The not-so-secret iPhone 5: What to expect from Apple’s event

Apple Event 10/4 Tim Cook iPhones

Apple is making an announcement on Wednesday, and, yes, it’s kind of a big deal. On Wednesday morning at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco at 10 a.m. PT, CEO Tim Cook will take the stage, in all likelihood, to introduce the next iPhone. This event is arguably Apple’s biggest of the year because it focuses on Apple’s most important and profitable product, which is generally updated once per year.

“But, wait, it hasn’t been a year yet,” you say. True: the iPhone 4S was released in mid-October 2011. This year, Apple is sneaking in a new iPhone before the end of its fiscal fourth quarter, which ends Sept. 30. The sales, likely to be huge, will provide a welcome boost to Apple’s quarterly numbers.

Lately Apple has become somewhat of a victim of its product release predictability and the frenzy of rumors about its products, although to be clear, almost any other tech company would welcome such a predicament. Customers have learned the iPhone launch cycle, paying attention to rumors, and are delaying the purchase of new iPhones en masse in the few months leading up to the new device’s expected launch date. This has sent Apple’s biggest investors and Wall Street analysts into fits– see last quarter for the most recent example. Racking up a bunch of iPhone sales in September should boost the stock and quiet Wall Street (which seems to have Cook’s ear) during the next quarterly earnings.

But back to the event: Invitations were sent out last week, bearing a number 5, and the phrase “It’s almost here.”  This has led many of us to conclude that the device to follow the iPhone 4S will be called iPhone 5 (which, duh). But that’s not all we know about the device. For the famously secretive Apple, this new iPhone is probably one of the worst-kept Apple secrets ever. So, based on a number of leaks and reports, here’s what we can very likely expect on Wednesday.

New iPhone

  • Slightly larger screen. In a world of smartphones with 5-inch screens, the iPhone’s 3.5-inch display can seem small. It’s been reported that we’ll get at least a 4-inch iPhone display that’s slightly taller, but not much wider. The result may mean an extra row of apps on the home screen, and an overall larger area to view apps, ebooks, web content and videos.
  • Thinner. The new iPhone could be thinner than ever mostly due to new display technology that combines the glass and the touch layer into one unit.
  • Better battery life. One of the things Apple could do with that extra space created by taller phone? Put in a slightly larger, more powerful battery. That’s long been an Apple priority, and because of the next item on this list, a necessity for this year’s new model.
  • LTE networking. This has been an assumption since early this year when Apple introduced 4G LTE as an option on the latest iPad. True, LTE is far more complicated to build for because of the variety of frequencies. But late Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the new iPhone would be LTE-capable and available worldwide, though, according to the report and those usual “people familiar with the matter,” it “isn’t likely to work with all carriers’ LTE networks in all countries, the people said, though it wasn’t clear which would be left out.”
  • Smaller dock connector. It’s been rumored since February that Apple is replacing its aging 30-pin connector on the bottom of the phone with a sleeker 9-pin model. This will make room for other components — perhaps 4G radios — but unfortunately require adapters for older docks and accessories. Apple is reportedly planning to roll out the new 9-pin model across all iOS devices.

iOS 6

  • Details. We heard about many new features of the updated software at WWDC in June. Now that Apple has had time to fine-tune the software and get feedback from developers, we’ll hear more concrete details about the new stuff, from Apple’s Maps and navigation, to Siri improvements, Facebook integration, to the tweaks to Safari, Photos and Mail, and more.
  • YouTube alternative. Apple will no longer feature YouTube as a default application on all iOS devices, Apple already acknowledged last month. Expect to hear more about what the YouTube video-watching experience on iOS will be like from now on.
  • More about Passbook. This is Apple’s new application that aims to duplicate the part of your wallet that holds everything except cash and credit cards: tickets, boarding passes, gift cards, reward cards, coupons, and travel reservations. Details about participating companies have been dribbling out, but we should get solid details regarding which airlines, hotels, stadiums, amusement parks, coupon-issuers and others that are officially on board with Passbook.
  • App Store redesign. There’s going to be a new look and new design for the mobile App Store. Emphasis will be placed on app recommendations through Apple’s genius function, and will look a lot more like Chomp, which Apple bought earlier this year.
  • Changes to search. This is a longshot, but since Apple’s been busy excising its default apps list with anything Google-related, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think Apple might move away from Google as the default search in the mobile Safari browser. It would be silly to remove Google outright, but Apple could easily make Google just one of many options for users to select for search, including Siri, Bing and other third-party sources.

GigaOM will be covering the event live Wednesday morning, so please join us! We’ll be kicking things off just before 10 a.m. PT.

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