The more we hear about iPhone 5, the less we know about it. This week: a mainstream rehash of iOSsphere speculation.
The iPhone 5 will be two phones. It will be cheaper. It may not be ready in September. It will be on Sprint. And T-Mobile. It will have prepaid voice plans. It will be red.
"A rumor without a leg to stand on will get around some other way." -- John Tudor
The fifth iPhone won't be the iPhone 5.
The Wall Street Journal set off this week's iOSsphere rumor storm with a report that resurrected speculation that the next iPhone "is expected to be similar to the current iPhone 4, but thinner and lighter with an improved eight-megapixel camera."
It cited "people familiar with the situation" as sources.
The Journal says the next iPhone will use a Qualcomm wireless chipset instead of one from Intel (based on silicon from a former unit of Infineon Technologies). The Verizon iPhone today uses Qualcomm chips.
For months, many have speculated that Apple will introduce the "iPhone 4S" as an upgraded iPhone 4 with, among other changes, a more powerful Apple CPU (the dual-core A5), and introduce a more radically redesigned "iPhone 5" in 2012.
Maybe it won't be announced in September after all.
The same Journal story threw a wet blanket on the increasingly fervid insistence that the next iPhone, whatever it is, will be announced in the first or second, or third or fourth, week of September.
The reason: Contract manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Co., which assembles the iPhone for Apple via its Foxconn unit, is having trouble improving its production yield rate. The Journal cited two sources for this information. Not to mention the company's chairman, Terry Gou, who in June publicly said that "the yield rate of Apple's touch-screen devices hasn't been satisfactory and has hurt its profitability," according to the Journal.
"The touch-screen devices are so thin. It's really difficult to install so many components into the iPhones and iPads," Gou said. "We hope to raise the yield rate and volume in the second half, which will help improve our gross margin."
ZDNet's Larry Dignan digs up some additional Wall Street analysis of the relationship between Apple and Hon Hai.
Whenever it comes, iPhone 5 may have new recharging method.
At the end of this same Journal story was an almost off-hand comment that for the real iPhone 5, the one coming in 2012, Apple "has been experimenting with features such as a new way of charging the phone."
The most likely candidate would seem to be an induction-charging method, such as that introduced with the webOS-based Palm Pre smartphone (a short YouTube clip shows it in action) and now with the HP TouchPad tablet. [See "HP TouchPad goes on sale to mixed reviews"]
The technique uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two objects. "Induction chargers typically use an induction coil to create an alternating electromagnetic field from within a charging base station, and a second induction coil in the portable device takes power from the electromagnetic field and converts it back into electrical current to charge the battery. The two induction coils in proximity combine to form an electrical transformer," Wikipedia instructs.
Sprint and T-Mobile also will offer iPhone 5.
Why? Why not, says Jonathan Geller, at The Boy Genius Report. It's just so logical.
Geller reminds readers that BGR "exclusively reported in April that Apple has been testing a T-Mobile USA iPhone '4S' device." The 4S, like the unicorn, is a fabulous iPhone of wondrous powers, but alas one that is not quite so fabulous as the iPhone 5.
"[W]hile a test device doesn't mean that the iPhone would definitely come to T-Mobile, with no exclusivity on the GSM or CDMA models the question would be why not?" Geller continues. "Why wouldn't Apple bring its handset to the two remaining U.S. carriers and finally start to battle Android in the big leagues once and for all?"
Perhaps because Apple is not actually "battling Android." It's battling other smartphone manufacturers and so far is doing just fine. According to Gartner in February, Apple's share of the global mobile device market was just 2.9%, way behind (in order) Nokia, Samsung and LG Electronics, and just behind RIM. But that number includes all cellphones. In terms of smartphone sales, manufacturers shipped just over 67 million Android smartphones, a huge increase over the nearly 7 million shipped in 2009. The one iOS smartphone manufacturer shipped nearly 47 million. No other individual, branded Android model came close to the iPhone.
"Google tried a multi-carrier approach with the Nexus One and quickly failed, but Apple can and will do it successfully," Geller says.
In support, Citadel Securities analyst Shing Yin argues this week that a Sprint iPhone (though not necessarily iPhone 5) before Christmas "appears more likely," according to Tiernan Ray, who writes the Tech Trader Daily blog at Barron's.
"We see little reason for Apple to hold back," Yin says, a variant of Geller's "why not" reasoning. Yin does give a reason for Apple to go forward: A Sprint iPhone "could offer an attractive proposition for more price-conscious users (a demographic that we think is increasingly important to Apple following the rise of Android)," and "could be a relatively stronger seller than the Verizon iPhone." Verizon now has about one-third of all U.S. iPhones, according to one measure, since it began selling the CDMA version of the handset in February.
iPhone 5-or-whatever will be a low-end product, with prepaid plan.
Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore makes an interesting case for expecting a lower-end iPhone "4S" in September, as reported by International Business Times.
Whitmore argues that Apple could offer the 4S as an unlocked phone with a prepaid voice plan, "which would drive significantly greater penetration" into new segments of its existing but still-largely-untapped base of more than 1.5 billion subscribers.
Apple currently offers the iPhone through more than 200 carriers in 98 countries. Whitmore notes that two-thirds of subscribers are prepaid customers. Twenty of those carriers in eight additional countries were added in June. These are already "supporting robust near term unit demand despite a well-anticipated iPhone refresh in September," according to Whitmore.
Altogether, these carriers have over 1.5 billion subscribers, yet Apple "has reached only 6 percent penetration of its current addressable subscribers." A less expensive iPhone with a prepaid plan, could dramatically increase Apple's market share.
But a similar impact potentially could be achieved by simply repricing the existing iPhone 4 once the Next iPhone is finally released, as AT&T currently does for iPhone 3GS, starting at $49 (although it requires a monthly service plan and two-year contract).
iPhone 5 will come in red.
Red as in Red China, a.k.a. the People's Republic of China.
AppleInsider has a post that seems to go on forever about how an unauthenticated photograph shows that iPhone 5 may be released in September on China Mobile, the world's biggest wireless carrier with more than 600 million subscribers.
This is a Big Deal because the current official carrier is China's equivalent of AT&T: China Telecom.
China Mobile officials earlier this year disclosed they had signed a deal with Apple to bring an LTE-based iPhone to the carrier's just-launched LTE network. This new speculation means that Apple would have to support China Mobile's 3G TDMA network in whatever new iPhone it was introducing this year.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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