Apple iPhone 5 -- fresh reports claim 4-inch display

By Jonny Evans

From where I'm sitting it looks like Samsung may rue the day it crossed its biggest customer, Apple [AAPL] as it appears Cupertino's investing in competing firms, meaning the iPhone 5 won't just transform smartphones, but will also generate new competitors for its former friend.

[ABOVE: One of Apple's two latest iPhone/Siri ads.]

Apple assembles the iPhone 5 jigsaw

We all expect the iPhone 5 to appear in Fall, probably September in preference to my original October claim. We anticipate the release will ship with iOS 6, which we expect to see explained at WWDC 2012 next month. We expect the iPhone 5 to be faster, with better graphics and an advanced 4-inch display. Inclusion of NFC seems likely, should Apple not instead opt for Bluetooth-based payment systems. There'll be new Apple Maps, Siri improvements and more.

Apple is already lining up component suppliers for its new smartphone, with Japanese firms coming in for particular attention, the latest reports claim even Sony has been drafted into the iPhone 5 supply chain, joining LG Display, Toshiba Mobile Display and Sharp in production of 4-inch in-cell touch panels for the next iPhone.

All the above firms are expected to begin iPhone display production at the end of May, sundry reports suggest.

Sharp and Foxconn grow closer

The alliance between Sharp and Hon Hai/Foxconn continues to extend, even as Sony today put its stake in its joint panel production venture with Sharp up for sale.

(That's the same venture Foxconn recently coughed-up good cash to join, allegedly in order to secure display production and supply. Apple's a huge Foxconn customer, so there's little doubt some of the Sharp/Foxconn made displays will be heading to an iPhone near you.)

Also today Reuters tells us: "Japan's Sharp Corp and Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. will jointly produce panels for Apple Inc's iPhone and other consumer electronics products in China." Under this new deal Sharp will supply cutting-edge technology for the new factory in Chengdu.

These displays aren't cheap. In November, iSuppli estimated the cost of the touchscreen and display unit to be $37. With Apple on track to sell maybe 140 million or more iPhones per year, this means an estimated $5 billion is headed into the coffers of the company's new suppliers. (Though the estimate's based on the cost of the components used in iPhone 4S.)

That's a significant cash prize for Japan's ailing electronics industry, post-tsunami.

Operational excellence

Apple partner, Qualcomm, is also expected to lend its hands to the next iPhone, with Piper Jaffray analyst, Gene Munster, predicting that company will be able to deliver the 28nm baseband processor for the iPhone 5.

Finally, some speculation. Most agree the 8-megapixel camera used in the current iPhone is ample for taking casual pictures. Manufactured by OmniVision, there's a chance Apple could raise this to a 16-megapixel camera, if it so chose.

That's because OmniVision has announced two new 16-megapixel camera sensors designed for "high-end smartphones". The sensors can capture Quad Full High Definition video at 60 frames per second. This means your iPhone (in conjunction with iMovie) could potentially capture incredibly high quality video. Does anyone remember Flip?

All this activity in the supply chain is having major repercussions on the nature of that side of the industry, and the evidence suggests Apple is putting plans in place for a major reworking of its smartphone -- the 4-inch display is only part of this. CEO Tim Cook's operational genius is hatching a strategic competitive plan.

More than one phone?

Even so, it appears the company hasn't yet internally declared which way to go with the new design with a report claiming Apple still has "a few" different prototype devices undergoing internal testing in the hallowed halls of its Cupertino HQ. And the iPhone 5 (or new iPhone, or sixth-generation iPhone, or whatsoever Apple's marketing mavericks choose to call the thing) will, indeed, boast a new Dock Connector, that report claims.

What does all this mean for Samsung? Put simply, it means a sackful of trouble, because in the next year or two firms it currently compete with will be profiting from the Apple dollar, with plant and industrial equipment investment which will help those firms raise their game.

This will inevitably enable smaller Samsung foes to begin to take strategic chunks out of the Korean firms electronics market dominance. Given the company had the chance to make peace with Apple in the US courts this week, executives and shareholders may in future consider the company only has itself to blame.

Keep up with further iPhone 5 coverage here:

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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