Think of Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference this week as a giant tea cup, drained to the dregs of loose leaf tea and the entire iOSphere leaning-in to read the soggy remains and figure out what the heck is happening with iPhone 6.
In the WWDC aftermath, it's clear that CEO Tim Cook has been successful in his pledge to "double down on secrecy." The iOSphere is reading the WWDC tea leaves for the future iPhone plans. But no one seems to know any more about them today than we knew following the announcement of iPhone 5 in October 2012.
[RELATED:10 takeaways from Apple's WWDC]
This week: iOS 7 gives clues and cues about the Next iPhones, though the details are actually kind of hazy. Quite hazy, actually. Also there is no iPhone 5S. Just accept that. And the Next iPhone will have ginormous screens. Unless that's a fabrication or a typo.
You read it here second.
"I can't help but think that Cook, Ive, and the rest of the Apple team won't be able to resist matching the biggest change in iOS since its launch, with a big iPhone hardware change too."
~ Vincent Nguyen, Slashgear, explaining his reasoning on why the Next iPhone will be a Big Change.
iPhone 6 features revealed or at least hinted at in iOS 7...kind of
Since there were no iPhone announcements at WWDC, the iOSphere "analyzed" iOS 7 to discover clues, cues, hints, indications, intimations, suggestions or traces that point to the next iPhones.
It was a mixed bag.
Slashgear started off promisingly, with the headline "iOS 7 and the rebirth of iPhone," a post by Vincent Nguyen. "[A]lready I'm confident that iOS 7 will bring me back over from Android, not to mention open the door to some hardware surprises later in the year," he writes.
What might those surprises be, and how might they be the rebirth of the iPhone? Oddly, Nguyen never actually says.
"What I'm left expecting, though, is something equally pivotal to run it on," he writes. "The current thinking is that Apple's next smartphone will be the iPhone 5S, a more subtle update to the existing phone, with a significant refresh [considered to be iPhone 6] waiting until 2014. I can't help but think that Cook, Ive, and the rest of the Apple team won't be able to resist matching the biggest change in iOS since its launch, with a big iPhone hardware change too."
What could this big iPhone hardware change be? Probably not a bigger screen, Nguyen says, surprisingly. "The display is still likely to be a 4-inch Retina panel, since that satisfies that all-important one-handed use issue...."
His best guess? The phone will, somehow, be inspired by the new Mac Pro. "I'd guess at a form-factor that borrows cues from the other eye-catching part of the WWDC keynote, the new Mac Pro," Nguyen reasons. "That, with its crisply minimalistic polished aluminum enclosure, is the new pinnacle of Apple's design ethos, and would be a great starting point to build the new iPhone from."
We're not exactly sure what he means by this. The iPhone 5 already has a pretty crisply minimalistic aluminum enclosure. And the photo with his post shows only the interior of the Mac Pro, with its vaguely steampunkish aesthetic, rather than the smooth, polished aluminum shell that covers it.
"Which phone works most effectively for me; which implements its features in ways that look and operate the most successfully," Nguyen wonders. "Already, I'm seeing a whole lot to iOS 7 that signals it will deliver on that." But, again, he never really explains what the "whole lot" is that he's seeing.
GottaBeMobile's Josh Smith seems convinced that iOS 7 shows or at least "hints" that the Next Big Thing in the Next iPhone is precisely what Nguyen discounts: a bigger screen. He makes his case in his post, "iPhone 6 Hints From iOS 7" but especially in his companion 3:47-minute YouTube video, which neatly shows some of the new features in the iOS 7 beta installed on his iPhone 5.
Here's his main assumption: iOS 7 lets you swipe, from wider areas onscreen, to do more tasks "and the swipes are not limited to small touch points." Therefore, as he says, "All of these small changes make it easier to use a larger display iPhone 6 with one hand because there is not a need to reach to a corner or hit small touch points."
He also argues that the "improved landscape support" in iOS 7, meaning when you hold the phone horizontally, is "a small step towards better support for landscape on the [future, bigger-screened] iPhone. The iPad and iPad mini offer landscape support throughout and it is a big part of how many use those devices."
"Why are we talking about an iPhone 6 with a larger display already?" he asks. Good question. The not-very-good answer: "Well, rumors point to an iPhone 6 in 2014 that includes a larger display."
This seems kind of like the "if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail" idea. The problem with the iPhone, according to one group of critics, is that increasing the screen to 4.0 inches means it's still small compared to 5.0 or 5.5 or 6.0 or even 4.8. So Apple must release a larger-screen phone; and therefore the UI changes in iOS 7 have been made for that purpose.
iPhone 5S doesn't exist so plan on the iPhone 6
The irrepressible Will Stabley, founder of StableyTimes, was one of the very very few in the iOSphere who could discern what WWDC truly revealed about the Next iPhone.
His post, "iPhone 6: six things Apple, Tim Cook, and iOS 7 just told us about it," is a model of decisiveness: "There is no iPhone 5S."
One of the six things is "What it looks like." Stabley: "During the iOS 7 demos Apple included the image to the left, which looks unlike any current or past iPhone. Either it's the iPhone 6 or Apple has now taken to using meaningless stub graphics of imaginary Apple devices in its keynote presentations. There is no iPhone 5S: Apple didn't completely redesign iOS just to have it run on the same old hardware, so look for the iPhone 6 to directly follow the iPhone 5."
You didn't realize that the "S" in 5S stood for "same old hardware."
He also discovered "When the iPhone 6 is arriving." His reasoning goes like this: "Apple says iOS 7 is arriving in the fall, which according to the 2013 calendar means anywhere from September 22nd to December 20th. That's right, the technical definition of fall is a bit skewed from what most people commonly consider it to be. But Apple has never launched a new iPhone later than mid October. [Apple has announced exactly two of six iPhones in the fall, Oct. 2011, Sept. 2012.] In other words, look for the iPhone 6 in September. Unless "fall" was a worst case scenario estimate in case iOS 7 beta testing progresses slowly, in which case an August release may not be out of the question. But what Apple really told us is that it doesn't precisely know when it'll launch the iPhone 6."
Not only do we not know when the iPhone 6 is arriving, but no one at Apple does either.
iPhone 6 will have bigger screen(s)
A very carefully worded Reuters story is, despite that care, already being widely misinterpreted as saying that Apple is set to announce two new iPhones, one with a 4.7-inch screen and one with a 5.7-inch screen.
The Reuters headline is strikingly odd: "Apple looking at bigger iPhone screens, multiple colors – sources." It's odd because most headlines don't feature "sources." It's as if Reuters is assuring readers "we got more than one person talking to us about this! It's not a rumor! Trust us!"
There are four sources, in fact: "people with knowledge of the matter" who shared that knowledge with Reuters reporters Clare Jim, Reiji Murai and Poornima Gupta.
Here's the opening: "Apple Inc is exploring launching iPhones with bigger screens, as well as cheaper models in a range of colors, over the next year, said four people with knowledge of the matter, as it takes a cue from rival Samsung Electronics."
A bit later, it adds this: "Apple is looking at introducing at least two bigger iPhones next year - one with a 4.7-inch screen and one with a 5.7-inch screen - said the sources, including those in the supply chain in Asia. They said suppliers have been approached with plans for the larger screens, but noted it is still unclear whether Apple will actually launch its flagship product in the larger sizes."
[In the first of two posts on this story, with no links to it or even mentioning Reuters, Will Stabley of the eponymous StableyTimes ("a new kind of news"), claims this is pure rumor mongering: "So when this morning's rumor dropped that the iPhone 6 will be an ungodly five and three quarter inches large, instead of recognizing it for the fabrication of typo [apparently intended as "fabrication or typo"] that it is, the industry is attempting to match up the ‘5.7 inch iPhone 6' claim with their imaginary multi-billion dollar phablet market." In March Samsung announced the ungodly 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega.]
The key words in the two Reuters paragraphs above are "exploring" and "looking at." It's almost a certainty that Apple has been exploring and looking at different screen sizes for the iPhone (and iPad) for years, because it takes years for complex electronics products to be designed, tested, redesigned, finalized, and manufactured, marketed, distributed and sold at scale.
At bottom, the Reuters story describes not the next iPhone or even next year's iPhone, but the process through which Apple develops the iPhone, by working with an intricate network of suppliers and other partners. The story itself alludes to this: "'They [Apple] constantly change product specifications almost to the final moment, so you're not really sure whether this is the final prototype,' said one person with direct knowledge of the matter."
As the Reuters story notes, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked during an interview at May's AllThingsD conference "why Apple hasn't launched different sized iPhones." His reply: "We haven't so far. That doesn't shut off the future."
Of course it doesn't. That reply actually says far more than it first seems to. Asymco's Horace Dediu offered his interpretation of Cook's full set of remarks on this subject.
One of Dediu's points is this:
"The [extended] iPhone portfolio may still arrive. It hasn't so far because the cost/benefit is not there for Apple. On one hand it would take a great deal more sourcing effort and risk while dealing with constraints in production. On the other it would not offer meaningful additions to the customer base. At least so far. The economics and the demand may change (or have changed) and the time will come for a broader portfolio."
A cost/benefit analysis is a moving target, because the economics involved and demand are constantly changing. Apple is paying attention to these changes, and to its markets. It's clear that so far – up to the release of the iPhone 5 – Apple's analysis of the cost/benefit is dramatically different from that of much of the iOSphere.
How might that portfolio extension be made? As Dediu interprets Cook, "changing screen size is one dimension but it has to be balanced by performance gains that don't detract from other dimensions. Engineering is all about compromise and consumers pay Apple to make these compromises in an intelligent way. Apple does not come to an answer to the question of balance by launching many products and seeing what works. It cannot afford to dilute its brand with a long list of failures. Other brands may not be affected by trial-and-error approaches to the market but they are discounted by the customer accordingly."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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