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3/8/2013
12:33 PM
Jeff Bertolucci
Jeff Bertolucci
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Apple iPhone 5S: Best And Worst Rumors

What will Apple's next iPhone, or iPhones, look like? As the rumors fly, we separate the likely from the ludicrous for the iPhone 5S.




What's happening with the iPhone? You're already aware that a new model -- commonly called the iPhone 5S, but the actual name is anyone's guess -- is reportedly coming soon. And this, of course, means rumor mania for tech journalists, bloggers and analysts, many of whom have been dishing iPhone gossip at a maddening pace.

While the Samsung Galaxy S IV and other rising stars in the smartphone galaxy have either matched or surpassed the iPhone's capabilities, Apple's handset remains hugely popular. Basking in the media spotlight since its 2007 launch, the iPhone has retained its A-List status like few tech gadgets before it. It has inspired endless flame wars between rival Android and Apple camps, and spurred literary pissing matches between tech bloggers, some of whom tirelessly defend the iPhone's honor, while others bash it as overrated and outdated. And Apple archrival Samsung has even built an entire TV ad campaign that derides iPhone users as sycophantic, queue-loving dweebs.

So why all the love/hate for the iPhone? And why the nonstop rumors leading up to each iPhone launch?

Yes, other tech products -- particularly the Galaxy S IV, the iPad, and other mobile trendsetters such as Amazon's Kindle Fire or Google's Nexus tablets -- are gossip fodder as well, but none matches the iPhone's rumor-magnet status.

Perhaps it's because the iPhone holds an esteemed spot in the history of mobile tech. With few exceptions, every smartphone today evolved from Apple's once-revolutionary design: a thin slate dominated by a large, multitouch display.

The next-generation iPhone, expected to debut sometime this summer, arrives at an interesting time for Apple. The company continues to make oodles of money, but Wall Street seems to have lost faith in the firm's long-term growth prospects. And while Apple sold a record 47.8 million iPhones in its fiscal 2013 first quarter, more recent reports of dramatic cuts in iPhone 5 component orders suggest a waning consumer interest in the company's flagship phone.

Indeed, if Apple has a new iPhone trick up its sleeve -- the sort of one-more-thing jaw-dropper that Steve Jobs loved -- now's the time to unveil it.

Recent rumors suggest that a major upgrade may not be coming this year; however, a new, lower-cost iPhone may arrive.

Some of the alleged innovations are compelling, though. Dig into the slideshow to see the best and worst iPhone 5S rumors.


Likelihood: High

Apple has been pretty regular with its iPhone launches: a new model every fall, give or take a month. Even with the breakneck pace of Android phone launches -- one every 30 seconds, give or take a nanosecond -- Apple hasn't strayed too much from this schedule. With the latest mixed messages concerning iPhone 5 sales, Apple can't afford to wait too long to unveil its latest handset, which should arrive sometime this summer. In addition to an upgraded high-end version, a less expensive iPhone (more on this in an upcoming slide) could help Apple boost its market share in China, where Android sales are going gangbusters -- a dominance that doesn't sit well with Chinese authorities.

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Likelihood: Low

Given the success of big-screen smartphones, most notably Samsung's 4.8-inch Galaxy S III and 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II, Apple is almost certainly developing an iPhone with a display larger than its current 4-inch model. The iPhone 5's relatively tiny screen may be gorgeous, but smartphone makers are quickly learning that size does matter to consumers -- and 4 inches just won't cut it. This doesn't mean, however, that a 4.8-inch iPhone will arrive in June, August or any time at all in 2013. There's a better chance we'll see a 4-inch iPhone 5S with minor improvements this summer. Ho hum, perhaps, but in line with Apple's time-tested tradition of introducing a major iPhone upgrade every other generation. Now, the iPhone 6 should be something special.

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Likelihood: High

The iPhone 5 was the first device to feature Apple's A6 processor, a dual-core chip with better performance and battery life than its A5 predecessor. So what's next? The A7, of course. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims the iPhone 5S will feature the rumored A7, a quad-core system on a chip (SoC), reports Apple Insider. The blurry image here, purportedly a shot of a leaked iPhone 5S motherboard, was posted recently by Apple news blog iOS Doc. But critics have challenged the pic's veracity, pointing out that the image is suspiciously similar to one from tech teardown site iFixit. Bottom line: Even if the image is bogus, reports of an A7-based iPhone 5S are likely legit.

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Likelihood: Medium

Like its predecessors, the iPhone 5 is known for its quality camera. But when it comes to megapixel bragging rights, Apple is lagging. For instance, the new Sony Xperia Z, an Android phone with Sony's own (and very impressive) Exmor RS sensor, has a 13-megapixel, rear-facing shooter. By comparison, the iPhone 5 has an 8-MP rear camera that also uses a Sony sensor. A ha! Many a blogger has speculated that the alleged iPhone 5S will also upgrade to the new Exmor RS, and hence join the 13-MP club. Given Apple's working relationship with Sony, the move makes sense. On the other hand, Apple may save its major camera makeover for the iPhone 6.

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Likelihood: High

The iPhone 5 is simply too expensive for emerging smartphone markets, where cheaper Android handsets rule. Hence, Apple is readying a low-cost model for delivery in the June-to-August time frame, or so says the seemingly well-connected Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities. The rumored bargain iPhone will have a cheaper plastic and fiberglass case, the analyst says, resulting in a more affordable Apple handset for booming markets such as China, India and Brazil. The low-cost iPhone reportedly will feature 4G LTE wireless (unlike the older iPhone 4 and 4S), but will lack many high-end internals that are expected to grace the upcoming iPhone 5S, such as the A7 chip and a longer-lasting battery. A plastic case might also mean that Apple finally offers the iPhone in a rainbow of fun colors.

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Likelihood: High

When iOS 6 debuted last September, it generated a ton of publicity -- but not the kind that Apple wanted. The biggest problem, of course, was the notorious Maps app, which provided bum directions, strangely distorted 3-D maps and other grotesqueries. The rest of iOS 6 was okay but hardly qualified as insanely great; nothing new really stirred the Apple faithful. Hence a rewrite is needed ASAP, and iOS 7 is rumored to arrive with the iPhone 5S. Version 7's feature list remains a mystery, but many bloggers are busy posting their wish lists, which include a better Siri (yes, please), automatic app updates and the freedom to choose your default browser.

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Likelihood: Low, At Least This Year

Apple last year bought mobile security company AuthenTec, which makes biometric sensors. So what? Well, the acquisition ties in nicely with a rumor that has Apple adding a fingerprint sensor to the iPhone 5S, a touch-friendly feature that could turn the home button into a security device and hence make it more appealing (with built-in NFC technology) for mobile payments.

While the addition of biometric and NFC chips are essential for the iPhone's evolution, the burning question is whether Apple will add these capabilities to this year's iPhone 5S -- or perhaps wait until next year's iPhone 6. With the slow uptake of NFC on the Android side of things, Apple could easily wait until 2014 to fine-tune the integration of biometrics, NFC and its Passbook mobile payment app.

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Likelihood: High

This bit of camera gossip dates back to last year: Apple reportedly will add Philips' "smart flash" LED to the iPhone. The original rumor stated the iPhone 5 might incorporate the technology, which didn't happen. The current scuttlebutt says the iPhone 5S will feature Philips' advanced LED flash. So what is it? Details are scant, but AppleInsider reports the technology is a multi-color LED flash that detects ambient lighting and adjusts itself to avoid over-exposed images.

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Likelihood: Very Low

Apple, like every other device maker, builds prototypes that often never leave the lab. Example: a 4.8-inch iPhone model with no home button, according to Jefferies & Company analyst Peter Misek. One of several iPhone 6 prototypes, the button-less model may include bleeding-edge features such as "full gesture control," says a Misek note quoted by Business Insider. An interesting concept, certainly. But Apple would need a pretty compelling reason, such an insanely great new UI, to ditch the iPhone's iconic (and very useful) home button.

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Likelihood: High

Wireless charging is quickly becoming a must-have for high-end smartphones. The Nokia 920, Google Nexus 4 and HTC Windows Phone 8X already offer it, and the Samsung Galaxy S IV, which debuts this month, probably will, too.

Taiwan-based tech publication Digitimes reports the iPhone 5S will have wireless charging as well. It's unclear, however, if Apple will build the capability into the phone, or require external accessories, the story said. There are third-party devices, such as the GetPowerPad pictured here, that charge the iPhone wirelessly, but Apple must build this capability into its flagship phone to keep up with its competitors.

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