Apple's certainly going to release at least one new iPhone this year—it's the company's flagship product, after all—and right now there's some serious speculating going on. Let's dig into the more interesting rumors.
Apple analyst Gene Munster asserted that the new iPhone would have updated specs, run a new edition of Apple's mobile operating system iOS, and sport NFC functionality. Earlier rumors suggested the next iPhone could have a larger screen, following the industry trend, but there's been no extra data available on the idea recently. It has been suggested, meanwhile, that Amazon's rumored iPhone competitor could have a 4.7-inch screen, which may or may not influence Apple's thinking.
Rumor rating: Of course! A beefed-up iPhone is obvious, and Apple has even shown its chip chops recently by improving the Ax chips used inside its Apple TV product. Quite what specs the A-series chip inside the 2013 iPhone will have are unknown right now, but the design trend for more processor cores for better power and graphics is a strong one. NFC has long been rumored for the iPhone, although it was said that the tech was pulled from the iPhone 5 in mid-development because Apple's execs didn't think the market was mature enough for the iPhone to make a big, transformative splash by including the wireless system. Perhaps, now that the mobile pay market is really maturing, Apple will choose to include it in the next iPhone.
For the last several years Apple's used a fall launch window for its new iPhones, with the iPhone 5 arriving at the end of September 2012. But now there's some suggestion that Apple will return iPhone launches to the summertime, with availability sometime around or after June. Munster is the most vocal source for these rumors, and he's even suggested Apple could sell up to 4 million units of the phone inside June.
Rumor rating: Plausible. Apple has shown it's up for tweaking the iPhone's launch dates beforehand, and a June/July window would allow it to compete with hot new rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the HTC One.
Munster's recent predictions again suggest that Apple will be launching a cheap iPhone variant alongside the flagship top-end device. His thinking is that the cheaper device will arrive in September, distinct from the main iPhone launch.
There's continued speculation about the naming of these devices, given that the main predictions indicate the iPhone for 2013 will be physically similar to the iPhone 5 and may thus be called the "5S," following an Apple naming convention. But it's possible the device will be called "iPhone 6" in order to set it apart from any cheaper variant—though what this device will be called is unknown.
Rumor rating: A cheap, new iPhone is very possible. Apple could create one for comparatively little design and engineering effort given its expertise, and recent chatter about a push to engage in emerging markets like India does support the idea of a cheap iPhone. As for names, our money is on the flagship device being called iPhone 5S, and though no one knows what a cheaper iPhone would be called, it seems that the old, simple "iPhone" could work well.
A new patent application from Apple is generating excitement that a radically made-over iPhone could hit the market. The patent describes a double-curved smartphone with a screen that wraps fully around the device, and enables seamless display of imagery on the entire phone's face. The idea is very attractive, neatly side-stepping an earlier idea that Apple's next iPhone will have a bigger "full width" display that has almost no bezel area.
Rumor rating: This is just a patent, and while it's very attractive, we wouldn't hold out for such a radical step in 2013. The display tech simply isn't quite that mature yet. On the other hand, the curious YotaPhone made quite a splash at the recent MWC show, because it included a regular LCD display on one side and an e-paper one on the rear face.
The device is attractive, and the low-power screen on the rear offers interesting interface possibilities like showing a snapshot of photos shot with the rear-facing camera to the subject, and reading e-books without using too much battery life. A dual-faced iPhone may indeed be a useful evolution. But again, it doesn't chime with other iPhone rumors.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple will begin production of the new iPhone this quarter and may launch it as soon as this summer.
Will the next iPhone be on your shopping list? How radical a change will Apple make over the iPhone 5?
[Satellite dish image: Flickr user guillenperez]