Photos released July 29, 2012 by a Japanese iPhone repair website called iLab show a very plausible view of the next iPhone, now rumored to be unveiled and released on September 12 and September 21 respectively. What gives these pictures a higher likelihood of authenticity than previous leaks and mockups is that, as a repair service provider, iLab has the connections to the full range of parts manufactures in the supply chain, and the motivation to be prepared for dealing with the inner working of the next model.
Assuming these photos show a unit assembled, as described, from leaked actual parts, it’s a bit of a let down. I realize that it’s hard to compete with the flights of imaginative fancy that Apple evangelists have been spinning, but the design of this model is conservative to a fault. It seems to be an improvement from the iPhone 4S, and to feature a taller screen as has been predicted, but where is the “wow” factor?
These images surface just as Apple is going to court to try to take down Samsung on patent infringement charges. I don’t think, however, that Samsung has achieved the position as the dominant smartphone manufacturer by being a copycat. I think they are beating Apple through design innovation.
So even though Apple is in a secure position at the moment, knowing that there is pent up demand for the next iPhone, playing it safe may be missing an opportunity to take the design mojo back from Samsung, Google and even Microsoft. This design won’t do that.
My concern is that this vision of the iPhone 5 will be attractive to business people and more conservative types—it will be the next Blackberry (and not the European street youth version). That’s fine, but I predict that the young and the trend-setting will go for the snappier-looking Android phones and some will find the Windows Phone attractive, as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, older folks will find the larger, brighter AMOLED screens of Samsung’s phones preferable as well, so Apple may get squeezed there also.
From a larger perspective, this is great for the industry and for consumers. More options means more spreading of smartphones to more kinds of people. Network effects will create the opportunity for new and improved services as smartphones approach ubiquity.
But for Apple, this is not good. It puts them at the flattening place in their power law curve of growth. And if their patents get curbed or struck down in the Samsung ruling (a coin toss at this point) they will not be able to tithe the other manufacturers into submission.
I realize that I am leaping to a lot of conclusions here. We don’t know if this is the actual design yet or, really, when it will be released. But all of the intelligence points to the details that these images support so we are at least in the ballpark. A home run, unfortunately, it is not.
COMMENTARY: If the above photos of the leaked parts of the new iPhone 5 are true, then the new iPhone 5 will be slightly slimmer than the current 4S, and has a bi-material back face that seems to be part metal part plastic--probably more resilient to drops and impacts than the 4S is with its prominent glass front and back pieces. It looks like it has a bigger 4-inch screen, and the video shows why this is a great size: It's just about possible to touch most of the screen with a single hand grip on the phone (try doing that on a 5-inch screen, and it'll be tricky). The base has room for the new-style small dock connector, but other than this it's familiar.
While these details are interesting, the design itself tells us something about Apple: It's very much a design evolution, carefully thought out and seemingly incorporating lessons learned from earlier versions and the milled-metal chassis techniques Apple's been using on its iPads and Macs. It's also new and unusual looking, while being instantly recognizable as an iPhone--you're not going to mistake it for a rival's device. Court filings from the protracted Samsung case suggest this is a design whose origins are a concept device codenamed Purple that dates from 2005. Basically this is a classic Apple tactic, one that it's used on its other devices with great success--design, refine, then completely redesign...and repeat.
This phone is also going to shape the smartphone market the world over for the next year or two. Like it or not, because it was first the iPhone really is the gold standard in the new smartphone world...and more and more of us are ditching our dumbphones and adopting smartphones the world over. Think of the iPhone for 2012 as the phone equivalent of the MacBook Air--a super-slim mix of plastic and metal that represents the peak of slowly evolving laptop design, and one that's prompted a whole new class of portable computers that are designed to be curiously similar to it.
Having said this, the next evolution of the iPhone, in a year or so's time, may be radically different. It just has to be--there are few new directions Apple can evolve the phone in that marry to its clean design philosophy of thinner, simpler, smarter. So 2012's iPhone may be the peak of the device that debuted in 2007 and changed how we access the mobile Net and think about touchscreens, photography and casual gaming. It may even be the end of the iPhone's beginning.
Stock analysts expected Apple to sell more iPhones than the 26 million it did during its fiscal Q3 2012 (June 30, 2012), and punished the company's stock price as a result. Apple explained that poor sales in financially damaged Europe and a slow down in sales ahead of the next iPhone were probably to blame.
That's a perfectly plausible explanation for not selling more iPhones, but Apple's failure to sell more phones is due to something else: The average phone-buying citizen is now aware of Apple's yearly update cycle and is excited enough about the prospect of a new phone that they're holding off buying the current, very capable, highly applauded device for a period of up to five months. More and more, the iPhone is becoming a signature device for Apple that can influence millions of people's buying decisions.
As such, it's vital that they get the iPhone for 2012 absolutely right. It has to technically amaze, and sell like the blazes.
The selling part is even more important than you might think, because recent statistics show that Apple makes around twice as much profit selling a single iPhone as it does from selling an iPad unit, and it sells many more iPhones than iPads (at least until the rumored iPad mini goes on sale at a lower price point). Part of this profitability comes from design efficiencies in Apple's production line process, part of it comes from carrier subsidies. The production efficiencies are important because they let Apple make twice as much money from a similar device than Nokia does from its flagship Lumia 900 device. The subsidies are important because carriers are desperate to sell the iPhone to their clients, tying them into long-term contracts where they can earn revenues from the high data consumption the iPhone promotes. Carrier subsidies may be slipping as this business model begins to get old, although Tim Cook made a point of arguing the opposite during Apple's earnings call.
It's being guessed that the iPhone for 2012 (iPhone 5? iPhone 6?) will sell so many units globally that it'll achieve 170 million units sold for fiscal year 2013--roughly one new iPhone sold for every two U.S. citizens. The iPhone drives over 50% of Apple's profits. The latest rumors say it'll be revealed September 12, so we don't have long to wait, at least.
What will all that money let Apple do? It might let it launch a radically new device (like the long-fabled HDTV) or, more importantly, it could let Apple take a big risk, and launch a wearable computer that competes with Google's Project Glass, but bringing Apple's design cool and the iPhone halo effect with it.
Courtesy of an article dated July 30, 2012 appearing in Forbes