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9/10/2012
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iPhone 5 Preview: Setting Expectations

Apple will unveil the iPhone 5 September 12. Here's a primer on what Apple's likely to show.

iPhone 5: 10 Things To Expect From Apple
iPhone 5: 10 Things To Expect From Apple
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The iPhone 5 is coming. Apple is hosting a special event Wednesday in San Francisco to unveil the newest version of its smartphone. The event kicks off at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern. But what will Apple show us? The answer depends on the person you ask and what their expectations are.

Setting expectations, in most circumstances, is a good policy for managing eventual outcomes. If expectations have been properly managed, there are no surprises. Apple, however, doesn't set its own expectations; its fervent fans and followers do.

Fueled by speculation, leaks, mock-ups, renderings, and other flotsam and jetsam from across the Web, consumer demand for the new iPhone has reached fever pitch, and expectations are impossibly high.

Let's get real about what Apple will announce. Here is what we should expect to unfold during the course of Apple's iPhone 5 event Wednesday.

Design -- Chances are, the photos we've seen passed from blog to blog are indeed the iPhone 5. It has played out the same way every year. No matter how hard Apple tries, everything leaks. First it was a camera module, then a battery, then a circuit board, and eventually fully assembled mock-ups. If you're expecting a brand new design for the iPhone 5, you're going to be disappointed.

The iPhone 5 is going to look a lot like the iPhone 4/4S, only a little bit taller. We need only look at any other Apple design for evidence. Once Apple sets a design and/or look that it likes, that design sticks around for a while. Look at the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, and, for Pete's sake, the Mac Pro. These products' overall look has not changed in years, and neither will the iPhone's. If you think the leaked photos are an elaborate ruse on Apple's part to throw us all off, get over it.

Display -- Yes, it'll be bigger. No, it won't be all that much bigger. The size of the iPhone 5's display has been pegged at about four inches for the last six months. It would appear that the size gain is being made by extending the height of the display by 176 pixels, giving it an (approximate) 16:9 aspect ratio. This is why the iPhone 5 looks oblong in the images spied so far. It'll still be a Retina Display, but it won't match industry norms with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels.

[ That new display may keep the iPhone out of stores. See Apple iPhone 5 May Face Supply Problems. ]

LTE 4G -- LTE 4G is a table-stakes feature now (despite what some surveys say). Every flagship smartphone has to have it. The leading devices from Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony, and Nokia all have LTE 4G on board. The iPhone 5 will support LTE, too. What spectrum bands will the iPhone 5 support? That's the more important question. North American buyers can rest easy. The iPhone 5 will support AT&T and Verizon Wireless' LTE 4G networks for sure, and probably Sprint's as well. The iPhone 5 will also support LTE in some European and some Asian countries, though which countries is not yet certain.

Features & Specs -- As Apple has done with every previous generation iPhone, the iPhone 5 will include minor spec jumps across the board. The processor will be upgraded to either a version of the same A5 chip that's in the new iPad or the A6 chip, which has been under development for a while. The camera will be improved, but the megapixel count won't change. The iPhone 4S's 8-megapixel camera is still one of the best on the market. Apple won't mess with it too much, other than to add better low-light support. Storage options are likely to remain the same at 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB. Don't expect a 128 GB iPhone 5.

Nano SIM -- Apple pulled a quick one on the wireless industry that oversees SIM card design and convinced the overseeing standards body to use a design submitted by Apple. The nano SIM will make its first appearance in the iPhone 5. The nano SIM is smaller than the micro SIM that's used in the iPhone 4/4S, iPad, and other smartphones. It will still require the use of a paperclip to retrieve the SIM card tray. You won't be able to (easily) swap SIM cards from your iPhone 4/4S or other device to the new iPhone.

iOS 6 -- Apple has already provided a good overview of what iOS 6--its next-generation platform software--can do. Apple always holds back, though. Sure, iOS 6 adds PassBook, better settings menu organization, EyesFree, improved Siri powers/capabilities, better email, better Safari, and FaceTime over cellular, but there will be a few surprises. Apple is much better at hiding details of its software than details of its hardware. iOS 6 will be the one aspect of the presentation that may include a few curveballs.

NFC -- I'd rate the chance of the iPhone 5 including near-field communications at about 50-50. The PassBook application built into iOS 6 seems tailor-made for such a hardware feature, but Apple has been slow to adopt cutting-edge tech. NFC, especially for mobile payments, hasn't reached the critical mass needed to really take off. The iPhone 5 could change that, but Apple could just as easily wait until the iPhone 6 to add NFC.

Great Expectations -- Despite what's been discussed, there will surely be thousands of posts written by people disappointed by the iPhone 5. Whatever Apple reveals on Wednesday, you can be sure that it won't live up to the expectations set by the hopeful public.

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