iPhone 5 rumour rollup for the week ending April 20

The greatest smartphone launch in history is coming .... really?

The iOSsphere quivered with anxiety about rumoured iPhone 5 delays due to chips and quivered with pleasure at the mere thought of the wondrous liquidmetal.

Other rippling rumors this week: the greatest smartphone launch in smartphone history lies ahead of us; you'll have a choice of screen sizes; and Sprint's LTE build-out shows the iPhone will arrive in June.

You read it here second.

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"There is no doubt that there is a demand for a bigger iPhone 5, both from users of the iPhone who are jealous of many Android smartphones with 4 to 4.3-inch screen size and those who would merely be pleased to have a larger screen size. Because of this, Apple needs to supply an iPhone 5 XL."     ~Delaon, PlanetInsane,com, on how Apple's iPhone 5 design goals are driven by Android jealousy

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iPhone 5 will be announced in October due to chip supply problems

That's the view of Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, as reported in a Bloomberg story this week. 

Bloomberg pulled the information from Munster's latest investors note, where he says the October date is likely, and that the phone will have a new body design and run on LTE networks. According to Bloomberg, Munster had earlier expected iPhone 5 to be released in August 2012.

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He's changed his mind because, he says, chipmaker Qualcomm disclosed "it is having trouble meeting demand for components that the analyst expects to be included in a new iPhone," according to Bloomberg.

The components in question apparently are Qualcomm's LTE/3G radio chipsets, but that's not completely clear from the Bloomberg account. Bloomberg reports that Munster "said in the note that Qualcomm's radio chips that allow for faster connection to the Internet will be included in the next-generation iPhone."

Qualcomm executives in this week's earnings call with analysts said that the company's growth in the current fiscal quarter "could be limited by a shortfall in supplies of chips based on a new manufacturing process" used by its main Taiwan chip foundry, according to The Wall Street Journal, though the Journal didn't clarify if "chips" referred to a specific product, such as the latest Snapdragon CPU or the LTE product, or to a range of products that might be using the new smaller 28-nanometer production process.

But the BBC reported that Qualcomm was definitely talking about the Snapdragon S4 CPU: The company had underestimated demand for the processor and its main manufacturer would not be able to supply enough chips to meet demand until near the end of 2012.

But if that's where the supply crimp is, it won't affect iPhone 5, because Apple uses CPUs built to its own design.

ReboundingRumor: iPhone 5 will have "liquidmetal" housing

Tech blogs and websites are recirculating a rumor that's been around since August 2010, when Apple paid more than $10 million to license a jazzy new technology from a startup, LiquidMetal Technologies. The alloy, dubbed "liquidmetal," would soon be used to create awesome new cases for MacBooks, iPhones, and just about anything else bearing an Apple logo.

As is often the case in the iOSsphere, the rumors were premature.

But now they've surfaced again, for iPhone 5, just as they did last year.

Instead of the crystalline atomic structure common to most metals, liquidmetal has an "amorphous" structure that can be manipulated to optimize it for specific applications. The resulting alloy is superior to steel and titanium and other metals in a wide range of measures. It potentially makes possible a casing that's stronger than aluminum or glass but lighter and thinner, potentially making more room inside for components and offering a greater range of external design opportunities and finishes.

Korea's Electronic Times News reported this week, citing "industry sources," that Apple will use liquidmetal in the Next iPhone, and Samsung will use ceramics in the upcoming Galaxy S III phone, "because neither one of them can get a decisive edge over the other solely with its OS and AP [app?] specifications, features or design."

Apparently the only thing people really care about is what the phone case is made of.

Slashgear's Chris Burns sounds excited at any rate. "Both the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S [already] use a SIM card ejector tool made with Liquidmetal technology," he explains. "The iPhone 5 may well be taking what might have simply been an experimental usage here and expanding it across the body of the device."

Like adding a liquidmetal 32-pin dock housing in addition to the SIM card ejector. It may not be a full housing of liquidmetal but for something as awesome as liquidmetal more is certainly better.

For what it's worth, the ET News story claims that the "new iPhone is expected to make its debut at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco in June." The "is expected" means that ET News relies on other rumor sites.

What Rollup hasn't been able to discover so far is any real reporting that looks at the relative costs of a liquidmetal casing compared to a glass or aluminum one. According to Liquidmetal's website, the alloy can be created and worked in a process that more closely resembles that used for plastics than for traditional metal forging and cutting. But there's no indication whether that would mean higher initial capital spending to set up the production line, or higher production costs, or higher unit costs.

And costs, as they impact prices, are a big deal for Apple. Apple's iPhone pricing, for carrier-subsidized phones locked to their cellular network, since the introduction of the iPhone 3G in mid-2008 has been consistent: either two or three models, varied only by amount of storage, priced at $199, $299 and $399. That's been true even when Apple has introduced major improvements, such as a new CPU or the Retina Display screen.

Higher costs for liquidmetal casings might not be a deal breaker, though. Apple's supply chain efficiencies, created by current CEO Tim Cook (who was handpicked by the late Steve Jobs specifically for that job), enable the company to squeeze out costs, and the volume of sales let Apple negotiate lower component prices with its electronics suppliers. All that means there may be some room for Apple to absorb higher costs for a new casing material without hurting its margins or forcing retail prices to rise.

iPhone 5 launch "could be the most important in smartphone history"

That's how Boy Genius Report's Zach Epstein headlines a more than usually vacuous BGR post about the Next iPhone.

Another way to phrase that would be "the most important smartphone announcement in 20 years" since the unveiling of IBM's Simon product, according to a Wikipedia account of the smartphone's so-far-brief existence.

Epstein notes that the iPhone 4S "marked the biggest device launch in the company's history," selling a record 4 million units in its first weekend "despite the new model's striking resemblance to the iPhone 4." There's just no accounting for taste, apparently.

And according to Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope, "Apple's next smartphone launch will be even bigger," Epstein assures his readers. Though the analyst doesn't exactly say that.

What he says, in a note to investors this week, is this: "The iPhone 5 launch is likely to be one of the most important smartphone product cycles we've seen to date."

We're already sinking into a surfeit of superlatives. So far we have iPhone 5 being the:

"most important in smartphone history"

"biggest device launch in the company's history"

"one of the most important ... seen to date"

If Shope told his readers why he thinks this, Epstein doesn't bother to tell his own readers why, or offer his own thoughts.

Epstein quotes extensively from the investors note concerning future carrier subsidies and upgrade policies, although this doesn't relate to the question of why iPhone is the most important or biggest or whatever Smartphone Thing That Will Happen This Year. Shope thinks most carriers will stick with paying Apple whatever it demands in the way of subsidies for iPhone 5 and with their current upgrade policies "to migrate their installed bases from feature phones to data-centric smartphones, and amid this transition, we think the risk of losing market share in the iPhone sub-segment is likely to be too great to ignore."

So, iPhone 5 will be really big and really important just ... because.

Not one but two iPhone 5's, but one will be "XL" because jealous users demand it

XL apparently stands for "extra large" and for two Next New iPhones -- one with a 3.5-inch screen and one with 4.0 inches or more -- this seems to have been the feverish brainchild of Delaon at the aptly named Planet Insane

There have been "recent rumors" that Apple might release two phones, he claims, and offers "reasons and probably proofs" why Apple "might indeed" do so.

The first reason is that while plenty of folks like the smaller screen, "a significant number of users and prospective buyers have been asking for a larger iPhone." Anyone can see the obvious result. "To satisfy users who are contented with the current 3.5-inch display and those who want a larger handset, Apple plans to produce two iPhone 5 versions," Delaon declares.

Of course the second phone would have a "different form factor," Delaon notes, because under most scenarios you can't put a larger screen on a smaller case. (The Rollup last week covered speculation that Apple could change the aspect ratio of the iPhone 5 screen, preserving the Retina Display and increasing the top-to-bottom size of the screen without requiring a change in the overall dimensions of the phone's case.)

"There is no doubt that there is a demand for a bigger iPhone 5," Delaon asserts. Some of the demand comes from "those who would merely be pleased to have a larger screen size" and some of it comes from iPhone users "who are jealous of many Android smartphones with 4 to 4.3-inch screen size."

"Because of this, Apple needs to supply an iPhone 5 XL," Delaon declares.

The real solution, clearly, is a flexible screen outer skin for iPhone 5, based on something like the "memory cloth" in the movie "Batman Begins" -- stretch it over a rigid frame of your choice, run a current through it and presto: an iPhone in the shape and size you want.

iPhone 5 due in June because Sprint is deploying LTE really fast

"Sprint 4G LTE Rollout On Track For iPhone 5 Launch," is the headline at the iPhone 5 News Blog

There is "new evidence that they [Sprint folks] are working quickly to roll out 4G LTE coverage in some of the biggest U.S. mobile markets," writes Michael Nace, rather breathlessly. Apparently this would be evidence other than the stream of Sprint's own press releases and public comments (many of which can be found at a dedicated Sprint website "Sprint Network Vision Information Center") since December 2010 that the carrier would be working quickly to roll out an LTE network in some of the biggest U.S. mobile markets.

"Is this in anticipation of the 4G iPhone 5?" Nace wonders. "And does it point to a June release?" Apparently, the answers are "pretty much, yeah."

The new evidence that so intrigues Nace is what he terms a "report citing a purported leaded document" at TechnoBuffalo, which offers an "exclusive" if surprisingly brief account under the headline: "Sprint's Network Vision 4G LTE: Additional Markets Revealed?"

"We have received internal intel revealing that Sprint's Network Vision deployment is further along than many critics would expect," writes Mark Hearn. The intel is "internal documents [that] suggest Sprint's Network Vision campaign has been underway in Akron, Chicago, Fort Worth, Nashville, New York, Rialto and Stockton since late last year. That's on top of rumors that the network is already live in at least one market, and it also suggests that several of those markets could be the next to receive activation."

But the only document Hearn shows contains no mention of 4G, LTE, or even the "Network Vision" name used by Sprint for its LTE project, although the "NV" in the string of numbers and letters that substitute for a headline could be a reference to that. It's essentially a table with one axis being a list of eight cities. Hearn offers no explanation of this document, its terms, or how it relates to LTE or to Sprint's plans, or why it "reveals" that the LTE deployment is "further along than many critics would expect."

Back in December 2011, Sprint revealed its LTE deployment was further along than even the carrier itself expected. "As a result of the success and the progress made so far, the company is now targeting completion of Network Vision deployment by the end of 2013 -- two years sooner than originally scheduled."

Hearn refers to "rumors" that the network is already live in at least one location as if this were some kind of secret, linking to a recent Wall Street Journal story as the basis for this. But the Journal story isn't about rumors: it straightforwardly reports that Sprint confirmed that LTE is active in "several" markets but will only confirm one by name: Kankakee, Ill., population 27,537.

Nace contacted Sprint PR and not too surprisingly gets a Sprint PR response: "Sprint has announced it will largely complete the rollout of Network Vision by the end of 2013. In order to meet that timeline, Sprint has begun work and is at varying stages of completion at every cell site across the country." Which is what Sprint has been publicly saying since last December.

But for Nace, the stock PR generality Indicates Something Big. "The last sentence, while not directly confirming the leaked documents ... certainly corroborates the reports that they are in fact working widespread across the U.S.," he concludes. We think it's safe to conclude that Sprint's repetition of its earlier public comments certainly corroborates those comments.

Nace is disappointed that Sprint didn't say more. "Sprint did not respond to whether or not this heightened work on the 4G network has anything to do with an upcoming iPhone release," he says. Darn.

All this Sprint LTE activity somehow suggests to Nace that "perhaps" the carrier is "in a bid to prepare itself for a massive 4G iPhone 5 release that could be coming sooner rather than later."

"[I]f the iPhone 5 is coming soon -- June perhaps -- and it is to be 4G, Sprint may have to ramp up its 4G rollout ahead of the announcement in order to maximize on sales," Nace declares, ignoring the fact that the same would be true of AT&T and even Verizon, which, though much further along with LTE than Sprint, are still hardly pervasive.

Sprint is already selling phones that support LTE but for now run on its 3G network, as part of a strategy it calls "Phones First." Nace is skeptical that iPhone 5 users brandishing their phones in June would put up with this nonsense. "[I]t remains to be seen if [Sprint] would risk it with the iPhone 5, considering how coveted 4G capability for the next iPhone is in the U.S.," he claims.

But the previously mentioned Wall Street Journal story at least raises the question that the covetousness may be overblown, as LTE adoption at both Verizon and AT&T has been minimal. "Despite the two carriers' efforts, 4G LTE has been slow to take hold, in part because Apple's popular iPhone doesn't yet operate on them. Verizon Wireless said recently a mere 5% of its customers were using devices designed for the technology. AT&T hasn't disclosed what percentage of its users are on its LTE network."

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww Email: john_cox@nww.com Blog RSS feed: http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/2989/feed

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

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John Cox

Network World

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