Apple is due to launch the long awaited iPhone 5 at a special event on September 12th with the phone going on sale in many markets on the 21st. This is perhaps the most anticipated iPhone launch yet, and the iPhone 5 is already expected to break sales charts with an anticipated 250 million sales. Yet what makes this iPhone so special, and why is there so much demand for a phone that we know so little about?
If the rumours are to be believed then the iPhone 5 will make a number of significant changes from earlier models, and will perhaps be the biggest change in design since the iPhone 4. For one thing, this will be the first iPhone that won’t have a 3.5 inch screen, instead opting for a larger 4 inch display, and other important changes are expected to be made to the dock connector and SIM card.
Larger Screen on iPhone 5
When the original iPhone was released in 2007 its screen design was based on extensive research by Apple engineers. They had determined that 3.5 inches was the optimum size for a smartphone’s touchscreen, as it would allow the majority of people to operate the phone effectively with one hand. Any larger, and some people would experience difficulty in reaching things in the topmost corner.
Since that time, the touchscreen market has increasingly moved away from the iPhone’s dimensions, opting for larger and larger screens. Some of the most popular Android handsets today employ screens in excess of 4 inches, while the smaller 3.5 inch phones typically fall into the budget range. As data connections have improved, and entertainment features have also evolved rapidly, a smaller screen is no longer optimal for the sort of things that consumers expect to do with a modern smartphone: such as watch YouTube videos or play games.
The increasing popularity of phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Nexus has forced Apple’s hand to reconsider its design. The original rumours regarding a larger screened iPhone 5 first appeared at the start of 2011, but the phone was postponed by the time that the iPhone 4S was launched in October of that year. The rumours started picking up again at the start of 2012 however, and have been gaining increasing credibility in recent months from a number of reliable sources.
Earlier this year there was talk that Apple would opt for a screen “in excess of 4 inches”, and there were wild rumours of a 4.6 inch screen. Since that time there has developed a consensus that the screen will be slightly below 4 inches and will have a resolution of 640 x 1136. This is based on numerous leaked images, leaked components, design schematics, and “unnamed sources” involved in the development of the phone.
The interesting thing about the screen resolution that has been proposed is that it is very similar to the Retina Display resolution used on the iPhone 4 and 4S, but with an additional 176 pixels added to its height. This would result in an iPhone 5 that is fairly similar in its width to the last two models, but much taller than any earlier iPhone. This description perfectly fits the design that has been leaked in recent months.
Just this week, 9to5Mac tweaked a simulation of iOS by forcing it to use the 640 x 1136 resolution, and the result was quite revealing. On iOS 6, this resulted in an extra row of icons being added to the homescreen, while iOS 5 merely stretched the existing icons to cover the screen. This means that Apple has added a tweak to iOS 6 to allow it to work more optimally on the 640 x 1136 resolution – the most convincing evidence yet that the iPhone 5 will have a taller 4 inch screen.
A taller iPhone was also spotted at WWDC during a presentation being given by Scott Forstall. The phone was placed in a car dock and was quite clearly not any model that has already been released.
The other major change that has been speculated over the past few months has been that Apple will redesign the iPhone’s dock connector. Rather than using an industry standard microUSB port, iPhones have a proprietary 30 pin connector that has been used for several years.
While it seems almost certain at this point that the iPhone 5 will have a smaller dock connector, the exact details about it are still unclear. It was originally described as a 19 pin dock connector, but 9 pins and 8 pins have both been proposed since. Images have appeared of the new dock connector, as well as the internal components behind it, and code found within iOS 6 supports a redesigned dock connector of some sort.
The new dock connector will add speed and performance enhancements but could have major implications for existing iPhone owners who have purchased a large amount of accessories, as the new phone will be incompatible. Apple will most likely release an adaptor to overcome this problem. The smaller connection also means that Apple has been able to move the headphone socket from the top to the bottom of the iPhone.
Nano SIM and Battery
Earlier this year the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) agreed on a new industry standard for a smaller SIM card technology. Most of the phone industry still uses the same SIM card design that has been used since the 1990s, while Apple has been one of the few companies that has adopted the smaller Micro SIM design developed a few years back.
The latest ETSI standard, Nano SIM, is 40% smaller than the Micro SIM cards used with the iPhone 4 and 4S. This smaller SIM design will allow Apple to fit more components into the iPhone 5 or make the phone much slimmer than previous versions. The latest reports are suggesting that the phone may be as slim as 7.6mm.
The iPhone’s battery has also seen a slight upgrade from 1430mAh to 1440mAh. While this will provide slightly better battery life, the modest nature of the upgrade suggests that Apple may not be including LTE with the iPhone 5 after all. LTE provides much faster data connections but does so at a great expense to battery life. Apple would have been expected to include a far higher capacity battery if they were planning on including LTE, although this is mere speculation.
Other Upgrades on iPhone 5
We already know from the beta release of iOS 6 that the iPhone 5 will come with Passbook, for storing coupons and tickets, as well as a Google-free Maps app that will include a 3D flyover mode. Improvements will also be made to Siri and it will now be possible to use FaceTime over cellular networks. Facebook will also be heavily integrated with the phone for the first time.
Apple is due to unveil the iPhone 5 at a special event on September 12th, alongside a smaller iPad, and the phone is due to go on sale in most markets on September 21st. It will be the most anticipated iPhone launch yet and the biggest refresh of the iPhone brand for over two years.
Simon writes for the UK mobile comparison website Best Mobile Contracts.