We've heard a trickle of information about the purported double release of iPhones this year—an up-spec'd iPhone "5S" or possibly "6" and a plastic iPhone "lite"—but suddenly a gush of imagery and very detailed specs have emerged.
At the very least this suggests that some rumors about the iPhone going into mass production make sense, because an uptick in factory activity is inevitably going to lead to leaks.
Let's get to the goods.
Chinese site Expreview has published what it says are iPhone 5S units rolling off the production line. It's hard to tell if that's really the case because the next iPhone is widely assumed to be very similar in external design to the iPhone 5...so those may simply be iPhone 5 parts. The metal chassis also lacks the typical identifying etches that Apple applies, specifying part numbers and the famous "designed in California" label, so these may be unfinished iPhone 5S parts or they're part of a prototyping process.
What seems to be true is that these really are Apple parts rather than a fake device, because the metal mounting points inside the chassis are consistent with leaked designs for the phone's motherboard.
Recent rumors had suggested that Apple was going to include a fingerprint reader for security in the next iPhone, and that delays in producing the right kind of high precision component may be responsible in pushing back the release date of the phone somewhat.
We're skeptical about the release date delay—such issues are typically part of any mass production process, particularly of high-tech devices, and thus Apple will have built in contingencies. But we do think it's highly plausible the next iPhone may have a fingerprint reader. It would let Apple offer a degree of security that other smartphones may find hard to beat.
And because a fingerprint positively and securely identifies a user much more than a PIN does, the reader may also enable Apple to add in one extra tech that was apparently withheld from the iPhone 5 at the last minute: NFC. NFC powers would transform the iPhone into a digital payment system, and Apple could bargain with credit card companies over the increased security offered by its fingerprint ID.
Other data coming from China suggests that the next iPhone will have a screen made by Sharp and/or LG at the same size and resolution as the current one: 1136 by 640 pixels and 4-inches diagonally. But the new screen will be based on IGZO technology which allows it to be thinner and brighter and consume less power, all of which are important in a mobile device that is used outside. The phone is also said to sport a 12-megapixel rear camera instead of the current 8 megapixels. Earlier leaks suggested that the cam will be paired with a dual-color dual-LED flash to improve the phone's low light shooting power.
Inside will be 2GB of RAM, an up-clocked A6 CPU, and better four-core graphics unit, instead of the current three-core one. A bigger battery is included to power the better hardware, though power savings may be possible thanks to the display tech on the screen.
Do we believe these specs? They're extremely plausible, and match what we may have guessed independently. That doesn't mean the data is accurate. But if the iPhone doesn't go on sale soon with at least these hardware powers we'll be surprised.
More iPhone "lite" parts have leaked and there's now some real comparison shots of what's said to be the new plastic iPhone and an iPhone 5 for comparison. Clearly the plastic phone is very very similar in size and shape to its metal cousin, which means it'll likely have specs that are at least close to the iPhone 5 from its 4-inch screen down.
It's looking more and more likely that a colorful plastic iPhone will go on sale this year aimed at the mid-range market. And perhaps we shouldn't be surprised: The colors we've seen so far remind us strongly of iOS 7 and the original colorful plastic iMac—both of which were designed by Apple design chief Jony Ive.
[Image: By Flickr user Sam Howzit]