it by announcing both. The only way they'd announce it next week is if it was being released much sooner than anticipated. Probability: 20 per cent.
When is it coming out? Yes, a new iPhone will be released this year. Foxconn, Apple's main manufacturer, is rumoured to have already received the order. But when, exactly, should we expect to see it?
If Apple continues along the schedule they've stuck to for the past three iterations, look for the iPhone 4 to drop between May and July. The original iPhone dropped on June 29, 2007, the 3G came on July 11, 2008 and the 3GS arrived on June 19, 2009. While there have been rumours about a new iPhone showing up in April, those are sketchy at best. The good money is on late June/Early July. Probability: 95 per cent
Will it run on a 4G wireless network in the US? The 3G and 3GS both run on AT&T's 3G network, with the 3GS supporting the speedier 7.2Mbps HDSPA network. AT&T is also working on its 4G LTE network, and some people think the next-gen iPhone could run on that.
It's unlikely. 3G networks were technically available when the first iPhone was released, but Apple held off until the network was robust enough to handle a good number of people before releasing the 3G. And LTE phones are probably a good six months off still, so expect the new iPhone to continue running on the 7.2Mbps HDSPA network.
The good news is that the network is far from running at full capacity, so as AT&T beefs it up we should see speeds increase until the v5 LTE iPhone shows up in 2011. Probability: 10 per cent
OMG is it coming to Verizon?! One analyst seems to think so, and he also claims Apple and Verizon are disagreeing on pricing. Unfortunately, these claims are just his assumptions and aren't based on any solid information, as is analyst's wont.
The real motivation for Apple to bring the phone to Verizon is that AT&T's serious network limitations in NYC and SF have given the iPhone's once-sterling reputation a black eye. Add to that the fact that Android is starting to encroach on Apple's hype train, and you've got the makings of a good time to expand to other networks.
However, the fact that Apple would need to make a totally new iPhone to run on Verizon's (and Sprint's, for that matter) CDMA network is a big roadblock here. It's not insurmountable, however. Verizon would have to be willing to play ball (although they've given hints of that lately), and a lot would have to be worked out.
Our guess is that this is still another year away. After all, both Verizon and AT&T are turning to LTE for their 4G networks, which would make it easier to release one LTE iPhone for both networks. And we all know how Apple likes to keep its product lines simple. Probability: 30 per cent that it happens this year, 60 per cent next year
What processor will it have? The sketchy source that claimed the new iPhone would be out in April also claimed that it will feature a multi-core ARM Cortex-A9, capable of speeds over 2GHz. While the source isn't great, this part of the rumour isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Another option is Apple using chips designed by PA Semi, their in-house chip foundry. There are rumours of PA Semi chips running the forthcoming tablet, and it would make sense that Apple would go a similar route for the next iPhone. Specs are unclear, but it's safe to say that it would be a bump up from the 3GS.
How much storage will it have? 64GB, probably. Both Samsung and Toshiba have some new 64GB NAND chips that are exactly what Apple would put in an updated iPhone. And the 3GS already has 32GB, so doubling that number is a pretty obvious upgrade. Probability: 95 per cent
What about the graphics chip? Imagination Technologies, the company behind the iPhone 3GS's PowerVR SGX535 GPU, recently announced the next version in that line, the SGX545. It has OpenGL 3.2 and Open CL 1.0 support, runs at 200MHz, supports DirectX 10.1 and can do HD output. It seems like a natural next step for the guts of the iPhone, unless Apple wanted to keep the product line simpler by continuing to use the 3GS GPU for another year. Another GPU upgrade would allow for more visually impressive games, just not on older models. Probability: 85 per cent
Will it have video chat? This was strongly rumoured for the 3GS, but didn't happen: a second camera on the front of the phone, allowing for mobile video chat. Jesus wants it very badly.
The main argument against this happening is that AT&T's network just couldn't handle it, which is probably true. But it could be done with a Wi-Fi-only implementation. Then again, maybe it's just one of those features that just sounds better than it actually is; the idea of holding your phone up in front of your face at arm's length seems pretty stupid to me. Probability: 30 per cent
Potential New Features
A High-Res AMOLED Screen: The iPhone's screen is starting to look a little dated when compared to the beauties found on the Motorola Droid and the Nexus One. The Droid's screen is 3.7 inches with a 480x854 resolution, while the Nexus One sports a particularly lovely 3.7-inch AMOLED screen with a 480x800 resolution. Compare these numbers to the iPhone, which sports a 3.5-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 320x480, and it becomes clear that a screen upgrade is inevitable.
Furthermore, Apple filed a patent for a slimmer, lighter dual-function touchscreen back in 2008. The new touchscreens feature capacitors included in the pixels of the screen, able to operate individually, eliminating the need for a touch sensor panel overlaid on the display. This would allow the screens to be manufactured more cheaply and easily while also allowing for a thinner profile.
Whether or not the new screens are AMOLEDs or Apple's new LCD technology, the chances are good that the resolution will get a bump. The trouble is that all of the apps in the App Store have been coded for a native resolution of 320x480, so a lot of work will have to be done to get those upscaled for a higher-resolution screen. That's no reason to keep a last-gen screen on a new product, however, so we think a resolution upgrade is highly likely. Probability: 90 per cent
A Stylus: A recently-unearthed Apple patent shows an iPhone being used with a stylus with a conductive tip. The patent was filed back in July of 2008, however, so this seems like more of an ass-covering patent than a product-defining patent. After all, Steve famously said "yuck" to styluses at the first iPhone keynote. So the chances of the new iPhone coming with a stylus are slim to none. Probability: 5 per cent
Removable Battery: The same flimsy source that claimed that the new iPhone will be released in April also said we should expect a removable battery. This is highly doubtful. Apple has just revamped all of its laptops to have non-user-removable batteries, why would it suddenly do an about-face with the new iPhone? Don't count on it. Probability: 5 per cent
Touch-Sensitive Casing: This is an interesting one. A Goldman Sachs analyst seems to think that the back of the new iPhone will be touch-sensitive, like the Magic Mouse. This would allow for gesture-based control, like scrolling, without your fat fingers blocking the screen. This one's purely speculative, but makes a certain amount of sense. Probability: 35 per cent
Wireless N Support: This one is pretty obvious. The newest iPod Touch already has a Broadcom BCM4329 chip inside that supports 802.11n and FM transmission, so it's natural that the next iPhone would get the same thing. A recent job posting by Apple for a Wi-Fi software engineer just adds credence to the rumour. Probability: 95 per cent
5-megapixel Camera: Digitimes claims that OmniVision Technologies, the company behind the iPhone 3GS's 3.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor, has won a new contract with Apple to produce millions of 5-megapixel sensors this year. This one makes sense, as the megapixel count (as well as storage size) is one of the most basic ways to show that the phone's been upgraded. Probability: 95 per cent
LED Flash: On the one hand, the iPhone's camera could be better, especially in low light, and a flash could help with that. On the other hand, mobile phone flashes are almost universally terrible and useless. Nevertheless, there's a rumour out there that Apple has ordered "tens of millions" of Philips' LumiLEDs. Probability: 60 per cent
Push-Button Antenna: Apple filed a patent for an antenna that pops out like a button. This looks to pretty clearly them covering their asses rather than leaking new product designs, so don't count on seeing a big, ugly antenna button popping out of the top of the new iPhone. Probability: 5 per cent
Spongey Dock: This is another weirdo patent, one that in all likelihood will never actually be made. Probability: 5 per cent
A Bumpy Screen: Yet another patent that could be for a tablet or a phone, this shows a touchscreen device with a screen that "create[s]physical bumps or dots for the user to feel when it is in keyboard mode". Interesting! But also, merely a patent, and a left-field patent at that. Probability: 5 per cent