Sunday, 11 May 2008

3G iPhone

From time to time, the Apple rumor community gets the bit between its teeth and starts to pull. Often, everyone pulls in different directions, but sometimes all the pundits pull together, and then we must pay strict attention. Now is one of those times. There is an emerging consensus building that on June 10, at WWDC, Apple will launch a thicker, plasticky 3G iPhone, alongside the existing model. The new phone would have two cameras, one on the front, and one on the back, and GPS. Trouble is, MacPredictions doesn’t believe a word of it, and here’s why.

All metal enclosure
We’ve seen some pretty unlikely “spy” shots of the supposed 3G iPhone, with claims that the beautiful metal rear of the current iPhone will be replaced with an all plastic enclosure. This seems unlikely when you consider how, less than 12 months ago, Jobs launched the 2007 range of iPods proudly boasting that they now have all-metal enclosures. The iPod touch, for example, has a similar form factor to the iPhone, except that it has a metal bezel, rather than the mirrored-plastic one on the iPhone. Apple’s current design trends are moving away from plastic enclosures, not towards them. I expect the new iPhone to look like a slightly thicker iPod touch, with a black or silver metal bezel, and less plastic.

One model, not a range
As Leander Kahney explains so well in his excellent new book “Inside Steve’s Brain,” one of Job’s many successful initiatives upon his return to Apple was a drastic rationalization of Apple’s disparate product lines. Apple will avoid fracturing the iPhone product line unless there’s a very good reason to do so - and after all, why would or should anyone buy the Edge iPhone when there’s a better 3G alternative? Besides which, the fact that supplies of iPhones appear to be dwindling globally should put pay to this rumor anyway, and raise questions about any sources that suggested the old iPhone would be sold alongside the new 3G model.

Not locked to a single network
This is one of the few rumors doing the rounds that MacPredictions does believe, and we’ve been predicting such a move for several months now. The fact is that the exclusive operator deals have been unnecessarily limiting demand for the iPhone, at a time in the product life cycle where Apple should be going for global domination. Whilst Apple is likely to continue to have exclusive network partners in each territory, it will probably move to distributing a “sim free” model. However, Apple may have some neat ideas up their sleeves to sweeten the with-contract deal, and continue to take their iPhone revenue on a subscription model (which appears to please their bean counters) - see next point.

Free .Mac services for iPhones sold on a contract
Whilst AT&T and Apple’s other network partners will doubtless not be pleased about the advent of a sim-free option, the introduction of a free .Mac account for iPhone contract customers is likely to sweeten the re-negotiated deal for them. The introduction of Exchange Push support is great for enterprise customers, but since RIM are now targeting consumers with their Blackberry devices, Apple will need to provide a consumer push service in order to remain competitive. The current rumors of push mail and calendar services from .Mac sounds entirely likely. It would be very appealing to Apple to get in on the service-provision act, alongside their network partners. Bundling .Mac would also provide an excellent platform from which to cross-sells Macs to iPhone owners. Who knows, perhaps Apple will also sell .Mac as a service to sim-free iPhone purchasers, including visual voicemail as part of .Mac where operators don’t support it.

One camera, not two. No GPS.
With every revolutionary Apple product announcement, there’s always an area of disappointment for some. Even with the announcement of the original iPhone, there was disappointment that it did not offer 3G. The reason for these disappointments is because Apple thinks about the entire product, rather than simply the list of features. They don’t add things just for the sake of it, or because it’s what their competitors are doing. Jobs is famous for saying that he’s as proud of what Apple hasn’t done as he is of what they have. So what will the disappointments be on the 3G iPhone? Firstly, I suspect that they’ll take a pass on GPS support - for two reasons. Firstly, they’ll want to save space and power consumption. Secondly, they’ll say that their amazing Skyhooks/GSM triangulation solution means they don’t need GPS. The other area for likely disappointment is video conferencing. A lot of rumor sites are claiming that the 3G iPhone will have a camera on the front for video conferencing. MacPredictions doubts this. Steve will say something like “a lot of our competitors have been doing this for a while, and we looked into it, and you know what? It turns out that no one uses it. People don’t want to do video conferencing on their phones. It’s great when you’re using iChat, sitting down in the privacy of your home with a beautiful big MacBook screen, but it’s not so great when you’re walking around with your phone.” Instead, Apple will hopefully choose to improve the existing camera - which badly needs focus, face recognition, higher resolution etc.

World’s thinnest 3G phone
Steve Jobs is not the kind of guy to get up on stage and say “oh yeah, we’ve finally got a 3G model - sorry it took us so long”. No. He’ll have some reason for why Apple waited. It’ll be to do with the size, heat and power consumption of the 3G chipset when they originally launched the iPhone. Technology has come a long way since then, and they’ve got some “awesome partner who has delivered a cutting edge solution working really closely with Apple’s engineers” (implying exclusivity on the chipset without actually saying it). The long and the short of it is that Apple will go for some eye-catching proposition for their 3G offering, like “the world’s thinnest 3G phone.” It may be even thinner than the original iPhone, and with an amazing battery life. And Job’s will round it off with something like: “we think you’ll agree it was worth the wait”.

So, for what it’s worth, that’s MacPredictions take on 3G iPhones. No mockups yet, but we’ll have them for you very soon. Stay tuned!


  1. I completely agree with all the opinions referring to the 3G iPhone. I believe the "Apple Rumors Community" has been through a dry couple of weeks and there's nothing else to discuss but the imminent release of the new iPhone. Personally I'm sick of all this hype about it, I think the iPhone is amazing as well as the iPod Touch but please! EVERY single day a new rumor with "more clues about 3G". Seriously WE KNOW it's comming.

    I feel Apple has somehow neglected its Macintosh products (I know they are constantly "refreshing" them but just that) and has been focusing soo badly on this other devices that I look back to the days of iMac G4, Ti PowerBook, and wish for them to come back (the innovation, not the products themselves hehe).

    I guess I'm kind of bored of those "refreshes" and the lack of "from the ground up" if you know what I mean.

  2. I think there is a very good reason for leaving the iPhone's metal casing in favor of plastic: the current metal solution makes it difficult to get good signal reception on any network (GSM/EDGE/3E/WiFi) because metal absorbs RF power! That's why the current iterations of iPhone and iPod touch have plastic parts in their back shell. Come to think of reception quality: GPS reception is virtually impossible if the antenna is covered by metal parts. So the (possible) addition of GPS and Apples striving for low power consuption (as little RF power as possible) could make it necessary to switch the material of the case to a plastic one.

  3. Agreed, a mobile phone can't have an all metal enclosure - it will need to have a plastic component over the antenna. Sorry - I meant to cover that in the original post, but I didn't. As you say though, both the Touch and the iPhone already do this - their reception is fine, and so there isn't a technical need for more plastic. Since Apple's design direction is heading towards metal and away from plastic, it give us reason to doubt the all-plastic rumor.

  4. You could be the real fake steve jobs.
    Good thoughts.