Fast Company

Apple Roundup: iPhone On Sprint, New Macs, Cheap iPhone, iPhone 5 Parts And Dates, LTE iPhones Tested, Retina iPads In-Bound

August is traditionally a slow news month for tech, but with its revised iPhone launch schedule Apple's still turning up plenty of rumors--along with fascinating hints at future Macs.

mac touch

Entirely New Product Line

Japanese Mac site Macotakara is predicting Apple's got something surprising up its sleeve for the end of 2011: A completely new Mac product. The rumored Mac is no refresh, say their inside sources, because it's "absolutely different from current products." Macotakara has been fairly accurate with its predictions in the past, including predicting details on the iPad 2, so when it says this new Mac may even get a new product name because it's so different, then the tech world's ears perk up.

Here's our best, and possibly wildest guess: It's that touchscreen iMac everyone's been speculating about since the iPhone first arrived in 2011, and which Apple's been patenting. We know Apple's been developing its UI and touchscreen technology simultaneously, and OS X Lion was a serious attempt to bring some lessons back from iPhones and iPads to Apple's core Mac technology. Critics of the idea show the reach-forward maneuver you'd need to use for a touchscreen iMac would be user-unfriendly, but perhaps that's where the radical new product part comes in: There's nothing to stop Apple taking its unibody design experience gained with the MacBook Air and applying it to a slimmer, smaller, spinning drive-free iMac, to shrink it down to a centimeter or so in depth, jam in some batteries and coming up with a clever design that positions its (20-inch? 18-inch?) screen in perfect equivalent positions to a current MacBook's keyboard. Designers would love it, as a kind of "pro" iPad. Just one question: Is OS X Lion ready for a largely touch-based use model?

Imac Touch

Here are two more plausible and slightly less exciting guesses: A new MacBook Pro line, ditching the conventional boxy design, hard drives, and DVD slots to adopt a super-skinny MacBook Air-inspired shape. Such a machine would definitely merit a new name. Or perhaps it's time to refresh the Mac Pro, as has been recently suggested, ditching the long-held desktop design (and the "Pro" name) and going for a slimmer, more rack-mount-friendly form factor.

Cheap iPhone "Lite" Is Low-Storage iPhone 4.

Reuters has landed an exclusive leak from a couple of people with inside knowledge of Apple's upcoming plans: The long-rumored iPhone "Lite" is apparently going to be a re-engineered iPhone 4, with just 8GB of internal storage and thus a lower price, aiming it at the prepay market (notable in this is the fact the cheap iPhone 3GS still outsells every other phone on the market, except the iPhone 4). This tallies with some analysis we've done before, and it also explains why while we've seen numerous parts and cases leaking for the iPhone 5, we've not seen any for an alternative cheap iPhone design--because they're actually just iPhone 4 parts.

Apple's also moving some of its content services into the cloud--including iTunes--with iCloud so there's less demand on internal storage in the cheaper iPhone 4 (perhaps labeled iPhone 4S?), which lets Apple slash its size to 8GB, thereby reducing the price of flash RAM...which is one of the more expensive components. Reuters' data also suggests Apple's sourcing the RAM from a different supplier in Korea to its usual Japanese manufacturers, which could also be related to lower pricing.

iPhone 5 Parts Leak

In the run-up to the new iPhone, it's inevitable that a few parts will emerge from the China-based manufacturers. We've seen esoteric bits of purported iPhone 5s before, but now we have two very believable parts.

The first is the battery. It has similar, if slightly larger, capacity than the iPhone 4's at 5.3 WHr versus 5.25 WHr , and is said to be very similar in size and shape. Which could mean the iPhone 5 has a better battery life than the iPhone 4 (which we'd guess also comes from Apple's continuous push to optimize and minimize energy consumption) and that it's a very similar shape.

Then we have a camera unit. It looks like Apple's just planning a single LED flash for the unit, which has confused some commenters who've spotted two holes at flash-level on the back of leaked iPhone 5 cases--but it's not ruled out by this leak, as the second flash could easily be on another board. We don't know the specs of the camera either, but rumors say it's Sony's compact 8-megapixel autofocus unit. We can see it looks to be mounted a little closer to the front of the unit, which may mean Apple's learned some lessons in optics from the iPhone 4. And if you're feeling really speculative, you could say that the silver trim detail revealed here rules out the kind of through-the-glass mount we saw on the iPhone 4...hinting Apple may indeed be going for a different (perhaps all-metal) rear case.

iPhone 5 Early October Date

According to "high level" sources inside AT&T, the iPhone 5 is now confirmed for an early October launch window, possibly on October 7th. We suspect it's true because to ensure a smooth launch AT&T needs to have as many staffers available as possible before, during and immediately after the launch weekend (if previous runs on purchasing the device are anything to go by). Pre-ordering is expected to begin September 30th.

The fact that an AT&T Vice President told his staff to expect to be "really, really busy" in the next 35-50 days aligns with this timetable. As does the timing of some structural changes to AT&T's data tariffs and insurance plan. Slight corroboration has also come via Jim Dalrymple of The Loop, who appears to have solid sources inside Apple. The timing is also in agreement with what an an Apple insider told Fast Company much earlier this year.

We can expect Apple to try a global launch of the new phone, possibly to many more countries than it tried for the iPhone 4 (which was itself a more global launch than the 3GS before it) because many more iPhones are sold overseas than in the U.S. nowadays, and a global launch lets Apple amp up the hype, which will let it compete with other handsets more effectively.

LTE In iOS 5--iPad LTE In 2011?

According to BoyGeniusReport, sourced via insiders, Apple has been testing an LTE-enabled iPhone with U.S. carriers, suggesting Apple could be leaping into the 4G fold sooner rather than later. Code fragments found in developer releases of the next big update to the iPhone's software, iOS5, seem to corroborate this thinking and a leaked photograph showed that Apple had installed an LTE equipment box in a "major" Apple Store location. Apple had also previously advertised for an engineer with LTE experience.

Commenters have put two and two together, and speculated that the iPhone 5 may sport LTE powers, or that the iPad 3 will have them first, for the iPhone 6 to get them later in 2012.

We're skeptical for two reasons: Tim Cook said he'd prefer to wait as the power and design requirements of current LTE chipsets would force design compromises. And Apple may be hesistant because LTE is still a fledgling tech--not achieveing broad U.S. penetration yet. Remembering how cautious Apple was to even embrace 3G tech, when other manufacturers had long done so, it seems a late 2012 timeframe for LTE is more plausible. And the field-test unit may be just that--so that Apple engineers can test prototype iPhones and iPads in the field, under realistic conditions, to hone the tech ready for launch.

Retina iPad Due 2012

We've long thought the Wall Street Journal was an unofficial leak channel for Apple, and a recent post has reaffirmed this belief: The WSJ is now saying a "retina" display iPad with, yes, that long-rumored super-high-res screen (that, thanks to its incredible resolution, could redefine the whole tablet industry...again) is due in early 2012.

We're confident about the "redefining the industry" argument for one reason: An iPad with a 2048 by 1536-pixel display (twice the count in each direction as exisitng iPads), possibly with new Fringe-Field Switching LCD for even better viewing angles and a reduced glass-to-screen depth for clarity of imagery, would trounce everything else on the market--it even beats your HDTV. Games would be potentially more detailed, photos and artwork more seamless, and reading e-books at that resolution could even compare to the ostensibly more "natural" feel of reading them on an e-ink display, such as one the Kindle sports.

Update: iPhone 5 Coming To Sprint

The Wall Street Journal has added another leaky item to their Apple coverage, that the iPhone 5 will be coming to Sprint when it is released to the other carriers mid-October--pushing back the next Apple phone's released date from the expected September or early October timeframe. According to the article, the iPhone 4 will also be carried by Sprint.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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