A few rumors from a while back suggested that Apple's next iPhone revamp would ditch the glass back and adopt a metal one instead—added to the stainless steel antenna-frame of the iPhone 4, this means the iPhone 5 would be an all-metal affair. Now there's an extra boost to this rumor courtesy of a previously reliable source inside Foxconn (Apple's Chinese manufacturer partner) who's seen a prototype edition, and notes that the factories are ramping up into mass production for the device.
An all-metal back makes sense for a bunch of reasons: The glass back of the iPhone 4 was beautiful, but it meant there were two fragile surfaces that could shatter if you dropped the phone, it added a lot of weight to the device's construction, and it was subject to a stress-fracture rumor involving sliding cases. Replacing the glass back with a metal one solves several of Apple's production problems. The phone would be more resilient, it could reduce production costs, it reflects Apple's unibody design for its computers, and in one swoop it ditches the production problems associated with light leakage and bad paint that delayed the white iPhone 4. A metal back could also be shallower than the glass one would allow, which could let Apple back a bigger battery inside the case—a move that would boost the iPhone's powers, and add back some of that "quality feel" weight.
The Foxconn leaker who spoke to 9to5Mac about the phone also confirmed it would have a flat back like the iPhone 4, and would largely follow its design format. This is consistent with Apple's design evolution ethos, and tallies with a number of leaked iPhone 5 cases that assume an almost identical format, except for the larger screen rumor that we've seen before. Also 9to5Mac looked at internal circuitry, apparently from the iPhone 5, that shows its design similarities.
Meanwhile that wireless credit payment NFC rumor has emerged again, after being squashed recently, and there's some new evidence that Apple is building NFC login powers to its next OS upgrade, OSX Lion. Supposedly tied to the new App Store and a revamp of MobileMe, the idea would be that a user could login to a different Mac simply be swiping their iPhone over the Mac's sensor (implying NFC powers in upcoming Macs) and their desktop environment would appear as if they were at home. Combined with the metal back rumor, which would probably not be radio transparent, we have to wonder if Apple could use a novel in-screen NFC antenna design.
Apple is bound to reveal the truth sometime soon: After all, it was June last year when it revealed the iPhone 4—although Gizmodo leaked the prototype a month earlier. The ensuing criminal investigation over that episode is now reported to be near its end. Will something similar happen this year?
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