Apple Rumor Patrol: The Next iPhone Is Nearly Here—Will It Be NFC-Ready? [Updated]

A full three months before we can reasonably expect it to arrive, more and more rumors are popping up about the next iPhone. Here's why everyone's so excited.

iPhone 5

iPhone With NFC

According to 9to5Mac, code acquired from leaked iPhone prototypes suggests that Apple's new hardware has NFC controllers built directly into the smartphone's power management units.

And this can mean but one thing: Apple's iPhone for 2012 will come with a smart NFC capability. The announcement of PassBook—Apple's new digital wallet app—at WWDC suddenly makes a lot of sense—because while PassBook is simply a way to corral non-wireless wallet contents like loyalty cards and it's quite definitely not a payments app, it's very close to offering a full wireless wallet experience. One can easily imagine that Apple will give PassBook powers to its older hardware but keep a full wireless wallet for the new iPhone, to act as one of its chief selling points. Then there are those mentions of an "iWallet" and talks with credit card companies in relation to Apple. And NFC would, of course, enable plenty of other tricks too, like direct device-to-device file sharing (like that in the Samsung Galaxy S3) as well as smart logins to Macs and any of the other clever ideas Apple's patented.

But let's inject a cautionary note here. These rumors are based on a dissection of a leaked prototype, in apparently fairly early stages of preparedness testing. These tests may have led Apple to decide the hardware's just not a good idea, or business decisions higher up in Apple may lead them to conclude the NFC payments market is just not mature enough yet (although, we do know Apple loves to stamp boldly into a new area like this so it can leave its prints all over it).

iPhone Chassis

Several leaked iPhone parts have now been seen multiple times online and there's a growing consensus that they actually do represent what the upcoming iPhone will be like: Thinner, taller with a 4-inch screen in a 16:9 aspect ratio just like your HDTV. 

Interestingly, the design contains a curious-looking two-toned back cover, with what may be plastic segments at the top and bottom surrounding an all-metal back. A bit of logical thinking suggests these plastic inserts may wrap around the sides of the phone too, acting as the insulating plastic spacers between the parts of the phone's in-frame antennas. Meanwhile NFC antennas tend to be flat coils, and the all-metal back of the phone would suggest the antenna's aren't there...but now there's that handy plastic radio-transparent "window" on the back. 

iPhone Dock Connector

Another thing that's been deduced from the leaked parts is a redesigned dock connector. Apple's said to be pursuing it in search of more internal space in the phone (to make room for more battery and technical goodies) and to improve the phone's dust and moisture resistance. 

Now it's being said by TechCrunch that the smaller port has 19 pins, versus the old 30-pin connector that was used on the iPod first of all—and that's a reasonable assumption given that there are some connections on that old system that are now irrelevant. It also shows that Apple wants to make its peripherals powerful—because you can send more signals out through 19 pins than the limited 4-pins of a USB connector, which Europe is pressing to be a standard phone charging option.

Apple naysayers have already leaped upon this rumor with negative comments about how Apple may be effectively cheating money out of consumers who have to buy more peripherals now. But this ignores the fact that due to Apple holding onto the old standard for so long the iPhone is basically the only smartphone that has a vast peripheral ecosystem. We say this is a very likely thing for Apple to do, but to hold off the criticism—any number of cheap 30-pin to 19-pin converters will quickly emerge on sale.

Apple Television (again)

Barely a week goes by without another rumor about Apple's bid to reinvent the TV, and this time it's a biggie: Hon Hai (Foxconn's parent company) has already invested in Sharp's LCD plant, and now it's seemingly moving delivery of large numbers of big flat-panel LCDs to the third quarter of 2012 instead of the fourth quarter, as had been previously rumored.

If you believe Apple is making a TV, and if you believe that Foxconn and Sharp are intimately involved in the plan, then this seems to suggest the device is in late-stage prototyping and may even arrive late in 2012 to soak up sales in the holiday season.  

Podcasts

Podcasts are a funny phenomenon, loved by some and loathed by others—but it's being suggested that in iOS 6 Apple's taking a decisive move to shift podcasts out of iTunes and into their own standalone app for iPhones and iPads, and that the app will perhaps include more powerful podcast-creating systems too.

We've got a feeling this makes sense for Apple, as it's already differentiated Music and Video apps on iOS devices for playback.

Retina iMacs

Alas, the latest murmur about Apple's computer upgrades says that though a redesigned iMac is due this year rather than next, it's not going to be blessed with the same amazing retina-resolution display tech as the new MacBook Pro, largely for cost-per-unit reasons.

Update

iPad Rumors Galore. There's already a big fuss being made about the next iPad—small wonder, given the Surface, the Nexus 7 and Amazon's rumored new Kindles. Digitimes has long suggested the iPad 4 may arrive in October instead of, as expected, early in 2014. But a Pacific Crest analyst is now saying the October date is tied to a 7-inch iPad mini...yes, that old chestnut again. Based on his estimates, it's going to have a 7.8-inch screen with 8GB of storage and priced at $299. This is professional guesstimating, of course. But more and more rumors about this device keep popping up—a pattern that, in the past, has sometimes indicated that there really is something coming down Apple's pipeline.

Podcasts. This rumor proved true, and well ahead of iOS6 Apple has spun podcasts into their own iOS app. But new rumors note that when the app is run on a testbed edition of iOS6 there's a "redeem" button to allow users to type in things like iTunes gift codes—leading to the question why would you need to do that if podcasts are free? The suspicion is that premium podcasts may be en route (with, we can guess, Apple's usual 30%/70% fee split).

iPhone 6 Battery Woes. A Chinese news source is the surprising place we learn Apple's pre-production of the next iPhone may have been stumbling a little due to battery production issues. Apparently only 30% of the production volumes meet Apple requirements—and that's important, given that headlines of "exploding" devices with malfunctioning batteries are something no manufacturer needs to see. It's worth pointing out however that a pre-production process exists exactly to uncover issues like this, so that fixes can be carried out or contingency plans can be made. 

Features, Not Specs. Another piece of expert analysis suggests that when Apple does reveal its new phone, it will aim to compete with arch rival Samsung rather more in terms of the powerful software solutions inside the device compared to raw specs. We tend to agree with this, because it's frankly something Apple's done all along, barely mentioning raw technical details in the way PC makers often do. Early teases like its "PassBook" app may also suggest that Apple's keeping some big OS features for a reveal closer to the launch date.  

[Images: via MobileFun, Martin uit Utrecht]

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

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4 Comments

  • Rth

    I sit here reading these rumors thru my iPhone 4 looking forward to the next iPhone release... Funny thing is my current 'old' iPhone still looks and works GREAT! How many other cell phone owners have a cell phone they still love and still works flawlessly long after their 2 year contract ends... Then why upgrade to a new phone? Simply put: you know the next one will be better, more powerful and just awesome!

  • Robert Stoeber

    These drawings of the rumored iPhone still include stupid slide switch for the ringer.  I hope they get rid of that worthless and annoying part.  Three problems with it:
    1) It's very easy to bump it into the wrong position inadvertently.

    2) It really needs 3 positions, not two, as in: ring, vibrate, off.

    3) It's totally unnecessary when you already have volumn up and down switches. Volume down should just go to zero (silent) and then down one more to vibrate.  Volume up would then go up from vibrate to zero (silent) and then continue increasing then volume.

    If the steps in #3 are protected by some patent, at least Apple could come up with a better solution than the current one.