As expected, Apple unveiled iOS 6 during the keynote presentation for the 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. Nobody knew what Apple would include in its latest mobile operating system for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, but with more than 200 new features added to the iOS platform, this is the most comprehensive update Apple has ever released to its mobile devices.
Apple plans on releasing iOS 6 this fall, but typically, Apple releases a new product around the same time as the new operating system so users can enjoy a completely new experience on a completely new device: Apple did it last year with the dual releases of iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S, and if Apple is consistently great -- which it is -- the company will release a brand-new iPhone alongside iOS 6 this fall, likely around the beginning of October.
Believe It... The iPhone 5 Is Coming
From 2007 to 2011, Apple treated customers to a new iPhone experience in either June or July. Yet, the company's most recent iPhone, the iPhone 4S, was released in the fall, which throws off the pattern a bit. Now, customers don't know when to expect the next one, but according to recently-leaked components, parts, images, reports and schematics, we can say with certainty that Apple is hard at work building a new phone, and it is completely redesigned from the ground up, just like newly-released Retina MacBook Pro.
While there is no clear reason why the 4S was the only iPhone released in the fall, analysts believe the Cupertino, Calif.-based company attempted to implement LTE into the phone, and failed.
Even though LTE features significantly higher speeds compared to 3G networks, the first implementations of LTE in smartphones ravaged battery life, which was a key complaint from users. Apple wanted the fastest networks for its customers, but the only way to fit LTE into the iPhone 4S would've been to increase the phone's thickness to accommodate a larger circuit board and a bigger battery. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in an 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 high degree of likelihood that this will be the same chip inside the iPhone 5. Yet, the chip was only released in February, so Apple likely needs ample time to test the LTE chips inside the iPhone 5 before they're implemented.
Furthermore, Qualcomm said on Friday that it's having trouble meeting demand with its most advanced LTE chips, which means that Apple will almost certainly be unable to rollout millions of new iPhones with the LTE chips by June. Nevertheless, Apple needed the extra time to find a clever way to integrate an LTE chip into the phone, since there wasn't space in there for one before.
New iOS + New iPhone + Holiday Season = Success
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Apple released a new iPhone every summer to record-breaking success, but the first-ever fall release for an iPhone with the 4S proved to be even more lucrative. Sales of the iPhone 4S and its main feature, the AI personal assistant Siri, were largely responsible behind the best quarter in Apple's 35-year history for Q1 2012, claiming $46.33 billion overall, $13.1 billion in profit and $17.5 billion in cash for the quarter that ended Dec. 31, 2011. Some of that money and attention is also owed to the immense outpouring of sympathy following the death of the company's co-founder and chairman, Steve Jobs, but ultimately, people stood in line for iPhone 4S units because they wanted the phone.
Even though Apple could always return to its summer schedule, it likely wants to give the fall a try. Maybe Apple prefers using the summer to build hype around the iPhone, but in all likelihood, Apple wants to give itself plenty of time to consider each iPhone design. As Apple designer Jony Ive once mentioned, the company always builds lots of models of every iDevice, but it won't ship it without good reason. The company won't rush to get an iPhone in for WWDC in June unless it's ready; Apple applies deadlines to itself, and it owes nothing to the public if it's late with an iPhone. It will ship, as all great artists do, but consumers will appreciate the extra time and care given to the next iPhone.
In addition to giving the Apple team plenty of time to test and improve the device, a fall iPhone release has also proven to be the best thing for the company. Sales hit an all-time high in 2011, but more importantly, Apple learned that an iPhone released near Christmastime is a gift unto itself.
Releasing the iPhone 4S in October was perfect timing for Christmas. The iPhone 4S was released on Oct. 14 but, as always, there were several weeks of backorders. But luckily, by the time iPhone 4S units were back on shelves -- around mid-November -- it was time for Christmas shopping.
Santa had a lot of iPhone 4S units to deliver. In addition to being the No. 1 item on teens' and young adults' wish lists for the 2011 holiday season, the iPhone 4S was one of the bestselling items before, during and after Christmas.
In fact, Apple broke its single-day sales record on Black Friday (Nov. 25), reaching its projected forecast by 7 p.m. and far exceeding those figures by the end of the day. Even though its product discounts were far from extraordinary, Apple again offered free shipping for all its products, as well as free engravings on the back of its iOS devices. Coupled with the fact that Apple rarely doles out discounts, consumers jumped at a chance to own Apple's stylish devices. Apple was the fifth-most visited online retail store that day, behind Amazon, Wal-Mart, Best buy and Target.
The company's bestselling item was the iPhone 4S, which got a boost from Siri. In the quarter, Apple sold two million more smartphones than Samsung, the company's prime competitor, shipped.
As if 2011 wasn't enough of a reason, it makes logical sense to release a new iPhone around Christmas. Everyone wants the latest technology for the holidays, be it a new video game, or a camera, or a tablet, laptop, or smartphone. The holiday season is all about getting the big gifts, and usually those are gadgets and gizmos. Christmas excitement and iPhone hype can be a dangerous combination, but if Apple wants to create noise with its iPhone launches, it would be crazy to distance itself much further than September or October for the release; again, if last year's formula worked so well, why fix it?
What The New iPhone Looks Like
Little by little, thanks largely to rumors and reports and alleged leaks, we've been able to piece together the puzzle known as the iPhone 5, the moniker assigned to Apple's sixth-generation super secret smartphone set to release later this year.
On May 30, the repair experts at iFixyouri revealed new iPhone components that looked similar to the iPhone 4S, but with a few significant differences, including the size of the overall frame and the placement of its various parts. Even though it differed from all previous iPhone models, it aligned extremely well with previous trusted reports of the phone. As icing on the cake, the Cydia Blog released what it believed was a complete schematic of the new iPhone model, which matched perfectly with the released iPhone components.
Here's what we learned about the iPhone 5 from its leaked photos:
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.
Camera Opening: Photos of the released iPhone show a subtle but interesting difference to the camera infrastructure: 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.
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.
Smaller Dock Connector: As predicted earlier by 9 to 5 Mac, Apple wants smaller dock connectors for its iPhones, and the newly released iPhone 5 models only confirm this.
Rumored iPhone 5 Features
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.
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.
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. Apple would effectively put distance between the iPhone and all other smartphone competitors for another five years, at the very least.
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 were watching Apple announce iOS 6, 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 andiPod 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.
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.
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.
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.
Key Features In iOS 6
While a new iPhone would give users a new hardware experience, the software is really what matters. Apple unveiled what it has in store for iOS 6 at Monday's keynote presentation, which includes new ways to connect to the desktop experience on Macs, and new features to make iPhones and iPads even more accessible, fun and easy to use.
Maps: Apple introduced a new Maps application as a part of the iOS 6 platform coming in the fall. But this Maps app isn't built by Google; this one is Apple-made. Apple's Maps application includes new vector-based 2D map elements, incredible 3D maps, detailed traffic conditions, and best of all, turn-by-turn navigation with a dynamic 3D camera perspective. The entire platform is completely compatible with Siri, which will give you directions even if your iPhone or iPad is locked.
Siri: The AI virtual assistant was born on the iPhone 4S, but with iOS 6, it's finally making its way to the new iPad, too. Since the feature was first released in October, Siri, which could help users place calls, create and send texts and e-mails, set reminders and schedule meetings, surf the Web, or answer complicated or context-sensitive questions, has gotten only smarter. In iOS 6, Apple has endowed Siri with encyclopedic knowledge of sports (current, past and future), movies (current, past and future), and even businesses and available restaurants. Users can also launch applications with their voices, and Siri can also help the user post a message to Twitter or Facebook, just by speaking.
Facebook Integration: In iOS 5, Apple elected to optimize nearly every app for Twitter, which allowed users to tweet photos, webpages from Safari, videos from YouTube or even their location, for all of their Twitter followers to see. In iOS 6, Apple decided to apply these same tactics of deep integration with Facebook, the world's largest social network with more than 900 million users. This fall, users only need to sign into their account just once to be able to share content -- text, links and photos -- onto their Walls or each others' Walls, seamlessly sync their Address Book Contacts with their profile photos from Facebook, and receive notifications over the Notification Center. In return, Facebook added its Like Buttons to the App Store and iTunes Store, and it now syncs its Events with Apple's iOS Calendar.
Accessibility: The relationship between Apple and its users is very close, but Apple has gone out of its way to make the mobile experience friendly with students and children with hearing, vision, learning, and mobility disabilities. Apple has added several features that help students remain on task and focused on their content, giving teachers, parents and administrators the ability to limit the device's abilities and disable certain areas so the child only touches what you want them to touch. With integration into Maps, Zoom, and AssistiveTouch, Apple is looking to help blind or low-vision users, and the company is also looking for hearing aid solutions to give its users a quality audio experience.
Features From OS X Mountain Lion: In an effort to better merge iOS with the Mac operating system, Apple added several features from OS 10.8 Mountain Lion to iOS 6. Apple added Mail VIPs, a Do Not Disturb feature for the Notification Center, and a new feature called iCloud Tabs, which lets users view their tabs opened in Safari across all iOS and Mac devices. Users simply click a designated iCloud Tabs button and all the tabs opened on each device are shown in a synchronized list, letting them see what's open across all their Apple devices.
Phone Features: Apple hadn't touched the general Phone feature since it was introduced in 2007 with the first iPhone. In iOS 6, Apple has created more options for users to deal with incoming calls, including options to reply with a quick message, or a reminder to be set for a certain time or a certain place. For video-chatting, Apple also added FaceTime support over cellular channels, including 3G.
Passbook: As mentioned, iOS 6's Passbook keeps digital tickets, coupons, loyalty cards and gift cards organized in a simple location. Clearly this is the precursor to the NFC-based iWallet technology, which will similarly keep your credit and debit cards in a safe and secure location for easy access.
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Are you excited for the new iPhone and its iOS 6 software? Will you buy it if and when it comes out in the fall? Let us know in the comments section below.