Apple’s (s aapl) next iPhone will resemble the last, if early case designs are any indication of what the company has planned. Alibaba.com (a Chinese B2B website) has listings for a number of iPhone 5 cases, which are listed as also compatible with the iPhone 4. The site received a takedown request from Apple when it posted iPad 2 cases with accurate predictions of the device’s design months in advance of the iPad’s official reveal.
Looking at images of the removed iPad 2 case designs, it’s obvious that manufacturers were indeed in possession of accurate information regarding that device’s design. The speaker and camera both appear right about where they do in the final design, albeit with minor modifications (which may have been tweaked by Apple prior to release). At the time, one of the companies behind the iPad 2 cases claimed to have firsthand info about the upcoming hardware design from Hon Hai Precision Industry (Foxconn in the U.S.), one of Apple’s key manufacturing partners.
If the new case designs are accurate, the iPhone 5 will bear the same physical dimensions as its predecessor. The iPhone 3G and 3GS shared the same external case design, so it’s something that Apple has been historically known to do. Recent rumors have also suggested the design will be similar, albeit with a larger screen made possible by extending it even closer to the iPhone’s edge. That’s still a possibility, since the new case designs leave the front of the iPhone uncovered.
While it’s always best to proceed with caution when it comes to these early rumors, case designs tend to be a fairly reliable source when it comes to the physical design of upcoming products, and this is in keeping with the idea that the iPhone 5 will likely be an evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary update.