How the iPhone 5 Can Stay Ahead of the Pack

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With so many rumors about a CDMA iPhone abounding, Apple looks set to shun the next-generation 4G technology, LTE, for its first year in the U.S. The company looks like it will focus on gaining millions of Verizon subscribers and users of CDMA networks in India. But can its next phone, the iPhone 5, still retain its title as the most advanced smartphone in the face of strong competition from Windows 7 and Android phones?

Shunning next-generation phone technology has not hampered Apple in the past. Remember, the original iPhone didn't even have 3G. And leaving LTE to its own devices will give it time to gain a bigger install base in the U.S.

But the competitive landscape has changed. Microsoft has burst onto the smartphone scene, with a slew of different phones from multiple handset makers on different networks all around the world. The Windows 7 OS is a strong competitor to iOS. Microsoft is working hard to get developers on board. Android, in the meantime, is going from strength to strength. Its stable of available handsets is getting ever more capable and specialized.

So how does the iPhone stack up against its competitors--and what will the iPhone 5 need to bring to the party? Let's take a look at the specs.

Screens

Current iPhone: 3.5-inch, 960 by 640 pixels, IPS LCD

Droid 2 Android: 3.7-inch, 854 by 480 pixels, LCD

Windows Phone 7: 3.8-inch, 800 by 480 pixels, LCD

Apple's iPhone 4 touted its "retina" display, with uniquely-high pixel density this year. Since then it's been matched by a number of competitor phones. Among its Android peers, and even against the Windows 7 units, the iPhone's 3.5-inch unit is beginning to look tiny. We're guessing Apple will keep the same pixel size, but scale the iPhone's display size up to at least 3.7-inches, possibly achieved by using clever touchscreen technology--allowing for design optimization.

CPU

Current iPhone: 1 GHz Apple A4, ARM-based

Droid 2 Android: 1 GHz (1.2 GHz in World Edition)

Windows Phone 7: 1 GHz

Apple's 1 GHz A4 chip is the secret sauce behind the iPhone and iPod Touch, and it's a class-leader. But Microsoft's minimum spec is 1GHz, and newer Android units in the iPhone's price bracket are using faster chips. We predict Apple's A5 chip--if that is its name--will adopt dual-core technology for more processing power, and clock at at least 1.6 GHz. Apple may even surprise us with a super-optimized 2 GHz CPU.

Storage

Current iPhone: 16GB or 32GB onboard, no expansion

Droid 2 Android: 8GB onboard, microSD expansion

Windows Phone 7: 8GB, 16GB, microSD expansion

Apple chose not to bump up the storage capacity of the iPhone 4 over its predecessor, presumably for pricing reasons and studies about how full people keep their iPhones. It's likely that Apple will preserve its habit of having all storage internal, and so we may expect 32GB to 64GB onboard storage in iPhone 5 to match the microSD expansion powers offered by the competition.

Cameras

Current iPhone: VGA front-facing, 5-Megapixel rear-facing autofocus and flash

Droid 2 Android: 5-Megapixel rear-facing autofocus and dual-flash

Windows Phone 7: 5-Megapixel rear-facing

Though Apple was slow to adopt imaging technology in the iPhone, the device now has a full compliment of capable cameras. Its peers typically do too--often matching the iPhone spec for spec, and sometimes surpassing it (with very high megapixel counts, dual flash, or image stabilization). Apple may bump the rear-facing camera resolution to match consumer expectations, perhaps to as much as 8 megapixels. But the company seems more likely to concentrate on image quality rather than megapixel size, and we may see micro-shutters or optical image stabilization.

Connectivity

Current iPhone: GSM, Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 2.1

Droid 2 Android: GSM (plus CDMA in World edition), Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 2.1, DLNA, wireless hotspot

Windows Phone 7: GSM, Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 2.1

It looks like the iPhone 5 may come in a GSM-only and GSM/CDMA version making use of new dual-mode chipsets (which users may have to pay a premium for). Wireless N is a sure-thing, though Apple may choose to bump the tech to get "full" N capability, unlike the iPhone 4. Bluetooth 3 may make its way onboard too. And we may even see the phone turn itself into a Wi-Fi hotspot, so you can tether it to your laptop--outside the U.S. at least, where carriers are less concerned about the implications.

Other specs

The antenna of the iPhone 4 show that Apple's not afraid to try risky innovations in its designs -- the hype of antennagate notwithstanding. The iPhone 5 is likely to be based on the flatter, sleeker iPhone 4's chassis, but we're guessing it'll have a different--possibly more metallic--design on the surface.

Battery capacity will need a bump in order to power a more energy-hungry CPU/GPU, and match the longer lifespans offered by iPhone competitors. Apple is unlikely to make the phone more bulky, however, so the room for a bigger battery will arrive thanks to a more compact motherboard, and a slimmer screen/touchscreen unit (born of integrated sensor and display technology).

Apple may expand the voice-recognition powers of the phone to boost its utility to accessibility-limited customers. With so many Apple Near-Field Comms patents being filed, and Nokia keen to integrate NFC tech into every one of its new phones from next year, we're also guessing NFC may appear on the iPhone 5. That should allow you to use your iPhone as a credit card, a travel card, and just about anything that you can point at a card reader. Beat that, Microsoft and Google.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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6 Comments

  • MT

    Apple & Communist China - the real cost of cool?

    "Some 250,000 Foxconn employees in southern China produce Apple's products. Apple, meanwhile, has about 25,000 employees in the U.S. That means for every Apple worker in the U.S. there are 10 people in China working on iMacs, iPods, and iPhones. The same roughly 10-to-1 relationship holds for Dell, disk-drive maker Seagate Technology (STX), and other U.S. tech companies." --(Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, July 2010)

    "You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work—and much of the profits—remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work—and masses of unemployed?" --(Andy Grove)

  • Eric Shoemaker

    I am an Apple user... but also very excited to see what other PC and phone makers having coming up to challenge the iPhone, iMac, MacBooks, etc.

    I have to say that I'm about done with Fast Company and Kit Eaton's biased coverage that reads more glowing than even an Apple ad. No mention of the crazy number of cracked iPhone screens? I dropped mine a foot and it broke into a million pieces. I had two other friends experience the same in the last dya. The dust that is getting between covers and wearing down the glass creating hairline fractures?

    These are the things I expect from a design blog... to challenge makers to create something not only pretty and cool, but something that lasts in the face of real-world use. The iPhone 4 has some major problems (I predict) coming up with the number of screens shattering.

    This quote is a good example: "But can its next phone, the iPhone 5, still retain its title as the most advanced smartphone." Who said iPhone is the most advanced? In many areas, it is (obviously apps). I have been playing with an Android phone and it has some advantages as well.

    I'm to the point where I don't trust Fast Company's tech coverage...

  • Mark Gary Blumenthal, MD, MPH

    I appreciate what James King is saying about Apple's hype machine, but as a twenty-five year Mac user, I have considerable faith that Apple will ultimately produce a superior product that integrates well with the rest of the Apple product line.

    Part of what makes Apple products 'special' is the vertical integration of every Apple product with every other Apple product. I own several Apple products, and they all 'play together well'. Moreover, Apple's quality control (excepting a few gaffes) and service lead the industry.

    It's not just Apple's products that we buy; it's also Apple's ethos (disregarding the fact that Steve Jobs is sometimes WAY over the top).

  • PK

    Talk is cheap, how about going into manufacturing something that will make a difference.

    Apple haters will always hate Apple's products no matter how good they are.

    I wonder who are these android phones buyers?

    If the IT in enterprise is recommending them, well they are only trying to be relevant to their respective company because android phones are like window OS - insecure - no one vet the apps and no wall to keep out the pests.

    Well guys good luck the virus writers are only waiting until the number of android phones hit critical mass then they will let loose the virus/es made for android phones..

  • james King

    I have been reading your articles for a while and enjoy them. However, I do have to say that your take on the smartphone market seems ill informed (with a heavy preference for Apple).

    Motorola just announced it's plans to release a dual-core Android phone this year (staying ahead of the iPhone).

    The Samsung Galaxy S (Android) phones have been using Super - AMOLED screens. These are 1 piece, super thin, integrated touch screens - staying ahead of the iPhone.

    There are phones running Android with bigger screens, higher resolution, front-facing cameras, 10Mbs download speeds (on 3g networks), etc.

    Apple does makes a great product, but I hate seeing more people fall victim to the Apple marketing machine that propagates the idea that there is nothing better out there. There is MUCH better out there!

  • Eric Shoemaker

    James King absolutely has this correct. I love to hear about Apple, but in a balanced way giving fair chance to other companies to get their info out. I wonder if Kit is meeting with all the other companies out there to learn about their offerings? I doubt it given the stories I've read over the past year.

    There is a world outside of Apple.