The Apple [AAPL] iPhone 5 "will be the biggest product launch in consumer electronics history," said analysts from Wells Fargo this week. Is this true? Will the device deliver design, build quality and software advances others can't match? Will iPhone 5 truly put Samsung's Galaxy SIII "to shame"?
[ABOVE: Five years old today, the original iPhone ushered in new concepts for mobile phone usage and design, transforming the everyday communication tool into a pervasive always-on computing experience.]
The kick inside
Battery life is important. It's pointless using a quad-core processor inside if battery life is impacted or heat dissipation harms delicate internal components.
With its use of a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, Samsung's tacitly admitted the debate about processor speed is less important than battery life, saying the dual-core chip offered quad-core comparable speed and performance without sacrificing battery life.
Ultimately the speed of a device depends on a balance of considerations: not just the processor, but the speed of access to the solid state flash memory, the power of the graphics chip, the component choices made throughout the device, even the quality of the interconnects used between the parts. How well-matched the hardware is to the software is also important.
Apple knows this, and while I'm still not clear if we'll be looking at an A5X processor inside the new device (which I doubt) or a new A6 family of dual-core processors finely-tuned to deliver the best possible efficiency and performance on the iPhone; with the operating system also tuned to fully exploit all the design choices made inside the phone.
In other words, the iPhone 5 processor will be able to match or exceed any other mobile chip used in any other smartphone. Bear in mind the imminent retirement of Apple's hardware chief, Bob Mansfield. After years working to deliver a succession of industry-defining products, he's so going to want to leave the company with his head held high.
Expect graphics improvements -- you'll need these to make the most out of the 4-inch Retina Display. Apple's recent purchase of Anobit should deliver good performance and battery life tweaks out of the iPhone 5's built-in flash memory.
In brief, application of Anobit's tech should help your iPhone's flash memory run much, much faster than normal flash. (Not to be confused with Adobe Flash, which finally expired for mobile devices last night, a historical footnote that justifies Steve Jobs' anti-Flash crusade.)
Apple's iPhone 5 seems should ship inside a remarkably thin (c.7mm) chassis made of industrial strength materials: Gorilla Glass 2.0 (as used in the Galaxy III) and metal -- perhaps even LiquidMetal. Compare the hardware quality of this device to the fragile plastic shells used to disguise the electronics inside competing devices and the new iPhone will easily ooze design excellence. You'll feel classy just owning one.
Recent claims say iPhone 5 will support Near Field Communications (NFC). This seems likely to be linked to a user's iTunes account. Payment providers across the planet are supporting small payments made using NFC up to a maximum value of c$20. I'm anticipating Apple will begin NFC payment roll-out the same way: this means if your phone gets lost or stolen it's unlikely anyone will be able to spend too much of your cash before you get to a computer, run Find My iPhone and delete the data held on the device.
Many security-conscious users won't be that interested in NFC -- but they'll be a lot more interested in Apple's inclusion of true 4G/LTE support. I'm expecting the new iPhone will support 4G networks internationally.
The front-facing camera is expected to see some improvement, while the rear-facing CCD will remain at 8-megapixels.
We're not talking cable-free yet, or are we? Interesting then to note that the last element of iTunes content that required direct sync -- Podcasts -- got spun out with its own iOS app this week. This means that you don't need to connect your iPhone to iTunes for syncing at all any more: all your content syncs over the air.
Reports claiming Apple intends moving to a micro-USB-compatible Thunderbolt connection make sense in terms of reducing the thickness of the device, but how often will you need to connect the thing to anything in the first place? Only for power. So, is there any strength to renewed claims the new iPhone will receive its charge using induction?
I've recently been hearing similar speculation from across Apple's third-party iPhone device partners: they're very interested in the company's interconnect plans -- will they need to redesign all their products? Will there still be a hardware-based control interface they can use for their devices? There's some speculation that contactless power-up will feature in iPhone 5.
It's important to note that existing inductive charging solutions are extremely energy inefficient. I don't think Apple will ship a solution which wastes energy, so a completely wire-free future may remain a fantasy until the company finds a way to address this challenge.
It's the software, stupid
If the chassis, processor and internal components are the skin and bone of a device, it's the software which gives consciousness. We've looked at what to expect inside iOS 6 before, so a short list of some of its highlights should serve as a recap:
-- Improved Siri (including voice controls)
-- Passbook (and NFC)
-- Apple Maps (with turn-by-turn navigation and Flyover)
-- Facebook and Twitter integration
-- Much-improved iCloud integration
-- FaceTime calls over those cellular networks which enable the feature
-- Sundry privacy features
iTunes is software, too. A Bloomberg report this week claimed the new version of iTunes will be the most major revamp for years. It will integrate iCloud directly and also introduce new music sharing features and much-improved music, movie and app discovery tools, exploiting Apple's recent Chomp acquisition. Don't hold your breath for Spotify-like music streaming services just yet, as this isn't likely to happen just yet, the Bloomberg report says.
That you won't need to directly tether your phone to your computer (except once during set-up) in order to sync your content means all the media you most want will be available to any of your Apple devices. Wire-free.
The bottom line? Samsung's Galaxy SIII may be scooping up sales in the smartphone race right now, and it is indeed a creditable competitor for the iPhone 4S (despite its flimsy plastic chassis). If that's the pattern then you can expect Samsung to ship a similarly strong enough competitor to the iPhone 5 some time in mid-2013, by which time we'll be discussing iPhone 6.
Little things like this are part of what prompted JP Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz to say: "We think that a combination of revolutionary hardware enhancements and software-driven services (i.e. Passbook, Maps, FaceTime over mobile) stand to reaffirm the iPhone as the leading smartphone."
So, when will this thing ship? Overnight reports claim the device may see introduction in August. That's possible, though I still don't expect it to ship in quantity until late September/early October.
Apple iPhone 5 will be the NFC 'iWallet' rumor claims
Apple partner Foxconn says Fall iPhone 5 will be the 'Samsung-killer'
WWDC 2012: Apple iPhone 5 details, Retina Display Macs
Will iPhone 5 boast removeable lenses? No, but it might fix Apple Maps
WWDC 2012: Facebook integration, Apple Maps for Fall's iOS 6
Apple WWDC: iOS 6 says farewell to Google Maps
iPhone 5 release: Apple's September launch, what to expect
Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.