iPhone 5 carrier testing begins with AT&T?

By Jonny Evans

The next-generation iPhone 5 (or 4S) is on the way and is already being tested extensively on the AT&T network, even as Apple [AAPL] watchers continue to speculate on just when we'll see iOS-friendly OS X release, Lion ship.

[ABOVE: This interesting video clip shows the movement of 880 iPhones in Europe in April 2011, courtesy of Crowdflow.]

AT&T carrier testing begins

Citing what it calls, "well placed sources", ChipHazard  tells us the next iPhone (is it the iPhone 5, the iPhone 4S, or something else entirely?) was handed out to AT&T beta testers on July 6.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

If true, beta testers are checking the new Apple smartphone for signal reception and connectivity. Apple executives really, really don't need a repeat of last year's 'antenna-gate' fiasco. If the devices make it through beta testing then the iPhone factories will get the go-ahead to begin churning out millions of the things.

Why would Apple farm the product out to AT&T's beta testers? Isn't that a big departure from its usual secrecy? Perhaps, but the device will need to be tested, and, as every Apple watcher knows, Apple's own internal testing procedures didn't work out too well last year when a stolen prototype unit ended up in the hands of tech website, Gizmodo.

Fearful times

It isn't hard to imagine that high-ranking iPhone engineers may also spend their hard-won sleep time fretting about whether their phones are being tapped by media sources seeking a story, or competitors seeking an idea.

I'm not saying that sort of thing does take place, just that in the paranoid world of world-class-brand-leading-global-product-design it really isn't hard to imagine such fears becoming real concerns.

It is interesting to note that when the Verizon iPhone was put through testing some people claim that the carrier got just two weeks to test the device, and third party testers had to enter a secret PIN code every 12 hours to confirm they still had control of the handset.

However, unlike the iPhone 4 with extra CDMA that made up the Verizon gadget, this is a completely new device, and Apple really needs to ensure it is extensively tested. Verizon's handset was an iPhone 4 with a different radio and a similar antenna, not a new chip, slimmer design, new process manufacture, etcetera...

The need for extensive testing

These tests are important, and need to be extensive, really, really extensive. Weren't there claims in the last few days that the September iPhone 5 launch was caused by overheating problems experienced using the Samsung-made A5 processors inside the next-gen smartphone?

With tens of millions of these things set to ship, even the uber-secret squirrels deep in their warrens inside Cupertino need to be 100 percent sure they won't get bad press, a lawsuit, or an exploding phone. For any easily repeatable reason.

Way back when the iPod was invented, secrecy was easy. back then if it all went horribly wrong, then there were only a few hundred thousand customers to make feel better. iPhones lack such luxury. Millions sell each month. Testing in secrecy has to be becoming a scarce commodity.

What should we expect from iPhone 5? It seems extremely likely we can look forward to a dual-core A5 processor, a thinner design and more storage. It isn't at all clear if the device will support LTE (that's a standard that isn't yet widely deployed worldwide) but is likely to offer hybrid support for both GSM and CDMA networks.

Piper Jaffray analyst Chris Larsen this week said, "While we remain uncertain regarding the next-generation iPhone's specs and features, we believe the most noteworthy change could be the device's ability to run on more networks, specifically Sprint and T-Mobile in the US."

There's also continued speculation that Apple may be about to widen its lead in the smartphone market by finally realizing all those long-standing rumors that it will introduce an all-new low-cost Apple smartphone configuration. An expectation recently raised once again by Deutsche Bank's Chris Whitmore.

That the iPhone 5 is being tested is certainly true, but is it being tested by AT&T? More importantly, is it being tested thoroughly enough. Let us know in comments below.

I'd also very much like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here first on Computerworld.   

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