Next iPhone days away?
Just as it has done for the past three years, a new iPhone should play a major role at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference next week. And when CEO Steve Jobs takes the stage on Monday to give his keynote address, I'll be there, along with CNET reporter Erica Ogg, to bring you all the details.
Until that time, I'm happy to speculate on what the new iPhone will offer. Although this year has been a little different because of a well-publicized leak of an iPhone prototype in April, few details about new devices emerge form Apple's labs before a formal unveiling. But that won't stop us from putting together the various clues to make our own guesses.
What we won't see
4G or not 4G? First off, an important clarification is in order. Though some have called the new handset the "iPhone 4G"--and we refer to it as such in informal conversations around the CNET office--we do not expect it to run on a 4G network. It will be the fourth-generation iPhone model, but because it should operate solely on AT&T's network (more on that later), its fastest data speeds will continue to be 3G. AT&T will begin testing its 4G LTE network later this year, but commercial deployment won't begin until 2011 at least. So check back then for a faster iPhone.
Verizon: I also have to repeat what we've said already. There will not be a Verizon iPhone this year. And if you don't believe us, just consider that Verizon spokesman John Johnson told Beet.TV on Wednesday that the carrier has no plans to carry the phone in the "immediate future."
Yes, it's a carefully worded statement, which means that it's very possible that we'll see a Verizon iPhone at some point in the future. Yet, when that will happen--if happens at all--is unclear. This fall has been suggested as a time frame, but I think that's unlikely. I predict that Apple will wait until Verizon rolls out its own 4G LTE network, which should begin later this year. There's also the matter that AT&T's exclusivity contract won't end until 2012, but that could change at any time.
From what we can tell from the pictures, the device will be marginally heavier with a flat back, sharper corners, and an aluminum border around the edge. Indeed, that's a break from the iPhone 3G and 3GS, which have a curved back and wobble slightly when resting on a table.
I'll save my opinions until I see the actual handset and get it in my hands, but a boxier shape would put it more in line with the iPad and some Google Android devices, such as the HTC Incredible. According to Gizmodo, the new iPhone also should have a higher resolution display, a flash and a larger lens for the main camera, split volume buttons (a new camera shutter perhaps?), a micro-SIM card slot (like the iPad), and a possible noise cancellation microphone.
We'll reportedly see a front-facing video camera, as well, with support for iChat video calling. Mobile video calling has been around for several years, but the bandwidth-hogging service has never caught on with consumers because its expensive and unreliable. Remember that AT&T offers its Video Share application on a limited number of phones, but the service isn't available everywhere, and the carrier hasn't promoted it aggressively.
Apple, however, has a knack for repackaging existing technologies and reaping broad consumer interest. And even though a video-calling service would dump even more data on AT&T's strained network, it would complement the expected high-definition video features (see below). But then again, the new camera could just be for self-portraits.
Tethering: AT&T's recent announcement that it was revamping its smartphone data plans brought welcome news about tethering. We've waited more than a year for the capability, since Apple executives first mentioned it during the iPhone OS 3 announcement in March 2009. It's worth noting that tethering is available on the iPhone in other countries, which means that AT&T has been the holdup, so we're glad that it's finally here.
Video: As mentioned, it won't be the iPhone 4G, but we do expect it to be called the iPhone HD. As such, video services should be front and center on the new handset, with the ability to view, record, and share HD video. So cue the bigger camera and the new display. Even if the display is slightly smaller, as Gizmodo said, the rumored 960x640-pixel resolution is a big jump over the current resolution (480x320 pixels).
Horsepower: The new iPhone could have a faster processor similar to the iPad's A4 chip. We'd welcome any added zip to the handset's performance, particularly since we'll get multitasking with iPhone OS 4.
Battery: A faster processor plus an expected bigger battery would result in improved battery life. Indeed, any change for the better would be more than welcome. I also wouldn't worry about the effects of a more vibrant display on performance. Even with twice the resolution, it would still be smaller than the iPad, and it wouldn't have to push as many pixels.
In the cloud: The adoption of a cloud-based music service is another popular Apple rumor. Music industry sources told CNET in March that such a service won't be ready until the third quarter of this year, which is a likely time frame, given that Apple usually reveals music announcements in September.
iPhone OS 4
Of course, the new iPhone will debut with all the new features of iPhone OS 4, including multitasking, home screen folders, a unified e-mail in-box, and a 5x digital zoom in the camera. During the keynote speech, we should hear more about the new mobile operating system and when it will roll out to the iPhone 3GS.
We have a standing list of features the iPhone still lacks. Nicole Lee wrapped them up nicely, following the OS 4 announcement, so I'll refer you to her blog post for the full story. Some items--such as compatibility with Adobe Systems Flash and a removable battery--we're pretty sure we'll never get, but others--such as audio profiles and a multiple-notifications bar--may indeed come. Whether the new iPhone will have them, however, is a mystery until Monday.
Speculation abounds over when the new iPhone will hit stores, and AT&T has reportedly blocked employees from taking vacations in June. I've heard that Monday, June 21, is a possible release date, whereas another rumor says it could hit stores as early as Monday. Both dates would break from Apple's tradition of Friday iPhone releases, but Apple always can surprise us. I'm guessing that we will see it during the second or third week of this month. I'm not inclined to believe rumors of a July release.
Be sure to tune in Monday to get the full scoop. And before you go, please tell us what you expect and what you want from the new iPhone.