The iPhone 5 launch is rapidly approaching. At least we all think it is, Apple is famously secretive regarding new products: launching new iPhones, computers and whizz-bang devices on an (largely) unsuspecting public out of the nowhere. All this causes a tremendous amount of excitement amongst tech industry watchers as people worldwide speculate, theorize, imagine, and just plain make-up what the Cupertino-based company is really up to.

Speculation regarding the next-generation of iPhone is rampant, even though nobody is 100 per cent sure that Apple is even working on, let alone getting ready to launch a new iPhone model. After all, the iPhone 4S is still selling incredibly well. Having said that, we are pretty sure that Apple is ready to launch a fifth-generation of iPhone this year, and we’re reasonbly confident that it’ll come between the months of June and September.

How can we be so sure? Well partly it’s legacy, Apple has launched a new iPhone around June to September since 2007, slowly introducing new features like the Retina-display, HD-cameras, and Siri to gradually ensure each model is better than the last. This encourages current owners to upgrade to a new phone, gets new people leaving their contracts to choose an iPhone over another model, and prevents people from jumping ship to another handset like Android (perish the thought). We’ve also heard reports from retail that Apple is scaling back production of the iPhone 4S, even though it is still selling well. And although the iPhone 4S is as damn near perfect a phone that we can think of, there’s no reason to believe Apple won’t release an even better model this year.

Apple itself has kept exceptionally quiet (as usual) about any new features. Even so, there’s plenty of information (and misinformation) as to what direction the iPhone is going in. Apple has been investing in companies and taking patents in technologies like Liquidmetal, waterproofing technology, iWallet payment systems, solar powered screens, screens with antenna technology, OLED screens, haptic feedback, 3D displays, and more. All of this shows the type of technology Apple is thinking about, it’s just a question of what technology it decides to use, which device, and when.

So welcome to the wonderful world of iPhone speculation. Trying to second-guess Apple’s every next move is an obsession of ours (and many other tech pundits). We’ve scoured the patents, analyzed the business deals, and spent a lot of time scouring some of the more remote, and potentially reliable, sources (typically those based in China that are close to the manufacture of the upcoming device). There’s also we admit a fair amount of ‘finger-in-the-air’ guesswork, but these are the features we think you can look forward to in the next generation of iPhone.

iPhone 5: A5X or A6 CPU, Liquidmetal, and a physical redesign

It’s likely that Apple is ready to introdue the new quad-core A6 CPU rather than use the A5X processor in the new iPad. Mostly because the dual-core A5 (with faster graphics) seems specifically designed to power a Retina display iPad, and would have little effect on the new iPhone. If the iPhone 5 has a faster processor it will probably be powered by a ARM quad-cortex-A9 and designed using a new 28nm process (it’ll be one of the first chips in existence at 28nm – the smaller specification enables more transisters to be packed into the same space, enabling smaller and more power efficient devices, or faster CPUs in the same space). The clock speed is likely to be modest, between 1–1.5GHz (up from the 800Mhz to 1GHz of the new iPad). Although we think Apple may veer on the side of caution here. Apple has consistently upped the processing speed of the iPhone in order for it to introduce new features like multi-tasking, video recording, and Siri as well as power better and more feature-packed apps like iPhoto.

Apple A5X CPU

Liquidmetal casing

The very name conjures up a new slick, amorphous technology - perhaps made of water, or waterproof (which the iPhone 5 may be, but it’s nothing to do with this). Liquidmetal is the commercial name for a new type of alloy that is strong, resistent to corrosion, and has a “high coefficient of restituion” (a posh way of saying it’s ‘bouncy’ - we’re not making this up, an experiment with ball bearings found they bounced three times as high on a Liquidmetal plate). Don’t expect the iPhone 5 to bounce, but it may be stronger and less-prone to breaking. Dr. Atakan Peker, Liquidmetal’s inventor explained: “Liquidmetal is super strong, scratch and corrosion resistant, resilient and can be precision cast into complex shapes. Apple’s exclusively licensing a new material technology (specifically for casing and enclosures) is a first in the industry. I expect Apple to use this technology in a breakthrough product.” (Business Insider). The alloy has been used in a limited way (some SIM-ejector tools are made from it) but we think eventually Apple will put it to a more comprehensive use.

Liquidmetal casing mockup

A mock-up of how a Liquidmetal case could look. Credit: Nak Design

A new look for the iPhone 5

A redesign of some sorts is on the cards. After Apple launched the iPhone 4 and 4S with the same design, we think it’s likely that it will do something different this time. Rumours mostly focus on the idea of a thinner phone with a metal rear; this could possibly look more like the iPad (or iPod touch). Betting on any Apple device consistently getting thinner and smaller with fewer buttons is always a safe bet, although the size of the iPhone (including screen) as remained fairly consistent for the last five years; suggesting that Apple is largely happy with the decisions it made during the original launch. More controversial design suggestions seem to focus around the Home button, which many pundits are suggesting will become a flatter, squarer shape. Perhaps replaced with a touch-sensitive strip, rather than a physical push button (some people have speculated that the wider button will still push down but will also be touch sensitive so you can swipe left and right across it). Apple has also patented virtual touch controls for the side of a device, presumably to enable it to remove the physical buttons from the iPhone and replace. That Apple dislikes buttons (especially uneccessary ones) is beyond doubt, and we’re sure it’s design team has given the Home buttons (as well as Volume and Mute buttons) a good stern stare. Whether that translates to actually removing the buttons is another matter – we think they’ll stick around for a few more generations yet.

iPhone 5 mock-up (by Fuse Chicken)
An iPhone 5 mock-up Credit: Fuse Chicken

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