Fast Take: What To Expect From Apple When You're Expecting The iPhone 5

This Wednesday, you may have heard, Apple has an event scheduled. And since the invite contains the numeral "5," everyone's pretty certain the company will reveal the new iPhone 5 that day.

But an Apple event always prompts an outpouring of leaks, opinions, near-miss "exclusives," guesswork, and frantic opinionated writing. It's sometimes hard to pick up the signal from all this noise. Remember too that Apple likes a good surprise from time to time, introducing a new feature that no one had predicted. So we've trawled through the rumors, parsed the data, sifted the tech-y tea leaves, and summed up the info for you. Here's what we think Apple will and won't do in two days, along with what it may do if we're lucky. Are you feeling lucky?

The iPhone 5

It's on its way, yes—so much material has leaked out for the next iPhone that we can be pretty confident that it'll be thinner than the iPhone 4S, and taller, too, to incorporate the 4-inch widescreen the new phone's expected to have. It'll have a partly metal back that forms part of the unibody chassis, and it'll have black and white colored glass or plastic windows on the back to help with radio signal transmission.

We don't know much about its innards, save its battery tech, which seems to have been uprated a little to deliver a bit more power. But we can guess incremental processing boosts, better graphics, a touch sensor integrated into the screen, beefed-up cameras and so on. According to some recent store inventory numbering data, it'll even come at the same price points (at least in the U.S., under the carrier subsidy model).

But what will it be called? After all, Apple's just taken a stance to rename its iPad "3" as just "iPad."

The original iPhone 1.0 was just "iPhone." Then came iPhone 2.0, named "3G," followed by iPhone 3.0 which was called the "iPhone 3GS." Then came iPhone 4.0, labelled "iPhone 4" and iPhone 5.0, which was the "iPhone 4S." So it's not beyond the pale that Apple would call the new phone the "iPhone 5"...even if it's technically the sixth iPhone it's made. The name may help distinguish the new phone from the older 4S, which many commenters expect will remain on sale at a reduced price.

LTE On The iPhone

The Wall Street Journal, again leaking what may be "official" info at a strangely opportune time, recently said the next iPhone would support LTE tech all over the world. That means it'll be a true 4G device, versus the iPad 3, which upset non-U.S. buyers and governments because it only supported U.S. 4G bands. The WSJ notes the phone won't work on "all" carriers, but that's obvious really—different 4G carriers in different countries use different radio bands...and supporting all of them in the iPhone would be tricky, expensive, and maybe even impossible.

NFC?

We can dream that Apple is still aiming at using NFC tech in the next iPhone...but none of the leaked parts seem to contain an NFC antenna loop. The official Apple pseudo-electronic wallet app Passbook may yet be more powerful than we originally thought, but it's not clear if it'll include methods to act as a payment processor.

If Apple does plan to make the iPhone 5 a smart wallet-sporting wonder, it's possible it'll use a different and far more Apple-centric system that skips NFC or Bluetooth entirely and uses a much more powerful pre-existing payments channel: iTunes.

iPad Mini/New iPad

We're still thinking a smaller iPad device really is on the way, especially since there's now been a leak of a very plausible chassis part for it. We don't expect Apple to reveal this device on Wednesday. Nor do we predict that Apple will out an updated iPad 3 which will use the new dock connector that the iPhone 5 will have.

Assuming this device is still on course, expect it in October.

New Macs

Given that there are reports of constraints in the supply of iMacs—and they're long overdue an overhaul—along with other commenters, we think Apple may reveal new iMacs as a warm-up to the new iPhone news. They'll certainly be slimmer, and they may have much improved screen tech. It's possible they'll come with SSD-only options too, and there's at least an outside chance they'll not have DVD drives.

New iPods

An iPod refresh is definitely overdue, even as they form a shrinking part of Apple's revenue mix. The iPod Touch is expected to get a specs upgrade, and may get more iPhone-like tech from the iPhone 4S or even iPhone 5 (that screen perhaps?). Apple won't play with the Touch too much, as it's selling well, and it acts as a great ambassador for iTunes, but it may get a price drop to leave room for an iPad mini in the pricing scales. The iPod Shuffle, Apple's cheapest device, is similarly expected to get minor upgrades—storage, colors, battery life, and so on.

But Apple may reveal a reimagined iPod Nano on Wednesday. Rumors have been circulating for months about this matter, though no one is certain what'll happen. We've argued that the Nano could be a great seller if Apple gave it limited app power, via a version of iOS—and we still think it's a great idea. But Apple may be making more conservative changes, like an integrated camera and Wi-Fi for better iCloud integration.

Fingerprint ID

With news Apple's close to buying security firm AuthenTec for $365 million, there's some speculation that the iPhone 5 or other imminent device will sport that company's fingerprint recognition technology. It would certainly be a boon for mobile payment tech, systems like Passbook or even to authenticate with iTunes so you don't have to enter your password when you buy apps.

It's a long shot for the iPhone 5, we think. Next year's iPad is a different question, however. And we can dream Apple will bring proper multi-user support to iOS at the same time.

[Image: Flickr user Halau]

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

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