Last year, on the run up to the iPhone 4S launch, for months we were hearing various bits of speculation regarding the 5th generation iPhone. We were calling it the “iPhone 5” and were caught between two differing rumors. One said that we would see an iPhone “4S”: a more powerful version of the iPhone 4. The second said that we would see a new teardrop/tapered design, with an Aluminum back and much larger display.
Sadly, the second one became accepted as “fact”, thanks to some well timed leaks between June and September. We saw leaked schematics, then, we got an influx of third party manufacturers designing and making cases. Images of the cases found their way online. The well-known Case-Mate was among them. That was enough to convince almost all of us that we were going to see a major redesign. Surely if case manufacturers were spending money on designing accessories to fit an unreleased phone it was a sure thing?
Despite that, some more sensible and solid whisperings still said: “we’re only going to see a faster iPhone 4.” Because we – as humans – believe when what we see. We’d already decided that the new iPhone was coming, and it was going to be awesome, big, and shiny. We were so wrong.
This year we’ve had some “leaked Apple parts”. What they show is a longer iPhone with a similar form factor to what we have now. The main differences: it has a larger display, the headphone jack is at the bottom and it has a 19-pin connector instead of the usual 30-pin. In terms of looks, it has the same flat, square look, but it has an Aluminum back panel giving it a two tone flavor (looks good in black, awful in white.) It’s the same width as the iPhone 4/4S. The screen aspect ratio has been switched from a 3:2 to 16:9 widescreen and is a 4″ panel. But, before we get carried away with “this is the real deal” shouts, let’s consider a couple of things.
The first time we heard about the possibility of a new aspect ratio was through The Verge‘s forums (April 10th). There was a thread regarding developers and whether Apple would make it difficult for them by creating a bigger screen on the next iPhone. According to this one user it was more likely that Apple – to keep the Retina branding – wouldn’t keep the same aspect ratio and pixel count. Instead, the designers would need to keep the sharpness by only stretching out the display lengthways. It was an interesting argument. But it was just a theory, and a suggestion. Nobody from Apple’s sources had said that’s what was going to happen. It was a developer’s idea. No more, no less.
Following that (May 15th), came some mockups of what this proposed iPhone would look like. These were basic digital renderings based on an idea. Again, it wasn’t “leaked” information from Apple or its supply chain. Between the original suggestion and the mockup from MacRumors and Cicaresse Design: 5 weeks.
Then came the hardware leaks. Supposed back panels from a manufacturer in China. These leaks came via iFixYouri and 9to5Mac on or around May 29th: 7 weeks after the original suggestion on a forum. Oddly, the schematics for said design were leaked later still.
I’m no expert on manufacturing, or its processes. But, we had rumors of a two-tone Aluminum back way before the new, longer iPhone design was ever mentioned. 7 weeks certainly seems like enough time to me for a company experienced in handset manufacturing to whip up a quick sample of the “new design”. After all, it’s not like any fancy internals were being made, it’s a simple metal back panel, and the front panel (which was leaked a little later). Knowing that plenty of traffic would be sent its way, who else to leak it to other than iFixYouri and 9to5Mac. With access to manufacturing tools, and the ability to make profit from selling parts by branding them “iPhone 5” parts, it’s not hard to imagine that this could very well be the scenario. At least that’s a possibility. It’s a theory.
2. No proper redesign?
The design difference between the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G was pretty major. Aluminum was swapped for the polycarbonate shell found on both the 2nd and 3rd generation iPhones. The curve and shape was noticeably different too. Between 3G and 4 was an even bigger jump. We went from round and comfortable to sleek, flat and square. The proposed new design is almost exactly the same as the last two generations of iPhone. It’s just got an Aluminum patch on its pack, and been given some growth hormones. Would Apple really keep it the same for another year?
Now, I get that the front is going to be the same forever. The iconic rectangular face with a single home button is a trademarked look and one which makes the iPhone stand out among all its competitors. It’s instantly recognizable. But, that doesn’t mean the rest of it has to look the same.
Again, I’m not going to presume I know the designer’s minds or the way they work. They’re incredibly secretive. For all I know, this could be the end product, but, I sincerely hope it isn’t. I want to be surprised this year. After 2 and a half years of the same phone, I want something new. iOS 6 is barely any different to iOS 5, so the device itself better be a massive redesign, or I’ll be sulking for a good few hours before swallowing my pride and pre-ordering one.
Learn from last year
Last year the leaks looked good. The cases all met up with leaked schematics and seemed to point one way. It was a diversion. Apple makes prototypes, lots of them. This could be one of those, or it could be nothing. Whatever you do, do not get sucked in to all the leaks no matter how convincing they are. Apple has a reputation for surprising us. Last year we felt the iPhone 4S was a bit of a let down, because we’d gone with the hype. This year, let’s be a little more careful about what we read in to rumors.