Apple's annual iPhone refresh has become a calendar-marking event in the tech world, surrounded by weeks of intense scrutiny as tech blogs and pundits dissect the new device's hardware and software capabilities. Each new iPhone attracts millions of buyers, further reinforcing the company's position in the smartphone market-despite increased competition from the likes of Google Android.
The iPhone 4, launched in June, fulfilled its buzz and sales expectations. Despite some well-publicized antenna issues, Apple executives reported that demand for the device strained the company's manufacturing capacity. "My phone is ringing off the hook for people who want more supply," Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook told analysts and investors listening to Apple's July 20 earnings call. "We're selling everything we can make."
Now that those antenna issues seem resolved, and the end of 2010 approaches, rumors about Apple's next iPhone have already begun. Indeed, according to a Nov. 22 report in the Financial Times, quoting "people close to the operators," Apple has already told several European carriers that 2011's iPhone will not include a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card.
While conjecture about an upcoming Apple product is anyone's game, some features seem more likely than others to find their way into the "iPhone 5," or whatever Apple decides to call the next version of its smartphone.
Soon after the iPhone 4's June launch, a subset of users began complaining the smartphone dropped calls whenever they held the device a certain way: a problem quickly attributed to the exterior antenna rim.
Apple first tried ignoring the issue, until it threatened to mutate into a genuine public relations crisis. Then the company began offering free rubber bumpers, which cover the antenna rim. Then it tried slamming the door on the issue altogether.
"We now know that the iPhone 4 antenna attenuation issue is even smaller than we originally thought," read a September note on Apple's corporate Website. "A small percentage of iPhone 4 users need a case, and we want to continue providing them a Bumper case for free. For everyone else, we are discontinuing the free case program for all iPhone 4s sold after Sept. 30, 2010."
Whether Apple's next iPhone echoes the design language of the iPhone 4-or proceeds in an entirely new direction-chances are good that the company is paying more attention to how the smartphone's design impacts call quality. For the record, however, a number of critics did think the iPhone 4's exterior antenna rim was a handsome piece of work.
Despite the iPhone 4's blockbuster sales, critiquing the device became something of a cottage industry throughout the latter half of 2010. Some of that criticism-not to mention general confusion-focused on Apple's pushing back the release of the much-advertised white iPhone 4. First, the company said the device would hit store shelves in the second half of July-before offering, once that date breezed past, a new ETA of spring 2011.
"We're sorry to disappoint customers waiting for the white iPhone again," Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller told Reuters Oct. 26, while offering no firm explanation for the delay. Two days later, the company deleted the white iPhone 4 from its online store.
Rumors suggest that Apple encountered production difficulties with the device. The iPhone 4's body incorporates two panes of chemically strengthened aluminosilicate glass. According to an explanation offered by the blog Cult of Mac, the tinted-white glass may allow too much light into the smartphone's interior, affecting its camera module.
Whether the white iPhone 4 ever hits store shelves, Apple will likely follow its traditional pattern and introduce a white variant on its next iPhone.
FaceTime, the iPhone 4's native videoconferencing app, allows people to connect over WiFi. During Apple's 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs indicated that his company was negotiating with carriers over offering a 3G-enabled version. Unless those negotiations stall, chances are good that 3G-enabled FaceTime will arrive with the next iPhone.
Apple could make decisions to upgrade the megapixels of the next iPhone's dual cameras and even introduce an upgrade to the iPhone's proprietary A4 processor. It may also further toughen the dual-glass-pane design.
Apple has already introduced several variants to iOS 4. Its iOS 4.1 update, released in September, included features such as Game Center and Apple's Ping social networking service for mobile devices. The latest upgrade, iOS 4.2, introduced a number of device management and security capabilities. Trust that Apple will accompany any iPhone refresh in 2011 with more than a few software tweaks. Considering the rapid rise of Google Android, Apple seems to be accelerating both the pace and the extensiveness of each new iOS version.