The current-generation Apple smartphone, the iPhone 4S, features a 3.5-inch Retina Display, the same screen size as all iPhone predecessors. If accurate, this news would mean that Apple is breaking from tradition yet again, effectively giving consumers the biggest iPhone experience yet.
Apple proved recently that it can make Retina Displays -- displays where the pixels are so close together, the human eye cannot distinguish them -- for different-sized devices beyond the 3.5-inch iPhone. For the new iPad, released on March 16, Apple had upgraded the iPad 2's 1024 x 768 display into a 2048 x 1536 Retina Display, while keeping the chassis almost exactly the same. The impressive feat required a breakthrough in technology.
To break it down: A pixel is made of red, blue and green subpixels, and a separate signal tells each subpixel when and how much to light up. This is what creates colors on a screen. Apple wanted to shove four times as many pixels into the same space, but learned that by doing this, the signals can easily get crossed, which results in fuzzy and distorted images. Apple needed to solve that particular problem, and eventually discovered that by elevating the pixels onto a plane separate from the signals, the signals don't get crossed, and the images look crystal-clear.The result: The new iPad packs in 3.1 million pixels, which is about 1 million pixels more than an HDTV.
Apple, now confident that it can make Retina Displays for most handheld screen sizes, will make a 4.6-inch screen for its new iPhone. As far as the release date goes, Reuters reported that the current plans are to unveil the new iPhone around the second quarter of 2012, which would stray from an earlier report from Japanese blog Macotakara, which said Apple could release the iPhone 5 in September or October, abandoning mid-year iPhone launches for a 11-month upgrade cycle starting in the fall. The company's last iPhone, the iPhone 4S, was the first Apple smartphone released outside the summer months, while the original iPhone, as well as the iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4, were all released in either June or July.
There is no clear reason why the 4S was the only iPhone released in the fall. Analysts believe Apple attempted to implement LTE into the phone, and failed. Apple has reportedly solved these problems, as the Cupertino, Calif.-based company has already implemented the high-speed long-term evolution network into its new iPad (with a little help from Qualcomm).
LTE features significantly higher download and upload speeds compared to 3G technologies, but previous implementations of LTE in smartphones tended to ravage battery life, which was a major complaint from users. If Apple wanted LTE in the iPhone 4S at the time, it would have been forced to increase the phone's thickness to accommodate a larger circuit board and a bigger battery. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a company earnings conference call in April 2011, said first-generation LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises.
The iPhone 4 PCB [printed circuit board] is already incredibly small, not leaving any room for an extra chip to enable LTE without shrinking the size of the battery, said Anand Shimpi, a chip expert and CEO of Anandtech.
Fortunately, Qualcomm recently unveiled the fifth iteration of its new chip, which supports TD-SCDMA, TD-LTE, HSPA+, EV-DO, embedded GPS, and LTE on TDD and FDD networks worldwide. The chip works with Android and Windows 8 devices, but there's a high degree of likelihood that this will be the same chip inside the iPhone 5.
Apple was reportedly gearing up to begin production on the iPhone 5 in January. A source from within China's Foxconn manufacturing plant told 9 to 5 Mac that various sample iPhone 5 prototypes were floating around the factory floor, but there were a number of common features among the phones, including a display that measured at least 4 inches, and a longer and wider form factor that did not match that of the iPhone 4 or 4S. The Foxconn sources believed the iPhone 5 would retain the rectangular shape of its predecessors, but Ciccarese is holding out hope for the thinner teardrop design.
Previous reports said the iPhone 5 will also feature an improved version of Siri, the voice-activated AI system that was only released as a beta in the iPhone 4S, as well as a bigger screen. In November, Hitachi and Sony reportedly began shipping 4-inch LCD panels for final production of new iOS devices believed to be the next-generation iPhone. Upgrading the iPhone's 3.5-inch screen to a 4-inch display would require a rebuilt Retina Display, but a bigger screen would help Apple compete against phone makers that make bigger screens, such as Samsung, while also providing a more immersive iPhone experience.
Before Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S on Oct. 4, the Internet was flooded with photos of a thin, large-screen iPhone 4. The photos were widely believed to be doctored until one Chinese site discovered mold engineerings of an iPhone 4 with a noticeably larger screen. The renderings depicted an edge-to-edge design for the iPhone's screen, which looked to measure about 3.7 inches. Component industry trackers believed that the images represented Apple's wish to compete with rival devices with bigger screens.
Apple's next iPhone may also include a number of the company's recently granted patents. 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 (NFC) 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.
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 device's 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 to all join a common application. The unique 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 best patent of them all, however, may be Apple's patent for crack-resistant glass, granted on Nov. 15. Basically, the crack-resistant glass solution utilizes the same alumino silicate glass used in the iPhone 4 and 4S, but by chemically treating it with potassium and sodium ions, the glass can then achieve greater compression thresholds on the surface and edges of the glass, making it less susceptible to cracks. The patent also involves a shock mount between the glass and the body of the device that will instantly inflate if the device senses it's falling, which is determined by the device's internal accelerometer. An actuator within the device sucks in the cover glass as it accelerates to the ground, protecting it from damage.
If Apple waits until the fall to release the iPhone 5, it may unveil its next-gen smartphone alongside a smaller, 8-inch iPad, which is also expected to debut in October. The original report from Apple's Taiwanese supply chain was later confirmed by The Wall Street Journal, which said Apple is working on an 8-inch iPad.
On Jan. 24, Cook released Apple's record-breaking Q1 2012 earnings, announcing $46.33 billion in overall earnings, $13.1 billion in profit and $17.5 billion in cash for the quarter that ended Dec. 31, 2011. In the last 14 weeks of the year, Apple sold 37 million iPhones, 15.4 million iPads and 5.2 million Macs.
We're thrilled with our outstanding results and record-breaking sales of iPhones, iPads and Macs, Cook said. Apple's momentum is incredibly strong, and we have some amazing new products in the pipeline.