"What's in a name? That which we call an iPhone
By any other name would be just as sweet."
-- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet and Apple (II, ii, 1-2)
For more than a year, most Apple fans and followers of the brand have called the company's sixth-generation smartphone "the iPhone 5." But after releasing the "new iPad" in March - not the iPad 3, or the iPad HD - it looks like Apple will once again release a new iOS device without a distinguishing name or number.
A photo posted on Dutch website iPhonenieusblog.nl shows a woman holding up the iPhone 5's packaging box just as it leaves the printing press. The boxes don't say "iPhone 5," however; the packaging very clearly reads "The new iPhone."
The packaging also features the signature Apple logo, the iOS 6 logo, and includes a photo of the new iPhone itself with its taller form factor, larger screen and extra row of icons.
It's difficult to tell whether this photo is indeed legitimate, but given Apple's recent naming history, the fact that this year has seen an unprecedented number of iPhone leaks, and the fact that the new iPhone will be announced next Wednesday, there are more reasons to believe this photo is real than reasons to discount it.
New iPhone Vs. iPhone 5: Does The Name Matter?
Model numbers are nice. They help customers differentiate products when they're talking about them, especially in historical context ("What was the first iPad you ever bought? One, two...?"), but the model numbers do nothing to enhance the actual experience of owning one of these devices. Apple likely realized this was the case, and canned its naming tradition entirely.
Apple hinted on Tuesday that next week's event might call the phone the "iPhone 5," especially since the actual event invitation's had a giant, unmistakable "5" smack dab in the center of the photo. That being said, Apple doesn't need to play by its own rules, and the company could have easily used the teaser as a way to get people's attention, even if Apple had no intention on naming the phone what the people wanted it to be named.
Apple's trying to tell customers something: It's not about the name.
Yes, model numbers help new products feel new -- iPhone 5 certainly sounds newer than iPhone 4S -- but Apple is confident that its next-gen iPhone offers enough standalone "newness" that another name or title would be simply redundant.
Apple could have named this iPhone anything too. Given that the phone is expected to feature LTE and possibly even NFC, Apple could've called it the iPhone 5, iPhone LTE, iPhone NFC, iPhone 5NL... the potential list goes on.
But there's another reason why Apple doesn't want to brand its iPhones or iPads anymore: Names only create expectations, and offer nothing else.
Last year, when everyone believed the iPhone 4S would be called the iPhone 5, fans were extremely disappointed on Oct. 4 when they learned the real name of the phone. But the grievance was pretty unreasonable: The iPhone 4S came packed with plenty of new features, including a better camera, a better battery, faster processors, and of course, Siri. For all intents and purposes, fans got their "iPhone 5" last year, Apple just didn't name it that way.
And that's why Apple is moving towards "new iPhones" and "new iPads" instead of playing the numbers game. Model numbers added very little to the experience, and Apple's simply removing what's now become an obsolete feature.
The New iPhone: Possible Features
Regardless of whether Apple calls its next iPhone the "5" or simply "new," we have a general idea of what this highly anticipated phone can do, and it's awfully impressive.
First, let's talk about the outside features. Thanks to batches of images released by insiders within Apple's supply chains and repair shops, we generally know what the iPhone 5 looks like. We expect the iPhone to feature a bigger, thinner front plate that stretches the screen just beyond four inches to achieve a 16:9 resolution ratio to watch 1080p HD videos in a widescreen format.
Alleged prototypes and images also tell us Apple has expanded and redesigned its speaker grills, migrated the FaceTime camera to be directly above the earpiece, moved the earphone jack from the top right corner of the phone to the bottom left corner, and introduced a new camera opening on the backside of the phone between the camera lens and the LED flash, which likely houses a small microphone. Finally, we believe Apple has fixed its iPhone 5 with a unibody metal back instead of an all-glass facade, which could potentially improve call reception, and has also endowed the iPhone with a new quad-core A6 processor, and that heavily-rumored smaller dock connector.
Now let's get to the real juicy stuff: The inside features of the phone. Apple refuses to "comment or comment on rumors or speculation," but reports, rumors, prototypes, and patent filings collected over the course of several months give us a good picture of what features Apple may have included in the new iPhone.
LTE Connectivity: Despite the significantly higher download and upload speeds of LTE, previous implementations of the high-speed network in smartphones ravaged battery life, which was a major complaint from users. If Apple wanted LTE in the iPhone 4S, it would have been forced to increase the phone's thickness to accommodate a larger circuit board and a bigger battery. As Apple CEO Tim Cook noted in a company earnings conference call in April 2011, "first-generation LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises."
But now, with new LTE chips from Qualcomm now available, it's a foregone conclusion that Apple will implement radio bands for 4G LTE in the iPhone 5, given that Apple introduced the high-speed network on its new iPad, released March 16. Since LTE in tablets isn't a feature users were breaking down doors for, its implementation was likely done as a "practice run."
In-Cell Touch Panels: It's been said that Apple wants in-cell touch panels for the iPhone 5, which are multi-touch panels that experts say far outperform current "on-cell" touch screens. In addition, in-cell touch technology creates significantly thinner displays than their on-cell counterparts since their creation involves removing a layer between the multi-touch screen and the LCD display. Not only are the touch sensors vastly improved, but they're actually more powerful in resisting scratches on the touch panel, resulting in "a longer product lifetime." AUO Optronics, based in Taiwan, explains the difference:
"In contrast to the traditional resistive and digitizer touch controls, since a mere light touch can be picked up, the operation interface of In-cell charging sensing is more humanized," AUO said. "In addition, charging sensing not only can support multiple point touch control, but further support pen writing at present to meet different requirements by the clients."
NFC: Near-field communication is nothing new. In fact, many current smartphones have the chip built-in so owners can use mobile payments solutions such as Google Pay. Apple has held off on implementing NFC technology into its iPhone, but a slew of recently granted patents seem to suggest that will change with the sixth-generation model. Of all the listed patents, which effectively make the iPhone into a file-sharer and a shopping companion, two of the biggest features said to use NFC rather heavily are the iWallet, and iTunes "Gifting."
The iWallet: If you saw Apple announce iOS 6 at WWDC, you may have heard about a new application called Passbook, which is designed to keep all of your gift cards, coupons and tickets all in one place. With a simple flick, users can summon their Starbucks cards, loyalty cards, train tickets, plane tickets and sporting event tickets, too. While Passbook will work on every iOS device, Apple has reportedly been building an expansion of this software specifically for an NFC-capable iPhone.
Apple won a major patent on March 6 for a piece of technology called the "iWallet," which is a digital system that gives users complete control over their subsidiary financial accounts on their iPhones, and also leverages Near-Field Communication technology to complete credit card transactions directly on the phone as well. The iWallet has many different features, including giving users the ability to see their entire credit card profiles, view statements and messages from their banks, and even set parental controls for their children, should they also want to use their iPhones as digital wallets. Outside of the iPhone, users can keep track of their payments and statements within the iTunes billing system, which keeps credit card information and records safe and secure. There's a possibility that iWallet could also work with other Apple utilities, which could allow users to buy things like movie tickets directly within the apps, but only time will tell with that one.
iTunes Gifting: Speaking of NFC ... Another Apple patent unveiled in April described a system for standardized buying, sending, and receiving of media files from a media provider (iTunes) between multiple devices (iPhones, iPads, and iPodTouchs). The process was simply called, "Gifting," and it would certainly work with an NFC-capable iPhone.
Downloading and storing digital media with online service providers has become commonplace -- more so than purchasing DVDs and CDs at physical stores -- but it's not very easy to transfer digital files from one individual to another, usually because of copyright laws. Apple believes "Gifting" is the solution.
One method for gifting requires the sender to authorize a gift charge to their iTunes account, which is then transmitted from the sender's device to the receiver's device -- via tapping, or as long as they're nearby -- thanks to the NFC chip. If the recipient of the gift isn't nearby -- or you want it to be a surprise -- the gift-giver may submit an official request with iTunes, which then processes the request and charges the initiator's account for the given file. The patent also allows for multiple gifts to be sent in a single transaction, as well as certain customization options for the gifts -- including voice greetings and custom gift images, likely to conceal the gift's identity before the recipient opens it.
Advanced Haptics: Another recently published Apple patent describes a new haptics feedback system that allows a user to interact with the content on the screen by touching it, which is accomplished with sensors and actuators working simultaneously. The new multi-tiered system is extremely sophisticated: Using several layers of elastic screens stacked on top of each other, Apple's screen can produce 3D buttons or objects to interact with, as well as give texture to images, like topographical maps.
Apple's haptic system can create different types of actions, including vibration, net displacement, bending, deforming, or any combination of those elements. The technology can also work with a secondary display screen or audio system, which would be useful if Apple ever builds its iTV, but the system can also be applied to flexible organic light emitting diode, or OLED, screens. This advanced haptics system would also work with almost every portable Apple device, including iPhones, iPod Touch devices, iPads, MacBooks, and even TVs, video projectors and e-Ink displays.
Best of all, adding in-cell touch panels to make the screen thinner could potentially give Apple a...
Lag-Free Multi-Touch Screen. In mid-March, Microsoft engineers unveiled a lag-free touch screen that responds to the finger's touch in less than one millisecond. Current Apple devices only have a minor lag with their touchscreens, but this minor adjustment would make users feel like they're really touching their work, drawing a picture, or handwriting a note. Apple has proven to us time and again that simplicity is the key to an enjoyable experience, but speeding up the touchscreen would make the already-popular iPhone into the best touchscreen experience ever.
A touchscreen that created the sensation of textures would be an incredible piece of technology, but we're hoping Apple completes the puzzle with one important piece of technology from Microsoft.
OLED Display: Apple is reportedly testing the iPhone 5 prototype with an A5X chip, which is the quad-core graphics processor used to power the Retina Display in the new iPad. But why would Apple need such a powerful chip for an iPhone? Given that the A5X chip is a graphics powerhouse, if Apple doesn't drastically change the physical size of the screen to 4.6 inches, it may be changing the display's overall quality.
Apple has plenty of money to afford OLED screens in an iPhone-size display, and it would make sense for Apple to ask Samsung to help build its iPhone 5 displays. Samsung knows how to build big, beautiful screens for any size device: Just imagine what Samsung could do with Apple's Retina technology implemented into an OLED. Apple would effectively put distance between the iPhone and all other smartphone competitors for another five years, at the very least.
Audio Sharing Network: The last few months have seen Apple pay increasing attention to its audio network. It released its Podcast application as a completely separate application, and now, according to a newly-filed patent for the iPhone, Apple plans to make the iPhone into a "conference telephone" designed to cut out the background noise while recording audio, which can then be packaged and distributed. This feature would certainly appeal to students that want to record their lectures, as well as enterprise professionals that want to hold and record teleconferences with multiple individuals and be able to hear everyone clearly.
Crack-Proof Glass: Everyone who's ever had a rough Saturday night would certainly love this patent.Granted on Nov. 15, Apple's patent for crack-resistant glass uses the same alumino silicate glass solution used in the iPhone 4 and 4S, but chemically treats it with potassium and sodium ions to achieve greater compression thresholds on the surface and edges of the glass, making it less susceptible to cracks.
Apple also included a handy feature that will appeal to everyone who's ever dropped their iPhone: The patent calls for a shock mount to be placed between the glass and the body of the device, which will instantly inflate if the device senses it's falling. If the iPhone's internal accelerometer senses it's falling, an actuator within the device sucks in the cover glass as it accelerates to the ground, protecting it from damage.
Apple Avatars. If you want to buy movies, apps, or any content through Apple's iTunes Store or App Store, Apple requires you have an Apple ID. Your Apple ID sticks with you in the company's Game Center, which keeps track of a user's achievements across purchased and downloaded games. But if this recently granted patent has any bearing on the immediate future, Apple users may soon get to make customizable Apple Avatars, which users would use to represent themselves within potential online or gaming environments. Apple users could create a 3D model of themselves, customizing features like hair, eyes, nose, and eyebrows, as well as other features and accessories. While avatars seem to be geared towards kids, it would actually help give users a source of identity while making the Apple brand -- and identification procedures -- a little more fun. Don't be surprised if Apple had Pixar's help on this one: Just look at the eyes.
Micro SIM Connector: It's may not be the sexiest feature, but if Apple decides to include this patented micro SIM connector in the iPhone 5, you won't be unhappy. Apple usually doesn't like people tinkering inside its devices, but the company's micro SIM solution is described as "easily removed and replaced," as well as "resistant to damage by an improper insertion of a SIM card, and may provide reliable mechanical performance."
Multiplayer Gaming. The iPhone 5 might also be the first phone to feature a new piece of software for multiplayer gaming. On March 15, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that describes a system for multiplayer gaming, which allows groups of people to play the same game together and even see it from different perspectives according to the devices' physical relation to one another. The system actually mimics that of the "Find My Friends" app, in which a user's device detects other nearby devices that it recognizes as "friends," and invites them all to join a common application. The technology also determines the relative position of those devices, so some games -- like turn-based role-playing games or card games -- can be played in a specific order.
The Photographer's Timer. Traditionally, self-timing cameras are used to take pictures of a big group, or a self-portrait. But in Apple's self-timer, a patent granted March 8, the iDevice's camera can identify the photographer and ask if they want to be in the picture. At that point, the iPhone will simply wait until it detects the photographer's face in the viewfinder before it automatically snaps a photo. If you are the "photographer" who also wants to be in the picture, the iPhone will simply wait until it detects your face to take the picture.
"But what about interruptions? What happens if I get a call after I set the self-timer?" Wonder no more. If you set the timer and then your phone goes off, the timer will still wait until it has detected, recognized and verified that you are the photographer and that you're in place for the photo. Now if only Apple patented a tripod...
3D Photography. While existing 3D cameras and video recorders can gather three-dimensional information from objects, they're generally incapable of getting detailed enough information in relation to the shapes, surfaces and depth of the objects. Apple's solution involves a series of systems, tools and methods to capture a 3D image by using multiple sensors and cameras. One sensor would capture a polarizing image, while two other sensors would capture two different non-polarizing images, and Apple's system would combine the images into a composite.
3D Object Recognition. On May 10, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a series of Apple patents relating to 3D face and object recognition technology. Apple's system involves taking a picture -- either with a front or rear camera -- and the 3D recognition software would distinguish between the two-dimensional projection of the image and the three-dimensional shape of the objects in the image. The process would be fully automatic, which would help for identifying faces in a group of objects, or even identifying objects in X-ray images.
What do you think of the new iPhone? Would you be disappointed if Apple only called it the "new iPhone," instead of the "iPhone 5?" Will the name impact your decision to buy it or not? Email us your thoughts or keep the discussion going in the comments section below.