In two months to the day, Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference will kick off, and global attention will be intensely focused on the keynote speech, where it’s widely expected Apple will announce an updated iPhone. It’s been talked about for months, but recently the rumors have got a lot hotter.
The buzz started weeks ago as pundits started blogging about the iPhone 3’s potential as a games machine to rival the PSP, or the hot-off-the-production-line Nintendo DSi. Then there were hints that Apple would bake-in some advanced GPS and location-based services into the device. This was largely speculation, based on a few rumors. But Apple leaks are becoming more accurate in general–if the past few releases are any guide–and in the last two weeks a lot of concrete evidence has become public. Here’s a guide to the latest iPhone 3 leaks.
Enhanced camera. The iPhone’s 2-megapixel camera feels increasingly crummy in a world where 12-megapixel units are being incorporated into cellphones. Last week Digitimes claimed it had heard from sources that Omnivision Technologies had received an order for a 3.2-megapixel camera unit destined for new iPhones. If true, it’s not much of a step up for the iPhone, but it’s definitely an improvement–and the hunt for more megapixels isn’t the be-all and end-all anyway. Intriguingly there’s also an order for a 5-megapixel camera unit, intended for “another Apple product…later in the year.” Is this another iPhone? Or the fabled Mac Tablet?
Video recording. Just the other day some evidence turned up that the iPhone 3 would definitely include video recording capabilities, seemingly confirming the hopes of many an iPhone enthusiast. By tweaking some code in the recently previewed iPhone 3.0 firmware, hackers were able to trigger the display of what looks like a video management interface. It includes images of attached video files in a message, and a revamped camera app that includes a switch between still and video mode. Best of all there’s also what looks like a rudimentary video-editing facility, which could, for example let you grab the relevant portion of a fresh video clip to be included in an MMS.
The adjustment BGR had to make to the firmware was to fool it into thinking an “auto-focus” camera unit was attached. This is great news on the one hand, implying that those enhanced camera units will be better at imaging versus the current limited fixed-focus system. On the other, it looks bad: this suggests the video recording upgrade might not be available for owners of the current iPhone 3G–but this is beta software, so it’s definitely subject to change.
Three-axis digital compass. The two existing iPhone models have sophisticated motion-sensing thanks to embedded accelerometers, but they lack the magnetometer (which the Android G1 already exploits) that lets the phone act as a digital compass. And now it turns out that there’s mention of a 3-axis magnetometer in firmware 3.0 too. Not only is this handy for boosting the navigation aspects of the device, but it can let the phone work out its absolute orientation in space–and that could enable all sorts of sophisticated augmented reality applications.
Wireless 802.11 N. The 3.0 firmware shows evidence of support for an upgraded Broadcom Bluetooth chip, the BCM4329 versus the BCM4325 currently in use. This unit supports wireless N protocols, and that would be a natural fit for a new phone, because it enables faster data transfer and lower power consumption, which in turn boosts battery life.
FM radio transmit-receive capability. The new Broadcom combo chip supports both FM radio signal reception and transmission of FM data. As a result it’s been suggested the next iPhone may include the option to transmit audio over FM, which would enable it to easily connect up to car stereos to pump your iPod tracks to your ears. And perhaps to pipe your GPS navigation voice prompts over your car speakers too. It’s possible that Apple could include this option, and maybe the ability to receive FM radio stations–but there’s no evidence Apple’s historically interested in these functions, and it may just be that they’re simply a part of the Broadcom package that Apple won’t exploit.
Voice control. Another “hidden” image in the 3.0 firmware shows an “international settings” screen that is updated with a switch for “voice control.” This strongly suggests that voice-dialing is coming, and maybe hints that voice-activated GPS navigation is en route.
There you have it, iPhone version 3 will be all-round faster, better, and coming with several functions that probably should have been there all along. As a result, we can only dream of the powerful new applications the upgraded device will enable. There are just three questions remaining. What other rumors will turn up in the next eight or so weeks? What’s it going to look like? And what’s Apple going to call it? They’ve gone from “iPhone” to “iPhone 3G” and we can’t keep calling it “iPhone version three” forever. Leave your suggestions in the comments below.