What’s Next for Apple’s Mobile Lineup.


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What to expect when you’re expecting (an iPhone/iPad/iUnicorn)

Sorry chaps, you’ll have to wait another month for the wrap-up to my app roundup. Or maybe two, depending on how the winds move me.

In any case, there’s something much more important to discuss: the next iPhone! or iPad! or iPad mini! or…or iWatch! Yes, it’s that time of year. Spring has sprung, and as the hairy woodland creatures look to pounce on everything that moves, so does the media with Apple’s newest iAnything. They are veritably tumescent with iRumors. Hedonistic even.

The latest scuttlebutt is concentrated on a few major devices. A next-generation iPhone (ZOMG a new iPhone!? Who knew? Everyone.); a cheaper iPhone; and a Retina display-toting iPad mini. Oh, and a watch that, judging by the tenor of some reports, will be hewn from unicorn horns. Sustainably harvested, of course.

 

Credit: A child’s imagination.

Now being a professional Apple watcher (real job), I too have an opinion on what the company will release this coming year. So I shall throw my considerably large hat into the pile of hats already collected, and then we can burn them.

OK, so we all know Apple is going to launch a new iPhone in a few months. It’s going to be an iterative model, that is to say no major design changes from the iPhone 5. Sorry early adopters and kool kats. There could be some minor exterior variations to accommodate new parts, like a rumored dual-LED flash for the rear-facing camera and/or an improved optics system, but on the whole it’s going to look the same as the current design. I know, that sleek, sexy chassis is so last Fall!

Luckily for those who are partial to the current handset, but may not have the cash on hand to buy one, Apple is thought to be readying a low-cost model based on the iPhone 5′s design. Some analysts speculate the cheaper smartphone will retain the 4-inch screen of its more expensive brother, but could use a fiberglass/plastic hybrid casing to cut down on costs. Raw aluminum is not free. Right now it’s sitting at $1858 per tonne on the London Metal Exchange.

Not much else is known about the entry-level iPhone besides a release guesstimated to be around the same time as the next-gen flagship model.

Back to the full-price, full-profit iPhone. This year is an “S” model year, meaning the “iPhone 5S,” as people have taken to calling it, will come with some buffed out internals. Ever since the first iPhone launched in 2007, Apple has refreshed the handset with a newly upgraded model at the same time every year (with the exception of the iPhone 4S, which didn’t enter resale channels until October 2011 due in part to component supply trouble from the Tohoku earthquake and ensuing tsunami). And since the iPhone 3GS, Apple has redesigned its smartphone every other year, with intervening models getting the “S” treatment.

iPhone5

 

BEHOLD! The iPhone 5S! (Nah, just the iPhone 5) | Credit: Apple

One important hardware upgrade could be a fingerprint sensor integrated into the newest iPhone’s home button, because, well why not. I mean, Apple has to do something with their $356 million purchase of biometric security firm AuthenTec. Chief exec Tim Cook literally had to look in both pockets of his stonewashed pre-worn jeans to come up with that amount of cash. Literally.

Analysts think the fingerprint tech, which could add a whole new level of iPhone security for the bumptious, is also going to make its way to an all-new mythical Apple product: the iWatch. Yours truly was the first to report (shameless self-promoting link) on an Apple patent for such a wearable device.

iWatch

 

Artist’s rendition. | Credit: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves when we gaze deeply into those sweet, sweet line drawings. Stay focused — stay strong. That’s probably not even close to what Apple’s wrist candy will look like.
The patent does hold, however, a few clues as to what Cupertino may have up its sleeves. For one, it’s basically a foregone conclusion that an iWatch would fit into the iOS ecosystem, or at least will benefit greatly from having a new-fangled iPhone with which to communicate.

If the patent is dead-on, the iWatch is going to be like a second head for your iPhone, connecting with the handset via Bluetooth and/or telepathy to display mapping info, text messages and even voice calls on your nearest appendage. The iWatch will effectively act as a smart secondary display, letting the iPhone do most of the heavy lifting while safely tucked away in your bindle. It’s not even expected to have a cellular baseband chip, so Dick Tracy aficionados will have to make do for at least another refresh cycle before their dreams become reality (they’ve already been waiting 80 years, so they should be used to it).

An internal microphone can act as the ears of said head, while a camera acts as its eyes, speakers for a mouth and a curved multitouch display for skin. An oleophobic coating should come standard to avoid zits.

Pulling the strings on all that hardware will be a stripped-down version of iOS. This is not going to be a device that can stand on its own, aside from basic functionality like music controls, calendar access and maybe even telling the time.

Two things can hold back a 2013 iWatch launch: an adequate power supply and a flexible display. Apple has made great advances in battery tech recently, a good example being the super thin and dense unit found in the iPad mini. It remains to be seen, however, if such a component can be scaled down to an acceptable size. From what I’ve heard, though, Apple is looking to harness excess wind power from angels’ wings, so I could be wrong.

As for the flexible display, the company owns patents on the subject, but has yet to implement any of them in a consumer device. Further, Apple currently relies on LCD panels as their go-to display tech, while bendable screens are most easily manufactured using OLEDs. Again, there are patent filings that point to research in this area, but there have been massive investments made in getting the LCD technology to the point it’s at today. I doubt Apple will abandon that for a watch.

OLED

 

Example of a bendy OLED display made by Samsung. Samsung? NOOOOOO! Credit: DVICE.com

Apple’s supply chain partners do have the capability to fabricate specialized OLED panels, but yields may not be high enough to sustain the undoubted throngs of people who will rush out to buy an iWatch.

That Apple is even rumored to be entering the wearable computing market is notable given the sector is just now starting to take shape. Traditionally, Apple improves on the design of existing products by offering vertical integration that can’t be matched. Cases in point include the iPod, which destroyed Sony’s Walkman industry; the iPhone, which kickstarted a stagnant PDA segment; and the iPad, which distilled the slate computer to something people could actually carry without taking horse steroids. It has been the company’s model for years.

This is not to say, however, that Apple piggy-backs on the ideas of others. On the contrary, Apple has an eye for picking out areas of vast potential that have been overlooked, incubating the tech that can best tap into that niche market’s demand.

The iPod offered thousands of songs in your pocket whereas its contemporaries only gave you a single CD’s (or MiniDisc…I miss MiniDisc) worth of tunes. The iPhone brought an easy-to-use interface baked into some slick hardware, a departure from existing the clunky QWERTY keyboards and resistive touchscreen PDAs. And the iPad stripped away all the unneeded parts of a bloated OS other manufacturers were trying to stuff into what amounted to a laptop with that nixed the keyboard and slapped on a touch panel.

Yes, some of the first tablets were “convertibles,” meaning they served double duty as a laptop and slate. They did not do well at either. At least that era of computing is dead.

Convertible

 Wait, they still make these things!? Credit: Lenovo

Speaking of the iPad (segue!), expect to plunk down some hard-earned cash for a newly designed 9.7-inch version based on the iPad mini’s aesthetics some time this year. Rumors point to April…or August, depending on who you talk to.

As for a Retina display-toting iPad mini, expect one in quarter three.

Wrap-up

So what does Apple have in store for iOS hardware this year? I can give you the easy answers. Expect a moderately updated iPhone, a low-cost iPhone and a pair of renewed iPads. Maybe we’ll see an iWatch this year, maybe not. Either way, the new phones and tablets are sure to delight Apple fans, and put unwarranted stress on their wallets.

Big changes are coming people, big changes. Your life is about to be rocked and you totally already knew about it.

– Mikey

Mikey Campbell is the Editor at Apple Insider. Look for his Planet OtterBox post the first week of every month.
Follow him on Twitter.

 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the contributing authors and editors and do not necessarily represent the views of OtterBox.



About the author

Mikey

Mikey

Mikey Campbell is a self-professed tech geek. Perhaps it was the "100-in-one" electronic learning kit his father gave him as a child, or some genetic disposition to solder, but his need to break into a shiny new gadget cannot be stopped. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism and working a brief stint at a local daily print publication, he explored his roots in Japan for three years; making countless visits the electronics sanctuary that is Akihabara. When he's not tearing down perfectly good hardware, Mikey is out taking artsy photos or hitting the beach in his home town of Honolulu, Hawaii. Mikey is currently an editor for Apple news site AppleInsider.

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