It's almost summertime, which means iPhone 5 rumors should be heating up if Apple hopes to release the smartphone between June and October, which would fit its typical 11-month upgrade cycle.
The latest report comes from 9 to 5 Mac, which says it has independently heard that Apple is testing multiple versions of its sixth-generation iPhone, and the displays are not only bigger, but sharper, too.
Right now we know of a few next-generation iPhone candidates in testing, 9 to 5 Mac said. These prototype phones are floating around Apple HQ in thick, locked shells in order to disguise the exterior design to 'undisclosed' employees. We know of two next-generation iPhones in testing with a larger display: the iPhone 5,1 and iPhone 5,2. These phones are in the PreEVT stage of development and are codenamed N41AP (5,1) and N42AP (5,2). Because Apple reserves certain models for internal-only usage (such as the N96 phone we previously reported on), we're not sure which of the two devices will make its way into the world later this year.
Regardless of which iPhone model Apple eventually releases to the public, the phone will reportedly sport a larger display than its predecessors. While every iPhone released so far had a 3.5-inch screen, 9 to 5 Mac says all of the new prototypes measure at least 3.95 inches diagonally. This fits with previous reports that said Apple was working with new screens that measured at least 4 inches diagonally, and had been working with several screen manufacturers in Asia to make it happen, including LG Display, Sharp and Japan Display, a merger of Sony, Hitachi and Toshiba's mobile display businesses.
Based on earlier rumors, we surmised that if Apple didn't end up building a bigger screen, it could potentially build a better-quality display instead. 9 to 5 Mac believes Apple will do both.
The company believes that Apple will boost the iPhone's display resolution from 960 x 640 pixels (at 326 pixels per inch) to 640 x 1136 pixels, an extra 176 pixels higher. The screen's width will reportedly stay the same at 1.94 inches, but the height will grow from 2.76 inches to 3.45 inches. This resolution and size would likely give the iPhone's screen a 16:9 ratio, which would be perfect for playing videos at their native aspect ratios. Thanks to the additional pixels, this iPhone would still be considered having a Retina Display, which means the pixels are so close together that the human eye cannot distinguish them.
Apple discovered how to pack even more pixels into a display as it was researching ways to create higher-resolution displays for its new iPad, which successfully doubled its pixels from its predecessors. 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. As a result, Apple's new iPad packs in 3.1 million pixels, which is about 1 million pixels more than an HDTV.
An earlier report said Apple was testing prototypes of the iPhone 5 with an A5X chip, the same quad-core graphics processor used to power the Retina Display in the new iPad. If Apple needs extra power for its screen, it's possible that Apple is looking to switch from LCD to OLED, which can produce richer colors and better pictures in limited amounts of space.
Besides the next iPhone's display, 9 to 5 Mac also believes the company's next mobile operating system, iOS 6, will take advantage of the new-fangled iPhone display with a tweaked home screen, a new interface for navigating applications, and a fifth row of icons -- not counting the stationary dock at the bottom. The company also mentioned the next-gen iPhones will definitely include a home button, as well as a smaller dock connector which is much narrower than current dock connectors.
In addition, 9 to 5 says it has even more information about the iPhone 5, but will release those notes throughout the week. The company said that it has learned important information about the iPhone's processor specs, maps, and other goodies.
Other Possible Features And Goodies
Apple-Made Maps App. The first iPhone launched in 2007 with a maps application from Google, which helped users find local businesses, find their own location, and get directions. Five years later, Apple is looking to introduce a new in-house application, which will be made from the technologies of three acquired mapping companies, including Placebace, Poly9, and C3 Technologies, which were purchased in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. The new application promises incredibly detailed 3D maps, 2D maps and street views, and more information about traffic and location data. According to 9 to 5 Mac, Apple will introduce the new Maps application alongside iOS 6 at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
LTE connectivity. It's already 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, which was likely done as a practice run.
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.
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 great chance this will be the same chip inside the iPhone 5.
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. 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 (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.
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. 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 receipient opens it.
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.
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Will you buy Apple's next iPhone, even if it's not called the iPhone 5? Which is more important to you, the size of the screen or the overall quality of the display? Let us know in the comments section below.