iPhone 5: Expert predictions and the challenges ahead

The big question is, will the iPhone 5 have the cruddy battery life that has plagued other 4G LTE phones?

Judging from the invitation Apple sent out this week, it's a pretty good bet that Apple will unveil the iPhone 5 on September 12. You can also double-down on the chance that the iPhone 5 will finally support 4G LTE (not the fake 4G on the iPhone 4S).

The big question is, will the iPhone 5 have the cruddy battery life that has plagued other 4G LTE phones?

Kyle Wiens of iFixit, a website providing free repair manuals and advice forums, answers this question and gives his predictions on the upcoming iPhone 5. Wiens is a reliable prognosticator of everything Apple and a regular speaker at the Macworld | iWorld Conference, as well as an iOS app developer.

His team travels the world to get its hands on Apple products and conducts teardowns ahead of everyone else. In fact, iFixit broke the story that Apple was using tamper-resistant Pentalobular screws to stymie do-it-yourselfers from making repairs and swapping in new batteries.

CIO.com sat down with Wiens to talk about the iPhone 5.

What do you expect to see in the iPhone 5?

Wiens: The interesting thing with this release is that we know far more about it than we have with any previous iPhone release. The parts leaks have been very consistent. I feel like there isn't a whole lot of surprises coming out.

I think the iPhone 5 will have a taller, 4-inch screen and support 4G LTE. It'll probably have an A6 four-core processor that I'm pretty confident will continue to be made by Samsung. It looks like it'll have the same thickness and a metal back with some plastic RF windows, which would make it more rugged than the previous hard-glass back.

By going to a bigger screen, and going to 4G LTE, the iPhone 5 would be a major upgrade.

What do you think about an iPhone 5 boasting a bigger screen for the first time?

Wiens: I don't think the phone is going to feel much bigger. It'll increase the surface area on the phone but not the physical size very much. It shouldn't affect existing apps. I don't think developers will stretch apps, just leather box them.

What is the make-or-break feature with the iPhone 5?

Wiens: The major question is, will Apple be able to keep the same battery life going to LTE. Carriers tell me the number one reason for returns is the battery life. 4G LTE phones have been on the market for a year and a half, and all of them have had poor battery life. If you were wondering why Apple didn't go to 4G LTE last spring, it's because the chipsets weren't up to it.

The time might finally be right for the silicon. I'm optimistic that the iPhone 5 (with 4G LTE) will have similar talk times as the iPhone 4S, not quite the same but acceptable. It looks like Apple slightly upgraded the battery chemistry, from 3.7 volts to 3.8 volts. Every little bit helps.

But also keep in mind that the iPhone 5 has to drive a bigger display and a four-core chip. All of that sucks more power. Apple will look to drive more power efficiencies, and so we'll see how good they are at engineering.

The battery life is the biggest wild card at this point.

Speaking of parts leaks, there was one showing a new dock connector. Do you think it'll be in the iPhone 5?

Wiens: We're definitely going to see a new connector. It'll primarily be USB plus a couple of other pins.

Apple has held on to the connector for seven years. They had to shrink the connector because it was constraining how thick they could make the phone. It was forcing Apple to put the headphone jack on the other side of the phone. Now, I think they'll move the headphone jack down.

MagSafe on the new connector would be pretty cool, too, and I suspect we'll see it. (MagSafe is Apple's proprietary magnetically attached connector.)

What about backwards compatibility?

Wiens: Backwards compatibility on the connector would be very cool to see, but I would say odds are against it.

There are a whole lot of accessories out there that will end up in landfills. With battery packs, people need to know that you can't just throw away it away. It's got a lithium battery in there that needs to be recycled just like you recycle a laptop.

No backwards compatibility will be great for the accessory makers because they'll be able to sell everyone a whole new battery pack, a whole new alarm clock radio. But for people who have integrated dock connectors in their cars or hotels with fleets of clock radios in rooms, it's a bad thing.

Apple is replacing some apps with native Apple apps and eliminating others such as YouTube. How will this play out?

Wiens: I think Apple's new maps app is a disaster. If I can't get bicycle directions or transit directions on my phone, and there isn't a replacement Google Maps app in the App Store, I would switch to Android. Google Maps app is one of the best, most proven mapping technologies in the world. It doesn't look like Apple really gets maps yet.

In terms of the other stuff, I don't think YouTube being missing is a big deal.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com

Read more about iphone in CIO's iPhone Drilldown.

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Tom Kaneshige

CIO (US)

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