iPhone 6 rumor rollup for the week ending May 3

The iOSphere has become an expert in industrial design, contemplating an iPhone 6 or 5S

Almost overnight, thanks to posts finally resembling "news," the iOSphere has become an expert in industrial design, contemplating an iPhone 6 or 5S or something with a flatter, sleeker, cooler, starker, smoother, de-glitzed and overall just better-looking iOS 7.

Also this week, the continuing push to abolish straight lines in the Next iPhone; June looms large ... in 2014; and a new silicon fabrication plant in southern Taiwan signals nanometer magic.

You read it here second.

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iPhone 6 will run a de-glitzed iOS 7

Finally, something that actually resembles what used to be called "news."

"It's a pretty big update," according to John Paczkowski, of The Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD blog. He's citing "sources who declined to be named because they are forbidden to talk publicly about Apple's plans."

[ IN PICTURES: Apple iPhoneys: The iOS 7 edition ]

That's an artful way of hinting that the sources can be forbidden to talk because they're Apple employees.

For a complete account of these changes see "Apple reportedly steps up iOS 7 work."

"With SVP of Industrial Design Jony Ive now overseeing [user] interface design, sources say Apple has adopted a unified approach to software and hardware design," writes Paczkowski. "And evidently the spartan, elegant aesthetic that Ive has developed around Apple's hardware is now being brought to bear on its software, as well. Last week, 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman reported that iOS 7 would feature a 'flat' design that favors simplicity over flash. I've heard similar descriptions from sources who say iOS 7 is iOS 'de-glitzed.'"

In part, de-glitzing seems to mean doing away with what's known as skeuomorphic design -- trying to replicate in detail the look and feel of a bookcase, for Apple iBooks, or of a notepad for Apple Notes

Paczkowski believes there's more involved, that Ive's design changes are part of a "significant reimagining" of the company's mobile platform. "With new mobile operating systems like BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone proving that there's plenty of room left for innovation in the market, Apple can ill afford even the risk of the perception that iOS might be getting dusty," he writes.

He doesn't go into details, presumably because his sources didn't share any.

The blog post correlates with details from other sources:

  • A March post at The Wall Street Journal's Digits blog: "[I]n Apple's next mobile operating system, Ive is pushing a more 'flat design' that is starker and simpler, according to developers who have spoken to Apple employees but didn't have further details."
  • A recent online conversation at The Branch among a group of Apple watchers: "apparently [iOS 7 is] rather significant system-wide UI overhaul" (John Gruber, Daring Fireball); "Ive's work is apparently making many people really happy, but will also apparently make rich-texture-loving designers sad" (Rene Ritchie, iMore).
  • This week, a Bloomberg story by Adam Satariano: Ive's "sweeping software overhaul ... leaves the company at risk of falling behind on a new version of the operating system."

But in software development, as in an airline flight, being "behind schedule" doesn't necessarily mean "being late."

"Engineers are racing to finish iOS 7 ... in time for a June preview at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference," Satariano writes. You can meet a deadline by working faster and by using more people to do the work. There have been several reports that Apple has shifted OS X software engineers to iOS.

"While the company still expects to release iOS 7 on time as soon as September, internal deadlines for submitting features for testing are being set later than past releases, people said."

So Satariano's sources tell him that iOS 7, even if parts of it are "behind schedule" now, is still on schedule for a September 2013 release; shifting deadlines and adjusting schedules is a standard part of managing a complex software development process, or any product development.

And the September date fits perfectly with Tim Cook's recent statement that Apple will begin announcing new hardware, software and services in the fall of 2013. [See "Apple's Cook resets 3 popular, and wrong, Apple rumors"] 

If Apple can marry an improved UI design with some important under-the-hood OS improvements, iOS 7 could prove to be a big step forward for Apple. In that same Branch conversation mentioned above, Federico Viticci (@viticci), editor in chief of MacStoriesNet, laid out some areas where Apple could make big improvements.

"Aside from a UI update, Apple should use WWDC [the annual Worldwide Developers Conference this June] to introduce AND explain new functionality," Viticci wrote. "Fix iCloud and improve its syncing. Showcase examples on stage. Improve iOS inter-app communication and explain it publicly. Admit that some things sucked/sucks (Maps debacle, international Siri) and lay out new plans. More than a 5S [phone announcement], I think new iOS announcement can make a lot of people excited and curious again. Aside from that, some things just need to be fixed or improved."

iPhone 6 will have awesomely cool curved batteries

This is revealed by two newly public Apple patent applications, which according to the iOSphere Inference Engine means that these will become a reality in the Next iDevice.

Peter Chubb, at a website with the search-engine optimized title of "Product Reviews," managed to mention two hot Next Products in one headline: "iPhone 6 or iWatch could share ingenious battery design."

The patents don't mention "iPhone 6," of course, or the mythical iWatch. And it may take years, if ever, to turn them into products, and yadda yadda yadda.

Most iOSpherites didn't fall into that fallacy. But they also generally didn't distinguish between the two patents. One is for "non-rectangular batteries for portable electronic devices," which simply means the battery isn't, you know, a rectangle and may actually be for a method of creating the non-rectangularity. The second patent "relate[s] to the manufacture of a battery cell," and seems, in a sense, to extend the first patent, describing a technique for bending the "layers" comprising the battery into a curve.

If you're so inclined, you can find details of the non-rectangular battery here. From the patent application: "The battery cell includes a set of layers forming a non-rectangular shape, wherein the set of layers comprises a cathode with an active coating, a separator, and an anode with an active coating." The summary description concludes: "Furthermore, the non-rectangular shape is created by removing material from one or more of the layers."

From the second application, on manufacturing a battery cell: "The battery cell includes a set of layers including a cathode with an active coating, a separator, and an anode with an active coating. The battery cell also includes a pouch enclosing the layers, wherein the pouch is flexible. The layers may be wound to create a jelly roll prior to sealing the layers in the flexible pouch. A curve may also be formed in the battery cell by applying a pressure of at least 0.13 kilogram-force (kgf) per square millimeter to the layers using a set of curved plates applying a temperature of about 85.degree. C. to the layers."

Here's one of the application's drawings that shows, presumably, what it all means (from the post at Geekwire). Sure enough: The battery cell is curved slightly at one end.

Anything that can make more efficient use of space, and put to use previously wasted space, inside a mobile device is worth exploring. For one thing, you could actually make the battery larger.

The new curved iPhone battery rumor fits in neatly with the apparently inexhaustible fascination with curved iPhone display screens, and before that, with curved iPhone bodies. Maybe the explanation of curvobsession is simpler, more emotional: people are just sick of straight lines.

iPhone 6 will be announced in June ... 2014

The reason this "news" is so depressing is because it's so depressingly familiar.

Jonathan Ratner's post at the Financial Post carries the headline: "iPhone 6 coming in June 2014: Misek."

"Misek" is of course the great, the redoubtable, or perhaps just doubtable, Peter Misek, a stock analyst with the investment banking firm of Jefferies.

Needless to say this is dispiriting news. It's also the same news, by the same stock analyst, that the Rollup covered for the Jan. 18 edition (see "iPhone 6 will ship in ... wait, 2014? That must be a mistake, right?").

So this isn't really news. But if you have a short enough memory, or only short-term memory like the protagonist in "Memento," every rumor can seem new.

Misek apparently doesn't have much to add, except that the June 2014 iPhone will have a "bigger screen" according to Ratner. Here's the complete, and only, comment in the Financial Post's post about screen size: "Apple Inc. will likely launch a larger screen iPhone 6 in June 2014, according to Jefferies analyst Peter Misek."

Yet at BGR, Zach Epstein uses that as the foundation for a post with the rather astonishing headline: "Apple relents: iPhone 6 with larger display reportedly due in June 2014."

Epstein mentions Apple CEO Tim Cook's comment during the recent March quarter earnings call, the full quote being, "Our competitors have made some significant trade-offs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger-display iPhone while these tradeoffs exist."

Pretty clearly, Cook is not ruling out a larger display provided Apple can overcome the user experience tradeoffs plaguing rival smartphone makers.

But Epstein uses the brief, vague, unsupported paraphrase of a stock analyst to re-interpret Cook's statement rather dramatically.

"But as it turns out, Cook may have just been setting expectations for the upcoming iPhone 5S launch because according to a new report, Apple has already found a way to work a larger display into the iPhone 6 without the 'tradeoffs' seen in current phablets, and it's set to launch next year," Epstein writes.

To repeat, Epstein bases this conclusion on nothing more than the following: "Apple Inc. will likely launch a larger screen iPhone 6 in June 2014, according to Jefferies analyst Peter Misek."

The rest of the Financial Post's account of Misek's "report" is simply a rehash of equally vague and equally familiar rumors that have been around for months, even years, now coalescing around the "iPhone 5S" -- a faster processor, a better camera, colors (or perhaps "colors!"), and other improvements. One or other of the phones, or some other iPhone, will also have a mobile payments platform, using either an NFC chip or, more probably, sophisticated barcode scanning, according to Misek. Eventually, he'll be right.

iPhone 6 or the "2014 iPhone," will use a processor from TSMC instead of Samsung

The laconic DigiTimes, citing the usual "industry sources," says that the 2014 iPhone model will use an Apple-designed processor built by Taiwan's TSMC, rather than Samsung, which has manufactured the CPU for existing iPhones and iPads.

The move has been widely rumored for years, usually on the somewhat dubious belief that because Apple and Samsung are tearing each other apart in vicious court battles over smartphone patents, they can't possibly be expected to have a grown-up, peaceful and extremely mutually profitable deal on mobile processors.

In any event, according to DigiTimes: "Apple is expected to contract TSMC to manufacture all the application processors (APs) used in the 2014 model of its iPhone slated to launch in the second half of the year, industry sources have claimed."

The chips reportedly will be built at a massive new TSMC plant, Fab 14, in southern Taiwan. The plant "will be ready for production by the end of 2013," according to DigiTimes' sources.

The sources also claim that Fab 14 is designed to crank out chips based on a 20 nanometer process. Most of Apple's current mobile products run 32 nanometer chips; the first was the March 2012 A5, which powers the iPad mini, iPad 2, and fifth-generation iPod touch. The A6 in iPhone 5 and A6X in fourth-generation iPad also use this process.

Shifting to 20 nanometer can reduce a chip's overall size, improve compute power, and reduce battery demand. But in keeping with past practice, Apple may first quietly introduce a new process architecture in a under-the-covers update of a low volume product, such as Apple TV, before introducing it into the iPhone. Wikipedia has a handy list of Apple's A series processors to date.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnwwEmail: john_cox@nww.com

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Tags iphone 6 rumorsconsumer electronicsios 7 uiNetworkingiphone 5s rumorssmartphoneswirelessios 7 rumorsiPhone rumorsApple

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