Beyond Apple's WWDC: Five not so crazy iPhone predictions for 2011

While the fourth-generation iPhone could come out this week at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), it's not too early to peer into the future.

While the fourth-generation iPhone could come out this week at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), it's not too early to peer into the future and speculate what 2011 could mean for iPhone fans.

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The good news is that 2011 could mark a watershed year for the wireless industry, as the majority of U.S. wireless networks will for the first time start offering speeds that fall under the category of broadband. This increase in mobile connectivity speed will lead to even more innovative and intricate applications, as well as the ability to stream HD video over the air. With all this in mind, here are five fairly realistic predictions of what we can expect to see from next year's iPhone.

Prediction #1: The new iPhone will be LTE-capable.

The next few months will mark the start of the LTE era in the United States, as Verizon plans to have its LTE network up and running in up to 30 major markets with many more to come in 2011. AT&T also plans to start deploying its LTE network commercially in 2011, meaning that the newest edition of the iPhone will likely be 4G-capable by the time it hits the market next June. While LTE still hasn't launched commercially in the United States yet, Verizon has reported that its LTE network is delivering average downlink speeds in excess of 5Mbps.

Prediction #2: Apple announces Verizon will get the iPhone in 2012

Yeah, yeah, we've been speculating about this for a while. But with Apple's exclusivity deal with AT&T due to expire at the end of next year, Apple could start tantalizing Verizon users by dangling shiny new LTE-capable iPhones in their faces.

Despite the fact that Apple and AT&T's relationship on the iPhone has been hugely profitable for both companies, Apple is likely drooling at the prospect of offering its device to Verizon's 93 million wireless subscribers. The fact that Verizon and AT&T will both be supporting the GSM-based LTE by the start of 2012 also makes offering the iPhone on multiple carriers more enticing, since Apple won't need to build two different models that work on CDMA and GSM networks.

Prediction #3: Expect more video and interactive gaming apps

Sure, everyone loves the games you can buy on the iPhone, but right now they're the equivalent of playing a 16-bit gaming system in a world dominated by Wii and the Xbox. You can expect that the next iPhone's 4G connectivity and higher processing power will allow streaming of HD video over connections that are likely to deliver average download speeds of at least 3Mbps at the start. The increased connectivity will also allow for more real-time interactive online gaming than today's 3G phones, which mostly rely on turn-based systems for online multiplayer gaming.

Prediction #4: The next iPhone's processor will be at least 1.5GHz

The newest iPhone's processor is the Apple A4, a single-core ARM Cortex-A8 processor designed by Samsung with a processing power of 1GHz. You can bet by next year, Apple's newest iPhone will have a processor whose power at least matches Qualcomm's 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor that's slated to be released later this year. This will allow for the display of true HD (1080p) video and would give the iPhone its highest-quality video system yet.

Prediction #5: Tiered data pricing plans are here to stay, but minute-based voice plans are on the way out.

The bad news for critics of AT&T's new tiered data plans that place limits on monthly data consumption is that the plans aren't likely going anywhere. After all, Verizon has also stated that it will offer tiered plans for its LTE services once the network comes online later this year.

The good news, however, is that minute-based voice plans are likely to be tossed aside as well. Because LTE-capable devices are likely to use the Voice over LTE standard to place and receive calls, voice will eventually be treated like just another data service, as both voice and data will travel over IP connections. In other words, you'll theoretically be able to talk as long as you want as long as you don't go over your allotted data consumption per month. While this isn't likely to placate customers who are used to consuming unlimited data, it is a small silver lining for people who find themselves frequently going over their monthly cellular minutes.

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