It's late August, so that means next-generation iPhone hype is once again peaking. Apple has a press event scheduled for September 9, where it's widely believed the company will introduce one or multiple iPhone 6 variants, as has seasonally been the case for the past several product generations.
- September 20, 2013: iPhone 5c and 5s
- September 12, 2012: iPhone 5
- October 4, 2011: iPhone 4s
What will the iPhone 6 look like? And when will it be available? Current rumors and supposed-part leaks are incomplete and sometimes even contradictory. The answers to some of these questions won't likely be apparent even on September 9; they'll need to wait for subsequent analysis by developers and teardowns by iFixit and others. Apple never publicly reveals its handheld devices' DRAM allocations, for example, or their CPU and GPU clock speeds. But with past history (and historically reliable sources) as a possible guide to future trends, I'll nonetheless take a stab at what we may soon see announced.
Last November, as TechCrunch and others pointed out, Apple confirmed that it was building a sapphire crystal fabrication plant in Arizona that would be leveraged by manufacturing partner GT Advanced Technologies. Apple's supposedly also in the midst of stockpiling sapphire from supply sources. Versus modern glass variants such as Corning's well-known Gorilla Glass, sapphire is touted for its comparatively higher resistance to both scratching and cracking, attributes that could be leveraged either to increase strength versus glass at comparable thickness or to deliver comparable strength to glass at thinner dimensions.
As someone who recently purchased a tungsten carbide-fabricated wedding band after doing lots of research into the ruggedness of various material options, as well as someone who's dropped and cracked the screens of a few "iDevices" over the years, sapphire's claimed advantages definitely resonate with me. And Apple's actually already using sapphire to cover both its devices' camera lenses and the iPhone 5s's Touch ID fingerprint reader. But will the company use the material to construct entire displays?
The answer, I suspect, will come down to supply and (closely related) cost metrics versus mainstream and abundant glass both now and in the future. It will also be influenced by the relationship between upfront bill of materials cost adders and down-the-road cracked-screen costs (and the associated loss of customer goodwill). The answer may also differ from one form factor to another, if indeed the rumors of both 4.7" and 5.5" iPhone 6 "flavors" end up panning out. Then again, Apple may decide to completely skip sapphire for the iPhone 6, beyond legacy lens and fingerprint scanner uses, and instead devote its incremental captive-plus-open market-sourced sapphire supply solely to the also-rumored coming-soon iWatch.
Screen size(s) and resolution(s)
Speaking of the rumors of two iPhone 6 form factors, it's no surprise that Android-based large-screen "phablets" have taken some of the wind out of the iOS ecosystem's sails in recent years. This has happened in spite of Apple's upgrade from a 3.5" diagonal 3:2 aspect ratio display on the iPhone 4s and precursors to a taller 4" diagonal 16:9 aspect ratio LCD on the iPhone 5 and successors. And it's happened for multiple reasons -- the presbyopia-diminished vision of aging populations in established markets (says this bifocal-clad writer), for example, as well as the trend to use the smartphone to also service historical tablet and PC functions in emerging markets.
The iPhone 6, if abundant leaks are to be believed, will therefore further expand the screen size at minimum to a 4.7" diagonal dimension, with near-future product availability. And Apple also supposedly has a 5.5" variant in the works, which it may or may not also unveil next month, but for which production has reportedly been delayed until later this year or even early next year. Presumably, Apple will also retain the iPhone 5s (and potentially also 5c) in its product line for those with more diminutive display desires (says this owner of two "mature" iPhone 4 handsets).
Click here to continue reading on EE Times sister site EDN. Brian Dipert talks about CPU and GPU, DRAM, flash memory, camera(s) and their features, software, cellular voice and data, dimensions, and WiFi.