Apple's next iPhone could feature only incremental upgrades, but appear on a broader set of carriers, according to a new research note from Jefferies & Co.
"We believe the likelihood of the iPhone 5 launch in September including LTE [Long-Term Evolution] is now remote," Peter Misek wrote in the co-authored research note, issued May 13. "According to our industry checks, the device should be called iPhone 4S and include minor cosmetic changes, better cameras, A5 dual-core processor, and HSPA+ [Evolved High-Speed Packet Access] support."
The note also claims, based on "industry checks," that Sprint, T-Mobile and China Mobile will be announced as new iPhone carriers in time for the holiday season: "On Apple's last earnings call, management responded to a question about launching the CDMA [Code Division Multiple Access] iPhone at other carriers as -we are constantly looking and adding where it makes sense, and you can keep confidence that we'll continue to do that.'"
AT&T and Verizon currently offer the iPhone in the United States. Despite AT&T's plans to acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion in cash and stock, however, the smaller carrier has been denying imminent support for the iPhone.
"T-Mobile USA remains an independent company," read a note posted on T-Mobile's corporate Website in March. "The acquisition is expected to be completed in approximately 12 months. We do not offer the iPhone. We offer cutting-edge devices like the Samsung Galaxy S 4G and, coming soon, our new Sidekick 4G."
That statement made it seem as if T-Mobile customers hungry for an iPhone would need to wait at least a year, until AT&T finishes digesting their carrier. AT&T's deal is a positive for Apple, at least according to a March 21 research note from Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White: "The company would gain access to T-Mobile's 34 million subscriber base, versus the 96 million subscribers at AT&T in 4Q10."
Meanwhile, Sprint remains close-lipped about any potential iPhone deal. When asked about that possibility during the carrier's most recent earnings call, CEO Dan Hesse suggested he was unable to comment on "potential discussions" with any suppliers, before joking: "What is it, like the fifty-fifth time I've been asked that?"
Nonetheless, the presence of the iPhone on Verizon and some combination of T-Mobile and AT&T would make Sprint the odd person out in the domestic smartphone market. Although Sprint offers a line of 4G smartphones with some unique aesthetics and features, the iPhone has proven a massive bestseller-something that no carrier could easily pass up, even if it's devoted substantial marketing resources and political capital to establishing its own line of products.
Anonymous sources speaking to Reuters April 20 suggested that Apple will ship the iPhone 5 (or iPhone 4S) in September, meaning that production for the device will ramp up sometime in either July or August. Sources have also hinted to other publications that the smartphone will hit store shelves sometime closer to the end of 2011.
Current rumors suggest the next iPhone will include the A5 processor, more powerful cameras and, perhaps, NFC (near-field communication) technology, which would allow the smartphone to act as an electronic wallet. All those features would give Apple the capability to compete more heartily against the higher-end Android smartphones, whose hardware and software are becoming increasingly robust. As with all Apple rumors, however, multiple grains of salt should be taken until the company makes an actual announcement.