The iPhone 5's Not-So-Easy Pieces
Apple's practice of keeping its design plans secret has been a highly successful marketing tool for the company -- encouraging rumors and speculation about what's on the horizon. As the anticipated launch of its next iPhone draws near, however, there are some murmurs of trouble ahead. Will manufacturers be able to assemble a collection of new components quickly enough to meet demand?
Jul 6, 2011 12:30 PM PT
The rumor mill is swirling up a storm for Apple's next iPhone launch. The company has placed orders for key components to be used in the next-generation iPhone, scheduled for launch sometime in the third quarter, according to The Wall Street Journal, which based its report on information provided by suppliers.
The new version of the iPhone is expected to be thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4, the sources said. It is expected to sport an 8-megapixel camera and operate on Qualcomm's wireless baseband chips.
Earlier this week, another iPhone rumor made the rounds: Pegatron Technology has received around 15 million orders for the iPhone 5, which Apple intends to start shipping in September, according to DigiTimes, which cited upstream component makers as its sources.
Suppliers have already started to send components to Pegatron, it said.
Pegatron, which supplied iPhone 4 units to Apple last year, reportedly has also been trying to secure iPad and Macbook contracts.
Whether the next iPhone will be a major upgrade from the iPhone 4 is the question of the day. Apple's plans for design and feature upgrades have to take into account the assembly and manufacturing capabilities of its suppliers.
"Despite complaints from manufacturers about difficulties installing components, they've had time to improve on the iPhone 4's manufacturing process," Chris Hazelton, research director for mobile and wireless at the 451 Group, told MacNewsWorld. "You'll see streamlining in terms of the weight and thickness of the device, but, there won't be major improvements beyond memory and camera."
With the proliferation of Android competitors, its likely Apple is feeling some pressure to deliver a batch of exciting new features. Consumers have come to expect cutting-edge innovations from the company.
However, "it is in Apple's best interest to keep some levels of consistency when it comes to mobile app developers' interests, to insure that apps run across the widest number of iPhones as possible, including this new model," said Hazelton.
"Outside of that -- new features such as NFC (near field communication) will hopefully be added to allow new use cases for iPhone around mobile payments, commerce, and social networking," he said.
The next iPhone may have to be redesigned to accommodate new features and functionality.
"Significant hardware updates -- to add new components like expanded memory, additional radio bands, and NFC -- may require a new case," said Hazelton. "A new case could also reduce perceptions of any 'death grip' issues. If the use of Qualcomm's chip is accurate, this means the next iPhone will run on both CDMA and GSM/HSPA+ networks, simplifying Apple's manufacturing and distribution process."
Whatever the company has in mind for its next handset, it's likely the launch itself will be another Apple success story.
"Apple has built up a lot of experience with four-to-five prior iPhone launches (counting Verizon's launch), so I don't expect any problems with this upcoming launch," said Hazelton. "It will be a significant one, as it will be both a hardware and software refresh, so regardless of where users are in their carrier contract, most iPhone users will get access to new features like iMessage, hardware based volume button, camera button and notification center."
Look to iOS
Along with the speculation on features and form factor, there's interest in whether iOS will get a few tweaks or something more like an overhaul.
"The Wall Street Journal has published more information that contradicts itself than any other coverage," Josh Martin, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, told MacNewsWorld.
"I think the big story on iPhones is related to the OS side," he said. "You'll get better cameras or whatever else on the phone, and that's important, but hardware doesn't mean very much. The operating system means the most."
Its all about the apps, suggested Martin.
"It seems like Apple is staying with the strategy of one device per year," said Martin. "They're sticking to it, and that means a lot to users. With Android, you don't know when updates are coming. Apple has made the development path for developers and users very easy. As for what's coming out, Apple keeps it pretty close to the vest, but we'll see improvements in the device on the lifestyle front. You can expect better pictures that are easier to share."
There will be improvements designed to make social networking easier, he predicted, and advances in Apple's famous user-friendliness.
"The data saving function in an application will be improved with the next device," Martin said. "In the next generation of the iOS, you'll see it saves where you left off. Apple is also tying the ecosystem together across devices. The story for the next device will be around the Apple ecosystem. Having devices on the same ecosystem is inherently more valuable than having devices on different ecosystems."