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iPhone 5: Top 5 Changes To Expect

Apple will reveal the iPhone 5 on October 4. Here are five improvements to expect--plus one more thing.
3. A Better Camera: The iPhone 4 has a 5-megapixel camera that can also record 720p HD video. When it was first released, the iPhone 4 was one of the best cameraphones on the market (at least, in terms of performance and quality). Since then, the unending barrage of Android devices has raised the bar. Most high-end Androids ship with 8-megapixel cameras.

Apple is expected to improve the iPhone 5's camera to 8 megapixels, with the ability to capture video in full 1080p HD.

4. A Slimmer Profile: Analysts, bloggers, and fanboys have been debating what shape the new iPhone will take. Some think it will look identical (or nearly so) to the iPhone 4 and will have boosted internals.

Others believe it will lose the glass back surface, and have a tapered, tear-drop shape. The first render of the tear-drop shape was published by Engadget back in January. The iPhone 5 cases shipped to AT&T and Best Buy stores have a tapered, tear-drop shape to them.

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The iPhone 4 has had its fair share of hard knocks thanks to the dual-glass surfaces. The displays of touch phones are already apt to break when dropped. Add a glass back surface, and you've doubled the possibility you'll break your phone. Apple has replaced the glass for many of the broken iPhone 4s for free. Surely Apple is sick of this and would like a change.

My bet: The iPhone 5 will skip the glass back, will be thinner than the iPhone 4, will have a metallic back surface, and a tapered, tear-drop design.

5. Faster Wireless Internet: As recently as January, Apple indicated that it wasn't ready to stick Long Term Evolution 4G in the iPhone. Speaking at the Verizon iPhone 4 press conference, then-COO (and now CEO) Tim Cook said that LTE and other 4G components would force Apple to make design concessions that it was not prepared to make. In other words, using LTE would make the iPhone thicker/bigger than Apple wants it to be.

Have the LTE antennas and baseband chips made by the likes of Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Infineon evolved enough during the last few months, (or, realistically, between January and June) for Apple to consider including them in the iPhone 5? Perhaps. Right now, the iPhone 5 is expected to support the fastest version of HSPA+ that it can. With AT&T, that means it will be able to reach maximum download speeds of 21Mbps under optimal conditions.

That sounds good for AT&T customers, but what about Verizon and Sprint, both of which operate slower CDMA 3G networks? I've heard plenty of Verizon iPhone users complain about how slow their iPhones are compared to the AT&T iPhone. It would be risky to leave Verizon and Sprint stuck with slower 3G radios inside, especially considering the sheer volume of LTE and WiMax 4G phones available now from both Verizon and Sprint.

For AT&T and other GSM network operators, I expect Apple to stick with HSPA+ for now and add LTE later. AT&T only offers LTE in five cities right now, anyway.

For Sprint and Verizon, this could be the surprise of the event. Theoretically, Apple could announce a CDMA-LTE iPhone that will work on Verizon's LTE 4G and CDMA 3G network, and Sprint's CDMA 3G network right now. (Sprint is expected to announce on October 7 that it will switch its 4G strategy from WiMax to LTE.)

The iPhone 5 will not support T-Mobile's 4G network.

One More Thing: This year's surprise iPhone 5 feature will most likely be software related. Apple has yet to release the Gold Master of iOS5. It has released a number of betas, and some of the earliest betas indicated that voice control features will be added to the software. Given that the operating system isn't final, Apple has left itself plenty of room to add unannounced features. Most expect voice control to be one of them.

I wouldn't put it past Apple to announce something like support for near-field communications, either. It would be just like Apple to have set up an entire eco-system to support NFC-based mobile payments, and somehow keep it under wraps until the day of the press conference.