The next iPhone looms on the horizon

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Chicago (IL) – It’s that time of year again. As we draw nearer to the next iPhone launch that many believe will take place at
Apple’s developer conference early summer, rumors start spreading
like wildfire. While most reports are based on pure speculations, there
are some which reinforce and corroborate pieces of hard evidence and
traces collected so far. It appears there will be at least
two new iPhone models and one iPod touch model, all sporting major
hardware changes. The rumored high-end iPhone will get
a higher-resolution camera with video recording capability pushed as
premium feature. Will it be enough to convince an upgrade?

The new iPhone should run all existing 25,000 App Store
programs without a hitch, thanks to the fully backwards-compatible iPhone OS 3.0 revision that will power the device. And what will be the next iPhone’s killer app? Why games, of course! Its next-gen
CPU and better accelerated GPU hardware should push the next iPhone ahead of both Sony and PSP in
the portable gaming arena, enabling game developers to create and port stunning games.
And last but not least, the new iPhones will download data from cellular networks twice as fast (sound familiar?) thanks to AT&T’s
HSPA network upgrades. Will all of this be enough to convince an upgrade? Apple is hoping so.


IS THIS THE NEXT iPHONE?
The model number A1303 printed on the back case of the next iPhone?? in this leaked image hasn’t previously
appeared on any
iPhone model. Image credit: MacRumors

Thanks to the beta seeds of the iPhone OS 3.0 and SDK 2.0 — both slated for
summer arrival, the rumor mongers are back at full capacity. Scavenging resource
files, ArsTechnica spotted references to four unknown multi-touch mobile gadgets, including ones labeled iPhone 3,1 and iPod 3.1 that suggest major hardware changes for current iPhone 3G and iPod touch models referenced in iPhone OS 2.0 as iPhone 1.2 and iPod 2.1, respectively. In addition, the iPhone 2.1 reference suggests at least two new iPhone models (iPhone 2.1 and iPhone 3.1), both packing major hardware changes. In fact, iPhone 2.1 popped up briefly as a spyshot and in web stats
of the iPhone app analytics company Pinch Media, suggesting Apple is
actively testing at least one prototype iPhone out in the wild. Two
additional references to iFPGA and iProd 0.1 are also interesting. While the former refers to a field-programmable gate array, the latter could suggests a Mac netbook or a long-rumored digital personal trainer.


WHAT IS iPROD?
An iProd
0.1 reference in resource files of the iPhone OS 3.0 beta suggests a Mac
tablet/netbook, a new oversized iPod touch-like
device, a digital
personal trainer or something completely different. This Mac tablet mockup is by Lecentre.net

Video as high-end iPhone’s premium feature

Boy Genius Report cites sources “pretty high up in AT&T’s food chain” who claim
the next iPhone will feature a higher-resolution camera with auto-focus and video record abilities. AT&T’s recently discovered video sharing features in the iPhone OS 3.0 strongly corroborates this report, while Apple Insider goes one step further speculating Apple might leverage video recording
as premium feature of the high-end iPhone model. AT&T will
allegedly accompany the iPhone release by posting their own application
in the App Store, allowing users to steer their DVR to AT&T’s U-verse digital TV. According to sources, the app will be
just the first step toward realizing AT&T’s ambitious vision of some future iPhone.


NEW iPHONES TO FINALLY GAIN VIDEO RECORDING CAPABILITIES?

Video
recording is one glaring omission in current iPhones. Despite
unofficial apps that let you record videos on jailbroken iPhones,
current iPhone software disables video recording. While the new iPhone
OS 3.0 might bring video recording to yet-unreleased iPhone models,
there is no guarantee this feature will be enabled on current
iPhones.
Image credit: Engadget

Twice-as-fast Internet? Really?

As before, AT&T will support the new iPhone’s release with an HSPA
(High Speed Packet Access) summer upgrade to enable its mobile Internet at
a theoretical 7.2 Mbps throughput (it requires just a software update of
cellular towers). It’s likely the current iPhone won’t be able to take advantage
of upgraded network since its Infineon chip supports up
to 3.6 Mbps max. AT&T’s mobility chief, Ralph de la Vega, has promised a more
substantial HSPA release 7 network upgrade sometime in 2009 that will enable mobile Internet speeds “exceeding 20 megabits per second.”

By the way, don’t be holding your breath for AT&T’s 4G (LTE) network because it won’t arrive for at least a year or more. The
Silicon Alley Insider
argues that faster Internet could simply mean a faster 802.11n Wi-Fi (versus the slower 802.11g/b Wi-Fi used in current iPhones). Electronista sheds more light on this matter, claiming that Broadcom 802.11n chip will actually be used for faster Wi-Fi access.


TWICE-AS-FAST INTERNET?
Apple’s “twice as fast” tagline advertising iPhone 3G abilities earned the company class action lawsuits over false advertising due to spotty 3G coverage in some areas. The next iPhone should support double data throughput thanks to Broadcom’s (or Infineon’s) chips that support Wi-Fi 802.11n, and HSPA connectivity for a theoretical 7.2 Mbps throughput via an upgraded 3G network that AT&T pledged to deploy by summer. We wonder if Apple will use the “Twice as fast” mantra with new iPhone.

Read on the next page:  Hardware changes; Games, games, games; Final thoughts

Major hardware changes

Some readers may remember how Apple aimed to differentiate itself in
hardware terms with a custom system-on-a-chip (SoC) incorporating
processor, graphics, memory and interfacing components aimed at future
iPods, iPhones, a rumored Mac tablet and possibly other devices. Such
an approach would enable Apple to develop unique hardware features that are
not available to rivals who mostly rely on the same off-the-shelf
components. Apple’s PA Semi-acquired engineering talent (led by IBM’s
Mark Papermaster) should design this SoC based on the latest ARM CPU and
Imagination’s PowerVR SGX543 multi-core GPU. At the same time, Samsung is believed
to have landed the manufacturing contract — as they manufacture the SoCs
used in current iPhone and iPod touch devices.


MATTE BLACK IS THE NEW GREEN
Do these two leaked image show the back and inside casing of the next iPhone? Apple apparently scrapped the glossy plastic
appearance found in current iPhone 3G in favor of a cool matte black
casing textured for better gripping (above). It also looks like the aluminum casing is back, like with the first iPhone (bellow).
Image credit: iPodObserver


ALUMINUM IS BACK!
The inside back casing of this rumored next iPhone appearance hints of aluminum use — like with the first iPhone. Image credit: MacRumors

Only hardware?

Do you think we’re just speculating about the hardware? Consider this… Apple is officially cited as PowerVRlicensee and investor in Imagination. In addition, Steve Jobs has publicly said that engineers (from the fabless semiconductor firm PA Semi) were acquired
for $278 million last April, that they will make SoCs for future iPhones and
iPods. The use of the PowerVR SGX543 GPU means the next iPhone may leapfrog
all mobile devices with a power efficient, OpenCL-accelerated shader, 3D
graphics and hardware-assisted decoding of HD video. That GPU combines
a custom die with an updated ARM-based CPU and should pair nicely with
OpenCL acceleration and multi-core optimizations slated for Snow
Leopard
— as these software tweaks should trickle down to a finished
version of the iPhone OS 3.0. Some also suggest Apple could use the Marvell PXA168 ARM chip, slated for July arrival. That chip could bring entry-level laptop capabilities to Apple’s mobile devices.

Games, games and more games

What will this notebook-grade hardware power be used for? Of
course: Games, games and more games… Apple wants the lucrative mobile gaming
sector. While games are already big business in the App Store, the graphics
performance of the next iPhone and iPod touch will significantly outpace Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS consoles. And although the latter
respectively sold 50 million and 100 million units to date, Apple
has shipped a total of 30 million iPhones and iPod touches (13.7 million
iPhones, over 16.5 million iPod touches) between introduction in July
2007 (just under 1.5 years) and through to the end of 2008. While Apple still has lots of
catching up to do in terms of unit sales to overtake Sony and Nintendo,
more and more big game developers are making games for the iPhone OS.
The platform lures both gamers and developers thanks to its compact
form-factor, rich functionality, accelerometer sensor and multi-touch
interface allowing unique control mechanisms — and, of course,
the efficient distribution and sales mechanism that is Apple’s model App Store.


GAMES ARE LUCRATIVE
Games are by far the biggest business in the App Store. With 30 million iPhones and iPod touches in the wild and new devices on the horizon, Apple is in good shape to battle Sony and Nintendo in the mobile gaming arena. However, the Cupertino-based consumer electronics giant has a long way to go before it matches the combined PSP and DS sales that recently topped 150 million units. However, with the next-gen iPhone’s support for gaming exceeding the capabilities of those products, coupled to its other robust software and hardware uses, Apple may well be on their way.


Conclusion:  Apple will OWN the mobile gaming market!

There’s an interesting reality with Apple’s games. Developers like EA usually price their premium iPhone games around $9.99, and that price point should be taken note of — especially compared to
PSP and DS games that typically sell for two-three times more.
In addition, Apple’s application bazaar has gotten off to a gigantic start allowing games and countless utilities to be released without a physical distribution mechanism and tangible gaming chip. Having
amassed over 800 million downloads in eight months, it shows the power of Apple’s ecology.

In my view,
the efficiency of the App Store coupled to the rich capabilities of the iPhone SDK are
key software differentiators which set apart the iPhone platform from
PSP and DS in terms of games development. Thanks to all of this
combined, Apple will (in my opinion) own the mobile gaming market 2-3 years from now.


STEVE JOBS TO UNVEIL THE NEXT iPHONE?
Say “Hello,” Steve.  “Hello, Steve.”  Steve Jobs’ medical leave of six months should end just in time for the WWDC keynote in July. A high-profile product launch at a high-profile venue requires high-profile showmanship, and that means Steve Jobs. If Jobs misses the WWDC keynote, he will probably never return to his day-to-day CEO duties at full capacity.

Recommended “for reading” articles about hardware and software features of the next-generation iPhone:

SOFTWARE:  iPhone OS 3.0 and SDK 2.0

HARDWARE:  System-on-a-chip based on Imagination’s SGX543MP GPU and ARM-based CPU

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