IPhone 5 Takes Shape—in the Media

The iPhone 5 is still but a beast of legend, but the story takes on greater detail every day. Here’s a brief summary of what we can expect from the next Apple smartphone, based on current scuttlebutt—including a new release window that was reported early on Monday.

Design: Early case prototypes, anonymous sources, and even some spy photographs seem to be reaching some kind of consensus about the physical design of the upcoming iPhone 5. The latest information seems to indicate that we’ll see a thinner device with a slight teardrop taper toward the back of the phone, along with a larger, edge-to-edge display (with either the same or slightly increased resolution) and the mute button shifted to the opposite side. Another intriguing possibility is a larger home button that could double as a touch-sensitive surface for gesture input.

A contradictory crop of rumors suggests the next iPhone will closely resemble its predecessor when it comes to physical design. Indeed, both descriptions could be accurate, should Apple be planning to launch multiple iPhone lines—including a less-expensive version. Recent photos have claimed to depict a device that resembles an iPhone 4, but with a plastic protective layer instead of the Gorilla Glass currently used.

Internals: What sort of performance benefits will the iPhone 5 offer? According to reports, we should see the A5 processor that powers the iPad 2 make the jump to the smartphone, as well as a dual-mode Qualcomm GSM/CDMA cellular network chip (which will make it possible to use the iPhone as a world phone). Another pretty safe bet is an 8-megapixel rear camera sensor, which could make the iPhone an even better choice for mobile photo buffs.

Some early rumors claimed Apple would introduce NFC in the new iPhone, while a report last month suggested the new device would pack a 3D rear camera, but neither report now seems accurate.

The possibility remains that Apple will once again introduce a new, smaller variant of SIM card with the iPhone 5. A report from May said European carrier Orange was working with Apple on developing a new SIM card standard that would be even smaller than the micro SIM currently used in iPads and the iPhone 4. A smaller SIM would allow Apple to devote more room inside the iPhone to other components such as batteries and still reduce the size of the physical case.

When we’ll see it (and who gets it first): Until this week, all signs seemed to point to a September launch. But AllThingsD reported early on Monday that according to multiple sources, the launch won’t come until October—possibly late October at that. AllThingsD is well-connected at Apple and it’s possible that this constituted a leak engineered by Apple to control expectations among consumers and investors. It may be that September was the expected release window and that a slight delay has occurred.

Apple will probably release the iPhone 5 in stages, as in the past. Recent reports claim the U.S. will experience it first, followed by wider international availability a month later. The iPhone 4 initially launched in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and Japan, then hit a number of additional markets after about a month. Look for a similar rollout this time, perhaps with a different pool of initial countries, since the roster of Apple’s biggest potential markets is changing.

The big question mark remains whether or not Apple has finally committed to develop a second, cheaper iPhone line concurrent with its primary device. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook has suggested that the company wishes to do so. The global benefits of helping iOS compete with Android seem apparent. Since Apple has never bowed to populist motivation, this remains far from a sure thing. What do you think? Will we or won’t we see a cheaper iPhone in 2011?

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