The top 5 iPhone 5 rumors: From plausible to outlandish

According to the latest round of rumors and informed speculation, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will unveil its next iPhone in mid-September, with Sept. 12 the likely date. As with every iPhone launch, there has been a flurry of reports about what will be different with the next model. Speculation is running even higher than in years past because the gadget is due for a design upgrade: The iPhone 4S, introduced in October 2011, had improved internal specs but its design was essentially the same as that of its predecessor, the iPhone 4. Rumormongers have therefore built up expectations that the next iPhone will look significantly different than the last few models.

Even the name of the next iPhone is a point of speculation. It may earn the name "iPhone 5," or Apple could opt for its iPad naming strategy and just call it "iPhone." (Apple's latest LTE-capable iPad is just "iPad" and not "iPad 3.")

To keep track of everything, FierceWireless has compiled the five most prominent iPhone 5 rumors, starting with the most plausible and ending with  the least plausible. Click on the specs below to learn more about each:

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The next iPhone will have a thinner, larger screen

The most prominent iPhone rumors are about its design--specifically about its screen size. The next iPhone will use a screen technology that creates a thinner touchscreen with a better display, according to a July Wall Street Journal report. The report, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said that Sharp, LG Display and Japan Display Inc. are mass-producing the new model's screens. Sharp has even confirmed that it will start shipping the new screens this month. According to the Journal, the screens will use in-cell technology, which integrates touch sensors into the LCD, removing the need for a separate touchscreen layer and creating a thinner and higher-quality display. A thinner screen may make the overall device slimmer.

The Journal also reported in May that the next iPhone will have a larger screen than the 3.5-inch screen on current iPhone models. The new screen will reportedly be 4-inches, according to most estimates.

A larger screen will  likely encourage more media consumption, especially video and games, on the iPhone. A bigger screen will also allow for a larger battery. Additionally, like many design changes made to iPhones in years past, a different, larger screen is likely to be a boon for case and accessory makers catering to the tens of millions of iPhone users who likely will upgrade.

The popularity of larger screen devices has been highlighted by the Samsung Galaxy Note, a 5.3-inch device, the popularity of which has taken many in the industry by surprise.

The next iPhone will have a new dock connector

Another rumor that has been floating around and that has gained credence is that Apple will introduce a new model with a 19-pin dock connector at the bottom of the device instead of the proprietary 30-pin port "to make room for the earphone moving to the bottom," two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters in July. Photos of the alleged next iPhone that were posted to the iLab Factory website include depictions of the new docking port at the bottom.

A new port configuration on the bottom of the device would likely make it incompatible with all older iPhone docking accessories, including stereos--unless Apple engineers some kind of adapter to get around the issue (which would likely be another bit of incremental iPhone revenue for Apple). However, a new docking setup--especially without an adapter for older models--likely will mean new business for the legions of iPhone docking accessory makers in the market, especially for stereo and speaker makers like Logitech, Altec Lansing and iHome. 

The next iPhone will support LTE networks (at least in the United States)

While LTE connectivity is far from definite in the next iPhone, it is highly probable at this point. Apple passed on adding 3G connectivity to the iPhone until 2008--mainly because the networks, especially AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) HSPA network, were in their infancy in 2007. The same is true for LTE networks, which Apple decided not to support last year with the iPhone 4S.

Now, however, the story is different. Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android has supported LTE since the spring of 2011, and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone now supports LTE as well. Further, the networks are being expanded rapidly. Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) LTE network covers 230 million people, or around 75 percent of the U.S. population, and by year-end Verizon expects to cover 260 million people with LTE. AT&T's LTE network covers more than 74 million people and the carrier expects to cover 150 million people with LTE by year-end. Sprint has not given an exact population coverage figure, but expects to cover 123 million people with its newly launched LTE network by year-end. Sprint is likely to be included in the LTE iPhone party and will launch the next iPhone with unlimited LTE data.

Moreover, Apple has dipped its toe into the LTE waters with the new iPad, which supports LTE in 700 MHz bands.

However, an LTE iPhone could stress these still-nascent LTE networks, especially if traffic patterns for iPhone users relative to other smartphone users remain consistent with past measurements. An LTE iPhone "will bring a lot more traffic," noted Acme Packet CEO Andy Ory. "The faster the access speeds and the better the input or output and the screen, the more bandwidth we want to consume."

At the same time, an LTE iPhone could further boost the data revenues of wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon in particular. With their new shared data plans, which put a focus on charging customers for the data they use, an LTE iPhone could help generate additional usage and therefore additional profit. Further, an LTE iPhone could potentially siphon off high-usage customers from 3G networks, which are generally less spectrally efficient and costly to maintain.

The next iPhone will have Near Field Communications support

The possibility of the iPhone supporting Near Field Communication (NFC) technology has been debated for more than a year. NFC technology will enable data transfers and mobile payments, potentially turning the iPhone into a digital wallet. Apple didn't add NFC support to the iPhone 4S, even though NFC in smartphones is relatively common in many markets, especially outside the United States. Some rumors seem to indicate NFC is a foregone conclusion in the next iPhone while others are more skeptical.

The market for NFC and mobile payments in the U.S. is growing, but it is still small. Google Wallet has now expanded support for all credit cards, but is not widely supported by many carriers. Meantime, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile USA have shunned the service as they focus on building their own nationwide m-commerce network, Isis, which is reportedly slated to begin consumer trials later this month. Apple's only clear hint about how it views mobile wallets and mobile payments came with the inclusion of Passbook as a new feature in iOS 6. Passbook is an app that stores and updates boarding passes, retailer loyalty cards, movie ticket apps and related consumer information and documents.

If Apple adds NFC and makes Passbook the hub for its mobile payment and couponing efforts, it could spur adoption of NFC and mobile payments on a wider basis. However, Apple reportedly considered adding NFC support to Passbook but decided not to travel down the mobile wallet road with NFC due to a number of concerns, including the complexity of the technology and concerns that users would blame Apple instead of credit card companies for payment problems.

The next iPhone will be available on T-Mobile USA's network

Sprint's Virgin Mobile brand and  Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) now carry the iPhone, and still, T-Mobile does not. A major reason is that T-Mobile's HSPA+ service has been running on its 1700 MHz AWS spectrum, which Apple hasn't supported in any of its products.

However, that may change this year. As part of T-Mobile's $4 billion network modernization effort, T-Mobile plans to launch HSPA+ service in its 1900 MHz  PCS band "in a large number of markets by the end of the year." The move will make its network compatible with a broader range of devices, including the iPhone. T-Mobile even turned on HSPA+ services in its 1900 MHz spectrum at the Moscone Center in San Francisco during Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in June. If T-Mobile has convinced Apple that its 1900 MHz HSPA service will be ready for the iPhone by year-end, and if T-Mobile is willing to swallow a financial commitment to Apple, it may finally get the iPhone. (But T-Mobile might lose out on a sales rush for an LTE-capable iPhone; T-Mobile plans to launch LTE next year, long after the expected release of the next iPhone.)

A T-Mobile iPhone would likely attract postpaid customers to T-Mobile from other carriers, or at least stop them from leaving T-Mobile at the rate they have been leaving during the past few quarters. It would also broaden Apple's addressable customer base in the United States. 


What do you think? Is there something that's more or less likely to be included in the next iPhone? Let us know in the comments!  

The top 5 iPhone 5 rumors: From plausible to outlandish
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