Friday, September 30, 2011

Apple's iPhone 5 Event on October 4th

On Oct. 4, Apple will likely unveil improved features on an iPhone 5, along with a discounted iPhone 4, a rollout of iOS5, and a surprise!

The next iPhone from Apple (AAPL) will be unveiled next week at a press event on Oct. 4, and the iPhone we’ll see will be the fifth major iteration of Apple’s smartphone. It may not be called iPhone 5, but it will be the iPhone 5, whatever its name. It’s title isn’t the only thing up in the air, though. It’s time for our rundown of what we probably will and won’t see at next Tuesday’s event.

All but guaranteed is that Apple will unveil a new smartphone next week. There’s still a question as to whether or not the company might reveal more than one new device. Rumors suggest that an iPhone 4S might accompany a new iPhone 5, boasting minor changes and carrying a reduced price tag to generally expand the iPhone’s reach, with one possible target being prepaid cellular-service subscribers.

How likely is it that we’ll see two iPhones at next week’s event? Very, given Apple’s track record. Generally, when Apple unveils a new smartphone, it uses the existing model as a lower-cost option, with 8 GB of onboard storage for entry-level shoppers. At the very least, that’s what it will do this time around. Some rumors suggest, however, that we’ll see a slightly changed iPhone 4 reborn as a 4S, with tweaked internal specifications (such as more RAM) and the same physical design.

I predict we will see both a significantly redesigned iPhone 5 and a more familiar iPhone 4-based model next week. The iPhone 4 is still among the world’s top-selling smartphones, so Apple stands to win big by recasting it for the low-cost market. Tens of millions of consumers are probably only a couple of hundred dollars’ discount from jumping on the iOS bandwagon.

The iPhone 5 design will likely bring both aesthetic and under-the-hood changes. An A5 processor with 1 GB of RAM and much-improved graphics handling is virtually guaranteed, as is an 8-megapixel camera with a larger sensor designed to work better in low-light conditions. I’d also bet on a slightly bigger screen such as the one we’ve seen in some early mock-ups, plus a dual-mode network antenna that works with both CDMA and GSM networks. NFC is a further possibility, but I think we’ll see Apple pass on near-field communication for this year at least, since there’s a lot of truth to what Square Chief Operating Officer Keith Rabois said in dismissing the tech on Monday at GigaOM’s Mobilize 2011.

Apple will also probably defend sacred marketing ground by improving its advantage in key areas. That means we’ll probably see a slimmer device, since the company recently successfully defended its title of world’s thinnest smartphone to the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority.

After so long a wait, I also expect software to play a big part in this iPhone unveiling. The “Assistant” feature, which should provide system-wide voice-recognition features that go far beyond what voice control has done so far, will probably take center stage.

Apple’s next version of its mobile software platform, iOS 5, will probably kick things off at the event. Apple said the software update for its iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad devices would arrive this fall, and an iPhone 5 definitely won’t ship without it. I expect to see its features—which were unveiled at WWDC 2011 and include iMessage and Twitter integration, among others—revisited in detail. We might also see a few new surprises not revealed in the beta, like “Find My Friends,” but new features could be limited to fresh hardware.

I don’t expect to see new iPod models at this event. While Apple is overdue with an iPod refresh (new models normally arrive in September), I doubt it will risk watering down the iPhone announcement with discussion of its media-player line. The invite backs this up. It says that the topic will be the iPhone: “Let’s talk iPhone” is hardly ambiguous.

Don’t be surprised if Apple also has a “one more thing” moment planned for Tim Cook’s first turn at the helm of an Apple event. It’s up in the air as to whether or not it might involve revised pricing tiers for iPhone hardware, factory unlocked versions available from the outset, Facebook integration, or something completely unexpected. Care to add any predictions?

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