Now that Apple’s iPad 2 has launched, the company’s next big product to finish up is the iPhone 5 — or whatever Apple will call its next iPhone, expected to launch this summer.
While the new iPhone will feature updated hardware and may have a new design, we’re just as interested in Apple’s software improvements.
That’s increasingly where the smartphone business is headed, and while Apple’s software is still ahead of the competition in general, there are some areas where rivals Google and Microsoft are doing better than Apple.
While the iPhone hardware is certainly sexy, it's software that really makes it an iPhone. So what does Apple have planned for the next major version of its iOS software for iPhones and iPads?
We asked a dozen iOS developers what they wanted from iOS 5, and their responses included: A better alerts and notifications system; more background processing features -- so the New York Times app could download news articles while you're sleeping, for example; and potentially 'widgets' to customise your iPhone's unlock or home screens.
We'd also love to see a much better camera app, and maybe a better photo management app, more like iPhoto for Mac OS X. The iPhone camera is becoming very important, and while third-party developers like Instagram have done some really cool things with it, it makes sense for Apple to improve the built-in camera software, too.
We expect some of the usual updates -- faster, more memory, new chip, maybe some new hardware features -- and a new design for the iPhone 5.
While the iPhone 4 is still an attractive phone, and is still selling, it will be a year old this June. That's a long time in the smartphone industry, where new phones are constantly coming out. So we don't expect another iPhone 3GS-like 'update' from Apple ever again, where it keeps the same phone case design from one year to the next but only upgrades the guts.
This supposed leaked image could be it -- sure looks like the iPad 2 -- or could be a fake. But either way, we expect a new design.
The critics have shut up about Apple's iPhone 4 design, and 'Antennagate' didn't seem to have any effect on sales. So we wouldn't be surprised to see the iPhone 4 stick around as Apple's cheaper iPhone model. But we expect at least some moderate updates this year to the high-end model.
The iPhone 5's hardware and software is important, but 'cloud' services on the back end are becoming increasingly important for smartphones, and Apple could stand to make some improvements there.
For example: How about letting you sync your phone over wi-fi instead of having to plug in a USB cable? How about being able to access your iTunes music library from anywhere? How about being able to grab some of your iPhoto pictures from the road?
How about sharing photos with other iPhone users without having to email them?
Some or all of these features could potentially be built into a new 'MobileMe' service, which Apple could potentially make cheaper or even free. Some may have to wait to be built into the next version of Mac OS X, which is expected to ship this year.
But this is an area where Google is doing more interesting things than Apple, so it's time to wake up.
Apple has launched a new iPhone every June or July since the first one went on sale in 2007. We don't expect anything different this year.
Except that last month, FBR analyst Craig Berger hypothesized that the iPhone 5 launch may be pushed to September because of what he was hearing from the supply chain: 'For the iPhone 5, we continue to hear that a July launch is unlikely, with various casing suppliers and touch suppliers still ramping up, with some chip vendors not having yet received firm iPhone 5 orders, and with other sockets like the image sensor ... still in flux.'
We believe Apple intends to release the iPhone 5 in the summer, as it has in past years. But anything is possible, including a delay. Though, on the other hand, Apple launched the iPad 2 earlier than expected, albeit in very short supply.
One of the major new features expected for the iPhone 5 was supposed to be near field communication (NFC) technology, which would allow you to make a payment or exchange media with another iPhone just by holding it close to another NFC device.
But the iPad 2 has shipped without NFC, and recently the Independent reported that Apple is telling carriers that the iPhone 5 won't have it, either.
It looks like Apple's payment revolution will have to wait another year.
Will the iPhone 5 be 4G? Will the phones be hybrid AT&T/Verizon units? Or separate like the iPhone 4 and iPad 2?
We don't expect the iPhone 5 to support 4G LTE networks. We think Apple will wait until 2012 for that, in order to have the smallest phones and the best battery life.
In theory, there will be a chip someday that lets Apple make a single iPhone that works on both GSM networks like AT&T and CDMA networks like Verizon. Other phones have used these chips for years. But the question is when they will be to Apple's liking, in terms of size, functionality, and pricing.
This is something we expected for the iPad 2, but Apple instead went with two different 3G lines -- separate AT&T and Verizon devices. Perhaps because the dual-mode chips weren't ready yet. Perhaps because they weren't cost effective, when the majority of the world doesn't use CDMA.
Will the iPhone 5 be dual-mode devices? Or just single-mode like existing Apple devices?
Is Apple going to continue to move into social networking? We had heard a rumour that it was working on some sort of social app for photo and media sharing, and some code found in an iOS beta called 'Media Stream' seems to back that up.
As much as we'd like to see Apple make the iPhone more inherently social, we also don't have much confidence in their understanding of what social tools are all about, how they should be designed, and what makes them fun and useful. Last year, Apple introduced Ping and GameCenter, two social networks. We don't hear much about them.
So should Apple continue to make its own social tools? Or should it work to integrate existing social networks like Facebook and Twitter deeper into the iOS experience, the way other phones have?
There are regular rumours that Apple is working on smaller or bigger iPhones.
We have no doubt that Apple has tested many sizes of iPhones. And rival HP is launching a tiny phone this year called the Veer. But history has shown that Apple is very happy with the size of the iPhone.
If we had to pick either way, we'd expect an iPhone with a slightly larger screen, not a tiny iPhone nano. Nothing too big -- probably not like the massive Android phones from the likes of HTC, Samsung, and others. But a bigger screen could be better for games and movies, so maybe someday Apple will make one.
Still, we wouldn't hold our breath.
Apple's 'smart cover' for the iPad 2 has really gotten a lot of attention. It's smart that the cover was designed as part of the iPad, and not as an afterthought.
The current iPhone case, the 'bumper,' is OK -- but if anything, it got stuck in the middle of the Antennagate fiasco. And it's nothing too special. Just a case with no back.
Will Apple come out with a crazy cover of some sort for the iPhone 5? Or will it just try to make the actual phone more durable so people don't need a case? The nice thing about the bumper, after all, is that it doesn't add much bulk to the phone -- it's basically a high-tech rubber band.
Android phones are starting to creep down in price, and Apple hasn't really done much with its iPhone pricing since 2008.
Will this be the year that the low-end iPhone drops to $0 from $99 after subsidy? Will Apple devise some more plans with the carriers to make data access more affordable for entry-level users?
Is there really a super-cheap iPhone on the way for developing markets?
(Here's what the iPhone 5 won't look like -- this fake Chinese iPhone 4.)