If you're anything like us, you'll be sweating with excitement at the thought that the latest iPhone is almost upon us. But what will it actually be like? With Apple's security tighter than a nun's gardening schedule, it can be hard to fight your way through the rumours. Have no fear, though -- CNET UK is here to weigh up the evidence.
There are several potential names for the new iPhone:
- iPhone 5 is the Mr Serious of titles. There's no messing around here.
- iPhone 4S is a solid candidate for the title of the next-generation iPhone. Alternatively, it could be the title for a new, cheaper 8GB iPhone 4, but, unless the cheaper iPhone 4 is given a new processor, the name might be unjustified -- you might remember how the 'S' in the iPhone 3GS' name stood for 'speed'.
- iPhone 4G is possible but only if Apple lets the new phone support the ultra-fast 4G mobile network, which it probably won't this time around. If it does, it will be wasted on the 4G-free UK anyway.
Apple will finally reveal its new iPhone on 4 October, making it likely that we'll get our greasy thumbs on the new gadget at some point within the same month. Tell your beloved piggy bank that it won't see another November.
When exactly can we get in line to buy the new iPhone? Many observers think Friday 14 October will see the launch of the phone in the US, UK, France, Germany and Japan. That would tally with the usual gap between Apple's announcement and the actual release date.
Apple Store assistants will have to iron their blue T-shirts ready for 9 to 12 and 14 to 15 October, with Apple blocking all holiday time on those dates. This is more likely to do with a product launch than Tim Cook being a nasty dictator, because he's not. He's a nice dictator.
The chief executive of France Telecom let slip that 15 October will be the big day, but it's hard to believe Apple would release its golden product on a Saturday, when media types are busy nursing a hangover. Still, the CEO's comments are further evidence that the iPhone 5 will be out in mid-October.
Interestingly, the invite for Apple's launch event uses the iPhone's calendar, clock and maps icons to show the date, time and place of the announcement. But the fourth icon, a phone, also features a notification badge that shows the number 1.
Is this Apple's way of saying it will only announce one phone, rather than the rumoured iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S? Or is it simply to whip journalists into a frenzy?
The more obvious hint is the line 'Let's talk iPhone'. Phones are clearly for talking into, but this phrase could also be a clue that Apple is about to make voice recognition a key feature, in the form of the rumoured 'Assistant' software.
Speech recognition has been available in iOS for a few years, but it's about to fill out on protein shakes. It used to only allow simple drive-time functions like placing a call or playing music, but now the consensus is that an advanced voice-control system will be the lead feature of the new iPhone.
How would you like your iPhone to become your own personal assistant? Apple's acquisition last year of artificial-intelligence company Siri laid the foundation for a service that lets you talk to your phone as if it were your own employee.
Don't be put off by memories of poor voice recognition in the PC era just yet. The tech behind the new software is said to be remarkably accurate, and will do much more than placing calls and taking notes.
Imagine you're rushing out the door for a meeting, but don't know the exact directions. Your partner shouts after you, saying you need to get milk on the way home later -- oh, and you've been invited to dinner next week. You don't have time to open apps to update your to-do list, make a calendar entry and prepare a route in Maps -- you're late for work, for Pete's sake.
Now you can get in the car, hold the iPhone's home button for 2 seconds to call up Assistant, and say: "I need to remember to buy milk from the shop when I finish work at 5, and I have a meal next Thursday evening at 7. Am I free? Oh, and I need directions to this meeting."
The Assistant app will respond to you, perhaps explaining that you're not available for dinner that evening, and automatically entering everything into the relevant apps before you forget.
As an example, this must-see video demo of the original, unreleased Siri app demonstrates how you can ask for a restaurant reservation before going to the cinema. The app registers your demands and presents the information you need, arranging the two activities around each other so they don't clash.
Don't think the Assistant functionality ends there. Apparently, the app will plug into Wolfram Alpha, a search engine with a vast supercomputer full of facts. Want to know the population of Barbados, or how many employees worked at Apple between 1986 and 2011? Just ask Assistant. Pub quizzes will never be the same.
The original Wolfram Alpha can be awkward to use -- you have to be accurate in the search terms you input. With Apple's Assistant divining your intention before making its own search, the factual power of Wolfram Alpha will finally benefit the masses.
The potential for Assistant is staggering, and integration of this feature into iOS 5 could represent the moment Apple moves into the search business. Google will be cross.
The catch? Apple will probably say you need the new souped-up iPhone, or an iPad 2, to get your own personal assistant. If there were a single reason to upgrade, this is it.
Most debate concerning the iPhone 5 centres around the design of the phone itself. There's certainly been no shortage of madcap mock-up images, as our round-up shows.
Apple pundits are stuck at a crossroads with the design. There have only been a few hints of a design overhaul, but, if Apple doesn't surprise us with a bigger screen, smart-phone buyers could turn their lust towards HTC phones instead, what with their 4.7-inch screens that eclipse the sun.
Early speculation suggested the new model would look like a thinner iPhone 4, but leaked case designs suggest the next-gen phone may ditch the much-bemoaned external antenna design for a 3GS-style curved back. Such case designs might have been unreliable in the past, but they did accurately confirm the iPad 2's dimensions. Also, Case-Mate posted its forthcoming iPhone 5 case recently, complete with a rendered iPhone 5. The design could be pure speculation on Case-Mate's part, but the fact that the page was pulled shortly after it went live makes us suspicious.
The Case-Mate image showcased the rear of a brushed-aluminium iPhone 5 with tapered edges, in line with other case schematics. The older case-design leaks indicate that Apple has crammed a bigger display -- up to 4 inches -- on the face of what will be a similarly sized handset to the iPhone 4, even though there hasn't been any news of display orders out there in the rumour jungle. Let's hope we can kiss that bezel goodbye.
If the next iPhone does have a bigger screen, developers might have issues regarding the scaling of existing apps, unless the pixel density is reduced, but then the so-called 'retina display' won't be as crisp as winter air.
Most curious of all is what appears to be a wider 'home' button. Ever since the first-generation iPhone, Apple's devices have had a round home button. One theory is that an elongated button would allow some kind of touch functionality -- beyond pressing it, smarty-pants. There's even a chance that Apple will do away with the physical button altogether.
A 4-inch retina display might be the stuff of fantasy, but, as October draws nearer, new hints are emerging that our dream will come true. The first leaked photos of a prototype, dubbed the 'N94', show something very much like an iPhone 4. Some think this could be the rumoured cheap iPhone 4, which is thought to have reduced storage space of 8GB.
iPhone fans may be disappointed if the N94 design turns out to be the final iPhone 5. Hopefully, Apple just has a better grip on iPhone security than we've been used to, and everyone will weep and cheer at a brand new design come October.
Anyone wishing for a white iPhone 4 in 2010 threw their pennies down the wrong well, because technical difficulties forced Apple to delay its release. Thankfully, we've seen leaks of both white and black iPhone 5 parts on the Web, and the difficulties involved in producing white iPhone 4s have long been overcome. Expect both colours to be available on launch day.
One wild card in the iPhone 5 rumour deck is the photo of what could be the next iPhone being used in public. Sadly, the shot is as clear as Vaseline, but we judged the mysterious handset to be thinner than an iPhone 4, with a curved back. If that's correct, it would fit the leaked case designs. Then again, the case designs point to the flash being next to the lens, whereas the photo places it beneath. Has the happy snapper spotted an iPhone 6?
One person who has a better idea than most of us as to what the next iPhone will be like is the lucky boozer who found a prototype in a tequila bar. A similar loss led to the infamous Gizmodo episode in April 2010, whereby the tech website was sent an iPhone 4 months ahead of the official release. We're starting to think Apple's field engineers should learn not to get drunk while they're in possession of the most lusted-after phone in the universe.
Apple will almost certainly slap an A5 processor in the iPhone 5. That's the same dual-core processor that you'd find in your iPad 2 if you were crazy enough to crack it open. The A5 upgrade is inevitable, and photos of a purported iPhone 5 logic board featuring the chip itself are as convincing as a leak gets.
The same photo shows an improved battery cell to feed the hungry dual-core beast, but even its bigger cousin, the iPad 2, can manage up to 10 hours of use with an A5.
Why would you want so much processing power in a little mobile? Well, the iPhone 4 runs beautifully until you become an app-switching ninja or try to open a database-heavy app. The A5 will solve both of these problems, and allow frame-perfect gaming on the rumoured bigger screen.
Will the new phone see a memory boost? Considering that both the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 offer 512MB of memory, it would set a healthy precedent for the iPad 3. Then again, slapping 1GB of memory in a mobile is like putting a jet engine on a tricycle -- awesome but overkill.
Despite the naysayers, there's a fair case that the new iPhone will get a camera-resolution boost. A photo posted to Flickr by an Apple software engineer might have given the game away. Pictures posted to Flickr tend to include stats on the camera they were taken with, and, while this image claims to have been taken with an iPhone 4, the picture is of an 8-megapixel resolution, and suggests an improved aperture and focal length.
Besides that, two Taiwanese companies claim to building an 8-megapixel camera for Apple. If it's not part of the next iPhone, there's no doubt they'll drop it into a 2012 model.
Put it this way. If Apple doesn't offer an external redesign, it'll need a better camera to keep upgrading fans happy. Conversely, if Apple does enhance the exterior, the company could get away with leaving the snapper as it is, at 5 megapixels.
Also on the camera front, a rumour once suggested that the new iPhone would have a dual flash. Another leak, however, indicates that the iPhone 5's camera will have a flash much like the iPhone 4's, suggesting that a twin flash isn't on the cards.
At present, the UK version of the iPhone connects to the GSM network, but many countries -- including the US, India and Japan -- use CDMA. In the past, Apple was essentially producing two different types of phone, and that meant globetrotters could get a spanking good signal in some places but not others. Now Apple is likely to develop a single phone that works on all networks.
There's also a rumour of a 4G iPhone that will allow super-fast mobile Internet speeds. This rumour comes courtesy of none other than hacker collective LulzSec, which published A&T documents detailing the company's expansion of a 4G network. Sadly, we won't get proper 4G coverage in the UK for a while yet, but there's no reasonable evidence that Apple will make its next phone support 4G anyway.
One of the earliest iPhone 5 rumours was that the phone would include a special NFC (near field communication) chip, similar to that inside an Oyster card. This would allow the iPhone to replace your credit card, so you could swipe it against a reader in a shop and potentially enter your PIN directly onto the phone's screen. With Google Wallet now offering mobile payments through the Nexus S 4G in the US, Apple will certainly want its foot in the door to the high street before too long.
iOS 5, the new version of Apple's mobile operating system, was revealed in June, together with a corking list of features. The new notification system, location-based reminder system and iCloud service are among the highlights, but there could still be a few tricks yet to be revealed.
iOS 5 will recognise your face. Apple's new face-recognition engine, which probably powers the fancy new Photo Booth in Mac OS X Lion -- you know, the one where special effects follow your face, even when you move around -- is confirmed to be included as an API in iOS 5, so app developers can join in with the face-chasing fun.
Evidence of new gestures in iOS 5 that unlock a hidden control panel appeared in July. Just swipe from a corner, and a new menu offers a home button, volume controls, a screen-rotation lock and even a 'shake' button to simulate shaking the screen. But, realistically, using a gesture to access this menu seems a long-winded way to do a simple job. It's more likely a way to make these controls more accessible to those with disabilities.
Another rumoured gesture-based control could relate to how you share files between your iPhone and iPad. You may be able to 'pour' files from one to another. Alternatively, you could select a file and flick it towards a nearby iPhone to send it across.
Will we see the fabled Apple social network this year? An Apple patent suggests the company's working on a way for you to follow friends and find their location -- handy on a hectic night out.
The resulting service might even let you introduce yourself to other iPhone users on the screen before meeting them face to face. Rather than let any Tom, Dick or Harry find you, there might be some kind of filtering system that compares your media libraries to see if you have common interests. To be fair, if you've got a similar iTunes collection and read the same iBooks, you're probably going to get on well. This feature was originally discovered in iOS 4.3 but it seems Apple decided to put the project on hold. Maybe it will see the light of day on the iPhone 5.
We know the details about iCloud, but it's worth pointing out how a recent beta version of iOS 5 seemed to offer streaming of music over iTunes Match. As soon as the blogosphere went bananas over the concept, Apple pulled it from the next beta update. The Internet pulled a sad face, but it might be a hint that Apple wants to offer discrete over-the-air streaming in the future.
Finally, there are also reports that Japanese iPhone owners will get earthquake warnings through iOS 5, a feature that's commonplace in Japanese smart phones. It's a marvellous idea, although we can't help but be reminded of this XKCD cartoon.
At the iPhone 5 launch event, will Mark Zuckerberg take to the stage to finally reveal the new Facebook app for the iPad? His company has been sitting on its new mobile interface for so long that its frustrated lead developer left for Google in May.
Why hasn't Facebook released the new iPad app? It comes down to money, as it usually does between companies of this scale. Facebook wants to bring its app market -- through which it earns millions from games like FarmVille -- to the iPad, but doesn't want to hand 30 per cent of the proceeds to Apple without a fight. Its solution might be to improve its Web app rather than submit an app to the App Store, but even Facebook employees have been left in the dark about the way forward.
This tension between Apple and Facebook is probably the reason iOS 5 features deep Twitter, but not Facebook, integration.
The relationship between Apple and Facebook is like that between X-Men's Professor Xavier and Magneto -- they're mortal enemies, but they might get together when it makes life easier for both of them.
iPhone 5 summary
Below is a quick summary of our predictions for the iPhone 5. We think the following are likely:
- Official announcement by the first week of October
- Release date around mid-October in the US
- Thinner than the iPhone 4
- Available in white or black
- Advanced voice recognition
- Assistant software
- A5 processor
- 1GB of memory
- 8-megapixel camera
- Global network compatibility
- Facial-recognition software
- Improved accessibility
- Japanese earthquake warnings
We're filing the following in our 'maybe' cabinet:
- Improved flash
- Curved metal back
- Larger screen and thinner bezel
- Wider home button
- New touch gestures
- File-sharing features between iOS devices
We reckon the following are as likely as the Queen robbing a bank:
- 4G support
- NFC payments
- Inclusion of Apple's location-based social network
- No home button, but a touch-sensitive area under the screen
While you're here, click the image below to watch our amazing iPhone history video infographic.