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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.