Sept. 12, when Apple is expected to debut its sixth-generation smartphone, unofficially dubbed the "iPhone 5," is less than a month away. Apple is also expected to introduce a new "iPad Mini" to its tablet lineup as well, but most of the focus is deservedly on the phone. Apple's iPhone line drives roughly 46 percent of the company's business, according to its most recent earnings report.
Fans have seen incremental advances in design and technology in each new iPhone since 2007, but it certainly looks like the newest iPhone, the iPhone 5, will be packed with more features than any that's come before it.
More or less, we know what the iPhone 5 looks like, thanks to batches of images released by insiders within Apple's supply chains and repair shops. 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.
According to the prototypes and images, Apple has also reportedly 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, smaller dock connector, which could be as small as 9 pins.
While the presentation of the iPhone is important, most people want to know about the features. "Why should I buy the iPhone 5? What's new about it?"
We don't know the exact features Apple has packed within the iPhone 5, but we have a pretty good idea of what CEO Tim Cook might unveil on the stage on Sept. 12. Over the past year, we've been watching reports, rumors, and the patent department, keeping a keen eye out for possible software features Apple could introduce in its next iPhone. Here are 10 new technologies we're hoping to see in the iPhone 5 when it launches.
1. LTE Connectivity: The Long-Term Evolution network (LTE), despite its significantly higher download and upload speeds, previous implementations of the network ravaged battery life in smartphones, which was a major complaint from users. It's been reported that Apple originally wanted LTE in the iPhone 4S, but decided against it, as the chip's presence would have needed a thicker phone with a larger circuit board and a bigger battery, just to retain the company's typical 10-hour battery life. 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" for the iPhone 5.
2. NFC (including the iWallet, and iTunes Gifting): 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. Two of the major features said to use NFC rather heavily are the iWallet, andiTunes "Gifting."
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.
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 iPod Touchs). 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.
3. 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.
4. 3D Photography. It's possible the iPhone 5 could allow users to finally snap 3D images with their phones. While existing 3D cameras and video recorders 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 patented 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.
5. 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.
6. Audio Sharing Network: The last few months have seen Apple pay increasing attention to audio. It spun off its Podcast application as a completely separate application from the "iPod" app, 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.
7. Advanced Haptics: A recent Apple patent describes a new haptics feedback system, which could allow users to physically interact with the content 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, but only when they're needed. This technology is currently being explored by another company, Tactus Technology, which created a video to explain how it all works.
Similar to Tactus' work, Apple's haptic system can respond to and 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.
8. 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...
What do you think of these possible features? Of the eight listed above, which would you want to see in the iPhone 5 the most? Are there any features not listed here you would like to see in the iPhone 5 (better waterproofing, solar power, wings, etc.)? Shoot us an email or let us know in the comments section below.
Smith manages and coordinates the activities of the technology subsection of the company, contributing...