Analysts set high expectations for iPhone 5 today

'No matter what it has, it's going to have an enormous launch,' says one expert

One thing's certain, analysts said today: Just hours from now, Apple will hit a home run when it unveils its next iPhone.

Beyond that, consensus among the experts was as hard to reach as a coterie from the United Nations agreeing on what to have for lunch in New York City.

Most believed that the Apple rumor mill, never shy about generating Amazing Kreskinian predictions, had more or less nailed it, and that there would be few major surprises. But each voiced different expectations, whether subtleties appreciated only after time, or almost invisible changes in the hardware, or how the new Apple smartphone may alter the competitive landscape.

But in the end, said one analyst, their expectations and predictions, or really anyone's, won't count.

"It kind of doesn't matter, does it?" said Van Baker of Gartner. "No matter what it has, it's still going to have an enormous launch."

Wall Street agrees. Estimates of pre-sales over the first three days -- likely to start Friday and run over the weekend -- came in as high as 6 million, or 50% more than the iPhone 4S' opening.

Big sales are a given, said the analysts. So are some of the specifics of what Apple will show.

"A lot are no-brainers," said Charles Golvin of Forrester, ticking off a litany of features he's betting the new iPhone will sport.

That unanimous list included support for mobile carriers' faster LTE networks, a larger form factor retains the iPhone 4S' width but is stretched in height to accommodate a 4-in. displays, a faster Apple-designed processor, a bigger battery and a new design that boasts a different look based on a unibody aluminum case.

Those are not new to smartphones, and could be read as a sign of Apple playing catch-up. Golvin acknowledged that, but noted it stems from the iPhone's once-a-year release cycle, while rivals, such as Samsung, pour out model after model during a 12-month span.

"Because Apple is on a very regimented release cycle, it's always playing a game of leapfrog with the competition," Golvin said. "And although it sometimes positions catch-up features as more innovative than they really are, Apple usually implements those features in a way so that they're much more easily accessible to consumers."

LTE, larger screen, faster processor: Everyone is assuming the iPhone 5 -- if that is its name today -- will have those. But what else, if not at the level of Apple's famous "One more thing," will the iPhone 5 offer?

"What I look for is innovating the overall user experience, not adding tech for tech's sake," said Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst who covers Apple. "The experience is the most profitable part of the iPhone," she argued. "It results in higher customer loyalty and more sales overall."

Milanesi hoped to see the larger screen, but not only for the expanded space. "How does it affect the clarity of the screen, does the keyboard layout take advantage of it, what's the sensitivity of the screen? And maybe it's time to revamp the actual layout of the screen to make more sense of the apps we have."

Golvin wanted to hear -- and see -- major improvements in the iPhone's audio and its cameras, citing competitors like HTC and Nokia, which have handsets that thump the iPhone on some specs.

"Apple might do something to boost the audio fidelity of the device, but how that manifests itself, I don't know," Golvin said. "And it could make a lot of changes in imaging, which is very, very important to users." Among such changes, Golvin cited increased resolution on both the front- and rear-facing cameras, and image stabilization.

Aaron Vronko, CEO of Michigan-based Rapid Repair, a repair shop and do-it-yourself parts supplier for the iPhone and iPad, found a hint of something close to his fix-it heart.

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