iPhone 6 rumor rollup for the week ending March 15

Keep in mind Professor Trelawney's divination class at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft Wizardry, and much of what happened in the iOSphere this week becomes clear.

Here you will explore the noble art of divination, discover you possess The Sight and together we shall cast ourselves into The Future!

Look, concentrate, set your imagination free and the mysterious workings of Apple's supply chain arrangements with OEMs reveal their true meanings.

[ IPHONEYS: The iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S edition ]

Also this week: why Apple is copying Samsung, eyeball tracking, and rival rumors over whose silicon will appear when in what iPhone.

You read it here second.



iPhone 5 "budget phone" manufacturing will be split between two OEMs

This is one of those iOSphere Ancillary Facts, which play a critical role as "proof" that rumors are actually grounded in fact and knowledge instead of fantasy and guesswork. Even assuming it is true, an Ancillary Fact is completely unsurprising and indeed meaningless in and of itself; but it sounds like one of those insider details that really smart people know, or ought to know.

Know Your Mobile's Clare Hopping is swept away by a KGI Research "report" that declares that the long-expected, un-announced, low-cost iPhone will be manufactured by two OEM companies: Foxconn will handle 25% of the production run and Pegatron the remaining 75%; and Foxconn also will crank out the iPhone 5S.

"This further demonstrates Apple will have two new smartphones to show us this year -- even though the iPhone 6 isn't mentioned," Hopping confidently explains.

After all, if a securities analyst has said it, it must be true. The "fact" that Apple is or will or might or could have more than one OEM building a product actually tells us nothing about that product or about Apple's plans.

Hopping then marries the Ancillary Fact with other Utterly Unfounded Rumors to create the illusion that we know something. For example, the budget iPhone will have a smaller screen (smaller than 4 inches or smaller than 3.5 inches?), and "may get rid of" the "home screen design" -- whatever that means -- as revealed by Apple patent filings, which of course always unfailingly further demonstrate what's certain to appear in the Next iPhone.

iPhone 6 will copy the Samsung Galaxy S 4

There's no way to gently say that this rumor is, simply, barking mad.

"Latest rumours about the upcoming iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S suggest that Apple seems to be lacking innovation and now [is] copying some of the features of the Samsung Galaxy S4 bound to be released on March 14," according to Kristin Mariano, in a post at International Business Times. "It seems that Apple is now following the trend and no longer sets the trend for smartphones in the market."

What is Apple copying? Stuff like eye-tracking and head-tracking control (more on this anon), wireless charging, a smart pen or stylus, and the ever-popular near field communications (NFC). Path-breaking stuff for sure.

Let's think about this. Apple CEO Tim Cook, his chief lieutenants, and thousands of Apple engineers and designers have just plain run out of ideas. At 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, Calif., there is wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. In desperation, they're copying another company's product -- a product that was only announced this week. Apparently, they've spent the last 18 months imaging what Samsung might announce in the Galaxy S 4 smartphone, and creating an iPhone what will be just like it. But different.

That makes perfect sense.

iPhone 6, 5S, will have eye-tracking technology

Speaking of eye tracking, copied or not, GottaBeMobile's Josh Smith is all in.

The idea is that iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 could have "eye tracking and motion controls for iOS that allow users to control the device without touching it," he writes

How cool is that?

No, seriously: How cool is that, in actual practice? Here's a headline that Samsung probably didn't expect to see after launching the Galaxy S 4 this week: "Advanced Galaxy S 4 features may overwhelm some users." 

Smith reminds us that Apple has "several patents relating to eye tracking and motion control" and that a startup, Israel-based Umoove, featured in The New York Times, has software that exploits a front-facing camera to translate eye and head motions into UI inputs.

According to the Times, the technology originally created to help people with paralysis or other disabilities to interact with mobile devices. The front-facing camera tracks head and eye movements: Tilt your head to control the screen, eye movements to draw shapes, starting to select an object. This YouTube video, with a pounding, screaming musical score that causes eye rolling and head aching, shows Umoove's software in action. Or rather, it shows a half-dozen heads and their attendant eyeballs in action: nodding, shaking, jerking, and everyone either smiling like a loon or concentrating grim as death. After a while, it starts to feel like the dementia ward in a state mental hospital.

"While it remains to be seen how fast consumers will adopt to controlling a smartphone with their eyes and heads, if the use cases in this video arrive on the Galaxy S4 or the iPhone 6, it's possible that meetings in 2013 and 2014 will feature much more nodding and head movements," Smith observes, probably nodding as he wrote that.

Is that something to look forward to or what?

iPhone 6 will have Apple A7 processor

DigiTimes rounds up the usual suspects -- anonymous "industry sources" -- to assert that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) "is expected to tape out Apple's A7 processor on a 20nm process in March and then move the chip into risk production in May-June, which will pave the way for commercial shipments in the first quarter of 2014."

DigiTimes claim of the TSMC 20nm technology was instantly interpreted by some in the iOSphere as evidence that a 2014 iPhone 6 will have a 20nm quad-core A7 processor. One site, PhoneReview, somewhat convolutedly reasoned that "while we don't imagine an iPhone will appear in Q1, 2014 the A7 processors could of course be used in a different iOS device first, but this certainly seems to wipe out any idea of an A7 processor for this year's iPhone 5S and as we said, if the iPhone 6 turns up later in 2014 it is now almost certain to be the first iPhone bearing the Apple A7."

"It is now almost certain." Gosh, that sounds so Authoritative.

That might be quite a jump, since we've only just received news of Apple's first foray into 28-nanometer process technology. MacRumors just bought a new Apple TV unit, cracked it open and found that the third-generation Apple TV has a 28 nm version of the A5 chip and not the A5X that MacRumors' Eric Slivka, at least, expected. The dual-core A5 was first introduced in March 2011 with the iPad 2 and then later on the iPhone 4S. It has been shrunk once before, to 32 nm, for the later iPad 2,4 model.

Slivka thinks the newest Apple TV units, which sell in volumes much less than either iPhones or iPads, are being used by Apple to pilot TSMC's 28 nm process, creating a second foundry source for its A Series processors, in addition to Samsung. He reminded readers that Samsung is reportedly moving to 28 nm at its Austin, Texas plant, which was built specifically for Apple chips.

TheNextWeb picked up on a China Times post covering recent comments by TSMC Chairman and CEO Morris Chang, who said the company currently has close to 100% market share on its 28nm chip process and expects those wafer shipments to triple in 2013.

At the same time, "TSMC is investing part of its capital expense funds in its 20nm production line, and Chang says customer interest in 20nm has been strong. He expects full production to ramp up in 2014 and 2015 even more quickly than 28nm has." That's an indication that DigiTimes may be correct about the 2014 timeline for 20 nm chips, even if they're not correct about a 20 nm quad-core A7.

"Enough discussions have taken place with enough customers with large requirements to lead us to believe that in both its first and second year of 20nm SoC production (2014-2015), the volume of 20 nm SoCs would be larger than 28nm in its first and second years of production (2012-2013)," he said.

The Wikipedia article on "Apple System on Chips" has a chart that shows the various SoCs in chronological order, with their differing specifications.

iPhone 6 will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor

A post at the Chinese language China Times website reasserted an earlier rumor -- and was picked up by International Business Times and others -- to proclaim that something called the "low-cost iPhone 6" would be released with a 28nm Qualcomm Snapdragon system-on-chip instead of an Apple chip.

Apple relies on Qualcomm communications chips -- for cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connectivity -- but uses its own A Series processors. With its own chips, including the most recent ones with custom-designed cores, Apple can leverage software and hardware integration to a degree that its rivals can't. The Qualcomm Snapdragon would have to offer some dramatic cost savings to make surrendering that advantage seem worthwhile.

The low-cost phone will also lack LTE support, "which would be another cost-saving measure for Apple," according to IBT. Not to mention a market-limiting factor, at least in the U.S., where LTE subscribers are soaring.

"In fact, since Qualcomm makes separate versions of its Snapdragon chips for 3G and LTE, Apple could have the option to release separate builds of the phone with different connectivity capabilities," according to IBT. But Qualcomm's just-announced RF360 chipset integrates 2G, 3G, and almost all LTE bands into a single product, precisely so that handset makers can avoid having to release separate builds of each phone.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnww Email: john_cox@nww.com

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

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John Cox

Network World
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