Apple 2.0

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Rumor roundup: All about the new iPhone

May 23, 2009: 2:50 PM ET

iPhone Model No. A1303With two weeks to go before Apple's (AAPL) World Wide Developers Conference -- the venue at which Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 3G last year -- rumors about the next-generation iPhone are reaching critical mass.

Many signs -- including the spot shortages of current-generation iPhones that appeared this week -- point to June 8 as the day of the unveiling and mid-July as the launch window, although nothing about the timing is certain. (More on that below.)

But that hasn't stopped Apple watchers from papering the Web with speculation about the new device's features, specs and price points. The latest tidbit, which broke Friday afternoon, is that the new iPhone will allow users to purchase movies and TV shows from the iTunes store, perhaps using the faster 802.11n Wi-Fi protocol.

The new iPhone rumors started in 2008 and began gathering steam after the March 17 release of the iPhone 3.0 software developers kit (SDK), which contained, among other things, configuration files suggesting that the device would have voice controls, a digital compass, an autofocus camera and would be capable of making, editing and sharing video clips.

The next wave hit in mid-April, when Chinese language newspapers 1) reported that Apple had placed orders for 4 million next-generation iPhones and 2) listed purported suppliers for the phone's chips and key components -- including a 3.2 megapixel camera.

Chinese screen shotA third wave of landed in early May, when someone on a Chinese forum posted what appeared to be an iPhone screen shot with more detailed specs, including:

  • 32 GB of storage (up from a max of 16 GB)
  • a 3.2 megapixel autofocus (as opposed to fixed focus) camera
  • a 600 MHz CPU (up from 400 MHz)
  • 256 MB of RAM (up from 128MB)
  • a digital compass and FM receiver.

Last week saw the publication of the kind of reports that immediately precede a major Apple release: two sets of detailed specs presented as if they were fact.

The first set was leaked to a relatively new site -- AppleiPhoneapps.com -- by an unnamed source whose credibility the author could not vouch for. The second came from Daring Fireball's John Gruber -- a veteran Apple watcher with one of the best track records in the Valley.

Both take as a given -- or nearly given -- the Chinese specs published in May.

Gruber writes that if he were a betting man, he would "wager heavily" on a June 8 announcement and July release of an iPhone with roughly double the CPU horsepower, an improved video-capable camera, and 16 and 32 GB storage capacities.

He would wager "a small amount" on 256 MB RAM and new price points of $199 and $299 for 16 and 32 GB, respectively.

sandwichAnd he would wager "a sandwich" on improved battery life for the new iPhone, despite the beefier CPU.

Gruber pointedly did not endorse several items offered by AppleiPhoneapps.com (and reposted on Wired.com):

  • OLED screen
  • Discontinuation of the metal band surrounding the edge of the device
  • 1.5X The battery life
  • Apple logo on the back to light up
  • Rubber-tread backing
  • Sleeker design
  • Revolutionary combination of the camera, GPS, compass, and Google maps to identify photo and inform about photo locations.
  • July 17th, 2009 release date

"OLED" refers to a technology known as organic light-emitting diode -- very cutting edge, very low power, very expensive. It's easy to see how an OLED screen could extend the phone's battery life, harder to see how Apple could switch from LCD to OLED and still maintain its prices.

The timing of all this is tricky. July 17 has the virtue of falling on a Friday -- which is the day of the week Apple released its first and second generation iPhones. And it gives Apple plenty of time after the June 8 WWDC keynote address to organize a nationwide -- or worldwide -- launch.

But at least one well-connected analyst -- Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster -- doesn't think Apple will introduce new hardware at WWDC at all. He expects marketing VP Phil Schiller's keynote speech to concentrate, as Apple's press release said it would, on previously announced software releases: iPhone 3.0 and OS X Snow Leopard.

Munster expects Apple to unveil a new family of iPhones at a separate special event, in late June or July, coinciding with the end of Steve Jobs' six month medical leave and timed to allow Jobs himself to unveil the new device.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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