Is a better screen next up for the iPhone?

It seems everyone loves to speculate and gossip on what's next for the iPhone

With last week's launch of Apple's latest iPhone, the iPhone 3GS, the rumor mills are running in low gear on what the secretive computer-maker might be planning for its next cell phone.

But it seems everyone loves to speculate and gossip on what's next for the iPhone so we did a side-by-side comparison of the iPhone and some competing, so-called "iPhone-killer" handsets, to get possible clues as to what changes Apple might be considering for its next iPhone.

And the biggest possible change could be in the screen. The iPhone's screen has been praised since Apple launched the phone in 2007.

"The iPhone offers an amazing resolution," said Macworld at the time, while Computerworld said: "It is the best screen you've ever seen on a device this small."

But at 480 pixels by 360 pixels the screen has remained the same while the rest of the cellular industry has moved forward. Today the Nokia N97 offers a higher 640x360 pixels resolution on a similar-sized 3.5-inch display while HTC's Touch HD and Toshiba's Japan-only T-01A both have 800x480 pixel resolution on screens that are 3.8-inches and 4.1-inches respectively.

Apple might not want to increase the screen size if it means making the iPhone larger but it's a good bet that a higher resolution display is set for the next model.

No phone maker obsesses as much about aesthetics as Apple so the company will almost certainly consider an OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen. OLED is a fundamentally different technology from the LCD (liquid crystal display) screens used in most cell phones and offers a noticeably brighter and more vivid display but it comes with a catch.

OLED technology is still relatively new and it becomes more difficult to mass-produce as the screen size gets bigger. While smaller 2-inch class OLED screens are already finding their way into products Apple won't want to use OLED unless it can be assured of a steady supply of screens that are free of defects, offer a long life and are not significantly more expensive than prevailing LCDs.

Some upgrades are almost assured, such as a faster processor and more memory, although Apple might choose to add a graphics processor. A GPU, like Nvidia's Tegra chip that is used in the new Zune HD, would enable higher resolution and smoother video playback including high-definition: possibly the iPhone HD?

Away from the screen, Apple could also look at the camera.

The iPhone 3GS brought in a higher resolution 3-megapixel camera but those are already becoming commonplace. Some competing phones, like the Touch HD and Samsung's Omnia, offer a 5-megapixel camera today and this will become more common as the months go on.

Data transmission speeds are also likely to increase to keep pace with cellular networks. The current iPhone and most competitors support downloads at speeds of up to 7.2Mbps over HSDPA networks but many carriers are already planning speed jumps within the next 12 months to 14Mbps and beyond.

A slightly more remote possibility would be the addition of WiMax to complement the Wi-Fi already in the phone. WiMax carriers are beginning to launch service in several cities around the world that offer speeds faster than cellular although the most important determining factor for WiMax would likely be dictated by Apple's business relationships with cellular carriers.

So when can we expect a new model? Apple has used the middle of the year for iPhone launches so if previous timing is taken as a guide look for it a year from now in June 2010.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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