Stereo systems. Clock radios. External speakers. In-car entertainment. It's possible that none of these iPhone accessories will be compatible with Apple's upcoming sixth-generation iPhone, which many are dubbing iPhone 5.
Several tech sites claim Apple has built smaller dock connectors for its new iPhone, but on Thursday, TechCrunch said it had independently verified that the next iPhone will kick the standard 30-pin dock connector -- a tradition since the third-generation iPod -- for a newly-designed mini dock connector, which holds about 19 pins.
Although the form factor and actual size are still unknown, TechCrunch has independently verified that Apple is working on adding a 19-pin port, replacing the current 30-pin port, to the new iPhone, writes TechCrunch's John Biggs. It is a move that will surely send shocks through the iPhone accessory ecosystem.
Biggs added that three independent manufacturers agreed that the 19-pin port is in the works. The report did not identify the manufacturers, but it did say that the size of the 19-pin port is similar to the size of the Thunderbolt port available on many MacBook laptops.
What Won't Work Anymore?
If TechCrunch is correct about the mini dock connector -- which is very likely, given the multitude of rumors on the subject -- then many accessories that have been compatible with all previous iPhones may not work with the iPhone 5. The list includes many charging cradles, car accessories, gorgeous and expensive speaker systems, and unfortunately, most iHome products. Essentially, any accessory that can plug into the bottom of your current iPhone -- whether it's an iPhone, iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4, or 4S -- probably won't work with the next iPhone.
As one would expect, Apple's apparent decision to make old iPhone accessories obsolete has angered many customers.
Every other phone manufacturer decided back in 2008 to conform to the MicroUSB standard, and that's been wonderful, said Scott Ableman, a reader who commented on TechCrunch's story. But Apple wants people to feel they have to buy proprietary accessories from them. Don't get me wrong. I respect them as marketers and profiteers. I just hate their contempt for me as a customer.
Are standards just too easy for Apple to use? asked Calob Horton, a writer for a mobile technology blog called Pocketables. Does the company feel the need to create its own, proprietary hardware to feel special, more profitable or even more popular? I understand the lust Apple has towards thinness and being able to cram more tech into a small package, but it can be achieved without its own port designs that can make the devices incompatible with other companies' products.
Why, Apple? Why?
A mini dock connector would be a major annoyance for both customers and accessory makers alike, but understand this: Apple would not change a significant feature unless there was a way to do the same thing cheaper, faster or better. One of those three.
A smaller dock connector is definitely better -- less dock space means more room for other insanely great features (more on that later) -- but it's probably also cheaper, and potentially faster, too. TechCrunch noted that the 19-pin port is similar to Thunderbolt: It could be that this smaller dock solution also creates a faster connection, which would be a nice touch. If that were the case, accessory manufacturers may not be so upset in the long run.
But even if the smaller dock connector can't perform miracles, we shouldn't be too surprised that Apple is engaging in planned obsolescence again. (For those that don't know, planned obsolescence is a business strategy for industrial designers that encourages customers to buy upgraded products sooner rather than when necessary.) Apple's been doing this for years, releasing new iPods and iPhones each year, upgrading specs and adding accessories that instantly make older models look like ancient artifacts.
But it's not just Apple; almost every electronics manufacturer you can think of sells products with built-in obsolescence. Companies are constantly introducing new formats -- we've gone from tapes to CDs to digital in about 20 years -- which forces people to buy new accessories to consume their music, TV shows and movies.
But don't fret: A new dock connector for the next iPhone won't ruin your life. Accessory makers will need to build accessories for this specific iPhone model, and while that's a major pain, it reaps major rewards. If Apple is slimming down its ports, there has to be a legitimate reason. It was likely done for thinness' sake, but if it was also to make room for more features, it wouldn't surprise me in the least. If the next iPhone is anything like what the rumors are making it out to be, the iPhone 5 will be the very best smartphone we've ever seen.
iPhone 5: Rumored Features and Specs
If the previously-predicted mini dock connector turns out to be a real feature in the iPhone 5, what else can be true? Here, we'll break down the physical features of the phone, as well as the software features that look to make this iPhone a truly revolutionary device.
Metal Back: The iPhone 4S features a back made of all glass, but the new photos from iFixyouri show black and white iPhones with much of the back encased in metal. It's not clear what function the metal back serves -- if it's simply a style choice -- but all of the photos of the new iPhones include these metal portions on the back. There's a slight chance that the metal back could help improve call reception, given that the metal trim along the sides is molded into the metal backplates, giving it a unibody feel. However, this is not the liquidmetal back that some hoped for, which is a technology that is still some years away; this back is likely made from a piece of aluminum alloy.
Smaller Dock Connector: As predicted earlier by 9 to 5 Mac, Apple wants smaller dock connectors for its iPhones, and the alleged iPhone 5 prototypes and cases only confirm this.
Migrated FaceTime Camera: To better mirror the faceplate of the iPod Touch, Apple has apparently moved the FaceTime camera from the left of the earpiece to above the earpiece itself. Moving the camera likely frees up more space to include more parts and components like LTE and NFC chips, but it also makes the iPhone more symmetrical and appealing.
Migrated Earphone Jack: Photos of the new iPhone show the earphone jack, which has traditionally been located on the top right corner of the phone, has migrated to the bottom left corner of the device. This design change aligns perfectly with a May 14 report from Hong Kong-based components supplier SW-Box, which claimed to have acquired a new headphone jack, ear speaker, and Wi-Fi cable part for a new iPhone. SW-Box's audio components would fit perfectly within the new design released by iFixyouri and 9 to 5 Mac.
Redesigned Speaker Grills: The speakers on the bottom have been expanded and redesigned in the new iPhone model. Now that the dock connector from the iPhone 4 and 4S has been shrunk down, Apple has more room to create bigger and louder speakers.
Camera Opening: Photos of what are allegedly iPhone components show a subtle but interesting difference in the camera infrastruct : On the rear panels of the black and white iPhone models, there is now a small space between the camera lens and the LED flash. Looking at the inside of that space, there appears to be a tiny object that occupies the opening, which could be a small microphone to help with capture higher-quality audio when recording video.
Software and Hardware
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 on 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.
NFC: Near-Field Communication is nothing new. In fact, many current smartphones have the chip built-in so owners can use mobile payments solutions like 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, 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: While downloading and storing digital media with online service providers has become commonplace -- more so than purchasing DVDs and CDs at physical retail stores -- it's not very easy to transfer digital files from one individual to another, usually because of copyright laws. Apple believes it has a solution to this issue: A gift-giving platform where users have a standardized way for buying, sending and receiving media files from a media provider (iTunes) between multiple electronic devices (iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices). The process is simply called, Gifting.
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.
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-sized 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. If so, Apple would effectively put some distance between the iPhone and all other smartphone competitors for another five years, at the very least.
Crack-Proof Glass: Apple's patent for crack-resistant glass, granted on Nov. 15, 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.
Advanced Haptics: Microsoft just stepped its game up with the Surface tablet, featuring a touch-sensitive keyboard built directly into the tablet's protective cover. New ways of interacting with the screen are all the rage -- haptics companies are springing up, and styluses are even making a comeback! -- and it seems Apple is already on the bandwagon.
A 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 (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.
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.
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.
Multi-Player Gaming: The iPhone 5 might also be the first phone to feature a new piece of software for multi-player gaming. On March 15, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that describes a system for multi-player 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.
Micro SIM Connector: It 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.
How New Should This iPhone Be?
Apple fans are always clamoring for complete redesigns, but if a 19-pin dock connector is enough to upset people, how new do they actually want their phone to be?
What do you hope for in the iPhone 5? Are you looking for a revolutionary redesign, or just incredible features added onto an already incredible device? Let us know your thoughts and impressions of Apple's next smartphone in the comments section below.