The crazy Apple rumor guide to iPhone 5

By Jonny Evans

Deep in the darkest secret caverns of Cupertino, teams of  Apple [AAPL] experts are asking themselves the question: "When everybody we compete with seems to be copying our user interfaces, how do we stand out?" The answer's obvious: with iPhone 5, the company will re-invent the smartphone. Again.

Complacency kills

This isn't such an audacious suggestion. Android seems so similar to Apple's iOS, and while the cultists from Google's robot army will point to small UI elements such as Notifications as evidence that Cupertino sometimes seeks inspiration too, it was the iPhone which came first. And while it was in development, Google's then CEO sat on the Apple board, reclused or not, that's a pretty good position to seek inspiration from.

He's not on Apple's board any more. Google has no insight into Apple's plans, beyond a few potential mavericks couched inside the secretive firm. And Apple knows it must fight back. Change is the answer.

I'm not talking about a wholesale transformation of the iPhone, due out around November 2012, I'm talking about small, incremental changes which will deliver a user interface far more sophisticated and user-focused than anything anyone else has to offer.

That's why the company's thought-leaders will free themselves from the rubber-clad restraint of simply following any predictable formula, and dare to be different. If this works, the competition will have no choice but submission.

The first evidences of such change are emerging:

-- What we already expect

Features and improvements we're already expecting in Apple's next smartphone include:

  • A fast quad-core A6 processor;
  • Massively improved graphics power (using the PowerVR Series6 GPU core family);
  • NFC support;
  • LTE support (this first appears within the iPad 3 next month).

-- The Home button

There's been months of rumors claiming Apple intends abandoning the Home button in order to maximize the size of the iPhone's display.

We've expected the physical button to be replaced by a haptic display, but when every other smartphone now boasts a little button on the front, why not put it elsewhere. Why not put the Home button on the side of the device? That's a concept that's ably articulated in the video above.


[ABOVE: Thanks to Patently Apple for this image for future security improvements.]

-- Siri on steroids

Apple already pumps the iPhone full of assistive technologies. Siri, its intelligent assistant, is already learning a huge amount about how people speak, what people want, how they express themselves and what they need. It won't be too long until Siri will let you do more. You'll use it to control your phone. This technology is supremely important as it will eventually enable the company to introduce smaller intelligent connected devices for those of us who don't need the app superpower of an iPhone (I believe).

Oh, and expect built-in dictation using Apple's recently-patented speech-to-text and text-to-speech converter ideas and Nuance's technology. In future this inevitably becomes a translation engine. Rather like the Babel Fish in Hitchiker's Guide.

-- Touch and gesture support

A recent report looked at Apple's work to develop a 3D user interface for iOS devices. The new UI will work with proximity sensor arrays and will respond to hovering gestures, that report claims.

This tech will, "...automatically determine and display a perspective projection of the 3D display environment based on the orientation data without the user physically interacting with (e.g., touching) the display. In some implementations, the display environment could be changed based on gestures made a distance above a touch sensitive display that incorporates proximity sensor arrays."

I'm not holding my breath for too much in the way of the legendary 3D interface Apple is said to be developing. Except in Maps.

-- Maps

And more than just maps, built in apps within the next iteration of iPhone should include first sight of the company's long in development Google Maps killer. I've written extensively on this in the past. These maps will be laden with information. They'll be available in multiple formats (satellite, local, augmented reality). They will unlock local information and tie in directly with the relevant tourist guide apps and translation widgets you may already have on your device.

These Maps will be horribly accurate and will be a delight to use on an iOS device. With a set of those Apple TV 3D glasses you'll likely see next year, you'll even be able to wander round far away places, almost as if you were there. Though the only people you might see around will be those avatars for other iOS users in the same area. Like Second Life. If it was good.(OK, the level of speculation just then grew a little feverish). Google would just populate its virtual environments with ads for performance-enhancers and "shop here" links.

-- Wallet

I mentioned NFC support, which unlocks the iPhone as an iWallet. Apple is already working away to develop its own payment technologies. Soon these will be ready, potentially introduced as a public beta, with limited spending amounts and a limited number of potential retailers.

-- Does your face fit?

Security will be the smartphone topic of the year in 2012. Analysts are expecting serious attempts to undermine existing operating systems, and this will include Apple's. Do you really think the people behind what is arguably already the world's most secure smartphone OS are standing still? Of course not, and with plans for mobile payments in the frame, the company is already working hard to develop systems to protect your pocket-sized passports to the digital high-life. Expect face and presence security detection as described here.

-- iPhone as a projector?

An August 2011 US PTO patent explained Apple's ideas for the integration of pico projectors within iOS devices.

If you aren't familiar with these things, a brief explanation: these are mini video projectors capable of casting small moving images at a flat surface. Resolution/quality on these things isn't always superb, but the technology inside pico components is improving fast.

I'm not certain Apple's ready to deploy these things in the next 12 months, but I'm interested to note a report claiming "Asia Optical expects to ship one million LCoS pico projector modules built in smartphones and one million LCoS external pico projectors in 2012."

Described as for use in smartphones "made in China", I'm wondering if this means the tech is ready for prime time. This isn't an iPhone 5 prediction exactly, but I can see these things appearing later down the line.

-- Slim machines

All I'll say here is the new iPhone Thunderbolt connectors enable new breeds of super-slim devices.

-- Sweat the small stuff

Expect little innovations. Tiny improvements in the device which you just won't find elsewhere. My favorite recent example? Apple's newly-published patent which describes an iPhone headset which automatically pauses your music when you take it off, and automatically plays it again once you put the headset back on. There will be many little features like this, the kind of features Apple's lost and lamented co-founder, Steve Jobs, knew how to introduce with such style. Also expect faster list, file and folder editing, and superb improvements in iCloud.

I'll end this item with a thought.

Think on all these technologies and you'll see that many of them could have a life beyond the iPhone, or the iPad, come to that.

You can imagine some -- Siri, for example -- used as part of the Apple television we've been expecting. I think the dream goes beyond that. I believe we'll see the firm introduce devices for wearable computing, and continue to see a future opportunity for it to produce and license an iOS-based system for controlling connected domestic devices, automotive applications and potential uses in healthcare or education.

Final thought: Just because Apple files a patent doesn't mean it will make a product. Just because speculation says it's possible doesn't make it's real. But I think it wise to expect some surprises inside iPhone 5.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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