After months and months, the iOSsphere has exploded with an iPhone 5 rumor that finally is worthy of the name. The pedestrian predictions of a dual-core processor and more memory and the labored explanations of why a tear-drop profile and marginally larger screen are a "radical" redesign pale in comparison to a Revolutionary Voice Interface, or RVI.
Other Apple rumor developments: The Date passes beyond rumor to fact; iPhone 5 might have 4G after all, depending on how you define it; Pent Up Demand, out of control-ness, and buying frenzy ahead.
You read it here second.
"The missing [iPhone 5] prototype is said to have been enclosed in a case to disguise it as a current-generation iPhone 4....How Apple applied that with the iPhone 5 supposedly wider and longer than the current iPhone 4 is a point to ponder."
- Chris Chang, M.I.C. Gadget
The end of rumors about The Date. This week Apple sent out press invitations with the folksy, and to some highly suggestive phrase (more below), "Let's talk iPhone." The talk will be Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 10 am Pacific Time at Apple's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. Finally, someone's rumor was actually right.
Forget about the touch thing. iPhone 5 has a Revolutionary Voice Interface.
This rumor has exploded through the iOSsphere like an instant digitalnova, fueled apparently by leaks and some informed and intriguing speculation.
Mark Gurman at 9t05mac has an extensive story about a new iOS software program called, somewhat misleadingly in our opinion, "Assistant." Assistant lets you verbally tell iPhone 5 what to do, such as schedule an appointment or find a store: the phone processes the speech and Assistant interacts with an array of systems and application software to get it done. It can even ask you questions, such as which email address or phone number to use to contact someone.
The basic idea is not a new rumor: it's been circulating for nearly a year since Apple acquired a startup called Siri. VentureBeat has been covering this since before the acquisition. Apple in 2009 with iPhone 3Gs introduced a feature called Voice Control, with a relatively small group of commands. Siri originally created a verbal assistant for the iPhone, using speech technology licensed from Nuance.
It was impressive but still constrained, according to VentureBeat's Anthony Ha. He wrote, in the article linked to above: "The main limitation was the fact that it only focused on a few areas, including restaurants, movies, events, local businesses, taxis, and weather. For that reason, even though I always mentioned the app as an impressive technology, I didn't actually use it as often as I thought, and I've heard anecdotally that others had the same experience. As Siri (or whatever Siri becomes) adds more features, that could change."
That's exactly what Siri and Apple seem to have done, which, if that's the case in iPhone 5, elevates the embedded voice technology from being a limited-function assistant to a full-blown user-interface, not replacing touch, but relegating to touch those things that voice can't, for now, do. (And Assistant doesn't require you to speak slowly, or repetitively: it can, says Gurman, process your normal speaking voice.)
That's why Assistant seems more far-reaching than Gurman's description of it as the phone's "system-wide voice navigation system" (though to be fair, we may just be splitting semantic hairs). As the most human of human interfaces, voice really could justify a claim by Apple that "this changes everything yet again."
That's certainly the very definite opinion of investor and Apple watcher Jason Schwarz in a provocative blogpost that leverages what Gurman, and others with leaked information, are now reporting.
He writes: "Wall Street has not yet caught on to the fact that this iPhone upgrade is an absolute game-changer. Consensus opinion remains severely off track with the expectation that this new phone will have a better camera, be a little faster, and look the same as the iPhone 4. The truth is that this iPhone 5 upgrade is the most significant upgrade to the Apple ecosystem since the initial launch of the product back in 2007."
Schwarz quotes then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the original iPhone announcement in January 2007 as saying, "We are all born with the ultimate pointing device -- our fingers -- and iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse."
Schwarz then adds his two cents: "Well, I would add that we're also born with the ultimate communication tool -- our voice -- and iPhone is about to create the most revolutionary user interface in the history of technology. I expect that this voice assistant will quickly make its way into laptops and desktops as well. Apple's competitive advantage is widening by the day."
The compute power required to process voice, especially to do so accurately in a fluid user interaction, is the one thing, apart from 3D online games, that actually makes a dual-core processor worthwhile on a mobile device. Rumors have consistently held that iPhone 5 will feature the dual-core A5 chip, currently used in the iPad 2.
But Schwarz is on much less firm ground when he talks about a possible revolution in search, created by this voice UI, which, he says, can handle "Web based search functions such as 'book a table for two at 9:00 tonight' or 'send a taxi to my house'....Voice search, rather than browser based search, could prove to be a real threat to Google's dominance." But whether using one's voice or one's browser, the underlying search is still done by a search engine. By eliminating touch, or even just reducing it, you potentially also eliminate the human eye in search, so the ads and sponsored links -- so vital to Google's revenues - are what might be really threatened by a voice interface from Apple.
The iPhone 5 and cellular 4G redux: it all depends on how you define "4G"
A China Unicom executive speaking at MacWorld Asia this week showed to his audience a slide that identified the iPhone 5 as supporting a data rate of up to 21Mbps via HSPA+ cellular technology. That would be three times that of the iPhone 4, which supports the slower HSPA standard, as VentureBeat noted.
VentureBeat was just one of the U.S. tech sites that picked up on the initial report, in Japanese, originating at PCWatch. Our guess is that a lot of Japanese nuance is lost in the Google Translate version: "Deputy Director of the Institute of the Chinese carrier China Unicom is an iPhone, you feel good (Huang Wenliang) presentation by Mr., iPhone 3G network in what has become of increasing the resolution further....Right edge of the slide and the 2011 portion of the model name and iPhone 5, corresponding to the HSPA +, there is a maximum speed of 21Mbps downlink description. Develop own network China Unicom, according to the slide has been conducted from 2010 to respond to HSPA +, has been that corresponds to the HSPA + base stations are 26,000 in all of China already, as the specifications of next iPhone was introduced from the carrier HSPA + support seems to be the first time."
But you get the gist: 4G HSPA+ instead of the lusted-for 4G LTE.
That would be, if not good news, at least better news for subscribers on AT&T and, maybe, T-Mobile, which are both rolling out HSPA+ to improve 3G speeds, even as AT&T also deploys LTE for even higher throughput.
A rumor about what caused all the iPhone redesign rumors.
The Website M.I.C. Gadget says that someone working for an "iPhone accessories supplier" told its crew that "an iPhone 5 prototype had gone missing from the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen Futian district. This should explain why we are seeing a whole lot of iPhone 5 cases in China today."
It would apparently also explain why the cases, and the rumors about the iPhone 5's shape and size, may be spectacularly wrong: the website was told by yet another source that the person who "stole" the prototype was paid to do so and to make sure it fell into the hands of case-makers.
First the derring-do, as recounted by Gadgeteer Chris Chang. "The missing prototype is said to have been enclosed in a case to disguise it as a current-generation iPhone 4-which brings to mind the iPhone 4 prototype acquired by Gizmodo that was camouflaged as an iPhone 3GS." So it does, along with so much else about the notorious Gizmodo Affair, immortalized by Shakespeare in "Love's Labor Lost (or Stolen): a felony in three acts."
But to quote TechBuffalo, even Chang is skeptical. "How Apple applied that with the iPhone 5 supposedly wider and longer than the current iPhone 4 is a point to ponder."
No kidding. Unless, of course, in addition to all its other marvels, iPhone 5 is dimensionally transcendental, like Dr. Who's time-traveling Tardis, where the inside is bigger than the outside.
"We were told that Foxconn was aware of the loss and had penalized internal management for the incident. [Yet] We also heard from another source that the person who "lost" it was paid to do so," Wang writes.
The rumor that these rumors may or may not be true is clearly false, according to the friend of a guy who knows the janitor that cleans the office of the junior assistant director of factory operations at an iPhone accessories manufacturer with links to companies in the Apple supply chain.
Signs of the Apocalypse (continued): iPhone 5 release will be "out of control" for the holidays
Josh Smith at GottaBeMobile is so excited that he gives his post two headlines. The first is "iPhone 5 Release: Why Launching for the Holidays Will Set Records."
And the second: "Why the iPhone 5 Release Will Be Out of Control."
If you read closely, he's basically saying "The reason iPhone 5 will set records is because the release will be out of control because of Pent Up Demand."
People, or at least GottaBeMobile readers, are ready to sacrifice their first born for an iPhone 5 apparently. "The demand is so great that 66% of our readers would buy the iPhone 5 without seeing it or knowing anything about the new device other than the current iPhone 5 rumors." What a heart-warming testimony to the power of the free flow of digital information and the wisdom of crowds.
Smith makes us feel the pain of the "many" iPhone 5 buyers, who "have been waiting for the new iPhone for many months," especially the "iPhone 3GS owners whose contracts expired back in June and July." The plight of the iPhoneless in America. But also don't forget the "many Verizon subscribers [who] have been waiting for a new iPhone before signing a two year contract."
We're not sure that last point computes, exactly, since Smith doesn't cite any data to show that "many" Verizon customers have put off buying an iPhone because they really, really want the next iPhone (the one they'll buy sight unseen based on just the rumors that GottaBeMobile and others have been posting faithfully).
For one thing, since introducing the iPhone for the first time this year, Verizon has activated 4.5 million units by the end of its second quarter in June, covering one full quarter and the final seven weeks of the first quarter. But those numbers, by definition, can't reveal how many are postponing an iPhone purchase.
There is "pent up demand" but it seems to be most pronounced among 'tech savvy" consumers who also can afford the iPhone-and-service-contract packages from the carriers. In the recent ChangeWave/RBC Capital Markets survey of "2,200 tech-savvy early adopters" 31% are very or somewhat likely to buy the iPhone 5, a jump from the 25% in this category last year, for the iPhone 4. RBC concluded, based on the results, that "66 percent of existing iPhone users are very/somewhat likely to buy the iPhone 5, pointing to a large pending upgrade cycle." Presumably this means 66% "of the current iPhone users in this sample of 2,200 tech-savvy early adopters," not 66% of all current iPhone users.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for "Network World."
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