Unseasonably warm weather, as so often happens, triggered rumor precipitation in the iOSsphere.
This week, the thin-screened iPhone, new guesses about The Date, confirming LTE based on something Verizon didn't say, the beauty of ultrasonic bonding, and the beer can phone.
You read it here second.
"The latest Apple iPhone is expected to come with a back plate made of the same material used in beer cans, and a rubberized bezel or edge." -- Sangeeta Mukherjee, International Business Times, winner of this week's Infelicitous Rumor Phrasing Award.
iPhone 5 will be thinner due to touch-screen technology
Business Insider has a post that is essentially an excerpt from a Wall Street analyst's "report."
The analyst, Peter Misek, with securities firm Jefferies & Co., says Apple is working with Toshiba on an advanced display technology for the iPhone. According to BI, "The new screen technology is said to be more responsive, and will allow Apple to make a thinner phone."
Misek's actual quote is: "We believe Apple is partnering with Toshiba Mobile Display on inCell [though its "in-cell" in Toshiba documents] technology for potential inclusion in the iPhone 5 or beyond." "We believe" is a lot less definite than "I know."
Toshiba unveiled its in-cell advances in May 2011, at the annual symposium of the Society for Information Display.
We don't pretend to be an expert but Misek seems to summarize the implications accurately: "It would remove the need for touch assemblies, allow them to reduce the thickness of iPhones considerably, and would enable unbelievably smooth and sensitive touch experiences for Apple devices." Or, clearly, for any other device vendor that wanted to adopt the technology.
The actual development is being done by Toshiba America Electronic Components, based in Los Angeles. The in-cell touch technology is enabled by Low Temperature Poly-Silicon (LTPS). Without going into numbing detail, here's a summary of the two main results, by Toshiba Mobile Display:
"[First] In the polycrystalline substance, the electrons can move at a significantly higher speed (about 100 times) than possible in the a-Si (non-crystalline Si) substance, thus the volume of information handled by the silicon on the glass of a LTPS LCD would be increased to a greater extent. In addition, the driver IC chips, which conventionally have been externally connected to the a-Si glass substrate, can be directly mounted onto the glass substrate, thereby allowing downsizing of the TFT section."
Essentially, LTPS can eliminate some of the component layers needed in conventional displays by integrating the drive circuit directly into the glass. The result, according to Toshiba, is very clear crisp images, greater resistance to vibration and impact, reduced components, reduced thickness and weight, more efficient light utilization and resulting lower power consumption.
Toshiba isn't the only display vendor working on this. Arch rivals Sony and Sharp are also, and Synaptics announced on Feb. 29 what it claims are the first volume shipments of an in-cell OEM product, its ClearPad 3250, "a single-chip touch controller for display integrated In-Cell capacitive touchscreens ... [that] eliminates the discrete touch sensor by integrating touch in the display, enabling OEMs to develop thinner smartphones."
Whether any of these are available in time and in volume enough for Apple's iPhone 5 production run remains to be seen.
iPhone 5 release date is July-September quarter
Or else the fall of this year. Sometime in there, for sure.
That's the rumor, more technically known as an "investment note," from a trio of analysts at investment banking firm Piper Jaffray, posted by Mark Long at Sci-Tech Today.
The analysts, Gene Munster, Andrew Murphy and Douglas Clinton, "have pushed back their expected iPhone 5 release date from mid-2012 to this year's September-ending quarter," according to Long.
Basically, the three guys admit they don't really have a clue. "We're uncertain whether they will try to retain the annual summer launches or have switched to an annual fall release, but some of our insight into the supply chain suggests fall," Murphy said in an email Thursday. "Also, if they don't have an iOS software Relevant Products/Services event in the Spring -- and wait until WWDC to intro iOS 6 -- then that sort of confirms that they're doing a fall launch."
And it certainly does. Sort of.
"Looking beyond 2012-2013, Piper Jaffray believes that the coming iPhone 5 will help Apple outperform the firm's prior expectation of 162 million iPhone unit shipments in 2014." That's something of an understatement. The PJs now think Apple will sell 285 million iPhones in 2014, but that will include more than whatever-the-latest-model will in that year: It will include lower-priced earlier models that Apple is increasingly pushing into prepaid markets overseas. The unit growth will be "driven by continued strength in developed markets and share gains in geographies with more prepaid users buying a $200 iPhone," according to the PJs.
Either they didn't specify the breakdown between latest-model sales and older-model sales in their projections or Long didn't report on them. But if the PJs are right, it may mean that Apple is the only company that can use older, repriced products to help power a high-growth product strategy.
iPhone 5 will have LTE
A Verizon press release is being widely interpreted as a "major hint" that the Next iPhone will support LTE.
The original foundation appears to be a brief, sketchy story on March 13 in The Wall Street Journal, by Greg Bensinger. The story essentially riffs on a Verizon press release about the carrier's plans to expand its U.S. LTE network to new markets throughout 2012.
Importantly, Bensinger notes (but without attribution) that "Verizon Wireless has pumped billions into building out and promoting the high-speed data network known as 4G LTE, but the carrier has drawn just 5% [emphasis added] of its customers to the faster network, as it has struggled to convince customers to upgrade from their 3G devices, most notably Apple Inc.'s popular iPhone." Of course, iPhone users cannot now upgrade to an LTE iPhone because none exists.
Then Bensinger claims, "The carrier said that for the rest of 2012, it would only unveil smartphones capable of running on its 4G LTE network. The statement [journo-speak for 'press release'] suggests any new iPhone this year will be 4G LTE-capable."
But assuming that Bensinger is referring to this online Verizon press release (which, confusingly, was issued the day after Bensinger's story is dated), the release in fact does not say or even imply any such thing.
The closest thing one gets to a potentially and profoundly minor hint is in a quote attributed to the carrier's CTO David Small: "Our commitment to expanding and enhancing our 4G LTE network is enabling more customers across the country to enjoy the benefits of the most popular wireless devices." The iPhone certainly qualifies as one of the "most popular devices."
But that, and the fact that the "news" contained in the press release was reported by the Journal, is enough for the iOSsphere. Small's committee-written quotes are a "major hint" that the next iPhone will have LTE, insists Steven Kovach, writing for Business Insider. Adam Mills, at GottaBeMobile, says, "Verizon pretty much confirmed what we think we know."
"From now on, all of Verizon's new smartphones will be able to connect to the carrier's 4G LTE network, the company's chief technical officer said in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires," Kovach declares, based on Bensinger's story based on the Verizon press release which didn't actually say that.
"Assuming Apple plays along with Verizon's plan, that means the next iPhone will likely have 4G LTE, just like the new iPad," Kovach asserts.
That seems to Rollup like a pretty major assumption. Even assuming that Verizon said what Bensinger, Kovach and others think it said, the iPhone is such a hugely popular phone that it creates its own exceptions. Even if Verizon did decide to offer only LTE phones from now on, the chances of it not offering the next iPhone, even if it lacks LTE, seem remote: Verizon needs Apple more than Apple needs Verizon. (OK, OK, we jumped on this story too: See "Verizon Wireless: 4G LTE or bust in 2012.")
iPhone 5 will have better ultra-sonic bonding
Who could resist a rumor about "ultra-sonic bonding"?
Certainly not "Nicole," at InRumor.com, where she breathlessly reports, "A new patent application from Apple published in the US Patent & Trademark Office today revealed that the company is considering new ways to permanently bond plastic and metal parts for its products."
"New patent application" actually means "new patent application first reported on by Patently Apple," where they pore over this stuff seemingly day and night. Nicole, doubtless through an oversight, didn't link to the other website, but we boldly go where InRumor doesn't.
Patently Apple found the March 15 publication by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office of an Apple patent application that actually "refines an older 2008 patent on using Ultrasonic bonding in products like the 2009 metal back iPhone and current iPods. Apple may have refined the process of ultrasonic bonding in their latest Apple TV and iPad designs where it's necessary to bring metal and plastic together to save on costs and to keep the devices lighter."
According to PA, ultrasonic bonding can make a stronger, more permanent bond than using adhesives to hold different materials together (in a phone casing, for example) and can be applied more flexibly than traditional metal welding. And Apple's refinement lets the technique be applied to different materials.
"Apple states that ultrasonic welding of plastic materials is used extensively in many other major industries, offers advantages in speed, efficiency and economy, and is often used where parts are too complex or expensive to be molded into a single piece," according to the website. "One big advantage of ultrasonic welding is that heating tends to be localized, such that the ultrasonic welding of plastic parts can take place at various stages of the overall manufacturing process without unduly disturbing nearby parts. Seams and joins of plastic parts that have been ultrasonically welded together can also be quite aesthetically pleasing in comparison with some traditional metallic welds."
Exactly. "Industrial design" doesn't mean having an iPhone welding seam that could be used on the Gerald R. Ford class of Navy aircraft carriers.
The problem is that different materials, like metal and plastics, have different melting points. According to PA, Apple's solution is to machine the metal surfaces in the dovetail pattern common to carpentry joinery, and then let the melted edge of the plastic components marry with the dovetail.
Nicole, as do so many others, interprets every Apple patent award or application as an unerring indicator of the Next New Thing in the Next New iDevice. But the patent application doesn't, of course, show that.
But who could resist a rumor about ultrasonic bonding?
iPhone 5 rear housing will use a new material
You can't really satirize an industry, in this case the international Apple rumor industry, that so successfully satirizes itself.
Here's the rumor, courtesy of International Business Times' Sangeeta Mukherjee, who offers it as part of the "rampant speculation that Apple's next generation smartphone will have some stunning features which will outshine all its competitors."
And what is one of these stunning features?
IBT has the scoop, though as befitting a real rumor, it's entirely unsourced: "The latest Apple iPhone is expected to come with a back plate made of the same material used in beer cans, and a rubberized bezel or edge."
This reminds Rollup of a now-ancient Mad Magazine advertising satire of the Madison Avenue mindset promoting a new toy ball "made with the same material used in B-52 bomber tires!" That would have been, back then, basically rubber.
The "material used in beer cans" is aluminum, stamped to paper (or less) thinness, and the details are on view in this Discovery Channel video on how beer cans are made. You can hear real men talking lovingly about the qualities of aluminum. There is also, as it turns out, more than one online History of Beer Cans.
That's what you can look forward to in this pinnacle of mobile phone industrial design: a beer can with a rubber edge.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww Email: email@example.com Blog RSS feed: http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/2989/feed
Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.