Will The Next iPhone Keep Ahead of Android?

Becky Worley
Special Contributor, Yahoo! Tech
Upgrade Your Life

If Apple’s regular release schedule is to be trusted, we should expect a new iPhone this summer. Will it be called the iPhone 5S with small improvements over the iPhone 5? Or will the pressure from rival Android phones force Apple to go big and make a complete overhaul?

So far, the rumor mills point to an incremental upgrade – no revolutionary changes. So let’s read the tealeaves and try to predict what will be changed. And remember, this is all conjecture with no official information forthcoming from Apple.

New Flash and Better Camera
I like to start with the fun stuff, like the camera. Certainly, the next iPhone could get a megapixel upgrade. There are some Android phones that brag 13 Megapixels, and while it’s possible Apple could increase the resolution of their camera, I think a more interesting upgrade would be the inclusion of a new, smart flash that incorporates Phillips multi-color LED. To match ambient light, the camera could elect to use a white flash (in fluorescent or colder lighting) or a yellow flash to match warmer room tones (candlelight, camp-fires, or accent lighting).

Now for the guts of the new phone: leaked photos published by iOSDoc imply the iPhone will be getting an upgrade from its current dual core A6 processor to a quad core A7 processor. Yes, more cores mean a faster phone, but is this a life-changing speed improvement? Um, no.

Bigger Screen is Doubtful
There have been tons of rumors about Apple increasing the screen size from 4 inches to 4.8 inches to compete with some of the Android “Phablets” like the Note. But this rumor seems a little thin with CEO Tim Cook stating publically on Apple’s Q1 2013 Earnings Call that he thinks Apple made the right decision to stick with a smaller screen.

Wireless Charging
Unlike current wireless charging where you have to put a device onto a pad that’s plugged into a power source, Apple has applied for a patent to use something called Near Field Magnetic Resonance (NFMR). With this technology, a home base (a computer or larger device) serves as a hub that can charge the phone anywhere within a meter’s proximity. This could also be a boon for selling more Mac laptops if they become the primary vehicle for wireless NFMR charging.

Biometric Fingerprint Security
Rumors are flying about a fingerprint sensor on the home key to allow for biometric security. This could be a smart idea if Apple wants to shore up public perception of the device’s security before rolling out the Near Field Communications (NFC) wave-to-pay technology that turns your phone into a credit card.

For the first time ever, I am including an IOS update in the “Fun Rumors” category. While the iPhone operating system (currently IOS 6) is not usually an opportunity for big innovation, this portion of the company has recently been taken over by Jonathon Ive, Apple’s superstar design guru. He is no doubt feeling pressure to bring his genius to bear on software (good luck with that) and may surprise us with a few cool new tricks. I expect a Siri upgrade at the very least, and a determination to show that Apple’s maps have recovered from the debacle of the IOS 6 roll out.

Lower Cost iPhone
Where Android phones pose the greatest clear and present danger to the iPhone is on price. Many models are free with a 2-year contract. So the $199 price tag of the iPhone with a 2-year contract is just too steep for many. The biggest price pressure is coming from emerging markets like China and Brazil, where Apple has to lower the price of their only phone in the initial land grab for new smartphone users.

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If Apple introduces a free-on-2-year-contract phone, this lower cost version will almost certainly still be able to access faster LTE data networks. It will possibly have a slower Snapdragon System on a Chip (SOC) processor from Qualcomm. It might include a bigger battery, which could increase the phone’s thickness from the current 7.6 mm to a rumored 8.2 mm. It could have a lower resolution camera. And the most interesting possibility: its case could be from a cheaper plastic or fiberglass, which could allow for a multitude of colors.

Bottom Line
The inclusion of a cheaper iPhone could be a huge boon to consumers. If you’ve been holding out until Apple’s flagship device became more affordable, don’t let the slightly diminished technical specs deter you. The beauty of the iPhone is that it’s intuitive and fun to use – but that’s a function of the operating system, not the hardware. If it were me, I’d wait to buy until the consumer testers run the cheaper iPhone through it’s paces and make sure there’s nothing glaringly wrong, and then I’d get it. That is, if Apple actually releases two versions as part of its traditional June release cycle.

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Special thanks to the folks at Bay Street Emeryville for providing the location.