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iPhone 5: Is a Redesign in the Cards?

It's a pretty good bet that the next-generation iPhone 5 is coming this fall. The latest Apple rumor has Apple ordering 15 million new iPhones from Taiwan-based Pegatron.

"The cell phone market is moving so fast, I don't think Apple can wait," says Kyle Wiens of iFixit, a Web site that provides free repair manuals and advice forums.

Apple already showed the world at its WWDC earlier this year what's in the new iOS 5, but the iPhone 5 hardware is anyone's guess. CIO.com spoke with Wiens to get his take on what the iPhone 5 might look like.

Slideshow: Apple iPhoneys: The iPhone 5 Edition

Wiens and his Apple-savvy iFixit engineers have been taking apart Macs, iPhones, iPods and iPads and peeking inside before practically anyone else. In fact, iFixit was first to report on Apple's screwy behavior to put tamper-resistant "Pentalobular" screws into its products that stymie do-it-yourselfers from making repairs.

Wiens, a featured speaker at this year's Macworld 2011 in San Francisco, accurately predicted that the pre-launched iPad 2 would have more RAM (512MB, to be exact) and a multi-core chip but not higher resolution. Shortly after the iPad 2 hit the market, Wiens served up an iPad 2 teardown.

What will the iPhone 5 look like?

Wiens: I think people like the form factor of the iPhone 3GS better than the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 is kind of a harsh, angular design. The back glass panel breaks a lot and is thicker than other materials. I've heard that the iPhone 4 design has fallen out of favor with Apple execs.

My guess is that Apple will get rid of the back glass and go back to plastic or carbon fiber.

With the front screen, newer screens are a little bit thinner. Apple will be able to shave maybe a tenth of a millimeter and go closer to the edge of the phone. The iPhone 5 might have a slightly larger display, slightly larger pixels. Or maybe Apple will just shrink the width of the phone and keep the display size the same.

Do you think the relatively high breakage rate of the troublesome iPhone 4 back glass factors into a potential design change?

Wiens: We've seen Apple make changes to save their service cost in the past. The original iPhone was very difficult to service, and subsequent phones have been much easier. Apple geniuses are fixing hundreds of thousands of phones a year-and that's expensive. The iPhone 4 is a brittle design.

In a redesign, Apple is driven more by aesthetics. But I think glass breakage will be a concern.

Can Apple really decrease size without sacrificing battery life?

Wiens: Every year, Apple has the choice of increasing battery life or reducing battery size. The original iPhone wasn't anywhere good enough with battery life. The battery life of the iPhone 4 seems acceptable. My guess is that Apple, with the use of improved [power-efficient] chipsets, will reduce the battery size by 20 percent. Same battery life, smaller battery.

The big challenge with battery life is when Apple goes to 4G [given the inefficiencies of the new 4G chipsets]. It's the chipsets and faster wireless protocols that are really the battery hogs. Look at the battery life of every new 4G phone, it's not acceptable.

So the iPhone 5 won't be 4G?

Wiens: No. I don't think anybody is expecting Apple to go to 4G this year.

What about the iPhone 5's power?

Wiens: Apple has to keep pushing the envelope. We're continuing to see performance improvements in the A4 processor. It'll be really interesting to see if Apple moved into the smaller manufacturing process with the new chip. If they did, then they can up the clock speed while keeping power consumption the same.

I'm guessing for an incremental speed improvement but not anything dramatic.

Rumors point to an 8-megapixel dual-LED flash camera, compared to iPhone 4's 5-megapixel camera. Do you think this will happen?

Wiens: I haven't been as in the loop with the camera and the new technology coming out. But I can say that it all comes down to the lens and that camera quality is a thickness issue. If you have a phone that is twice as thick, then you can have a camera that is ten times better.

Seems like an incremental upgrade. Why not call it an "iPhone 4S"?

Wiens: Every time Apple changes the form factor, it's exciting. And I have a gut feeling that we're going to see a redesign. If they go with an all-new design, then they would go with the name iPhone 5 instead of iPhone 4S. It kind of makes sense with the new iPhone coming out the same time as iOS 5.

We're at a stage where the technology is a little mature. Everything will probably get 20 percent better: everything inside 20 percent faster, 20 percent smaller. But this will allow Apple to dramatically reduce the form factor.

Maybe a super-thin, tapering form factor will be in the cards.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at [email protected]

Read more about iphone in CIO's iPhone Drilldown.


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