The new iPhone 5: rumours, tech specs, Liquidmetal, 3D cameras, 4-inch display and more

We take a look at all the iPhone 5 rumours and try to see if there's a kernal of truth in the field of chaff

The iPhone 5 launch is rapidly approaching. At least we all think it is, Apple is famously secretive regarding new products: launching new iPhones, computers and whizz-bang devices on an (largely) unsuspecting public out of the nowhere. All this causes a tremendous amount of excitement amongst tech industry watchers as people worldwide speculate, theorize, imagine, and just plain make-up what the Cupertino-based company is really up to.

Speculation regarding the next-generation of iPhone is rampant, even though nobody is 100 per cent sure that Apple is even working on, let alone getting ready to launch a new iPhone model. After all, the iPhone 4S is still selling incredibly well. Having said that, we are pretty sure that Apple is ready to launch a fifth-generation of iPhone this year, and we're reasonbly confident that it'll come between the months of June and September.

How can we be so sure? Well partly it's legacy, Apple has launched a new iPhone around June to September since 2007, slowly introducing new features like the Retina-display, HD-cameras, and Siri to gradually ensure each model is better than the last. This encourages current owners to upgrade to a new phone, gets new people leaving their contracts to choose an iPhone over another model, and prevents people from jumping ship to another handset like Android (perish the thought). We've also heard reports from retail that Apple is scaling back production of the iPhone 4S, even though it is still selling well. And although the iPhone 4S is as damn near perfect a phone that we can think of, there's no reason to believe Apple won't release an even better model this year.

Apple itself has kept exceptionally quiet (as usual) about any new features. Even so, there's plenty of information (and misinformation) as to what direction the iPhone is going in. Apple has been investing in companies and taking patents in technologies like Liquidmetal, waterproofing technology, iWallet payment systems, solar powered screens, screens with antenna technology, OLED screens, haptic feedback, 3D displays, and more. All of this shows the type of technology Apple is thinking about, it's just a question of what technology it decides to use, which device, and when.

So welcome to the wonderful world of iPhone speculation. Trying to second-guess Apple's every next move is an obsession of ours (and many other tech pundits). We've scoured the patents, analyzed the business deals, and spent a lot of time scouring some of the more remote, and potentially reliable, sources (typically those based in China that are close to the manufacture of the upcoming device). There's also we admit a fair amount of 'finger-in-the-air' guesswork, but these are the features we think you can look forward to in the next generation of iPhone.

iPhone 5: A5X or A6 CPU, Liquidmetal, and a physical redesign

It's likely that Apple is ready to introdue the new quad-core A6 CPU rather than use the A5X processor in the new iPad. Mostly because the dual-core A5 (with faster graphics) seems specifically designed to power a Retina display iPad, and would have little effect on the new iPhone. If the iPhone 5 has a faster processor it will probably be powered by a ARM quad-cortex-A9 and designed using a new 28nm process (it'll be one of the first chips in existence at 28nm - the smaller specification enables more transisters to be packed into the same space, enabling smaller and more power efficient devices, or faster CPUs in the same space). The clock speed is likely to be modest, between 1-1.5GHz (up from the 800Mhz to 1GHz of the new iPad). Although we think Apple may veer on the side of caution here. Apple has consistently upped the processing speed of the iPhone in order for it to introduce new features like multi-tasking, video recording, and Siri as well as power better and more feature-packed apps like iPhoto.

Liquidmetal casing

The very name conjures up a new slick, amorphous technology - perhaps made of water, or waterproof (which the iPhone 5 may be, but it's nothing to do with this). Liquidmetal is the commercial name for a new type of alloy that is strong, resistent to corrosion, and has a "high coefficient of restituion" (a posh way of saying it's 'bouncy' - we're not making this up, an experiment with ball bearings found they bounced three times as high on a Liquidmetal plate). Don't expect the iPhone 5 to bounce, but it may be stronger and less-prone to breaking. Dr. Atakan Peker, Liquidmetal's inventor explained: "Liquidmetal is super strong, scratch and corrosion resistant, resilient and can be precision cast into complex shapes. Apple's exclusively licensing a new material technology (specifically for casing and enclosures) is a first in the industry. I expect Apple to use this technology in a breakthrough product." (Business Insider). The alloy has been used in a limited way (some SIM-ejector tools are made from it) but we think eventually Apple will put it to a more comprehensive use.

A mock-up of how a Liquidmetal case could look. Credit: Nak Design

A new look for the iPhone 5

A redesign of some sorts is on the cards. After Apple launched the iPhone 4 and 4S with the same design, we think it's likely that it will do something different this time. Rumours mostly focus on the idea of a thinner phone with a metal rear; this could possibly look more like the iPad (or iPod touch). Betting on any Apple device consistently getting thinner and smaller with fewer buttons is always a safe bet, although the size of the iPhone (including screen) as remained fairly consistent for the last five years; suggesting that Apple is largely happy with the decisions it made during the original launch. More controversial design suggestions seem to focus around the Home button, which many pundits are suggesting will become a flatter, squarer shape. Perhaps replaced with a touch-sensitive strip, rather than a physical push button (some people have speculated that the wider button will still push down but will also be touch sensitive so you can swipe left and right across it). Apple has also patented virtual touch controls for the side of a device, presumably to enable it to remove the physical buttons from the iPhone and replace. That Apple dislikes buttons (especially uneccessary ones) is beyond doubt, and we're sure it's design team has given the Home buttons (as well as Volume and Mute buttons) a good stern stare. Whether that translates to actually removing the buttons is another matter - we think they'll stick around for a few more generations yet.

An iPhone 5 mock-up Credit: Fuse Chicken

Next: iPhone 5 power connection, memory, RAM, battery

Next: iPhone 5 power connection, memory, RAM, battery

New dock (or no dock) This is a controversial one. Apple's focus on continiously shrinking down its devices has seen a rumour surface that the company is looking to shrink down the Dock connector. The Dock connection first introduced on the iPod all those moons ago has become such a commonplace. Another speculative feature is that Apple will look to remove the dock connector completely, either replacing it with a MagSafe-style charging system (power only) and go with wireless syncing of its devices. One patent suggests Apple is looking towards putting a sync connection through the 3.5in earphone socket.

Wireless sync iCloud and iTunes Match all point towards wireless syncing as the future, but the device still has to get power somehow. This has led to speculation that Apple may be ready to introduce inductive charging, where the iPhone gets its power by lying on a flat surface which magically sends the charge through the case. Any removal of the dock connector would destroy the speaker ecosystem that surrounds Apple, which is hardly likely to enamour any speaker owners to purhcasing a new phone. We're not sure if that's what Apple wants.

RAM The great thing about predicting that the next generation of iPhone will have 1GB or RAMis that eventually you'll be right. We think the time is more or less about right (we thought the iPhone 4S would have 1GB of RAM, although it doesn't seem to suffer in any way for still having 512MB). If it needs 1GB to run

The iPhone with inductive charging plate

whatever new feautures it has smoothly, and doesn't intefere with battery life, we have no doubt it'll get it.

Battery life Apple has consistently been aiming for about 7 hours of talk time on the iPhone (and 10 hours on the iPad). Whatever new features are included we believe Apple will ensure that it still has the same amount of battery performance, which seems to be one of the key driving factors in whether people are happy with their phones in day-to-day use.

Shock, drop, and water-proof At CES 2012 two companies, Liquipel and Hz0, made a splash with technology capable of making gadgets completely waterproof. Not in the sense of an old waterproof camera, with it's sealed case, but a regular gadget like an iPhone or iPad, with all the ports open and buttons unsealed. The new technology coats all the inside and outside of your device with a clear "nano" coating that repels water. Apple executives were allegedly impressed with the system and a rumour suggests that retail outlets in the UK are gearing up to change their insurance documents with regard to water damage. Apple has a patent regarding waterproofing the iPhone, so it's clearly thought about it. Apple also has a patent on a system that prevents glass from cracking. The patent explains a inflatable mount between the screen and case that expands if the phone detects that it's being dropped, as well as 'exotic materials' that prevent the glass from shattering (read more at patentlyapple.com). Add this to the tougher Liquidmetal case and it could be that the iPhone has a strong case, screen and is waterproof. It could be that the iPhone 5's unique point is its strength and resiliance.

An Apple patent for inhibiting moisture intrusion (or waterproofing devices).

Screen size Oh will the iPhone have a larger screen? Despite the complete lack of any indication, or inclination, patent or - as far as we can see - any reason for Apple to include a larger screen, much of the chatter on the internet seems to suggest that Apple must be working on an iPhone with a 4in screen. Some of this seems to be firming up into fact, however, and The Wall Street journal has reported that Apple has ordered 4in screens for the next iPhone: bigger is always better, right? We're not 100 per cent convinced but Apple is also apparantly capable of pushing a 4inch display into the same size of the iPhone 4 (the screen would run edge-to-edge across the width of the phone). So it could combine a bigger screen with the same size device.

3D camera and display Apple has been patenting 3D displays, interfaces, and 3D camera systems for a few years now. So it's obviously something the company is interested in. Mind you, so seems to be the entire film and television industry, but not so much - it seems - the general public. While 3D movies are doing reasonably well, the same can't be said of 3D television and every 3D phone and gadget we've used has sported a seriously blurry display. We don't think 3D is the priority it once was, and won't add enough to the iPhone interface to make it worthwhile. Apple did recently file a patent (www.patentlyapple.com) for a 3D interface with eye-tracking technology though, so maybe one day. [image iPhone 3D interface]

Release date The next generation of iPhone will go on sale sometime between July and October. Our money is on September as that is when Apple launched the last iPhone and it seems the slightly later launch worked better with the new iPad coming out earlier in the year (with Apple's new Mac OS X coming in the Summer).

Nano-SIM The Micro-SIM found in the iPad and iPhone may be replaced with a Nano-SIM that is almost a third smaller. You'll likely not notice, but Apple keeps shaving off the size from SIM cards in its quest to miniaturize everything.

4G/LTE Support As with the new iPad, we expect the next-generation iPhone to feature 4G/LTE connectivity, which also has no supporting network here in the UK. The advantages of 4G/LTE are principally wider area coverage, faster speed, and a more reliabily persistent connection. But the networks are due to arrive till next year so Apple may not use the 4G branding in the UK.

Price Apple has consistently released each iPhone model at around £500 (unlocked) or has been available on a two-year contract from around £35 per month. Budget models come in the form of last year's model still on sale. So expect the iPhone 4S to become the budget model, when the iPhone 5 comes out.

Name Though the next iPhone will be the sixth-generation, many people throughout the industry are currently still referring to it as the iPhone 5. It is thought, however, that the next iPhone will follow the naming conventions of the new iPad, scrapping numbers all together.

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Mark Hattersley

Macworld U.K.
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