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An updated look at expectations for iPhone 5 (and 4S)

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It’s crunch time. By most accounts, we’re headed into the final weeks before Apple (s aapl) lifts the curtain on the next generation of iPhone, and that means rumors are coming fast and furious. We know at least some of them can come from legitimate sources, so let’s take a look at the latest crop and see what does and doesn’t stand the test of scrutiny.

The iPhone 5 has good looks, brains and maybe more

The New York Times‘ (s nyt) Nick Bilton posted an article Thursday night that made reference to information from sources familiar with the new iPhone’s design. “Apple employees,” Bilton says, have described to him a device that’s pretty much in line with what we saw when Case-Mate “accidentally” jumped the gun on its iPhone 5 case page, making it live for a few minutes. These images depicted an iPhone design similar to the iPod touch, and even more similar to the iPad, with a flat aluminum case back and two elongated black volume buttons on the side. That’s about all you could see in the images, though it was also apparent that the design was thinner, too.

Bilton also reiterated a number of things we’ve heard before about the iPhone. Specifically, he said that according to “an engineer” who’d worked with the new iPhone, it would deliver an 8-megapixel camera, and that it would sport an A5 dual-core processor, as well as a Qualcomm (s qcom) chip, which may include near field communication (NFC) tech, though that might only appear in a sixth-generation iPhone next year.

The iPhone 4S as Apple’s pre-paid play

Cases are often one of the first things to give away the design of new iPhones, and Case-Mate’s site also had up a placeholder for an iPhone 4S case, too. The 4S has been the subject of a parallel track of rumors, which say a new iPhone will be largely unchanged on the outside. It’s been speculated that such a device could be Apple’s attempt to provide a lower-cost iPhone offering in order to take advantage of more low and mid-market opportunities.

Blog 9t05Mac, responding to Bilton’s article, says the 4S is real, and will indeed be one of two new iPhone models put on sale next month. Essentially, the 4S will be visually similar or identical to its predecessor, according to 9t05Mac, and will take the lion’s share of initial production. Apple is planning to price them “aggressively,” the report says, and will offer them alongside both pre- and post-paid plans. If true, that would grant Apple access to a growing part of the cell phone market, and should help it recapture some momentum from Android in the smartphone race.

Stock shortages and delays for iPhone 5

The report from 9t05Mac also addresses the iPhone 5, saying that it will feature a larger-screened, thinner design, and be in relatively short supply at launch. That’s due to “design and production delays, at least on one assembly line” according to the site’s sources. Still, it says the design is amazing, according to its sources, and that its camera will rival many point-and-shoots on the consumer market.

Where does the truth lie?

While there isn’t any tried-and-true method for separating out fact from fiction when it comes to Apple rumors, we can make some predictions based on these and past reports. At this point, you can almost take for granted that a new iPhone will have an 8-megapixel camera and a dual-core A5 processor. The tech specs are pretty much certain for the camera, since Sony(s sne) CEO Howard Stringer basically admitted his company will supply the sensor that powers it. Specs don’t make a camera great on their own, but I suspect 9t05Mac is right in claiming the camera will be on par with many point-and-shoots. That’s an area where Apple has excelled with recent iPhone devices, and it makes sense as an area to focus on if you want to make improvements that matter most to the average smartphone user.

NFC is still a long shot for this generation of iPhone, I think, despite its appearance on multiple Android(s goog) handsets. That’s simply because there are so few places to actually use it in real-world situations. I’ve got a Nexus S with NFC, and I’ve never had cause to even turn it on. Apple won’t put it in its phones just because analysts think the tech has a future; it must prove itself first.

An iPhone 4S that’s available for pre-paid service makes a lot of sense at this juncture. Pre-paid plans are on the rise in most markets, and it’s a good way for Apple to spark sales and give itself a whole lot of marketing power without introducing any revolutionary technical changes. Plus, Apple has demonstrated with the iPad that if it can manage to force the issue, it seems to prefer no-contract cellular service pricing. Apple CEO Tim Cook also made comments suggesting that Apple was interested in the low-cost market early this year, and Cook and CFO Peter Oppenheimer again said in August they were interested in cheaper iPhone devices so long as they could offer up a category-defining design for that space.

As for the visual looks of the iPhone 5, I’d say there are too many variables at play to call this one just yet. Case-Mate’s early looks might be accurate, but they also could just represent dimensions received from Apple, rather than materials involved in the actual iPhone 5’s construction. Apple probably wouldn’t pass on more info than was absolutely required, if it passed on any at all.

In the end, there’s little we can say for sure about the next iPhone, but at least we shouldn’t have to wait long. Many signs point to a release on or around Oct. 15, and an announcement earlier, maybe even later this month. Buckle up and get ready, because it’s about to get even crazier before we achieve any clarity.

11 Responses to “An updated look at expectations for iPhone 5 (and 4S)”

  1. Hamranhansenhansen

    The way that Google did NFC is an example of how Apple would not do it.

    Apple is not just a handset vendor, they are also a major retailer, and they are also the vendor of a mobile point-of-sale system that is being used at Apple Store and other major retailers. They could roll out NFC both in iPhone and in their point-of-sale system so that users would have something to do with NFC. They could give a discount at Apple Store if you use NFC.

  2. wondercomp

    Hmm, well there were also rumors that the iPhone 5 could be coming to Sprint. Sprint, is the parent company of VM, so if I connect the dots the iPhone 4s could very well be going prepaid… I sure hope so because all of these juicy rumors could add up to iOS outselling Android throughout next year.

    Everything I’ve said is a seriously massive amount of speculation, and a bit of hope. Here’s to the best.

    Viva la competicion!!!

  3. Ram Kanda

    The difference with the way that Apple will eventually implement NFC is the partnerships. Let’s not forget that Apple is a multi-faceted company, rather than a hardware manufacturer. They don’t just make hardware and software, but are also used to dealing with some pretty large companies in partnerships (Starbucks, music companies, media companies, book and magazine publishers). I can imagine Apple doing a deal with Visa or MasterCard to get this system working at lots of retailers.

    I’d like to see Apple going with LTE, adding NFC, and changing the physical design up a bit, despite finding my iPhone 4 pretty gorgeous. I definitely wouldn’t mind a larger screen, but I’m so used to the retina display now that I don’t like the idea of giving up DPI.

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      If you mean you are trying to figure out what an iPhone 4S would offer over an iPhone 3GS:

      – Retina Display
      – 4-8 times the speed
      – more memory for better multitasking
      – HD video recording instead of SD
      – better still camera
      – thinner and lighter
      – larger battery
      – 2-3 years more progress in iPhone evolution

  4. Yea, I have NFC and have to come across a vendor that supports it; not that I would use it anyway. I hope Apple announces this thing soon, I’m looking to get my first iPhone but I want to make sure it has a 4″ screen first. Not that I’m used to using one, I can’t see me going back to anything smaller.

    iCloud has me intrigued as well.