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.

Apple is finally ready to "talk iPhone." The company sent invitations to journalists in hopes that they will attend a press conference scheduled for 10AM Pacific time on Tuesday, October 4. At the event, Apple will take the wraps off the next-generation iPhone. Whether it is called the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, or something else, no one knows for sure.

Whatever the name, you can be sure it will be a hot commodity. A recent poll shows that 41% of current smartphone owners are considering the iPhone 5 for their next device--even though the respondents know nothing about the device yet. Demand for the next-gen iPhone is incredibly high, as it is arriving more than three months later than new iPhones have debuted in years past. The iPhone faithful are itching for some new hardware.

Just what will that hardware entail and what features should consumers and enterprises expect to see? Here are our thoughts.

1. A Larger Display: Reports on the screen size for the iPhone 5 have ranged from 3.5 to 4.1 inches. The iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G, and the original iPhone all had 3.5-inch displays. Though some believe Apple might stick with the same display dimensions to keep things simple for iPhone app developers, it would be crazy for Apple to do so.

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The top-of-the-line Android smartphones are shipping with 4.1-inch, 4.3-inch, and 4.5-inch displays. Apple can't afford to have such a small screen on the iPhone any longer. Additionally, cases for the iPhone 5 have begun to arrive at retail stores. The cases are larger than the iPhone 4, suggesting that the device made to fit within those cases will have a larger display.

Apple will most likely increase the size of the display to an even 4 inches, in order to maintain a high pixel density.

2. A Faster Processor: The 1GHz A4 processor in the iPhone 4 is no slouch, but that won't prevent Apple from boosting the performance of the next-gen iPhone. It is highly likely Apple will use the same 1GHz dual-core A5 processor that is in the iPad 2. (You may remember that the original iPad had the A4.) How much RAM will be available to that processor is debatable, but high-end estimates suggest it will be 1GB.

The faster processor will give the next-gen iPhone even better gaming capabilities. Apple's iOS devices have begun to replace stand-alone, dedicated gaming terminals. Make no mistake, Apple is serious about the gaming performance of its iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices.

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.

[ Is your smartphone or tablet locked down? Get expert advice--see 5 Essential Mobile Security Tips. ]

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.

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