What to expect from Tuesday's iPhone event
This Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook will take the stage to talk about the iPhone. After a few minutes of boasting about sales figures and other numbers, the company will reveal some new products. Yes, we're going to hear about a new iPhone or two. We're going to learn about some new iPhone software. But what should you expect from those phones? And will there be any surprises up the company's sleeve? Read on, as Gizmag breaks down the rumors leading up to Tuesday's 2013 iPhone event.
Apple's next flagship phone is expected to be called the iPhone 5S, following the familiar "same on the exterior, better on the inside" pattern established by the iPhones 3GS and 4S. But no matter what the new iPhone is called, it will probably look almost exactly like the iPhone 5.
We expect some speed improvements, centered around an Apple-designed A7 system-on-a-chip. It's also possible Apple will boost the new iPhone's RAM, from the 1 GB found in the iPhone 5.
Camera upgrades are also par for the course in Apple's S-series iPhones. That may or may not mean more megapixels, but we'd say improved sensors for low-light photography and image stabilization are likely. Remember Apple focuses on experience, so unless a higher pixel count is going to make a meaningful difference in the images the camera takes, the company might not bother.
But the killer feature of the 5S is expected to be a new fingerprint sensor that lies under the home button. Last year Apple bought Authentec, a company that specializes in biometric sensors. If that isn't enough evidence for you, then you can point to the fact that just about every leak about this phone is pointing to the fingerprint sensor as the marquee attraction.
Fingerprint-based payments aren't expected to be supported at launch, but a few other security-based features should be. iOS 7 has a cloud-based password storage feature, so it would be a perfect fit to let your fingerprint be the "one password" that you need to access all of your logins, accounts, and other passwords.
You would also, naturally, be able to unlock your phone with your fingerprint. This could be the ideal combination of security and convenience: anybody else would need a passcode to get in, but you could unlock the dang thing with your thumb.
Apple is also likely to launch its long-rumored budget iPhone at Tuesday's event. Rumors have been pointing to "iPhone 5C" as the branding, where "C" is for "Colors" (though some are already joking that it's for "Cheap"). The phone should be, more or less, an iPhone 5 on the inside, with a colorful plastic shell on the outside. That means the same four-inch display with 1136 x 640 resolution, an 8 MP camera, and an A6 chip with 1 GB of RAM.
The concept of a smartphone being sold in multiple color options isn't new. Nokia's Lumia line has always been colorful, and you can design the Moto X with colors of your choosing. But we think the iPhone 5C will bring colorful smartphones to the mainstream in ways that those phones haven't yet done.
Pricing, however, is the key to the iPhone 5C. Rumors haven't been 100 percent consistent on this front, but we'd expect somewhere around US$350-375 off-contract for the new phone. That might sound high, but consider that the iPhone 5S, like its predecessors, will probably start at $650 without a contract (and $200 with a new two-year contract), and we're looking at a pretty steep drop-off. It's quality hardware for a relatively shallow price.
We don't know how much of a stink Apple will make of this at the event, but the iPhone 5C has its sights set on China. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple has inked a deal with China Mobile to carry the iPhone. And off-contract, budget handsets like the 5C are tailor-made for that market. In typical Apple fashion, the company will frame the story around the experience of using the phone, but – surprise surprise – there's also a very deliberate business strategy behind that.
There's no doubt about this part: Apple will give us its final spiel about the next version of iOS, which will release around the same time as the new iPhones.
iOS 7 brings a new "flat" design, marking the first major visual overhaul of the OS since it launched over six years ago. Gone is the faux leather stitching and heavy reliance on reflections and drop shadows. Now it's all flat (somewhat akin to what you'd see on Windows Phone, or the Start Screen apps in Windows 8). It's software that's comfortable just being software, without feeling the need to simulate physical objects, an idea known as skeuomorphism.
iOS 7 gets a few new features as well, including a quick-settings panel called Control Center, a Google Now-esque tweak to Notification Center called Today, and multitasking with live previews of your open apps. We also get iTunes Radio, Apple's answer to Pandora.
It's almost easy to forget that Apple's September event used to be focused on iPods. We suppose there's some chance we'll see an updated MP3 player or two, but the more likely scenario is a new iPod touch. If it follows the patterns of previous years, it will have a lot in common with the current iPhone, but will sport slightly downgraded specs (and, of course, no cellular connectivity).
But with the iPhone 5C set to launch at a price that's pretty close to that of the iPod touch, it will be interesting to see how Apple handles this. Will the touch get a price drop? Will it remain unchanged from last year's model? Our money is on a touch that looks like last year's model, only with slightly upgraded internals.
What we won't see
According to Jim Dalrymple of The Loop, there won't be any new iPads at Tuesday's event. A redesigned fifth-generation iPad and the second-gen iPad mini will have their own event, possibly in late October.
We don't imagine we'll see any new Macs or the next version of Mac OS X at this week's event. Apple will probably launch Haswell-powered MacBook Pros, and possible new iMacs, at some point this year. But 9to5Mac reports that Mac OS X Mavericks won't launch until late October. We doubt Apple would launch new Macs just a month or two before its new software releases. Expect new Macs at the iPad event.
We probably won't see that long-rumored Apple television set either. It's hard to imagine that Apple could sneak such a huge product through the supply chain (not to mention Hollywood content negotiations) without being leaked forwards, backwards, and inside out. The TV set, assuming it's still on Apple's roadmap, could be another year or two away.
We also won't likely see a new Apple TV set-top-box, though, according to AllThingsD, Apple is going to update the current model's software. It's possible we'll hear a little bit about that at Tuesday's event.
We would also almost completely rule out seeing Apple's "iWatch" smartwatch at this event, for the same reasons we mentioned about the TV. Apple's secrecy ain't what it used to be, so it's unlikely the device would make it this far through the supply chain without leaking from here to Timbuktu.
Samsung did just reveal its smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear, last week, so wearables from the big mobile vendors are finally making their way to market. Apple could still announce its watch this year, and it could be this week ... but we wouldn't hold our breath for that one.
Surprise?During the Steve Jobs years, Apple had an uncanny knack for surprising us. But leaks have betrayed almost all of the company's recent products, to the point where surprise isn't a big part of the equation anymore.
Can Apple rediscover that, and throw us for a curve? Will Tim Cook roll up his sleeve to reveal the iWatch? Will Phil Schiller pull back the curtain on the iTV? Again, unlikely on both counts. But if it did, that might be just what the doctor ordered to restore that Apple "magic" that has faded a bit during the Tim Cook regime.