Apple iPhone 4S
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Now that the iPhone 4S has set sales records and Siri isn't the new hot thing it once was -- the tech gadget realm moves fast -- it's time to focus on the Apple iPhone 5 release date and features likely forthcoming.

It's not a matter of if, but when the last big project from Steve Jobs will reach the hand of consumers. The debate varies from spring to summer or even fall, but most every qualified observer agrees -- the iPhone release date is coming in 2012. Among the best bets is an early summer unveiling with release soon to follow.

One analyst suggests a late summer or early fall launch is likely, with production to begin sooner, of course.

With respect to iPhone, iPhone 5 production is expected to start around the June time frame, Susquehanna Financial analyst Chris Caso wrote in a note to clients.

That makes sense, a plan that has Apple releasing its new iPad 3 in March and the iPhone 5 in the late summer. But Apple, some suspect, is changing up its previously-predictable product release time frame.

If people don't know what to expect, they are less likely to hold off in buying a new product. Combine that fact with the widely held assumption that Apple had the iPhone 5 ready at the same time it had the iPhone 4S ready -- if not before -- and one can assume that March 2012 will be a moment in Apple's history to remember.

Among the features expected with the iPhone 5 from the qualified rumor mill and general knowledge of how Apple works and about what the late Steve Jobs wanted to achieve with the product, here are three important things to know:

1) The iPhone 5 will have a bigger screen size and a different form factor. This has been in the works all along -- the four-inch screen for the iPhone 5, bigger than the current 3.5-inch iPhone touchscreen. The body casting will be the same size -- without a teardrop design -- and the new screen will likely spill out over the hand.

Jobs was adamant that the iPhone should fit nicely into the hand, and don't expect Apple to move away from that. Yet, one knock against the iPhone has been the smaller screen size, and this new iPhone will take that complaint away.

2) The iPhone 5 will likely have a new CPU, different than the forthcoming iPad 3. We don't know what the chip will be called, but Caso suggests in his note that the processor in the iPhone 5 will be a completely new CPU, unlike what will be used in the new iPad. It's said to be a quad-core CPU, more advanced than the current iPhone 4S CPU which is dual-core.

The new CPU would deliver more power, but Apple will obviously have to solve its battery problems to handle it. Yet, to command the premium price the company can get with the iPhone 5 -- a product some analysts have suggested that because of Jobs' involvement will be the biggest gadget hit the world has ever known -- power will be required. Think mini tablet that fits in a hand, with the Apple iPhone 5. We'll just have to hope Apple has a battery solution that comes along.

3) Apple will add 4G LTE to the iPhone 5. The iPhone is the world's most popular smartphone, but Android-based phones have some advantages in addition to screen size. Apple is expected to take care of that with the iPhone 5, however. LTE connectivity is wanted by iPhone owners more than any other feature, according to a recent study from ChangeWave Research.

And Apple is about giving the people what the want -- its all about the user-friendly experience, after all. At the moment, it's merely a matter of having networks to support it.

There is a recent report that from Nikkei Business that said Apple CEO Tim Cook, the man who replaced Jobs, has met with executives at NTT DoCoMo, a Japanese wireless carrier, to bring out an LTE iPad this summer and an LTE iPhone later in 2012 in Japan. The company has subsequently denied, via a statement to 9to5Mac, saying that it is not in concrete negotiations with Apple -- but we shouldn't expect them to say any different.

Regardless, Apple will have to join the LTE wave sooner or later. U.S. Cellular, owned by parent company TDS, apparently doesn't want to take a big, expensive risk on selling the iPhone until or unless Apple offers a more cutting edge iPhone equipped to run on LTE. TDS CEO Ted Carlson said that this week to attendees of a UBS analyst conference, according to a report.

Previously, U.S. Cellular was offered a CDMA version of the iPhone, but the company reportedly declined because of high investment risk. U.S. Cellular is the sixth largest network carrier in the U.S., with about six million customers. It uses CDMA technology, but plans to launch its own LTE network within a month, starting in some of its smaller markets. AT&T, Apple's original iPhone carrier, has launched and is building out its 4G LTE network, and the company is eager to have an iPhone LTE-equipped.

Suffice to say that the Apple iPhone 5 with the larger screen and a new, quad-core CPU is likely all but ready -- waiting now on LTE networks that can meet the demand.