What can we expect from the iPhone 5?

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With rumours rife that Apple is about to announce the latest version of its iconic high-end smartphone, Chris Donkin asks industry experts what it might be like

When the original iPhone was released amid much fanfare back in 2007, the world wondered if Apple could influence the mobile market in the same way that it had revolutionised the MP3 market.

Now there is no doubt. With the runaway success of each subsequent model and anticipation building months before the launch of each new device (accompanied by a barrage of rumours and huge queues at the doors of Apple stores worldwide on release day), the iPhone is now an established figure in the mobile market.

It is generally accepted now there are only two players at the top end of the market – Apple and Samsung.

And with the latter releasing its 2012 smartphone, the Galaxy S III, first, the Korean firm has given itself a head start that it has already converted into very strong sales.

However, at the same time, the previous iPhone, the 4S, has also outsold its other competitors and is still generally more expensive than the S III, despite being older and having what is considered by many to be a ‘dated’ operating system that makes it technologically inferior.

With Apple having released the iPhone 3G in June 2008, the 3GS in June 2009, the 4 in June 2010 and the 4S in October 2011, the expectation has been that its next-generation handset will be released sometime this autumn, be it under the name ‘iPhone 5’ or, following the iPad route of dispensing with numbered iterations, just ‘the new iPhone’.

With an alleged unveiling later this month and whispers of an announcement on September 12, competitors are waiting to see what will happen. Anecdotally, Mobile News has heard stories of customers putting off contract renewals to see what the iPhone 5 is like before committing to a 4S or a device from another manufacturer altogether.

The whole industry has been trying to second-guess the Californian firm because in the past the release of the firm’s products has followed on quickly from their unveiling. Accessories firms have been trying to guess how the new design will look, developers have been tirelessly working on apps with prototype versions of the new handset’s software and retailers have been trying to work out how the new product will affect existing lines and what price point they should put the device in at.

All of this without solid confirmation from Apple that anything at all is forthcoming.

It has been more than two years since the handset underwent its last major design change, which has led some analysts to suggest a new look is on the way. Apple bloggers have been speculating that the famous ‘button’ may go and others have suggested it will have a larger screen and will be lighter than the 4 and 4S.

Apple as a firm has some die-hard fans, but a wider audience of fashion- and technology-conscious consumers demands that every new design freshens up the offering, and with the chassis shape of
the 4 and 4S being identical, some feel it needs something new to entice upgraders.

New technology has been developed since the last iPhone was released and analysts have wondered whether it is time for Apple to include NFC technology or release regional variations to utilise LTE, which is already available in some parts of the world and is likely to be extended to others – including the UK – during the lifetime of the forthcoming iPhone.

An LTE version released in the UK, some feel, would have a very large effect on the dynamic of the UK market, with this effectively becoming an Everything Everywhere exclusive until the other networks roll out 4G next year.

NFC is perhaps not as important for the new iPhone’s success in the UK market – with Orange the only network actively promoting the technology with its Quick Tap offering – but in countries where the use of m-commerce is more widespread the new iPhone handset may struggle against the S III – which included the technology – if it doesn’t incorporate it.

Other commentators have suggested the iOS operating system is also duea radical overhaul, with some describing the current system as slow and unresponsive. “Dated” is another term used by industry experts to describe the user experience of the iPhone in comparison with features on the highest spec Android-based devices. This will be especially relevant if, as expected, the latest Apple smartphone is more expensive than its rivals.

As is the normal procedure when a new Apple product is rumoured to be imminent, the internet is awash with rumours – some turn out to be spot on, some turn out to be wildly inaccurate.

The latest rumours surrounding the new iPhone handset suggest Apple’s famous white headphones may have been redesigned, the headphone jack may have been moved from the top of the device – as on previous versions – to the bottom and the handset may be bigger to incorporate a larger screen.

We asked a panel of industry experts what they are expecting from Apple’s new handset and how the industry will be affected by it.

Full article in Mobile News issue 522 (September 10, 2012).

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