My iPhone event predictions

It’s that time again. We’ve got an Apple event coming up on Tuesday morning at 10 Pacific (side note: I LOVE living in the Pacific time zone, because it’s two hours less waiting that I have to do to see the event. Woo!).  My past performances with iPhone predictions are decent.  This time rumors on the next iPhone are more divided than ever, so my predictions are going to be either incredibly good, or incredibly bad, because I’m not going to waver.

I believe this next iPhone is going to be cosmetically very subtle (if there are any cosmetic changes at all) and all internal. There are some camps who think that there will be an iPhone 4S and and iPhone 5 released at the same time, but I can’t imagine Apple doing that unless there’s going to be some sort of major transition coming up, like replacement of the dock connector port, or some other major architecture change that requires a transition. I don’t think that’s happening.  Combining that with the fact that the iPhone 4S name has been seen in Apple inventories and iPhone 5 has not, it is my prediction that the next iPhone will be the iPhone 4S.  I have no doubt Apple is currently working on the iPhone 5 (it would probably be called iPhone 6, though, since it wouldn’t be the fifth iPhone, iPhone 4S is), because it appears it’s going to be a major hardware redesign and Apple needs some more time to make that effort. I’m curious about the timing of when iPhone 6 will be out though. Will they be ready to release it in June ’12? I am almost certain that the iPhone 6 will be an LTE phone, and the market will be ready for one by then (make no mistake: they’re ready for one now, but the hardware surely too power hungry).

This iPhone is going to pretty much look the same as the iPhone 4s we see today.  No wider screen, no “tear” shape, no contour display.  Expect Apple to be focused on performance all around as the theme for the new phone hardware. We’ll surely see a dual-core Apple chip similar to what we currently see in the iPad.  The new iPhone will likely have more memory (probably 1 GB) but don’t expect Apple to mention that spec (side note: iPhones have consistently had less memory on them than their competitors yet have always offered very smooth performance).  For me, new iPhones are only fast enough for me the first time I use them, and within a few weeks I get used to the speed and start expecting more, so I can never get enough performance. I’m really hoping that iPhone 4S will bring performance that I can truly be happy with. I’m not totally counting on that level of performance, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

It’s safe to expect an improved camera (likely 8 MP).  Again, Apple’s iPhone cameras have traditionally not offered the highest resolution of the phone cameras on the market, but Apple has put efforts into making sure the lenses are adequately able to capture the light they need so that the pictures are great.

I’m hoping we might see an NFC sensor in this iPhone as well.  Having them in your phone hasn’t yet hit mass appeal, and at the moment there still aren’t a ton of places where you can make an NFC payment (that’s growing, though), but I have seen some pretty neat uses of NFC, and I think that if it ends up in the phone and an API gets made, we’ll see some really interesting stuff start to happen.

Expect battery life to improve. I think the form factor will remain the same on the outside, but internally the iPhone will probably have seen a significant redesign, and despite a newer, more powerful processor, there will be extra room for more battery.  The improvements will be modest, but I think most will welcome a little more battery life.

There will be one version of the iPhone 4S, and it will be a “world phone,” in that it will have both GSM and CDMA capability in the same device. I’m hoping Apple takes the carrier independence of the phone a step further, potentially allowing you to buy the phone from Apple, take it home, then choose the carrier that’s right for you. If you can’t get the subsidized price with the carrier of your choice, you can pay the difference right then and there with your CC (more likely: you’ll just choose a carrier at the Apple Store and they’ll figure out how much you owe them at the store and they’ll activate).  But I am led to believe that the phones will be sold unlocked now (it’s in Apple’s best interest to sell the phones that way and the carriers won’t argue anymore if the customer’s in a contract with them). A SIM-less design wouldn’t surprise me either but I think that’s probably for next iPhone. You’ll be able to travel abroad with your phone, buy a SIM card at the local shop and pop it right in and be good to go.

This iPhone will be available on AT&T, Verizon and Sprint in the US officially.  Since it’s unlocked it could also be used on T-Mobile (on EDGE).  T-Mobile should really just sell people iPhones and then bundle them with a WiFi hotspot that lets them take advantage of the higher speed data connection when needed.  I’m not an expert on CDMA tech, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could just take your ESN and activate the phone on another CDMA carrier, like US Cellular or Cricket.  On a related note, I think in the next year or two Apple is going to make a big push to get iPhone on every carrier in the US. Adding support for new carriers is really the best (and possibly only) way for Apple to maintain the iPhone growth curve they have now. Granted, I think most iPhone users are going to be iPhone users for life, so Apple’s going to continue making sales, but the growth is most important.

Software

Apple announced some of the most exciting features of the next iPhone already in their iOS 5 announcement. I expect the GM to be released to developers on Tuesday with the general public release a week or two later. That release will come before the iPhone 4S is available in stores. Most of the features are public and I’m under NDA for iOS 5 at the moment, so look elsewhere for info on that. It’s going to be great, though.

I would expect Apple to do some demos of iCloud and announce a release date, but I think that will be later in the fall.  Apple’s going to err on the side of waiting to absolutely nail this, and with the MobileMe debacle of 2008 (or was it 07?) they aren’t taking any chances.

iPods

In the last earnings call Apple referenced an upcoming product transition which could potentially have an impact on revenues. In this case, ‘transition’ is a euphemism for ‘kill off’ and the product in question appears to be some of the iPods.  iPod classic is on the chopping block for sure, and sources are saying the iPod shuffle is getting killed as well, leaving the iPod Nano as the only non-iOS iPod.  I can see Apple releasing a 128 gig iPod Touch to compensate for the loss of the 120 gig iPod classic.

A couple people think Apple’s just killing the products off because you can’t buy iOS apps on them so Apple can’t get more money out of you post-purchase so they lost interest. That’s mostly bunk, because there is in fact a great deal of stuff you can buy for the iPod classic and shuffle from Apple after buying your iPod: music, movies and (until a couple days ago) some iPod classic games. It’s got nothing to do with the fact that you can’t buy iOS apps on them and everything to do with the fact that sales of those devices have likely been anemic, the new iPod nano pretty much cannibalizes the Shuffle, and the iPod classic technology has been on its way out since iPhone was announced in January ’07.

Apple probably could have made this transition last year, but they interestingly waited. I think there’s a couple of reasons. 1) the Zune was still a thing last year. Now that it’s been discontinued, Apple can discontinue one of their own without worrying that someone hell bent on getting a hard drive based non-iOS player would defect to MS.  2) Sales of the shuffle and classic were probably still adequate last year and since then fell below the Mendoza line. And now, assuming a 128 GB iPod Touch sees light, the transition can be relatively easy. If you wanted a shuffle, just get a nano; it’s just as good and has a screen.  If you wanted an iPod classic, ask yourself if you wanted it for the space or for the simplicity. If the former, get a Touch. If the latter, get a nano. This will mean that the click wheel is now retired (we first saw the click wheel in 2003 in the iPod Mini). I’m okay with that, since it’s honestly not remarkable for finding music. Scrolling with your finger is the way to go.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Apple didn’t mention a word of this transition at the event. I am guessing that the iPod Touches will see a refresh to get faster hardware and a newer, higher capacity, but it’ll just appear on Apple’s web site that afternoon.

There Will Be Disappointment

Because the iPhone is coming out later in the year than usual, I think people are expecting a major redesign, and I think there is going to be some disappointment that the phone doesn’t look different. It’s purely psychological, because the new phone will be significantly upgraded under the hood, but it’s going to leave people in a bitter mood about it (not me). I’m pretty certain the phone has been ready for some time, and there are reports that 150K of them per day have been getting manufactured for the past month or so, but since the phone will need to ship with iOS 5, it has to wait for iOS 5 to be ready before it can ship. I don’t know if iOS 5 is on time by Apple’s internal schedule or not, but to the public, it is late, because Apple traditionally would have announced the new iOS in March and shipped it in the summer.

There will surely be some disappointment that there is no LTE (I’d like some LTE myself), but I don’t think anyone was really expecting LTE yet.  Next iPhone will surely have it.

I’m personally very excited about the next iPhone and I will surely be getting one on launch day (despite the fact that my family pays Verizon $5000 a year for wireless service, I’m not yet early upgrade eligible).  I’m likewise super excited to see iOS 5 get publicly released (if only so that a certain few developers will get off their asses and improve iOS 5 compatibility).

Also, I’m curious to see what Facebook releases.  Either an iPad app or fixes for their site to make it touch friendly would be great.

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