On a blind date with the fifth-gen iPhone: Experience it buzz by buzz

4 Jun, 2012

The magic month of June is here. We call it magic not because most of us have survived the heat but because there's another kind of heat building up. It seems many of the geeky gadget lovers have already got past the thrill of holding close the recently launched Samsung Galaxy S III. And they are now looking forward to other next-gen handsets which are on their way.

Undoubtedly, the Cupertino company tops that list although it had disappointed its fans last year by launching a marginally improved iPhone 4S. But this time around, Apple may be gunning for vast improvements and rumours are rife that the company will reveal some interesting details about the next version (even a public beta is a distinct possibility) when it holds its annual conference (Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference or WWDC) from June 11.

iPhone 5 (we are assuming this name as Apple has registered the iPhone5.com domain name a few weeks ago) can be truly iconic in more ways than one. For one, it will be the last device which has been actually worked upon by Steve Jobs. At least, that's what Bloomberg claims, citing a source who says that Jobs had played a key role there even while he was on medical leave from his company. That, itself, holds enough curiosity value for Apple fans. But we have also decided to scour a bit (online and offline) to bring you the latest buzz from experts, insiders, media reports and even tech rumour sites from all over the globe. Here is what they are saying.

Will it be a total re-think?

Could be, going by the fact that Apple loves to come up with 'wow' factors. At least, a total re-design is expected and that will land us onto the first thing first "the screen. There's nothing wrong with the current 3.5 inch screen but a 4 inch screen (measured corner to corner) with 1,136x640 display will make it all the more fun. This also means 30 per cent increase in viewing area – cool stuff, to say the least. Last year, Apple had reportedly scrapped a 5 inch screen, but things may be different now. After all, Android devices like the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III have already come up with near 5 inch screens and Apple can do no less.

The new handset is also expected to be 4G compatible as quite a few 4G handsets have already been announced in the US. It may create some problem for the UK market as the 4G spectrum auction won't take place there until late this year or early next year. But India definitely has a leg up here – Bharti Airtel has already introduced 4G services and other key telcos are expected to follow suit.

Separate media reports also suggest a 4.6 inch retina display, a curved glass screen, an in-cell multi-touch technology and a shell/casing made of 'liquidmetal'. But before we go any further, let's explore the last two items, which seem to come straight out of a sci-fi movie. In-cell multi-touch helps make a gadget thinner and, therefore, lighter since it is directly built into the TFT LCD panel and not as a separate layer above the LCD panel. This also makes the display brighter. Apple is reportedly buying such touch panels from Sharp and Toshiba.

But what is liquidmetal? According to Liquidmetal's website, "Liquidmetal alloys combine over twice the strength of titanium with the processing efficiency of plastics. Our scientists have developed the technology where our metal alloys behave similar to plastics." The alloy consists of zirconium, titanium, nickel, copper, and other materials, all put through a patented strengthening/bonding process and the next iPhone may have the shell or casing made of liquidmetal. But will apple really shed the oh-so-fortified aluminosilicate glass (chemically strengthened to be 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic – so that it becomes more durable and scratch-resistant) it's using for iPhone 4S?

Here's more under the hood, though. The next iPhone can feature a variant of the A5X chip sporting an ARM S5L8950X processing core, 1 GB of RAM and "something entirely new" for the graphics subsystem. The hardware specs featured in an iOS 6 build will reportedly include an application processor identified as an ARM S5L8950X unit. It was also referenced in iOS 5.1 beta code, alongside the S5L8945X featured in the A5X chip powering the iPad 3. But the S5L8950X system-on-a-chip (SoC) may not be versioned as A6 – as of now, it is only referenced as an A5 chip variant. Insiders expect a low-power dual core processor similar to the 32nm iPad 2 (originally, the iPad 2 was shipped with 45nm A5 chip). The new chip is 40 per cent smaller than the original one and drains nearly 30 per cent less power – so something similar may very well be used for the new iPhone. The latest Gobi chips may also come in as they allow low-power voice/data on a variety of mobile networks.

As for the much-touted SGX543 GPU (graphics processing unit), it's most likely a low-power variant of the SGX543MP4 quad-core graphics used in the new iPad's A5X chip. However, it will be a significant step-up in graphics performance, compared to the A5 silicon inside the iPhone 4S.

And before we forget, here's a piece of good news for the Facebook fans worldwide. It seems that iOS 6 will move to Facebook integration and we will hear more about it at WWDC 2012. Also, a Siri API is a distinct possibility for enhanced content access and usage.

iPhone 5: A trigger for Apple-Google face-off?

But the most interesting feature will be the Apple-Google split, in terms of Google Maps. It's almost certain that Apple is going to cut Google out of the new 3D maps app, featured in iOS6, and this may be announced at WWDC next week. Of course, Apple has the technology to create most accurate 3D models which can be integrated with 2D maps, satellite pictures, street-level and user-generated images. In other words, the image data could actually provide more detailed output than Google, without the issue of gathering 'personal information'. But whether the new app can perform well across mobile devices is a crucial question. Data stream may have to be adjusted in tune with the processor speed of a particular iOS device (it especially holds true for the older versions of iPhones) but as far as the new model is concerned, Apple can usher in an all-new user experience without too many hassles.

Predictably, Google is not taking it lying down and has already issued a Press invitation for an event scheduled on June 6. It says: At this invitation-only Press gathering, Brian McClendon, VP of Google Maps and Google Earth, will give you a behind-the-scenes look at Google Maps and share our vision. We'll also demo some of the newest technology and provide a sneak peek at upcoming features that will help people get where they want to go – both physically and virtually. We hope to see you there.

Does this mean Google will be launching 3D maps ahead of Apple? Google is bound to go all out after Apple implemented its new search strategy via Siri and disintermediated Google from mobile search. Siri has two content partners, Yelp and Wolfram Alpha, which allow it to deliver query results directly (a simple list based on your query), instead of taking you to a Google results page. But these content partners cannot cater to a global market (imagine asking Yelp about a biryani joint in Hyderabad) and Apple may have to opt for Microsoft's Bing as its default search engine. So on the new iPhone, you might be missing Google altogether.