By Jim Karpen updated on 02/04/2013
The smartphone industry is moving so fast, offering such a variety of models that if Apple releases an iPhone 5S in June, as is rumored, it appears destined to be a letdown. Apple typically makes changes in the form factor every two years, but often makes internal upgrades in between. A great article on 9To5Mac, titled, "Can Apple get away with another 'S' iPhone?" questions whether this sort of incremental upgrade this year will be enough to impress consumers.
Some analysts are saying Apple needs to come out with a larger-screen iPhone to stay competitive. What might it look like? Marco Arment has created a mockup of a 5-inch iPhone and juxtaposes it with the 4-inch iPhone 5 so that you can see how it would look. He explains that an iPhone with a 4.94-inch diagonal screen would retain the 16:9 aspect ration of the current iPhone, so it wouldn't require apps to be revamped. He's predicting we'll see just such an iPhone this year.
He also has created a second image in which he places his predicted 5-inch iPhone in the context of Apple's other mobile devices, saying it fills an important gap in Apple's offerings. His mockup shows the iPhone 5, his mockup of what he calls the "iPhone Plus," the iPad mini, and the 9.7-inch iPad.
The Samsung Galaxy Note with its larger screen has received a lot of attention. And in general, the cellular market is giving consumers a lot of size options. Apple has already changed its stance once, offering us the iPad mini while it previously said Apple wasn't interested in the smaller form factor. So perhaps Apple will once again shift its stance and offer a larger iPhone in its lineup. Certainly it would generate some excitement.
Despite what analysts are saying regarding Apple's need for a larger-screen iPhone, news reports say that in the lucrative U.S. market Apple outsold Samsung and every other phone manufacturers in the fourth quarter of 2012. So the company must be doing something right. It's the first time that Apple has held the top spot in the United States, beating out Samsung with a market share of 34 percent compared to Samsung's 32.3 percent.
Speculation about a 5-inch iPhone aside, what are some of the more reliable rumors regarding an expected iPhone 5S? The above-mentioned article in 9To5Mac gives a good overview. First of all, the article says that given Apple's past cycles, a fall release is likely. Yet, some analysts continue to say that their sources in the supply chain are saying June.
In addition, 9To5Mac says it seems reasonable that we'll see iPhones in a range of colors, just as with the current iPod touch. It also seems possible that the new phone will have a fingerprint sensor, given Apple's purchase of AuthenTec last summer. This sort of purchase is usually a harbinger of forthcoming iPhone features, just as when Apple bought Siri. It also seems possible that the new phone will have a near-field communicationo (NFC) chip, as is increasingly common in Android phones. So far Apple has resisted NFC and has given us Passbook instead, but NFC is becoming increasingly useful, including wireless charging and content sharing in addition to mobile payments.
It seems likely that Apple will upgrade the camera in the iPhone 5S to 13 megapixels, an offering now seen in high-end Android phones. Apple apparently made technological changes in the iPhone 5's camera that would make it easier to bump up the size. 9To5Mac says that Apple will also need to introduce some new camera software to keep up with the competition, such as the photo-sphere feature on some Android phones that lets you take 360-degree photos.
In addition, given there's now a 128GB iPad, it seems reasonable a new iPhone would offer the same.
In any case, it will be fun to see what Apple comes up with. But one thing is certain: the competition is moving ahead fast, and Apple's going to need to impress us in order to keep up.