The iPhone 5 has only been on sale since September and the iPad 4 just went on sale this month, and yet, here we are, with news that the successors to these must-have devices may arrive sooner than we think.
On Monday, China-based news site DigiTimes reported that Apple's suppliers are expected to churn out the next-generation of iOS devices, including a new iPhone and new iPad, "around the middle of 2013."
"Apple is expected to introduce its next-generation iPad and iPhone series around the middle of 2013, which will boost demand for ICs in particular communications-related chips during the latter half of the first quarter," said DigiTimes, citing "market observers."
Jessie Shen of DigiTimes added that two companies Apple has contracted to work on its iOS devices, including chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and packaging group Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE), are expected to report strong results for the first quarter of 2013. This would make sense with Apple's alleged timetable, given the massive amount of components needed to ship these popular smartphones and tablets on time.
DigiTimes has a mixed track record with accuracy, particularly with iPhone and iPad schedules. On the one hand, the company correctly predicted last December that Apple would launch two new iPads this year, including an iPad with a 7.85-inch display called "iPad Mini" in Q4 2012, and that's exactly what Apple did. On the other hand, DigiTimes incorrectly reported that Apple chose Samsung's quad-core Exynos processor to power its iPhone 5, when in fact Apple went with its own custom-built A6 chip. While this rumor should certainly be considered, it's important to take information from DigiTimes with a grain of salt.
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That said, this is not the only piece of next-gen iPhone or iPad news that's come out recently, and not the first to peg the release date for at least one of these products in mid-2013.
On Nov. 13, China's Commercial Times reported that Apple is planning to begin "trial production of a new version of its iPhone 5," which it called the "iPhone 5S," rather than the "iPhone 6." No name for the next-generation iPhone has been appointed by Apple, and it won't receive an official name until its eventual unveiling.
"Facing low yield rates in the production of iPhone 5, Apple has accelerated the certification processes for related parts and components for the iPhone 5S," The Commercial Times wrote.
The Commercial Times made no mention of a new iPad, but like DigiTimes, The Commercial Times also claimed that the iPhone 5 successor could start mass production around Q1 2013 and launch in early to mid-summer 2013 -- even though Apple has followed a fall launch schedule for its iPhone since 2011.
While these two recent reports may correlate, like DigiTimes, it's also important to note that The Commercial Times has not always been an accurate news source in the past either. It's possible that this "pre-production acceleration" of iPhone "5S" parts is merely speculation, since Apple is always busy on its next project and getting components ready seems like a very logical step, regardless of when Apple planned to launch its next iPhone. Save for microprocessors and cellular chips, most of the "prep" work for an iPhone can be done ahead of time.
What We Know About The Next-Gen iPhone and iPads
Besides these reports of chip production gearing up, we've heard very little else about Apple's seventh-generation iPhone. However, if the iPhone 5S, or iPhone 6, is to be released by this coming summer, we'll likely receive some more news in the coming weeks and months from Apple's foreign supply chains.
We don't know what Apple has in mind for its fifth-generation iPad -- or "iPad 5" -- but Apple may have something interesting in mind, considering its patents for an iPad with a built-in stand, and one with backside controls for gaming.
We haven't heard production on any device that matches those descriptions, but we have heard that Apple is reportedly working on its second-generation iPad Mini. On Nov. 8, Chinese news site DoNews said that Apple tapped Taiwan-based AU Optronics to begin development on a Retina Display to be fitted for its 7.9-inch tablet.
As far as the next-gen iPhone, if Apple pursues any of its recent patent filings, we may see the iPhone 5S or 6 feature advanced haptics and sensors, possibly built directly into a flexible display. A newly released patent filed in March but published in September described tactile keyboards, flexible displays and laser microphones and speakers built into an iPhone, designed to conform to the user's needs. Flexible displays would allow for easier holding and typing, while the highly advanced tactile screens would create buttons when needed so the user can feel "keyboard" letters as they type, or touch the topography on Apple's Maps.
It's wishful thinking that Apple would include all these technologies in the next iPhone rather implement them over time, but it's certainly fun to think about.
Apple sold 26.9 million iPhone units and 14 million iPad units in Q4 2012.