Nak Design has made a mock-up of how a Liquidmetal case could look

Faster processor It’s probable that Apple is ready to introduce the new quad-core A6 CPU rather than use the A5X processor found 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 an ARM quad-cortex-A9 and designed using a new 28nm process (the smaller specification enables more transistors to be packed into the same space). The clock speed is likely to be modest, between 1 and 1.5GHz (up from the 800MHz to 1GHz of the new iPad). Apple has consistently upped the processing speed of the iPhone in order to introduce new features such as multitasking and Siri, as well to power feature-packed apps such as iPhoto.

Apple holds patents for 3D interfaces, screens and camera systems, but it’s unlikely that we’ll see any of these on the next iPhone

Liquidmetal casing The name conjures up a slick, amorphous and bafflingly futuristic technology. In fact, Liquidmetal is the commercial name for a new type of alloy that’s strong and resistent to corrosion, and has a “high coefficient of restitution” (a fancy way of saying it’s bouncy). 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 and resilient, and can be precision-cast into complex shapes. Apple 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.”

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.

Physical design 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 around.

Rumours mostly focus on the idea of a thinner phone with a metal rear; this could look more like the iPad (or iPod touch). Betting on an Apple device getting thinner with fewer buttons is always a safe bet, although the size of the iPhone (including screen) has remained fairly consistent for the past five years, suggesting Apple is happy with the decisions it made on the original.

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 replace the iPhone’s physical buttons. That Apple dislikes buttons (especially unnecessary ones) is beyond doubt, and we’re sure the company’s design team has given the Home, Volume and Mute buttons a good stern stare. Whether that translates to actually removing them is another matter – we think they’ll stick around for a few more generations yet.

New dock (or no dock) Apple’s focus on continuously shrinking its devices has seen a rumour surface that the company is looking at shrinking down the Dock connector. This hasn’t changed since it was first introduced on the iPod, making it overdue for an update.

Another intriguing rumour claims Apple will look to remove the dock connector completely, possibly replacing it with a MagSafe-style charging system (power only) and using an exclusively wireless syncing system for its devices. One patent even suggests Apple is looking towards putting a sync connection through the 3.5in earphone socket.

Wireless sync, iCloud and iTunes Match all point towards wireless syncing as the future, but the device still has to get power somehow. This has led to speculation about inductive charging, where the iPhone would be laid on a flat surface that sends the charge through the case. Any removal of the dock connector would, however, destroy the speaker ecosystem that surrounds Apple, which is hardly likely to encourage speaker owners to buy a new phone.

Memory The great thing about constantly predicting that the next generation of iPhone will have 1GB of RAM is that eventually you’ll be correct… We think the time is more or less right. If it needs 1GB to run whatever new features it has smoothly, and doesn’t interfere with battery life, we have no doubt it’ll get it.

Battery life Apple has consistently been aiming for about seven hours of talk time on the iPhone. Whatever new features are included, we believe Apple will ensure it still has the same amount of battery performance, a key factor in whether people are happy with their phones in day-to-day use.

Shock, drop, and water-proof At CES 2012 two companies, Liquipel and Hz0, created a splash with technology capable of making gadgets completely waterproof. Not in the sense of an old waterproof camera, protected within a sealed case, but a regular gadget like an iPhone or iPad, with all the ports open and buttons unsealed.

The technology coats both inside and out with a clear ‘nano’ coating that repels water. Apple executives were allegedly impressed with the system; the company has a patent regarding waterproofing the iPhone, so it’s clearly given the topic some thought.

Apple also has a patent on a system that prevents glass from cracking. The patent explains an inflatable mount between the screen and case that expands if the phone detects that it’s being dropped, as well as ‘exotic materials’ that prevent the glass from shattering. Add this to the tougher Liquidmetal case and it could be that the iPhone 5’s unique selling point is strength.

This concept design from FuseChicken looks at how an iPhone could incorporate a 4in screen

Screen size Will the iPhone have a larger screen? Much of the chatter on the internet suggests that Apple is working on an iPhone with a 4in screen. Until recently there wasn’t much reason for this except wishful thinking, but now The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has ordered 4in screens for the next iPhone (on.wsj.com/L5DpqM).

Bigger is always better, right? We’re not 100 per cent convinced, but Apple seems capable of pushing a 4in display into the same size chassis as the iPhone 4 (the screen would run edge to edge). So it could combine a bigger screen with the same size device.

3D camera and display Apple has been patenting 3D displays, interfaces and camera systems for a few years now, so it’s obviously interested. Mind you, the same could be said of the entire film and TV industry, but not so much – it seems – the general public. While 3D movies are doing reasonably well, the same can’t be said of 3D TV, and every 3D gadget we’ve used has had a seriously blurry display. We don’t think 3D is a priority.

Apple did recently file a patent for a 3D interface with eye-tracking technology, though, so maybe one day.

Patently Apple revealed the iPhone maker has patented a system that prevents glass from cracking