Patents, or patent applications, had the iOSphere swooning and agog over the prospect of a camera with not one or even two lenses, but three. Which obviously must be better than a camera with only one, or even two lenses.
Also this week, code sleuths uncover references in the iOS 7 beta software of a fingerprint sensor integrated with the home button; a report on alleged labor abuses at factories owned by an Apple assembler reveals details on what could be a plastic-bodied cheap iPhone; and we are promised that the iPhone 6 will be arrayed in LiquidMetal, and yay, even Solomon in all his glory was not so arrayed.
You read it here second.
iPhone 6 will have a camera with not one, not two, but THREE lenses
This begins with a straightforward account by AppleInsider's Mikey Campbell of a new Apple patent, not a patent application, published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Although widely headlined as a three-lens camera, the actual patent seems more focused on three sensors, with the triple lenses being in a sense the means to the end: which is to improve photo accuracy.
[IPHONEYS:The iPhone 6 edition]
According to Campbell: "In most embodiments, the luminance sensor is flanked on two sides by the chrominance sensors. This positioning allows the camera to compare information sourced from three generated images. For example, an image processing module can take raw data from the three sensors, comprising luminance, color, and other data, to form a composite color picture. The resulting photo would be of higher quality than a system using a single unified sensor."
For clickbait websites, such as HighLightPress, the new patent is almost automatically associated with the Next iPhone or Almost Next iPhone. In an emblematic iOSphere post, Sullivan Davis blathers on about the importance of "about mold-breaking innovation and satisfying consumer demand before the punters even know what it is they want" and "as far as mold-breaking features go that are already making waves, new-generation camera technology seems to be topping the table," which is a mixing of metaphors so skilled that it leaves the reader dizzy.
"This of course hasn't escaped the attention of Cook and Co., which apparently has led to Apple looking into triple-lens technology for the new camera to feature on the iPhone 6," Sullivan assures his readers, without of course a shred of evidence. "A recent patent filing suggests that the new triple-lens is destined to make an appearance on a 2014 iPhone, given the fact that the iPhone 5S is already said to be in full production in the Far East."
Mashable's Pete Pachal goes even further in his post. "Should we look forward to a tri-sensor camera in the rumored iPhone 5S? It's unlikely to be implemented that quickly (although the patent was originally filed in 2010), but perhaps some of the tech will find its way into consumers' hands in future models."
iPhone 6 will have fingerprint sensor in home button
The latest beta release of Apple's iOS 7 firmware has revealed what many believe is conclusive evidence that the next iPhone will incorporate a fingerprint sensor into the device's home button. (And likely for the iPad, which we mentioned in our latest "iPad 5 Rumor Rollup.")
This is actually Bad News for all of those who have clung and no doubt still cling to the conviction that Apple must or should eliminate the home button entirely.
The evidence is some code strings in the beta software, sent to 9to5Mac, and then posted via Twitter, by Hamza Sood @hamzasood who found them in the beta 4 release of iOS 7. Marc Gurman posted the information at 9to5Mac.
You can find the full details in our coverage, "Latest iOS 7 beta reveals possible fingerprint sensor for iDevices."
A separate source told Gurman that the "user-interface for the fingerprint scanning system has been complete[d]. This person also says that the technology is focused around unlocking the phone, so it is unclear if it is built for a payment system (as rumored) in the next iPhone."
The fingerprint scanner has been enthusiastically predicted for at least 12 months, ever since Apple acquired Florida-based AuthenTec in July 2012 for $326 million. The company specialized in a range of mobile security products and technologies apart from, and in tandem with, its fingerprint scanner. The real question, to which Gurman alluded, is whether Apple intends the scanner mainly as a device lock or as the foundation for a range of new or expanded secure services in the future, including mobile payments.
Cheap, plastic iPhone now being produced, according to labor abuse report
The cheap, plastic iPhone is in production, according to details contained in the just-released report on labor practices at the Chinese manufacturing plants where it's being assembled.
The rights group, China Labor Watch, used undercover workers to report on practices at three Pegatron Group plants on mainland China. The overall thrust of the report -- as even its title makes clear "Apple's unkept promises: cheap iPhone come at high costs to Chinese workers" -- contrasts the cheap iPhone with the high costs through scores of alleged illegal or unethical labor practices that Pegatron and Apple are imposing on workers.
Our full coverage of the report and the possible confirmation of an impending low-cost iPhone is online.
One worker describes his experience of a day on the assembly line as follows:
"The task on my assembly line is to assemble back covers. The assembling of other parts of the cell phone, including the final assembly into a finished product, is assigned to different production facilities, each facility partitioned off by heavy curtains so that workers in different departments are isolated from one other. Today's work is to paste protective film on the iPhone's plastic back cover to prevent it from being scratched on assembly lines. This iPhone model with a plastic cover will soon be released on the market by Apple. The task is pretty easy, and I was able to work independently after a five-minute instruction from a veteran employee. It took around a minute to paste protective film on one rear cover. The new cell phone has not yet been put into mass production, so quantity is not as important. This makes our job more slow paced than in departments that have begun mass production schedules."
For many in the iOSphere, CLW report confirms what they've long rumored, suspected, or insisted upon: that Apple must produce a cheaper iPhone in order to compete with the rising tide of cheap Android phones in key markets.
But if the iCheap is simply iPhone 5 with a plastic case, it won't be much cheaper at retail then the iPhone 5, certainly not enough to compete purely on price with much less expensive, low-end Android phones.
And Apple and its retailers have been selling millions of discounted, older iPhone 4 and 4S units, which effectively constitute "lower cost" models. And a consumer survey released this week found very high customer satisfaction with both of these phones, one three years old, the other nearly two.
But the CLW undercover workers apparently saw something. To know what that was, and whether it constitutes a final 2013 Apple product, we'll just have to wait.
iPhone 6 is a phablet that will have a "virtually indestructible shell"
The stuff people come up with.
"On its release date, the phablet-sized iPhone 6 will be likely wrapped in a virtually indestructible shell with futuristic handset body build, thanks to new Apple patents that point to the use of liquid metal materials and solid-state battery for future iOS devices," declares Erik Pineda, in an over-the-top post at International Business Times.
To come up with this fantasy, Pineda first blended two newly announced Apple patent applications, one for "3-D structures" made of a liquid metal alloy, the other for a charging system for solid state batteries, and then just made stuff up.
LiquidMetal is a startup and an alloy. Since 2010, when Apple licensed its technology, this Wondrous Material has been rumored to be the next Big Thing for iPhone. But so far it hasn't made much of an appearance except as the casing for a SIM card. Essentially LiquidMetal allows for stronger, lighter objects. The key challenge is to turn it into a large-scale industrial manufacturing process. As far as we know, that hasn't been done yet and likely won't be for another two or three years at best.
The LiquidMetal patent application referred to by IBT was described, not very clearly, by PatentlyApple. Even if you also don't actually understand what's going on here, it's clear that what Apple invented was some method for creating three-dimensional structures with plastic or with alloys that are like LiquidMetal. One suggested use is to create speaker covers for a mobile phone.
That's right: speaker covers.
The second patent application is for a technique to charge solid state batteries.
PatentlyApple links to the Wikipedia entry on these batteries, with the explanation that they "are easy to miniaturize and can be constructed in thin film form." And the batteries seem to be smaller and lighter than comparable lithium-ion batteries.
So that's cool and solid state technology may offer a way to boost battery life in a future iPhone. But there's nothing in any of this that even hints that these two patents will be implemented for the iPhone 6, even if you believe the iPhone 6 is due out in 2014.