What’s Next for iPhone 4G?

With all the hype over Apple’s iPad announcement now behind us, Apple-eyes have now turned their attention to what might be on the docket for the anticipated release of iPhone 4G. We’ve torn down and rebuilt thousands of iPhones over the last few years and talked with scores of customers about how they’re using it and what’s important—and not important—to them. Based on Apple’s past patterns of gadget refreshes plus the design and hardware unveiled in the iPad, here are our predictions for what we can expect from the iPhone 4G, which is likely to drop sometime early this summer.

Redesigned aluminum unibody styling
Starting with its iPods, Apple has settled into a fairly predictable pattern of releasing a physical redesign one year and hardware performance upgrade the next. The venerable iPhone 3G embodied the total design overhaul (while keeping hardware performance nearly unchanged.)  A year later, the 3Gs came as an identical twin, but with a surge in performance due to a faster CPU, graphics processor and upgrades to even the minor chips.

Since third-party iPhone apps and users are just starting to really take advantage of the new power from the 3Gs, it’s unlikely Apple is ready splinter it’s market again by upgrading performance in the 4th generation iPhone (aka iPhone 4G.)   The 4G’s new cutting edge energy sipping chips will instead be used to make a slimmer and sleeker exterior design of the Mac unibody styling, similar to the iPad with a single piece of aluminum casing with single glass front panel.

Chip change
Apple will likely integrate its new A4 chip into the iPhone 4G, albeit a clocked-down version to meet performance demands without unnecessarily sapping battery power. The 1Ghz A4 for iPad will likely be underclocked to around 600Mhz—ample horsepower for a device that doesn’t support multitasking. Besides, from a marketing perspective, Apple must leave a market segment for the iPad to have a unique purpose. To launch an iPhone with nearly identical hardware capabilities would undermine the company’s own market leadership and complicate the app store with three tiers of iPhone/iTouch app performance.

OLED screen
As much as they might have liked to put an OLED on board the iPad, the technology and manufacturing was at least six months away in displays of 7 inches or more. For the iPhone 4G, however, an OLED screen makes perfect sense. OLED screens up to 5” have been popping up in most of the latest class of new gadgets since late 2009.  While the current class of OLEDs can be hard to view in direct sunlight, Samsung has announced the first production runs of its new Super AM-OLED screens that are 25% brighter and may finally be a solid option for daylight use. Samsung has been a major supplier for Apple’s mobile devices in recent years and may be keen to preserve that revenue stream and showcase their lead in OLED screen tech with Apple as the first OEM customer with its new screen.

Improved secondary/tertiary app performance
The iPhone’s 4 or 5 headline functions (docked apps) likely won’t change much on a 4G version, but we are likely to see some changes to the secondary apps (the ones that come with every phone, but aren’t docked.)

A revamped developer’s kit
Apple’s been wise about cultivating the app industry it’s created, so last year Apple was careful not to alienate older iPhone users when they unveiled apps with superior performance on a 3Gs.  This cautious step forward left many developers content to code for the lowest common denominator (iPhone 2G) for an easier. The iPhone 4G launch will likely bring with it a focus on tweaking the developer’s kit and store so that app developers are empowered and encouraged to leverage the 3Gs and 4G capabilities for more powerful, engaging, and useful apps.    This year Apple will be keen to retain its leadership position by putting the focus on apps that require a 3Gs or better for full function.

Not going to happen
No discussion of predicted iPhone 4G features would be complete without the one it likely will not have: a front-facing web cam. Yep, you read that right: despite lots of rumors that video chat is coming, it just doesn’t seem plausible—yet. The fact is that North American networks simply are nowhere near capable of handling the demand. AT&T already takes considerable heat for its lack of capacity to handle iPhone traffic. When it debuts, video chat will be a headline feature for the iPhone, but Apple won’t do that if, “it just works… sometimes.”

There is, however, much greater demand and capacity for video chat in the European and Asian markets to the extent that phones without it may be seen as old tech. This begs the question: could an international version of the iPhone be on the horizon?

Editor’s note: We’ll know more about the iPhone 4G – or whatever Apple decides to call their next-generation iPhone – in the coming months. Stay tuned!

About the Author
Aaron Vronko is the founder and service manager at Rapid Repair, the most well-known and reputable national online repair service for digital electronics, including the iPhone, iPod and more. The company dissects more than 500 devices every week at its repair shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan. For more information, visit www.rapidrepair.com.

  • Steven

    i wish i cared…Steve Jobs is a little Hitler.

    • guest

      There there Mr Gates, you need to stop playing silly buggers with all this windows millarky and get yourselves some alien tech, you might stand a snowballs chance then to catch up with jobsy and the crew!!

  • Marin Perez

    Interesting post. I don’t think Apple is that concerned about splitting the platform that much because it already has variations between the iPod Touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and the iPad. Some have Bluetooth or different screen sizes but the underlying OS is the same. Most devs will just target the lowest common denominator to target the biggest market possible.

  • Justin Reyes

    Well in my opinion it won’t be called the iPhone 4G….. since the 4G network isn’t widely available yet and Apple doesn’t really use false naming on their devices. I mean the iPhone 3GS they managed to find the 3GS naming but what about this time?….. will they avoid the 4G naming?

    AT&T doesn’t even have 4G yet. Nor does any other networks…. well except for Sprint but that’s WiMax which is just a draft.
    Video chatting won’t happen anytime sooner.

    Also a change with the design is unlikely….. well probably not going to happen but may happen. But any changes saying the front will change is very unlikely as Apple keeps it straightforward with the front. All the same. The iPhone 2G, 3G, and 3GS all have the same physical appearance on the front almost at least.

    • Steve Jacobson

      Apple doesn’t use false naming on their devices? Come on now, they stole the iPhone name from Cisco!! AND they stole the iPad name from Fujitsu.

      What does Apple care whether the general (stupid?) public doesn’t realize that 4G means fourth iteration of a phone and not that it connects to a 4G network?

      • Jonathan Morris

        Apple would be ‘right’ if they referred to the Apple iPhone 4G as the fourth incarnation, given that they started with 2G and had 2 3G models – but I think that proves they were thinking of it as 2G and 3G phone networks.

        I think they can market the high resolution screen or camera and call it iPhone 3G HD or something; giving everyone a real reason to upgrade. Not just faster apps, but 4x the definition or whatever – plus 720p video capture, better editing..

        It can’t JUST be about a new shell or some new features. They’ll want a better experience and the screen on the current model is just too low-res compared with things like the Samsung Wave, the top-end Android devices and even the Nokia N900.

        Either that or it will have a totally new word added and the 3G/4G bit will be dropped completely.

  • Michael S.

    “Apple will likely integrate it’s new A4 chip …”

    Unless you mean, “it is new A4 chip,” the “it’s” should, of course, be “its.”

    We only use ‘s to show ownership with nouns, not with pronouns.

    • Eddie Starr

      I would be less worries about the it’s and its and more worried about “Whatifs”
      But thanks correcting the editor , you really have shown us all how capable you are!
      Congratulations, would you like a slice of cake ?

  • Manny

    I have doubts about the all aluminum unibody design mentioned in this article. One of the reasons the iphone changed from the aluminum back of the first generation to the plastic in the 3G was because of the 3G chip and GPS. The aluminum interferes with these antennas. Unless they do it like the ipad that leaves one area in plastic.

  • anurag

    Hi,

    I am just wondering, is it worth buying 3GS iphone at this moment? or worth waiting for next couple of months to get 4Gs.

  • Medhat

    the same question here: “is it worth buying 3GS iphone at this moment? or worth waiting for next couple of months to get 4Gs.”

  • Sean

    here in australia i’m waiting for the iphone 4g unlocked at the apple store and it would be interstring to see it up and running

  • miek

    Who cares… Iphone is a phone for dummies who know nothing about technology. It’s for the same people who call “blackberry’s” “BLUEBERRY’S”

  • log

    I can’t believe Apple will, again, leave out a front-facing camera. Well said when it can be seen as outdated tech without the feature.

    It skips a market and potential development of tools to take advantage of this.

    As the possibility that could be use sometimes, well, if it’s there it can be used, albeit sometimes. If it’s not, it can never be used!

  • Jack

    Just having a louder speaker and speakerphone would make a big difference.

  • kworley

    Well I think this article rings a bell to some people.
    Some people are more tech savy and care about what is in the phone such as memory, camera (megapixel), speed, screen size, ect… But then there are those people that care just about the latest and newest thing and not care how much it cost or what it is, they just want it. With alot of Americans, the Iphone is just that… the newest and lastest phone that people MUST have.(Besides the android phones which are OKAY)… Despite the fact that the Iphone is only carried by AT&T, many people will cancel their contracts with their existing carriers and pay the $200 plus cancellation fee just to get their paws on the “iPhone”. I understand that the specks on a new iPhone are running against the current 3GS, but regardless, if its NEW, then people will want it.

    Anyhow, AT&T only have about another year to two years before their contract is up with Apple. After that, Apple can sell the iPhone to which ever carrrier they want.

    The funniest thing about Apple and AT&T is that AT&T makes NO money off of the Iphone, only on the plans, so $30 per Iphone customer…

    The question is, is it worth it?

  • hazydave

    Apple may be under some more “keeping up with the Joneses” pressure than in the past. The A4 at 1GHz is a crappy tablet processor, but they will match state-of-the-art on CPU, as compared to the Nexus One, Sony Xperia X10, and the dozen or so HTC phones hitting the high-end now.

    Similarly, they HAVE to do something about the screen: 480×360 is so 2004. All leading smartphones offer at least 800×480 resolution and sometimes OLED rather than LCD (better display, longer battery life). If they don’t up the resolution, they’re already behind the times.

    So far, only one company (HTC) has announced a 4G phone, and that’s for Sprint, which uses WiMax. AT&T is going LTE, and not until 2011, so unless Apple’s got some serious 4G deal going with Verizon (also LTE), I agree… no 4G at least until 2011’s upgrades. What they could do is finally offer full 3G… none of the iPhones do better than 384kb/s on upload; the HSPA+ limit is about 2Mb/s.

  • Mike

    I do not think that the next gen iPhone will have an aluminum body UNLESS AT&T is slated to lose their exclusivity. Their network is strained already- they won’t be pushing for 4G coverage anytime soon. And remember, the reason the 3g did not have an aluminum housing is because it interferes with 3G reception.

  • Jonathan Morris

    Argh, replying to my own post… Fail!

    With regards to 4G, I should add that I know that people will still refer to the iPhone as the 4th incarnation, like the iPod 2G, 3G etc – but this will get confusing when it’s clear from the 3G and 3GS that Apple is referring to the network technology here.

    I am very confident that Apple won’t call it the 4G, but then again, I didn’t believe they’d call the iPad the iPad so what do I know?!

  • bstring

    I wonder if they might possibly cram 1024×768 pixels into the new display to match the iPad. DSLR camera LCDs with this pixel density already exist…

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