The iOSphere was feasting this week on Notes to Investors, those alchemical documents that transmute the lead of iPhone 6 rumors into the gold of authoritative fact.
How else could we know the many details of iPhone cheapo that emerged in such plenitude, including multiple release dates, and sizes, not to mention the suffering of "billions" who yearn for it and yet must wait.
Also this week, fingering the home button, how iPhone 6 stacks up against another nonexistent smartphone, the specter of 2014, consumer longings, and whoa of un-wow.
You read it here second.
iPhone 6 and iPhone cheapo due in mid-2013
Not one but two Next iPhones will be announced around June or July 2013, according to an ever-more-widely cited "note to investors" from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
CATCH UP: Week of Jan.11 iPhone 6 rumor roundup
Among Kuo's "expectations" is that one of the iPhones, dubbed iPhone 5S, will "very similar to the current iPhone 5" but it will have a new processor (the A7), a fingerprint sensor, and an improved camera with a f2.0 aperture and smart LED flash.
Somewhat disappointingly, Kuo "believes that the lower-cost iPhone will in many ways simply be an iPhone 5 repackaged into a slightly thicker (8.2 mm vs. the current 7.6 mm) plastic enclosure available in six colors," according to MacRumors' Eric Slivka, one of many who repeated the Kuo expectations.
According to a handy "breakdown of specs" chart helpfully included by Slivka, Kuo's "iPhone 5S" will have a bill of materials estimate of $230-$250 (making it more expensive to build than the estimated $210-$230 for iPhone 5); but the retail price for an unlocked model would be in the same range as iPhone 5: $600-$700.
Kuo "expects" the unlocked iPhone cheapo to retail for $350-$450, and to be free -- as in "FREE!" -- with a two-year contract. That Apple would offer a brand new product for a price of $0 seems a stretch; it currently offers an 8GB iPhone 4 for $0 and two-year contract with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon, or $450 if unlocked.
Slivka assures readers (who otherwise might be inclined, cynically, to consider notes to investors, or NTIs for short, as the copy/paste results of analysts reading Apple rumor sites), that Kuo "has a very good track record in predicting Apple's product plans."
This would be the same Ming-Chi Kuo who last August released an NTI that predicted the soon-to-be-announced iPad mini had suffered delays because it would use a "thinner and lighter 'GF Ditto' touch structure," according to the same Eric Slivka who faithfully summarized Kuo's expectations. Instantly known as "GFD," this new "touch structure" was (and as far as The Rollup can tell remains) a completely unexplained and possibly nonexistent innovation. But that didn't inhibit Slivka from claiming that "Apple is said to be the first company in the world to commercialize and mass produce the technology."
iPhone 6 home button to have fingerprint sensor
AppleInsider leveraged Kuo's NTI to the max. Slivka's colleague, Neil Hughes, provided new details of Kuo's expectations regarding the fingerprint sensor for the Next iPhone.
"Apple is expected to launch a new iPhone this year with a fingerprint sensor hidden beneath the home button -- an intuitive design that could be difficult for competing Android and Windows Phone devices to copy," Hughes enthused.
Kuo and Hughes expect that the fingerprint sensor will be based on technology acquired last year when Apple bought AuthenTec, which makes a variety of silicon-based "smart sensors" with functions like fingerprint recognition but also highly accurate touch and gesture processing. According to Hughes, Kuo "believes Apple will find a way to integrate the fingerprint sensor into the home button, allowing Apple to keep its 'minimalist design.'"
Hughes continued: "In contrast, many Android and Windows Phone devices have more than one button below the display, and those buttons frequently lack the mechanical push of Apple's home button. As a result, attempts to integrate fingerprint scanning on competing devices would be less intuitive, and could frustrate users, Kuo said."
Combining the iPhone home button with a fingerprint sensor lets Apple "replace the use of usernames and passwords, allowing users to authenticate in a more efficient manner. [Kuo] also expects that the fingerprint scanner will integrate with applications such as Passbook to enhance their functionality."
For background, Hughes links to an August 2012 analysis by AppleInsider's Daniel Eran Dilger on the AuthenTec acquisition. Much of the industry coverage focused on the fingerprint sensing technology and the prospect of adding a fingerprint sensor to the iPhone, and other Apple products, to lock/unlock the devices.
But Dilger examines how the home button could use AuthenTec's technology to be transformed into a complement to the iPhone's touchscreen: using swipes of different fingers not only to unlock and activate specific apps and to trigger customized tasks, but also to launch faster screen scrolling or more precise screen touch for specific apps.
In addition, he notes that AuthenTec "also develops IP cores for accelerating cryptography and encryption/decryption, features Apple could add to its System on a Chip designs to simplify and enhance the performance of iOS devices in handling HDCP (HDMI content protection) or integrating hardware acceleration of disk encryption, VPN services, app and iOS platform authentication (thwarting jailbreaks)."
So even if Kuo is right, there may be more to the fingerprint sensor than meets the i.
iPhone 6 will be outclassed by HTC's M7 ... but not really
It's part of the iOSphere's surreal charm that it can compare two unreleased and unannounced products, complete with assertions that simultaneously sound fully authoritative and utterly baffling.
"iPhone 6 vs. HTC M7: Will HTC Follow Samsung's Footsteps in Beating Apple's Smartphone?" wonders Kristin Dian Mariano, posting at International Business Times.
This is the iOSphere convention of rhetorical question, where the answer is implicit in the question. "It seems that HTC aims to follow the path paved by Samsung overtaking Apple," she announces.
She begins by citing another recent Note To Investors, this one by Jefferies stock analyst Peter Misek, who predicts that "the iPhone 5S/6 has a new 'super HD camera/screen, a better battery, and NFC,' and 'possible updates include an IGZO screen for Retina+, 128GB storage.'"
Authoritative. Yet it becomes baffling because in IBT's comparison of the two nonexistent smartphones, nearly all of the specs and features show the non-existent iPhone 6 matching if not besting the nonexistent M7.
For example, "Screen Display - Upcoming iPhone 6 is speculated to boast 5-inch Full HD display. HTC M7 will have 4.7 inches 1080p display." So, the iPhone will have a larger screen than the M7. The term "1080p," according to Wikipedia, "usually assumes a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9, implying a resolution of 1920 × 1080 (2.1 megapixel) often marketed as Full HD."
Or take "Internal Storage - Apple's smartphone will have 128GB storage. HTC's upcoming smartphone is speculated to come with 32GB of internal storage."
And OMG both devices will have LTE and NFC, LOL. ARGH.
iPhone 6 will ship in ... wait, 2014? That must be a mistake, right?
That's the bad news. The good news is it will be preceded in June or July 2013 by the iPhone 5S.
GottaBeMobile's Josh Smith seems sold by the latest Note To Investors by Jefferies stock analyst Misek.
This year, Apple will release only a "minor iPhone 5 upgrade," Smith posts, based on Misek's NTI. But. Next year. Who Knows.
Misek "believes Apple is planning a 4.8-inch iPhone 6," Smith reveals. And it won't have a home button. That would be bad news for KGI Securities analyst Kuo, of course, who is predicting the Next iPhone, one of them anyway, will have an improved phone button.
This prediction is "based on a prototype." To keep this in perspective, it's probably best to think of an "iPhone prototype" as sort of like "iPhone fan art turned into a 3D model."
Misek also has exspectulations (a combination of "expectations" and "speculations") that the iPhone cheapo will, in Smith's phrasing, "focus on low-cost instead of being 'cheap'" and have a "polycarbonate case with 4" non-Retina display and no LTE."
A cheaper iPhone 6 matters to "billions"
And speaking of cheaper, GottaBeMobile's Chuong Nguyen says that "a Cheaper iPhone 6 Doesn't Matter to You, But it Does to Billions."
Billions. Pining, longing, yearning for iPhone, if only it was cheaper or less expensive or lower-priced. Apple, are you listening?
"It's still unclear what the cost savings and profit margin would be for a cheaper iPhone, but with emerging markets like China, India, and Africa, the tradeoff would be greater and more lucrative market share for Apple," Nguyen assures us.
Of course, Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller recently assured us that Apple will "never blindly pursue market share." [Also see: "Will Apple introduce a lower-priced iPhone?"]
Part of the issue in overseas markets, according to Nguyen, is that carrier subsidies may not be as generous, or even available, as in the U.S. "In China, after high national taxes, the true cost of a base model iPhone 5 may be as high as $800 or $900," Nguyen says.
But last December, when the iPhone 5 went on sale in mainland China, there were two tiers of pricing. Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt, based on a report by China's Shanghai Daily, reported that "Traffic may have been light at the Apple retail outlets that were selling only unsubsidized iPhones (i.e. starting at US $846), but Apple's partners were having a field day selling the iPhone 5 under contract for as little as US $96." That's affordable by almost anyone's definition.
Part of that affordability was driven by unprecedented big trade-in discounts for older iPhone models, according to a ZDNet account.
Elmer-DeWitt continued: "In addition to the 300,000 pre-orders racked up last week by China Unicom -- up 50% from the 200,000 it took for the [iPhone] 4S last January -- the carrier sold 5,000 more before Friday noon in Shanghai alone. China Telecom, for its part, expected to sell 10,00 units in Shanghai by the end of the day Friday."
iPhone 6 will be, like, un-wow
Game over, man.
"Writer and radio producer" Eric Mack, writing in CNET's Crave gadget blog, declares "The iPhone 6 won't wow: 6 reasons why."
"Back in September , after the much-awaited and meh-filled unveiling of the iPhone 5, I made a declaration that's being borne out further in this week's headlines -- the iPhone jumped the shark some time ago," Mack reminds us. "Jumping the shark" was a phrase originally coined for the point where a television series runs out of real ideas and resorts to gimmicks.
The iPhone 5 demonstrated, Mack reiterates, the "lack of any groundbreaking innovation."
He thinks there will be an "iPhone 5s" with some dinky "iterative updates" and possibly a lower-cost iPhone cheapo. "But the real question is: then what?" he asks.
Not much, apparently.
"My gut tells me the iPhone as we know it will be done at that point," Mack says. "I have a hunch there will never be an iPhone 6, because Apple will be forced to move into a significantly different form factor to keep people interested and compete with the movement toward bigger phablet-like thingies and emerging wearable electronics."
When you put it that way, it's all so obvious: the Big Ones and the Unmistakable Irreversible Trend to "wearable electronics."
We can quickly summarize Mack's six reasons why the iPhone 6, which hunchwise will never appear anyway but if it does, will fail to wow, because the same six reasons have been pretty widely cited since the iPhone 4S, at least.
Here they are:
"iOS is stale"
"Samsung and Android are rocking lately"
"Apple is different under Tim Cook" (here "different" means "worse" because now Apple is a company "that seems to follow the more traditional model of giving customers what they want, rather than the Jobs model of dictating to consumers what they will want.")
"Young people don't think Apple is cool anymore"
"Price does matter" because "Money talks, and during these economic times it actually screams"
"To wow, you need a wow factor. ... Right now I'm having a hard time imagining any iPhone 6 that will elicit that most joyous of palindromes"
Almost needless to say, Mack doesn't bother quantifying any of these "reasons" which amount to little more than opinions, or even prejudices. An operating system is not, for example, like a loaf of bread. The fact that Samsung is rocking is irrelevant to Apple's success, both in sales and more importantly profitability: all the indications are that Apple next week will announce its most successful quarter for iPhone sales ever. And "young people" probably means "Eric Mack."
Mack's main mistake is to think that wowing the impressionable iOSphere hive mind is the same thing as having a successful and profitable product.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnwwEmail: email@example.com
Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.