Fast Company

Why Those iPhone 4 Leaked Photos Make Sense

A huge surge of excitement has surrounded pictures of what may, or may not be, the next-gen iPhone for 2010. The images surfaced at Engadget, sourced from someone who'd supposedly found the device dropped in a public place. The photos just show the powered-down device, since it apparently won't turn on any more...but when it did, it ran an unseen version of iPhone OS. Since the images surfaced, they've been questioned, reaffirmed, questioned again and defended again.

And that's about all you need to know about the leakiness. More important are the conclusions we can draw from these images--and those that have surfaced since--that could point to the next generation iPhone.

  • It's aluminum-bodied. This is in keeping with Apple's trend toward aluminum enclosures, based on its unibody milled-metal tech. It also resurrects the metal finish of the first iPhone and would be a neat solution to the issue of scratched plastic backs of the current design--it may also improve their drop-resilience.
  • Assuming the iPhone for 2010 adopts more powerful Apple CPUs inside, as per the iPad, the aluminum body could also act as a more effective heatsink than a plastic one.
  • Although the construction and finishes are apparently aluminum, the glass/plastic/ceramic back this rumored device has is more radio-transparent than a closed metal back, with a presumed 3G antenna hidden behind the Apple logo. It's also a more elegant solution, from a design standpoint, than the original iPhone's ugly black antenna patch. It's also compatible with the notion Apple will place some sort of RFID tag/reader tech in upcoming iPhones.
  • Apple patented ceramic cases for devices fairly recently (2006), so it's possible we'll see them exploiting the idea sometime. The concept presents some pretty good advantages, technologically.
  • Its form-factor is different to the current iPhone, which is probably due a refresh to keep the design current. It's also different to the legion of iPhone-esque smartphones kicked out by every manufacturer from LG to RIM, while retaining some of the iPhone's design heritage.
  • The box-like cross-section could make for more capacity for a bigger batter, which would support the greater power needs of the (presumably) more powerful chipsets inside.
  • The box-shape also may let the phone be thinner, and as some have noticed these leaked photos do seem a tad more slender than the iPhone 3GS--just check out the relative size of the headphone socket.
  • The move toward microSIM cards, which the iPad uses, may be welcomed by cell phone networks who are keen to keep pre-paid iPhones using their services (due to the relative difficulty of sourcing microSIMs from competing networks at the moment).
  • The front-facing camera that's visible in the phone is supported by evidence found in the upcoming iPhone 4.0 SDK...and some would argue it's long overdue.

iPhone 4

Even if this proves to be something other than the iPhone for 2010 (which some suggest may be dubbed the iPhone HD, since this leaked device has a higher-res screen), we'd be surprised if some of these ideas didn't make it into the upcoming phone.

And for the record, among the things that make us question the veracity of the images are its user-changeable battery. It's not that users aren't clamoring for this. It runs contrary to everything Apple's done recently with its devices, from the MacBook Pros to the iPad: Apple's message is the battery tech is good enough as it is. Secondly, those buttons standing proud on the side of the phone look too prominent, and would be apt for many an accidental activation when this thing is riding in your pocket. That would be a step backwards from the current iPhone's design, where pressing the power button or volume switches by accident is pretty hard (even while the mute switch does tend to be easily toggled by moving in your pocket.)

Update: Gizmodo's guys somehow got their paws on this very phone, and after tinkering with it and disassembling it, they're pronouncing it as the real deal. Their analysis also ties up very well with some of my thinking here. This starts with the battery life, with the new device having a 16% bigger battery than the 3GS (5.25 watt-hours, versus 4.51 watt-hours for the 3GS.) The disassembly seems to have revealed no evidence of a user-removable battery--instead Gizmodo thinks the extra pinhole in the case means the phone has a noise-cancelling microphone. Check it out. This could well be the iPhone for 2010.

Update 2: More rumors of a different type, from a different source have popped up to confirm what we'd suspected about the iPhone 2010. 9to5Mac is citing a report in the Korea Times that alleges industry insiders let slip info about the iPhone's next CPU: It'll be an Apple own-brand chip, as suspected, based on ARM tech. Samsung will be building them for Apple, on a chip-foundry style contract, which is different to its previous role as chip architect/manufacturer. This sounds a lot like the Apple A4, found inside the iPad.

Kit QR TwitterTo keep up with this news in a more real-time setting, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take you to my Twitter feed too. (And if you've no idea what that spotty-looking thing is, then find out here.)

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5 Comments

  • Kit Eaton

    @John. It's tempting to ponder that... But I think not. Apple's not the kind of company to play silly games to this massive degree.

    As for the design's state of finalization, well I think you may be right. This is clearly a "ready for field testing" unit, to test the core elements of the gadget, such as the metal chassis and plastic/glass (?) back. A friend of mine was involved in designing a high-profile cellphone some years back, and had to carry around a disguised version (in a manner similar to this iPhone) for weeks to test it out--so I believe the core features of this leaked product will be found in the final version. There are a few design features that could still be ironed out though, before launch. And we know Apple does that: The iPad's "mute" switch suddenly became a "rotation hold" switch just before its launch.

  • John Vasko

    I wouldn't be surprised if Apple didn't just have someone plant that iPhone 4 in that bar so they could stir up this publicity. If not, I also wouldn't be surprised if they radically changed it from what we see here. Full of surprises, they are.

  • Kit Eaton

    @Karim. The (approximate) specs are indeed impressive, don't you think? As is the design. I think this has been overlooked in this affair...
    @Andy. From the way Apple's reacting to this news, and the fact the components are stamped with "apple"--there's really no doubt it's a real Apple product...

  • Andy Marshall

    The only reason i dont think it's not real is because Apple literally lock their dev stuff down to the table and operate some of the strictest secrecy policies in the world... perhaps they learnt them off the Chinese whilst figuring out how to fight Google!
    I certainly cant see them letting some employee going wondering off with one outside the campus... unless they wanted it to be released for buzz reasons, in which case fair enough.

  • Karim El Sheikh

    The specs add up in this next generation iPhone. The part that makes this new iPhone seem like a hoax is how Engadget came across this phone. In a San Jose bar.....come on. After all the secrecy Apple takes part in, this is how the new iPhone is leaked...found on the ground in a bar. If that part of the story is true then I like Apple even more now. Cheers.