iPhone 6 rumour roundup for the week

John Cox
10 July, 2013
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The extended 4 July in the US holiday put a bit of crimp in iPhone rumouring (and delayed this roundup), but not before the iOSphere figured out a way for Apple to double the size of the iPhone screen without making the phone any bigger.

‘Just’ add a second screen to the back.

Also this week: glossy iPhone bodies not only signal ‘cheap’, they look it. And following a signed deal with a Taiwan semiconductor alternative to Samsung, the iOSphere is already anticipating the A8 microprocessor in 2014, even though there’s still no sign of the A7.

You read it here second.

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“The rear surface of the iPhone and similar devices has long been wasted space, necessary simply to complete the housing but offering no features beyond the rear camera lens. Doubling the screen to wrap around to the back of the iPhone 6 would open up a world of possibilities, allowing the entire touchscreen interface to be reimagined.”

Phil Moore, StableyTimes, without apparently wondering whether millions and millions of iPhone users would embrace the reimagining of the entire touchscreen interface when they’re pretty happy with the one they have.

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iPhone 6 will have a curved and two-sided display

The Fourth Law of Rumouring holds that the shallower the rumour the more convoluted is its genesis.

Phil Moore, at StableyTimes.com (“a new kind of news” and how), asks the obvious question, in a post with the misleading headline ‘iPhone 6 will have a curved and two-sided display’.

It’s misleading because Apple doesn’t file ‘iPhone 6′ patents. It files patents for inventions that may one day appear on a smartphone… or on a tablet or a laptop. But none of the patent filings that the iOSphere has actually covered has been for a specific model iPhone.

The Obvious Question is: “If you’re Apple and you’ve already delivered an iPhone the screen of which is as dense as the human eye can see, how do you top it?”

And Moore has an answer. “By delivering an iPhone 6 the screen of which wraps around to both sides of the device, if a patent application for a flexible display is to be believed,” he writes. “The filing calls for a curved body style most similar to the mid generation iPod nano, where the entire front and rear faces are contoured to meet each other at the edges, with no siding. The result is a screen that’s twice as large, and a world of possibilities.”

A ‘world of possibilities’. That means you can make up almost anything. Because, you know, almost anything is possible.

One would think that Moore, or someone at StableyTimes would put in a link to the relevant patent or at least to some other website that covered the patent. But one would be wrong.

The phrase “if a patent application is to be believed” is odd to say the least. Does Moore think Apple creates a dummy US Government patent application? Or submits a real application for a fake invention?

Since at least last spring, there have been multiple Apple patent applications for a variety of screen technologies: flexible, curved, pressable, stressable… it’s a wonder Apple doesn’t synthesise them into a display with the properties of natural rubber: a large stretch ratio, high resilience and extremely waterproof.

There is for example, TheUnwiredView’s September 2012 posting on an Apple patent application for flexible screens combined with “an array of piezoelectric actuators below the display and activating them on demand for tactile feedback. This way you have a perfectly smooth surface when you browse the net or read your email. Call up a keyboard, actuators pop up and now you can feel the letters as you type”.

Others:

+ March 28, 2013 PatentlyApple posts, ‘Stunning Future iPhone with Wraparound Display Revealed’. Complete with a drawing of the stunning device itself.

+ May 21, 2013 post at the same website, regarding a ‘Double-Sided Touch Panel for iPhone’. And nine days later, PatentlyApple posts about how ‘Apple reveals new Flex Screen Feature with Force Detection’.

+ In March 2013, there was even news of a Microsoft patent application for a ‘two-sided smartphone display system’.

2.

The 'stunning' wraparound display...

Moore never says from which source this latest rumour springs. And he doesn’t spend a lot of time contemplating the Endless Possibilities. He concentrates on just one.

“The rear surface of the iPhone and similar devices has long been wasted space, necessary simply to complete the housing, but offering no features beyond the rear camera lens,” he observes. “Doubling the screen to wrap around to the back of the iPhone 6 would open up a world of possibilities, allowing the entire touchscreen interface to be reimagined.”

Is a World of Possibilities the same or less than Endless Possibilities? Whichever, it’s a still a pretty short post overall given that the Possibilities are, you know, a lot.

Moore does make one interesting point from a user interface perspective, and it’s the only point worth any attention. “The question would become, of course, whether consumers would be inclined to flip the device back and forth in their hand to take advantage of both sides of the screen,” he writes. “But it would allow for full screen video to play on one side of the device, for instance, while text messages and notifications arrive on the other side. Simply pausing the video and flipping the iPhone 6 over could be seen as more intuitive than having to exit the video or work over top of it to interact with notifications and messages in the current single-screen motif.”

Try it with whatever smartphone you’re carrying right now, and he’s right: even just pretending to watch a video in landscape mode, one can easily flip the phone over to ‘see’ a back display, showing an email or call. But Moore makes it sound easier than, in all likelihood, it would prove to be: it would involve a massive hardware redesign and probably some significant UI (user interface) redesign as well. And the hardware, and more specifically the display technology, would have to be implemented in just as massively redesigned large-scale manufacturing systems for Apple’s contract suppliers and iPhone assemblers.

Moore, quite sensibly, notes the potential battery and heat impact of running not one but two displays. Yet he doesn’t ask how or even whether that problem could be met with current battery technology. And he doesn’t ask whether both screens would be high-res Retina displays or whether the back one would be a much lower resolution devoted to receiving and processing notifications and alerts.

The 2013 or 2014 iPhones may have big changes. It just seems unlikely that either year will be the Year of Seeing Double.

iPhone 5S or something will have glossy colours and be cheap

French-language website NowhereElse.com received photos that show just how glossy and bright one can make a polycarbonate iPhone.

The website published photos showing, apparently, plastic-bodied iPhones in at least five colours: a peachy-toned red, a yellowish pea soup green, a dirty-looking white, bright blue and industrial-safety green. The photo has been widely interpreted as showing the long-rumoured ‘cheap iPhone’.

The post by editor Steve Hemmerstoffer, via Google Translate, credits “our little Chinese weasel” as the source, a translation which unintentionally captures something of the essence of iPhone rumouring.

iPhone-in-plastic-and-colors

Thanks weasel, er, mole...

Perhaps Google actually meant ‘mole’.

In any case, the little Chinese weasel provided a photo that shows phone “shells allegedly designed for a plastic iPhone… in many colours,” Hemmerstoffer writes. “Without giving us the formal proof that these shells are indeed intended to equip the hypothetical low-cost iPhone, this new snapshot confirms that these elements are now circulating in the number next to China.”

But at almost the same time, Barron’s Tiernan Ray blogged on an analysis by stock analyst Steve Milunovich, of UBS, that questions whether the case for a cheap iPhone is as obvious as many insist.

“If the high end [of the smartphone market] is slowing, the obvious answer is to head to lower price points,” Milunovich wrote. “Although analysts are anxious for Apple to broaden the iPhone line, we think the company has to be careful. Its brand cannot afford significant quality dilution – short-term gain could result in long-term pain. Management is very aware of the risk as reflected by Tim Cook’s comment that Apple is about making the best products rather than the most.”

He argues that the ‘right way’ for Apple to dive to the bottom is “to set up a separate brand and perhaps even a wholly-owned subsidiary”.

And then he adds: “But we don’t expect Apple to veer from its current strategy.” [Emphasis added.]

“The expected ‘low-end’ iPhone probably won’t be priced below US$350 to US$400,” he explains. “Even at that level the gross margin could be near 30 percent and become an example of the company’s occasional willingness to accept lower margins to penetrate a market, as CFO Peter Oppenheimer said recently. We suggest that the $300 to US$500 price range only will be 10 percent of the market in 2014. That still means millions of incremental buyers in emerging markets but will not radically change Apple’s market share.”

Back to the weasel-supplied photos. Left unanswered, assuming these shells are real, is what, exactly, they are: final products, prototypes at some stage in the development process, or even mock-ups or test shells for one or another future iPhone model? Can these be taken as ‘proof’ of the existence of plastic-bodied 2013 iPhone?

Hemmerstoffer seems to think the picture is part of a pattern that leads one to answer ‘yes’, but he does raise a caution. “The shadow of a vulgar Chinese copy nevertheless still looms again over this mysterious colourful iPhone,” he writes.

When will the weasels learn to create elegant Chinese copies?

iPhone 6 will have Apple’s A8 processor, made by TSMC

According to Softpedia’s Filip Truta, Apple plans to launch iPhone 6 in 2014 with an A8 processor that will be manufactured by TSMC instead of the long-time iPhone chip supplier Samsung.

Truta bases his post, headlined ‘Apple Signs with TSMC for iPhone 6 ‘A8’ Chip Production and Beyond’, on a recent story in The Wall Street Journal. And not only that, Truta also claims that Apple will release the iPhone 5S with the as-yet-unannounced A7 chip ‘with enhanced capabilities’.

“The A7 will be the last A-series chip made by Samsung, or so it is being suggested by a Wall Street Journal report, which takes a close look at the Korean company’s failing marriage with Apple,” Truta explains helpfully.

The only problem is that, though the 1 July Journal article in question did indeed take a close look at Apple’s relationship with Samsung, it didn’t say anything about the iPhone 5S or the iPhone 6. And, in fact, the article explicitly says, “Despite the deal [with TSMC], Samsung will remain the primary supplier through next year [2014], one of these executives said.”

The thrust of the article is that Apple has finally signed a deal, after about three years of talks, with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) to manufacture at least some of the Apple-designed A series processors, starting in 2014. Samsung has been the sole foundry for the chips since the advent of both the iPhone and iPad. According to the Journal, “The process had been beset by glitches preventing the [TSMC] chips from meeting Apple’s speed and power standards, TSMC officials said.”

It is widely believed that the smartphone patent battles between Apple and Samsung, and the growing success of Samsung’s Galaxy S smartphone line has soured the relationship and caused Apple to find alternative suppliers. But there’s no evidence cited to show that Apple has any real complaints about Samsung’s manufacturing, pricing or delivery of key mobile components, which come from business units entirely separate from the Korean company’s smartphone unit.

By contrast, there’s a powerful incentive for Samsung to keep Apple happy as a supplier, according to the Journal. “Apple’s component orders from Samsung were set to hit around US$10 billion last year, says Mark Newman, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein in Hong Kong. That represents a significant chunk of the US$67.89 trillion won (US$59.13 billion) Samsung posted in sales from its component business, which includes chips and displays. The Apple processor, where Samsung is currently the sole supplier, accounted for US$5 billion of purchases in 2012, he estimates.”

TSMC’s first chips for Apple, according to the Journal, will be on its advanced 20-nanometer silicon process, which promises greater performance, potentially smaller physical size, and more efficient power use compared to the current generation of A series processors, which variously use 32- and 45-nanometer.

If TSMC can bring the 20nm process up to large-scale volumes in the first half of 2014, it might be possible to introduce those chips into mobile products announced in the second half of that year. On the other hand, 32- and 28-nanometer variants of the A6 and the still unknown A7 might provide all the processing power Apple needs through next year.

by John Cox, Network World

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