There is little doubt that Apple is working on the follow-up to its controversial, but clearly successful iPhone 4. So seeing stories swirling around about the upcoming iPhone 5 is no shock. And yet, I’d be really surprised if this one panned out:
It all started with an AppleInsider post citing an analyst named Brian White (of Ticonderoga Securities). He didn’t directly assert that the new iPhone would have a built-in Pico projector or live TV capabilities — just that this would be a really, really ridiculously good set of features for the device to have.
A pico projector would let users magnify and cast their iPhones’ screens onto walls, and a TV tuner would pick up live broadcasts and play them on the phone.
White never said he had sources contending Apple specifically has this is in the works. He merely said it would be nice. (I’m paraphrasing there.) He thinks it makes sense as a next step for the iPhone.
“Watching local TV stations on a smartphone could be an attractive option for some consumers…. Additionally, an embedded pico projector allows users to project a slide presentation or video on a wall or other surface in large size, which makes sense for the iPhone 5 in our view, as Apple seeks to expand the features in the next-generation iPhone.”
Okay, these features would indeed be cool. But his viewpoint isn’t exactly rock solid. Let’s break this down:
It’s true that mobile-compatible projectors seem to be getting a lot of interest lately. (I saw several new accessories at a Consumer Electronics Show preview last month in New York, and all of them featured support for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad).
Thing is, as far as native projector capabilities are concerned, this road has been traveled already by devices like the Samsung Galaxy Beam and LG eXpo — and neither of them exactly lit the world on fire.
The same argument could be made for the tablet market, I guess. It took the iPad to ignite demand for tablets, and I suppose if Jobsy & His Crew were interested in this, a projector-equipped iPhone could have potential to do the same.
But there’s a big hurdle with that: Hardware-wise, shoving a projector in the phone would likely fatten it up, and (call me crazy, but) I’d bet that the last thing Cupertino wants is a big bulky iPhone. Take the Galaxy Beam, for example: It was lauded for managing to keep its depth down — despite the projector on board — and it was 14.9 mm thick. That’s about 5 mm fatter than the current iPhone 4.
Also consider that Apple only just launched AirPlay. The company’s simply not going to undercut a brand new wireless iOS-to-big-screen feature that is spurring on sales of another branded product, the Apple TV.
So I say, “No way.” Apple would never undermine its own revenue stream or pork up its handset like that without an incredibly good reason, and I just don’t think a projector is it.
When the iPhone debuted in Japan, many pundits predicted its demise, and one of the reasons cited was its lack of TV tuner. Mobile TV is wildly popular over there — in fact, even many featurephones have them in Asia. But despite that, Apple’s handset is taking Japan by storm, as well as other parts of the region.
Integrating a TV tuner in the iPhone 5 would send iOS into another, even more stratospheric level over there. And it could spur more interest over here, where it hasn’t really taken off yet.
Mobile TV is expensive and the quality of content streaming over 3G is just awful. A mobile digital TV signal, however, wouldn’t work over cellular — it would be over-the-air, making it cheap or free.
Some observers argue that this would undercut Apple’s iTunes offerings, and the company just wouldn’t do that.
Frankly, I don’t think that’s a huge deterrent. Many people who buy or rent TV shows from iTunes would still do it to have anytime, anywhere access to their favorite programs. Broadcast TV, however, airs shows at set times and only where people have reception. (So forget subways or airplanes.)
Here’s where I contradict myself: Above, I stated that “Apple would never undermine its own revenue stream…” That’s true. But the part that follows is the key: “…without an incredibly good reason…” So there may be some iTunes revenue lost, but it could be acceptable in the grand scheme of things.
Apple is very aware of Android’s increasing popularity, and this functionality could help them beat back the Google platform’s encroachment. Think of it this way: By bypassing the 3G network for OTA digital TV signals, fewer people would blow through their data caps and there’d be less congestion on the network.
And this would be a very positive — and marketable — improvement to the iPhone user’s experience. If these were the only factors, I think Apple would seriously consider it.
Unfortunately, these aren’t the only factors. There are two bigger issues at play: First, The Open Mobile Video Coalition hasn’t launched DTV in every market yet. That means there would be plenty of people left out.
The second circles back to hardware again, similar to the projector scenario above: How likely is it that Apple would cram an extra DTV chip in the iPhone 5 and then slap an antenna on the outside? I know it sounds superficial — and it is. But just look at it:
This is actually one of those iPhone knock-offs, but could you see Apple releasing a real one like this?
When it comes to iOS products, looks matter. (Haters might even argue that it trumps everything else.) A projector and live TV would be great additions to the iPhone someday, but given the current state of their hardware, I don’t think it would be coming for a long time.
Of course, I could be totally wrong, and if so, I will disavow knowledge of ever having written this post. (Kidding!)
In any case, do you agree? Disagree? Or better yet, would you be willing to have a fatter or klunkier iPhone 5 in order to have these features? Let us know what you think in the comments.