iPhone 6 rumour rollup for the week ending May 17

Finger reading, the Big Internal Overhaul, and Liquidmetal redux

There's nothing like exclusive, high resolution, leaked photographs of arcane internal iPhone components to trigger the gaga reflex in the iOSphere. It takes skill, honed by long experience with rumoring, to read into them far, far more than is actually there.

Also this week: how an offhand comment about a longstanding Apple rumor triggers new rumors about the same rumor; and Liquidmetal rumors flow once again, after 12 months in the desert.

You read it here second.

__________

"Nothing has been confirmed at this point, but leaked photos of redesigned internal components suggest that Apple is indeed planning an internal overhaul to improve various iPhone features and likely to make room for new components as well."

-- Zach Epstein, Boy Genius Report, apparently dazzled by the fact that there's evidence of Apple working to improve various iPhone features and make room for new components

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iPhone 6 or 5S whatever will have fingerprint scanner because Michael Barrett reads iPhone rumor sites

Who is Michael Barrett, you ask?

He is none other than the chief information security officer of PayPal. And he was onstage at the recent Interop 2013 conference to talk about the End of Passwords, and also of PINs, as CIO Magazine's Thor Olavsrud reported in his coverage of Barrett's speech.

[ JUST FOR FUN: To learn about the just-revealed iPadiGlasses, our own contribution to iPad 5 rumors, check out "iPad 5 rumor rollup for the week ending May 16" ]

Instead of passwords, Barrett, in his other role as president of the Fast Identity Online Alliance, abbreviated FIDO, proposes an "industry-supported, standards-based open protocol that not only makes users more secure but is also easy and convenient to use."

The protocol gives "users a choice of authentication method while shifting control to providers who can make authentication user-transparent and limit the risk of fraud," according to the CIO story. "Essentially, FIDO combines hardware, software and Internet services. A FIDO user will use a FIDO Authenticator or token that they've chosen or that's incorporated in their device; it could be a built-in fingerprint scanner, a USB memory drive with a password, a voice reader or something else."

As interesting as all this is, few apart from professional security boffins and hackers would care about Barrett's words. Except for a passing comment he made at the end of his speech when, as CIO phrased it, "Barrett hinted that Apple will do its part to take the FIDO protocol mainstream."

Here's what Barrett actually said: "It's widely rumored that a large technology provider in Cupertino, Calif., will come out with a phone later this year that has a fingerprint reader on it," he said. "There is going to be a fingerprint enabled phone on the market later this year. Not just one, multiple."

The iOSphere took note. At MacRumors the headline read, "PayPal Executive Looks for Apple to Adopt Fingerprint Sensors, Lead Charge Away From Passwords," which gives Apple rather more credit than Barrett seemed to. But the rest of Eric Slivka's story was a straight-forward, restrained summary of CIO's account.

At Boy Genius Report, they went a bit gaga. "iPhone 5S fingerprint sensor seemingly confirmed" was the headline. And writer Chris Ciaccia expertly turned the CIO story upside down.

"If the Cupertino, Calif.-based company wants to keep up with Samsung, Google and others, it needs to innovate. And fast. That's where the tip of your finger comes in to play," he announced solemnly. "Michael Barrett, chief information security officer of PayPal, hinted that Apple and other smartphone manufacturers are going to incorporate fingerprint readers on their smartphones as part of new way to protect personal information."

"This rumor has been around for a while, but it's the first time we've heard an executive at a major company seemingly confirm it," Ciaccia writes. This rumor that Apple will add a fingerprint sensor has indeed been around for a while. And Barrett said, in effect, "I've heard the same rumor." And somehow his comment "confirms" that Apple actually will have such a sensor on the Next iPhone.

And not a moment too soon, according to BGR.

"Apple needs a hit feature on the next iPhone to show that innovation is alive and well in Cupertino," Ciaccia declared, with his own fingerprint firmly on the Apple's weakening innovation pulse. "Fingerprint scanning technology, along with an updated version of iOS 7, could be just that."

Ciacci mentions Apple's big-bucks acquisition of AuthenTec. For Ciacci, and for many of those who mention it, the only product AuthenTec has is that darned fingerprint sensor. Yet, even though the company sold off its embedded security business, it retains for Apple a wide range of hardware, software and applications for online identity management, and what it calls "smart sensors" that build on fingerprint sensing with an array of other touch options mobile device screens and their apps. (Here's a December 2009 video of the LG eXpo smartphone, equipped with an AuthenTec SmartSensor, showing some of those options.)

A fingerprint scanner by itself will never be a "killer" app for the iPhone or any other phone: Does anyone even remember the LG eXpo, which actually had one? And marrying fingerprint scanning to a "mobile wallet," the current desirability of which is wildly overstated, won't be a killer app either. But securing a user's online identity, which can then be simply and easily authenticated and integrated with a growing set of cloud services, of which mobile transactions are one part, would be genuinely innovative.

Ciacci doesn't mention another BGR story, in March 2013, which concluded that a photo of what purported to be the Next iPhone's new home button assembly showed that there would be no fingerprint scanner. The good news is that one of these stories is undoubtedly right.

iPhone 5S will have a "big internal overhaul"

BGR went even more gaga when it posted "exclusively obtained high-resolution photos of a number of components that will be included in Apple's iPhone 5S, and they help paint a picture of things to come later this year."

If that doesn't send a jolt of electric iPhone love coursing through your veins, you're an Android user or dead.

The headline: "Not just another pretty face: Apple's iPhone 5S to see big internal overhaul."

Big.

A number of components. And they paint a picture of things to come. "From a source that asked not to be identified." Pinch us, we must be dreaming. What could these marvelous components, these wondrous creations, be?

After a tantalizing, long introduction, Zach Epstein finally tells us. "The parts include the loud-speaker bracket, ear speaker bracket, vibrating motor assembly, Wi-Fi flex cable ribbon and SIM card tray from Apple's upcoming seventh-generation iPhone."

Oh. Um. Wow. The loud-speaker bracket? No kidding? And the vibrating motor assembly (seemingly a personal favorite at BGR). Yeah baby, and how about that Wi-Fi flex cable ribbon! And SIM card trays ... in two different colors!!

But perhaps there's more to this than meets the eye. Perhaps there's an analysis of the new parts, a comparison with the existing parts, and then expert commentary on the significance of the new changes and what they foretell of the rest of the Next iPhone?

Not quite.

Epstein simply asserts these "leaked photos of redesigned internal components suggest that Apple is indeed planning an internal overhaul to improve various iPhone features and likely to make room for new components as well."

Well, duh. What we want to know is how the redesigned internal components -- shown in exclusively obtained high resolution photos -- actually are different; and what the differences mean; and whether they actually do point to a "big internal redesign" and if so, how?

Epstein doesn't bother to answer any of those questions. The closest thing to an analysis is this comment on the two SIM card trays: "The SIM trays, which have been pictured before [!] in leaked low-resolution images, are thinner than the trays from the current-generation iPhone 5. One tray also appears to be golden or beige in color, which could support earlier rumors suggesting that the iPhone 5S will be available in several new colors."

The best response to that has to be one of the comments to Epstein's post, and we'll let Stevedub40 have the next-to-the-last word: "I wish I had two different colored SIM trays. Not only is that innovative, but it is extremely exciting."

Indeed.

iPhone 6 will not be called "6" nor will iPhone 5S be called "S" or even "5"

The Rollup loves the way Will Stabley begins his recent post at the website that bears his name, StableyTimes.com.

"Apple's strategy for the iPhone 6 era becomes more clear with each passing leak," he declares.

As so many other iOSpherians do, Stabley cannot or will not make the distinction between "rumor" and "leak," as The Rollup noted in this week's "iPad 5 rumor rollup." A rumor, to cite Dictionary.com, is "a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts" or "gossip; hearsay." (though our favorite definition is the, alas, archaic one, which seems eerily apt for Stabley-like ruminations: "a continuous, confused noise; clamor; din."

A news leak, by contrast, is "a disclosure of embargoed information in advance of its official release, or the unsanctioned release of confidential information," as Wikipedia puts it. In other words, there is actual, real information.

It is striking how little concrete information or exists about any of the current Apple mobile products expected later this year. One of the few things we know, based on real reporting and bloggers with longstanding contacts with Apple employees, is that Apple has begun its redesign of at least part of the iOS UI, led by Jonathan Ive. But everything else -- the next CPU, new display technology, a cheap iPhone, a bigger-screened iPhone, not to mention the continuously recycled rumors of the past one to two years such as Near Field Communications, waterproofing and fingerprint sensors, for example -- remains wishful thinking, mere opinion, fervent hope, or more or less informed speculation (usually less).

Stabley raises conventional wisdom to an art form. "The company plans a flagship premium iPhone 6 model with the bells and whistles alongside a lesser iPhone 5S model with lesser specs made out of the least expensive materials it feels comfortable putting its logo on," he declares authoritatively. "The iPhone 6 will be made of some high end combination of metal and glass like the current iPhone 5, and carry a lesser price tag along with it. The new lineup makes for a five-six punch of sorts against not only the competition but against Apple's own former ways. The catch: neither device can carry the name iPhone 6 or iPhone 5S, forcing a new naming convention entirely."

Apple so far has not seen any need to segment the iPhone product line in the same way that it has historically done with its iPod music and media players -- different models, with different capabilities and features and different prices. You can see the current iPod lineup here, with prices starting at $49. But what you don't see for the iPod or any other Apple product are "cheaper" models -- the same device built with less expensive materials, which is the "strategy" that Stabley is so convinced is being revealed.

Apple's iPhone segmentation is different: When it introduces a new iPhone, it discounts the starting, 16GB model of the previous generation by about $100; and the next previous generation iPhone is offered by carriers free, with a two-year contract. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't break out iPhone sales by model: It would be interesting to know how well the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 are selling currently in North America and in overseas markets.

Stabley seems to think that "iPhone" is an abstraction: Put the same basic electronics into a less expensive exterior package, label it "iPhone" and buyers will accept it as "an" iPhone. But what Apple has created is "the" iPhone: this very particular object, with an almost obsessive attention to details. In a blog post on his reaction to the iPhone 5, John Gruber began by quoting an Apple Web page on the iPhone 5 design: "iPhone 5 is made with a level of precision you'd expect to find in a finely crafted watch, not a smartphone."

"Just hold it," Gruber wrote. "You really have to. Apple boasted during last week's event that they now measure the precision of the iPhone 5 assembly in microns. A micron is one-millionth of a meter. ... Both aspects -- the weight and premium feel -- are related to materials."

"Is it worth devoting the first 750 or so words of this piece to the iPhone 5's surface appeal?" he continued. "I don't know how else to convey the niceness of this thing. This iPhone 5 review unit is the single nicest object in my possession. I own things that cost and remain worth more (e.g., my car). But I own nothing this nice. It sounds hyperbolic to put it that way, but I offer this observation with no exaggeration ... there is no benchmark, no tech spec, to measure nice. But you can feel it. And that is what resonates with millions of people around the world."

By contrast, Stabley talks glibly of a "lesser iPhone 5S model with lesser specs made out of the least expensive materials it feels comfortable putting its logo on...." The Rollup's guess is that a lesser iPhone wouldn't be an iPhone, in the eyes of Apple or of buyers.

Regarding his conviction that Apple will drop the numerals from the Next iPhone, Stabely writes, "Looking to its recent decision to drop the numbers from its iPad lineup, the most obvious move is to do the same with the iPhone."

Apple of course is well known for doing what bloggers consider to be the obvious move.

iPhone 6 will be made of Liquidmetal

It's been about a year since we had any decent rumors about Liquidmetal Technologies, the company that commercialized an amorphous metal alloy with a number of desirable properties: It's super strong, scratch- and corrosion-resistant, resilient and can be precision cast into complex shapes -- it can be treated in product manufacturing processes more like a plastic than a conventional metal like stainless steel or aluminum. "Amorphous" refers to its molecular structure, much more akin to glass than the crystalline structure of true metals.

Apple has a license with Liquidmetal Technologies but apparently has used the alloy only for a SIM card ejector pin in the iPhone 3G.

An Apple job posting, for "mechanical engineer - DFx," which never mentions Liquidmetal, triggered the latest metallic rumor.

"The new recruit needs to have understanding of part creation processes, such as "CNC milling/turning, injection molding, stamping, MIM, die casting, extrusion and sheet forming etc," Softpedia's Filipo Truta helpfully explained. "The space-age Liquidmetal material is manipulated using these exact processes. The job advert doesn't make this a certainty, but Apple could finally be ready to deliver the Liquidmetal iPhone this year."

"Will iPhone 6 Use Liquidmetal? New Apple Posting Might Say So," was the optimistic headline to James Geddes post about the job opening, at iTechPost.

The answer to his question is almost certainly, "no."

First, there's the nature of the job itself. Here's what else the posting had to say: "As a[n] advanced manufacturing process design engineer, you will develop world-class manufacturing processes and identify equipment manufacturers. Drive experiments to produce timely and accurate analyses used to drive design, development, and supply chain decisions. Document mechanical processes including all parameters, consumables, and secondary operation requirements. Enable the definition of part tolerance and specifications by demonstrating process capability to the design teams."

Assuming this actually is about Liquidmetal, this posting sketches the complexities involved in setting up brand new, large-scale manufacturing processes, in sourcing components and supplies, and in relating this newly minted "process capability" to those who are actually designing the products to be manufactured. That's going to take months, months that add up to years.

Which brings us to the second point, that this complex, time-consuming process is exactly what is needed to make Liquidmetal a viable material for mass manufacturing of complex products. As a result, it will be 2015-2018 before Apple cranks out Liquidmetal iPhones en masse.

How do we know this? Because one of the inventors of Liquidmetal, Atakan Peker, explained the issues involved during a Business Insider interview published almost exactly one year ago (and which we examined in May 11, 2012, iPhone rumor rollup; see "The Liquidmetal iPhone 5 is down the drain.")

Peker was asked "How long did it take to perfect Liquidmetal?" Here's his reply from 12 months ago: "I would not say Liquidmetal was perfected. This is a technology that has yet to be matured and perfected both in manufacturing process and application development. I should note that this is a completely new and different metal technology. Therefore, there is no suitable manufacturing infrastructure yet to take full advantage of this alloy technology. For example, I estimate that Apple will likely spend on the order of $300 million to $500 million -- and three to five years -- to mature the technology before it can be used in large scale."

That's Peker's estimate and Apple presumably could change the time-frame by accelerating spending and R&D. But not enough to have a Liquidmetal iPhone in fall 2013.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: @johnwcoxnww

Email: john_cox@nww.com

Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.

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