iPhone (5) March Rumor Roundup

So it’s started, the iPhone 5 rumor chase is on! There may not be a more important product for Apple than this year’s new iPhone. Expectations are high, and Apple’s carrier reach is hitting a high point. Wall Street expects Apple to potentially sell 120+ million iPhones this year.

Some features such as NFC or mobile wallet are dependent upon what’s coming in iOS 6. The biggest issue to be decided is screen real estate. Already this week, we have a rumor of Apple sticking with a 3.5 inch device, and then we have completely different rumors suggesting 4.6 inch or a 4 inch device.

What does the iPad 3 tell us about the upcoming iPhone? The iPad 3 breaks from some conventions of Apple mobile product design. Those dogmatic conventions were thinner, faster, with better battery life. MoD has to wonder if Apple had not pursued the retina display upgrade what would be the possible battery life of an upgraded iPad 2. Did Apple trade a device with 15 or 16 hours battery life for a device that has double the screen resolution? Apple is willing to compromise for a key feature . So far, the screen upgrades looks like a good move, and probably sets the stage for iPad 4 biggest upgrade, a new form factor that is lighter, thinner, with better battery life.

The iPad 3’s cellular chip set and energy efficiency of that chipset would seem to indicate that LTE is given for the next iPhone. The 3.5 inch screen status quo’s best defense/defender is John Gruber with the explanation that increasing the screen size would lead to a different resolution size needed. Supporting multiple resolutions leads to fragmentation and creates the kind of issues that drives developers crazy. So Apple stands pat screen size wise, but overhauls the overall design of the 3.5 inch iPhone and adds LTE which is needed by AT&T and Verizon and for Apple to sign a deal with China Mobile which uses a proprietary TD-LTE standard.

What could Apple do instead? The Verge in the linked article does an excellent job laying out the possibilities. A 4 inch screen could have a resolution of around 1080 x 720 and it would still be a retina display. The Verge indicates that would create 3 different resolutions with one that is not a simple double. The Verge’s best suggestion which corresponds with Apple’s overall strategy is making the resolution 1920 x 1280 (or 1080P HD/Blu-Ray resolution the reported resolution of Samsung’s next Galaxy flagship phone). This new resolution standard is again a simple double of the current retina display on the iPhone so while it’s 3 resolution types the image math is easy for developers. It would be even easier if iOS 6 was limited to iPhone 4 or higher, but with iPhone 3GS still being sold that’s unlikely.

It’s entirely possible Apple has not made a final decision on the form factor of the next iPhone. The rumors indicating no change or a big screen size could both be based on access to prototypes on trial. Apple is probably targeting either a late August or early September launch to get the a full Q4 out of the new phone. With that schedule, it’s possible that a final design decision has not yet been made. Or an iPhone 4 chassis could be used to test new internal components while hiding the new form factor.

If MoD was betting, we’d place our money on a bigger screen iPhone 5 using a 1080p resolution. The resolution Pixels Per Inch is overkill, but does give Apple room to grow. The extra physical space will provide the necessary working space for the battery life needed to provide the kind of working time with LTE that Apple wants. It will allow Apple to provide create a new iPod Touch, and could also be the resolution frame work for a larger iPod Touch/iPad Mini.

Could Apple also release an LTE version (using the new chipset similar to the iPad 3 would seriously extend the bands/standards for the device) of the iPhone 4S? Normally, MoD would say that’s a crazy idea, but at $99 with LTE an iPhone 4″+” would have a definite market in the US. And two TD-LTE devices for China Mobile certainly has some appeal.

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