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Summary:

So how about that expected Apple iPhone update? We know that Apple is holding its annual developer conference in four weeks and it’s a safe bet that new handset hardware will be announced. Today’s rumor might take some of the shine away from an official Apple […]

Image Credit: MacRumors

Image Credit: MacRumors

So how about that expected Apple iPhone update? We know that Apple is holding its annual developer conference in four weeks and it’s a safe bet that new handset hardware will be announced. Today’s rumor might take some of the shine away from an official Apple announcement, mainly because I suspect most of the rumor, if not all of it, is true. It’s just my gut feeling and I’ve been wrong many times before (hey, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad), but most of the rumored new iPhone specifications all make sense.

Here’s why…

Storage capacity 0f 32GB: I can’t see why Apple wouldn’t be expanding beyond the current 8GB and 16GB versions that they already offer in today’s iPhone 3G. They already have a 32GB iPod Touch, so this isn’t a stretch by any means. And with “one billion served” from the App Store, folks need more capacity to add applications. I think Apple benefits greatly from more storage capacity in a new iPhone: while we’re filling up our iPhones with software, Apple is filling up the bank account with every purchased download. My 8GB first-gen iPhone is nearly filled up, so 32GB is desirable for me. I think Palm is going to have to get a higher-capacity Pre out the door soon after they launch the initial handset, too. At this point, 8GB simply isn’t enough for a device that’s becoming an application platform.

CPU Speed of 600 MHz: Part of the reason I didn’t upgrade my first iPhone was because there wasn’t enough reason to in the speed department. This 50 percent clock speed boost is about the minimum I’d like to see in the next iPhone. As games and apps become more complex, the device needs more “oomph.” Ideally, I’m hoping for much faster TI OMAP CPU like the Pre will have: the 1GHz mobile processor would be plenty capable for the next two years of my contract.

256MB of RAM: Another case of “more is better,” in my opinion. My current phone with half that amount of RAM is starting to struggle with various apps. It could be that the CPU is taxed, but my money is on memory usage. I’d almost argue that in today’s smartphone market, 256MB of RAM ought to be considered the minimum.

3.2-Megapixel camera with auto-focus: I was never really impressed with the 2-Megapixel phone in my current iPhone, so this would be a welcome step up. The mediocre camera sensor actually never bothered me when I first bought my iPhone, simply because I didn’t use it much. Now, with the rise of social networks and more photo-sharing, I find that I’m using the camera more often. A 5-Megapixel sensor would be even better here, but I could live with 3.2.

Digital compass and FM radio: While I could find use for both of these features, neither is very compelling to me personally. If either (or both) of them don’t find their way in to the next iPhone, I’ll live.

None of these rumored specs are outlandish. In fact, they’re pretty much the minimum we should be expecting. They fit the Apple business model of incremental, but useful upgrades with each new product cycle. The only item I think might be missing in the rumor list is support for AT&T’s planned 3G network upgrade, which will raise the theoretical maximum download to 7.2Mbps from 3.6Mbps. I anticipate the hardware will support the faster speeds, although the device firmware will likely keep the iPhone at the slower speeds until AT&T gives the green light.

While I didn’t feel the iPhone 3G offered me enough reason to upgrade from my first-gen device, I’m certain to upgrade if these rumored specifications pan out. I already need more storage capacity for media and apps and I want faster “guts” in the device for better performance. A 3G tethering plan would put this over the top for me, so I’m hoping that’s in the cards as well.

Speaking of “cards,” that reminds me of the Palm Pre and its multitasking cards (plus its Synergy feature, hardware keyboard, Amazon MP3 integration…and the list goes on). Assuming that I can tether either an iPhone 3G or a Palm Pre for modem use, I’ll likely be dumping my monthly $60 Broadband Access Mobile Broadband plan with Verizon Wireless and getting a Pre as well. I’m just too impressed by the device so far and I have high hopes. The $60 savings from dropping the EV-DO plan will pay for most of my Sprint plan with the Pre.

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  1. The compass has already shown up on iPhone TV commercials here in Chicago. I couldn’t tell if it was on a 3G or a new device, however.

  2. Kevin, I don’t feel that Apple would release a new phone that would be so much more powerful than the current set of devices that apps developed for it wouldn’t be able to run on the older set of hardware. Apple could do something tricky like boost the CPUs in the older series through software tweaking, but I think that is unlikely. Adding more RAM without bumping up the CPU might make more sense because a new iPhone with the same CPU power but more RAM could conceivably run apps in the background, and devs would still be able to develop an application that could run on every device in the ‘touch’ line, but only the newer one could run more than one at once. I doubt they’ll jump the CPU performance up because that would mean they would need to revamp the app store to differentiate the difference between apps that could run on the new hardware and apps that could run on the old. As a developer, what incentive is there to develop apps for new hardware when deving for the older hardware gives you an audience of some 17 million iPhones and millions of iPod Touchs.

    1. Kevin C. Tofel Ben Tuesday, May 12, 2009

      Interesting POV, Ben. So are you thinking they won’t upgrade the CPU at all, just a little or a bunch? Sounds like not at all or just a little based on your thoughts. I completely understand what you’re saying, but if we take the logic out farther into the future, when and why would they ever upgrade the CPU?

    2. There is a time frame where it would make sense to move on to the next gen, but at this point with 35,000 apps sitting in their library and 1,000,000,000+ downloaded apps, I don’t think that time is now. It would be extremely hard for Apple to have the kind of rapid app development that they’ve seen with their current touch devices if they suddenly released a new device that could power apps that were too powerful to be backward compatible.

      As for the CPU, I think that the CPUs in the iPhones and other devices have a little bit of wiggle room, its a long shot, but Apple could conceivably bump up the clock speed on the older gen devices to match that of a new device in order to retain app compatibility, but more likely, they already set the clock to achieve a particular level of battery performance that they wanted to see and won’t mess with it.

      I think that one way or the other, Apple is going to strive for some sort of compatibility between their current applications and the new hardware, but that solution will not be one that makes it so devs will have to choose to build a program for a more powerful new device and know that the same app they are building will not function fast enough on the older devices.

      As I mentioned, an interesting solution might be to keep the same CPU speed but increase the RAM size. Apple could limit developers to the amount of RAM allocated to them with the current devices, but double the RAM in the new device. This would mean that apps continue to be compatible across all current and a potentially new device, but would allow for the new device to have the ability to run multiple apps at once.

    3. Franco Cavadini Ben Tuesday, May 12, 2009

      I want to add some reflections pushing a bit further the point of view of Ben (which I totally agree with).
      The AppStore is surely one of the greatest strenght of the iPhone, but could it be also one of its limits?
      With the probable approaching of the new iPhone hardware, we’re considering if a boost of the CPU frequency would be acceptable for the retro-compatibility of applications.
      Now I ask myself what could possibly happen in the near future, when, for example, an higher resolution screen update would be interesting.
      Which kind of approach will Apple choose? Divide applications into classes of compatibility? Oblige the developers to offer more of one version of the same application?

      I think that with the paradigm shift imposed by the innovations introduced with the iPhone3G and its Appstore, Apple has created a market similar to that of the Game Consoles, where the hardware remains the same for many years. Now the question (to which I obviously don’t have an answer :)) is: which is the life length for the hardware of the iPhone?

      P.S.: This is my first post on the blog, but I’ve been following you and James for a long time, and yours is the best technology blog I read. Thank you very much for the work you do!!

  3. I wouldn’t count on a CPU bump. The reason: the iPhone already has a 620 MHz processor but it’s underclocked to 412. They did bump it slightly from the initial 400 via a software update, but a jump to 600 would negate the reason for underclocking, which undoubtedly was to reduce heat and battery drain. They could bump the battery size to accommodate, but I don’t think they’d add the bulk and weight, and that wouldn’t address the heat increase.

    1. I’m OK if they simply remove the underclocking, but I’d think a newer CPU might be more power efficient while boosting the clock speed at the same time. At least that’s what I’m hoping. ;)

    2. Um, if they went with a more efficient CPU, they wouldn’t need to bump the clock speed. It’s like when Intel switched to Pentium M from Pentium 4. The new stuff ran faster at lower clock speeds, and they’ve been continuing like that ever since. That’s why computers are faster even though the GHz ratings have declined.

    3. I hear you, but I’m not sure you can apply all of the same concepts of an X86 desktop process to an ARM-based mobile processor. We simply haven’t seen the same clock cycle concepts apply there. The biggest change IMO we’ve seen lately is the TI OMAP CPUs; prior to that, it was by and large the same ol’ XScale-type of CPUs with clock cycle bumps. I might be off-base, but that’s my thought process…

  4. Gavin Miller Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    Well, the 2nd gen iPod Touch already runs at 532MHz so it’s not a stretch to assume the new iPhone will be at least the same speed or higher.

  5. I am so not bothered by iPhone, so I apologize for the noob question: do they have an integrated GPS inside the device?

    1. Kevin C. Tofel tal Tuesday, May 12, 2009

      Yes, the iPhone 3G that arrived last summer has an integrated GPS radio.

    2. Gavin Miller tal Tuesday, May 12, 2009

      Yes, iPhone 3G does.

  6. Those are fine specs, but I still think a micro SDHC slot is better. Flash prices are dropping like crazy. The ability to swap out a full card with more storage and keep adding stuff on your phone is a huge advantage.

  7. 2 things I am interested in seeing – battery life and ATT’s network improvements. I’ll probably jump on a Pre since I am already on Sprint, but if the new iPhone is really an improvement AND ATT can handle the load better, I would be tempted to make the move. I tried the iPhone twice earlier this year and the call quality/3G consistency was awful. Love the iPhone, just not the network (but they promised they were putting a new tower up within 3 miles of my house – we’ll see!).

  8. It’d be nice if we can get both Pre and iPhone without data plan, and use them with Verizon mifi.

    1. you can get an iPhone w/o a data plan – its called iPod Touch….;-)

  9. An additional thought… the rumors about an included digital compass and FM tuner could be from upcoming hardware accessories. The iPhone OS 3.0 update will allow apps to communicate with hardware accessories, so it isn’t inconcievable that some companies may be at work on a digital compass add-on as well as an FM tuner add-on, and they would be controlled through new 3.0 apps.

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