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Why Some Verizonistas Refuse to Wait for iPhone 5

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Feb 10, 2011 5:00 AM PT

While some analysts are predicting that Verizon will sell more than a million iPhones during its first week of sales, I wasn't overly surprised. We've been hearing about Verizon customers pining for an iPhone since 2007. Besides, one million is just one percent of the 100 million or so customers that Verizon already serves.

Why Some Verizonistas Refuse to Wait for iPhone 5

Still, it only took Verizon about two hours to burn through its available stock for pre-sales last week, which was more phones than any first-day launch in the history of Verizon Wireless. Plus, analyst Mike Abramsky with RBC Capital Markets has been widely quoted as saying that he expects another 3 million to 4 million handsets will sell in the first quarter of availability.

Then I looked at my right hand and started ticking off the months to June on my fingers. Five. It's just five more months of waiting until June, at which time Apple will most certainly introduce a new model of iPhone.

I wouldn't expect average citizens to be aware of Apple's traditional iPhone delivery calendar, in which the company has introduced a new iPhone each summer. But I would expect early adopters to be aware of it. After all, if you were savvy enough to snag one of the limited-supply Verizon iPhone 4s in two hours, you had to know that Apple would release a new iPhone this summer, right?

And, if that's the case, why would you be willing to sign a big, fat two-year-contract with Verizon, knowing full well that you're going to see another drool-worthy iPhone hit the market this summer?

Maybe They Know Something That We Don't Know

Of course, I'm pretty sure that I'd wait five additional months to get the latest and greatest "iPhone 5" ... but maybe Verizon customers have already lived so long with non-iPhones that even an old one is too good to pass up. Or maybe they know something we don't know -- like the specs for the new iPhone 5.

What can we reasonably expect to see in June? Might we get an entirely new form-factor? With all the antenna issues that Apple survived, along with a scathing Consumer Reports report, maybe 2011 will usher in a better iPhone shape. Maybe it'll be thinner, lighter, curvier. We can hope.

But I doubt it. I'm not betting on it at all. I expect the next iPhone to be essentially the same shape and size. We already have the new Retina screen, we have thousands of cases and stands and accessory options, and compared to many competing smartphones out there, the iPhone 4 is still a pretty svelte little unit. I just don't see a lot of industry pressure or even opportunity that would force Apple to deliver a major form-factor refresh. No, the move from iPhone 3G to iPhone 3GS may provide a history lesson that could hold true come June: Apple might focus on internals and software rather than new and surprising uses for Gorilla glass.

If No New Shape, What Might Be New?

  • One Unit to Rule Them All? First, there's a good chance that an iPhone 5 will work with both Verizon and AT&T, which means it'll have to use a dual-mode GSM/CDMA chipset, which seems pretty doable since the Verizon iPhone 4 already contains a new dual-mode Qualcomm MDM6600 chip, as noted by iFixit's teardown. It's not exactly an easy challenge, as the "slight" differences in antennas and button placement in the Verizon version suggest. If Apple could get to the point where it produces just one iPhone that will work with most any cellular service network, that certainly seems like a win for Apple (though it's hard to imagine that cellular service providers with existing Apple contracts will be pleased).

    But wow, Apple might be the only smartphone maker who might have the ability to produce a device with enough consumer demand to let Apple simply produce it, letting any cellular service provider figure out how to service it. Still, I doubt Apple's ready to turn its iPhone loose on the world -- I doubt Apple would want less-than-fully capable cellular service providers tarnishing the iPhone's reputation.

  • More Speed. Apple will most certainly introduce a new generation of its A4 processor, giving an iPhone 5 a processor speed bump.
  • More Storage. Same goes for onboard storage -- more, more, more.
  • Near-Field Communication. If Apple doesn't have a new hardware form-factor to show off -- or a pretty white iPhone 5 for that matter -- might consumers finally get the chance to use their iPhone to pay for retail items on the go? Future, here we come!
  • New Media Subscriptions. As part of iOS 5 and an update to Apple iOS ecosystem, might we finally get new ways to buy/rent/own/store songs? How about TV shows, series, or channels? There are plenty of ways Apple can delight in June that don't require a new form factor, and new ways to consume media is on my list.
  • Better cameras? There's an opportunity for Apple to upgrade its 5-megapixel camera lens and up the video recording from 720p to 1080p, but it's hard to say if it's a feature high enough in consumer demand to bother with. A smarter, faster image-processing brain would always be appreciated, of course, along with a less-harsh LCD flash.
  • Bigger Screen? It seems as if Apple could stretch out the physical size of the iPhone 4 screen, and while I don't expect it, I sure would welcome it.

Overall, when I start thinking about the likely upgrades we might see in June, it doesn't seem like such a bad decision to buy a new iPhone 4 from Verizon right now at all. Sure, we're on the cusp of getting faster 4G networks rolled out across the country, but for most consumers, 3G is still pretty darn capable, and more importantly, ubiquitous. Even as a happy AT&T customer heading into June with a year of contract under my belt, Apple would have to pull off some pretty new innovations to get me to upgrade into an iPhone 5.

Besides, if I know Apple at all, the company will offer existing customers some cool new iOS-based features so we all feel a bit of the innovation love.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.

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