What iPhones May Come
Tuesday is Apple's big iPhone event, where the public will presumably see the first new Apple smartphone to come along in well over a year. iPhone aficionados are hoping for a wide variety of new technologies, features and designs. There are even questions regarding just how many new iPhones CEO Tim Cook will have with him when he takes the stage.
Invitations to Apple's big Tuesday iPhone event started going out last week, and since the notoriously tight-lipped Apple has managed to keep facts about its next smartphone scarce, the new technologies and design the device will feature are anyone's guess.
There are even questions regarding just how many new handsets the public will see Tuesday. Apple could be planning to release a new but trimmed-down version of the iPhone 4 that will sell at a lower price in order to expand market share. In addition, it's likely a next-generation iPhone, presumably dubbed "iPhone 5," will also be released with advanced features at a higher price.
The only clue Apple offered on the invitations to the Cupertino event, which will be led for the first time by new CEO Tim Cook, were the words, "Let's talk iPhone." That alone led one analyst to speculate some new type of voice recognition technology will be launched on the phone.
Other possible changes include a thinner or lighter design, a larger screen and the adoption of advanced technology that will incorporate business outside the communications realm, such as a deep reliance on the upcoming iCloud service or the implementation of Near Field Communication technology.
Apple did not respond to MacNewsWorlds' requests for further comments.
Since the last iPhone debuted in mid-2010, 4G wireless services like LTE have become more widely available. The faster cellular Internet service is a draw to online entertainment devotees looking to stream movies and videos at higher speeds, and they may constitute a good chunk of the iPhone's demographic. Rumors from developers and suppliers over the past few months have suggested that Apple was toying with the idea of equipping the new iPhone with the faster service.
Since 4G is still in its relatively infant stages, though, the technology may not be ready to fit into Apple's design or quality standards. It could require the phone to be larger and would probably eat at battery life at a much more rapid rate than a 3G connection.
"I don't think we'll see an LTE-enabled iPhone introduced this week. I think Apple still has battery and design challenges to overcome in creating an LTE iPhone, and unlike some of its competitors, Apple doesn't bring half-baked products to market," Colin Gibbs, mobile curator for GigaOM, told MacNewsWorld.
Instead, Gibbs suggested, the new phone might support HSPA+, which will only be available to iPhone customers using AT&T as their service provider.
Until those kinks can be worked out and LTE technology is provided from the carriers Apple works with, the company will probably wait to include it in the device.
"It doesn't play well into the esthetic part of Apple. It's thicker and more clumpy, and unless there's something we don't know, it's not really going to fit into the Apple design philosophy," William Stofega, program director of mobile device technology and trends at IDC, told MacNewsWorld.
Other design changes will likely arrive, however. The iPhone's screen size hasn't changed since its first rollout in 2007, and to keep in line with industry trends it could go up to a 4-inch screen or even larger. A thinner or lighter design would also be an upgrade and more similar to newer handset models. Since the iPhone design has usually been a crowd-pleaser, though, any esthetic changes are likely to be slight.
More substantial changes could include new technologies such as NFC or more advanced voice recognition features. However, since the mainstream market and retail systems aren't necessarily in place to support NFC transations, it might be a few more product cycles until that technology hits the iPhone.
"NFC shows tremendous promise for everything from mobile marketing to mobile payments, but the infrastructure, ecosystems and applications have yet to emerge to make NFC a truly useful technology for consumers. Others are investing heavily in NFC, but it seems unlike Apple to chase something that isn't market-ready yet," said Gibbs.
If any company can tell consumers what they want or need, though, it's Apple, and if not in this launch, the company will continue to expand its products to be applicable outside the communication network.
"The notion of apps, games and music and some of the other things is great, but I think we're going to see Apple stretch beyond the communications network and interact with things like paying at the supermarket. If there's a trend for that, Apple would certainly be the company to get that started," said Stofega.
One way Apple could promote that entire ecosystem is through its upcoming iCloud service, which that will enable users to streamline data and entertainment across multiple platforms and devices. The upgrade announced Tuesday will likely come with heavy promotion of storing information in the cloud.
"With an iCloud service, kind of like the iTunes store, Apple is making you buy into their version of the future. That's been a bit of a weak point as far as a mass market, but that kind of deep-set integration allows you to do what no one else can, and they're going to want to push that," said Stofega.
The company understands users aren't going to adopt the service overnight, though, and it may opt to boost the maximum onboard storage space on the next iPhone to 64 GB.
"Apple is moving aggressively toward the cloud, to be sure, but that transition will take quite a while. Cloud-based services must be rock-solid before consumers embrace them, and service providers and developers must change the way consumers store and access their data, which will take time," said Gibbs.
Raising the Bar
Even at a lower price, though, competitors generally don't have the streamlined ecosystem in place that Apple does and have to merely stay at the top rather than propel themselves there. The pressure, then, is almost entirely from within to produce a flawless, innovative device.
"You're talking about a company that has a user base known for product loyalty and excitement and a lot of interest going on, which is a good thing and a bad thing. Everyone is going to look at how they are going to raise the bar, and Apple really only has itself to compete with in their own legacy of innovation," said Stofega.
A less-than-perfect device, though, won't be enough to topple the company. Though Android and other competitors have proven tough, it's been a combination of devices competing against the giant, not one nemesis.
"Apple is a master at marrying mobile hardware and software, and while Android is an undeniable force, we still have yet to see any single handset challenge the iPhone. The new device will have some incremental tweaks to stay competitive with the other latest and greatest phones coming to market, and that will be enough for Apple to keep pace," said Gibbs.