The iOSphere is the only virtual place where reality imitates fantasy.
This weeks' best rumor is all about how Batman's "3D mapping sonar" technology used in "The Dark Knight" movie is the obvious basis for yet another Apple invention, disclosed in yet another patent application, that yet again no one really seems to understand.
That's the great thing about iOSphere rumors: The less you know, the more freedom you have to elaborate rumors.
LAST WEEK: iPhone 6 rumor rollup for week ending Dec. 7
Also this week: flexible screens and bendable bodies but what about the CPU, logic board, radios and other internal components; expectations for "iPhone 5S" in June 2013; and why the iPhone 5S in June 2013 is a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible prospect.
You read it here second.
iPhone 5 will have 3D mapping sonar, just like whales or "The Dark Knight Rises" movie
David Price of Macworld UK is ecstatic. "Recent Apple patent activity raises hopes of sonar and audio-detecting screen in the Apple iPhone 6," he writes, generously overlooking the far greater role that rumor activity plays in raising our hopes of all kinds of things.
"Today we're wondering if recent Apple patents point to upgraded features in the iPhone 6's screen -- potentially including the ability to listen to and map out the world around it using microphone diaphragms and sonar," he announces.
"Yes, that's right: the iPhone 6 could have sonar. Can you say OMG?"
He helpfully includes a photo of the humpback whale, "which uses sonar, just like an iPhone 6. Possibly."
In this Wikipedia article on whale vocalization, the contention is that whales use sounds for communication. Their alleged sonar capabilities apparently are still a matter of hypothesis, and debate, according to footnotes.
Even worse for Price, the article about the patent, posted at PatentlyApple.com, doesn't use the word "sonar."
Patently Apple, as is typical for a site whose mission is "celebrating Apple's Spirit of Invention," mainly rehashes what Apples says about its inventions in either the final patent or, as in this case, its patent application. There's rarely an attempt to provide additional context or third-party explanations or assessments about the technologies mentioned by Apple.
What Patently Apple's post describes is a system of audio sensors hidden in the screens or surfaces of a wide range of devices. Essentially, the system appears to be a way to detect sound waves and then, you know, do something with them -- they'll act as "inputs" to the computer or possibly be used to create some kind of "output."
Or as Patently Apple puts it: "One or more sensors are coupled to the display and configured to detect vibrations of the screen generated by sound waves impacting the exterior surface of the screen. A processor in communication with the one or more sensors is configured to generate an output representative of sound waves."
What does that actually mean? As is often the case with Patently Apple posts, one has the sneaking suspicion that the writer doesn't actually know, and fakes it by paraphrasing or quoting from Apple's document. For example: "In a third embodiment [apparently a fancy word for 'example'], Apple's invention may include a method of operating a computing device. The method includes obtaining an electrical signal corresponding to vibration of a screen of the computing device resulting from sound waves impacting the screen and filtering the signal to remove noise components. The method also includes generating an output signal representative of the sound waves that impacted the screen."
We're just guessing here, but this seems to mean that you speak, the screen vibrates, and the computer "translates" the vibration into some command like "call Mom" or "buy two tickets for the 4 p.m. show of 'The Hobbit.'" But Apple's Siri voice assistant already does most of that, more or less effectively, with no need for audio sensors and all that other stuff. Nobody confuses Siri with sonar. And there's nothing in Patently Apple's post to explain why the integrated audio sensors and other stuff would make voice control more accurate than what Siri offers today (and in the future).
If you want some idea of what sonar actually is, you can check out the Wikipedia entry. Active sonar sends out a sound and listens to the echoes, and then uses calculations to figure out the location, size and other features of an underwater object. Passive sonar doesn't do any pinging: It's just listening for sounds, such as those made by a submarine, and figures out what the sounds represent, like, a submarine.
But never let facts get in the way of a good rumor. Without doubt, the best use of the patent "news" was by Cult of Mac's Buster Heine, who wasn't afraid to say, "So screw it, let's talk crazy."
"What wasn't detailed [in the patent] was how Apple plans to use those [audio] sensors, but one crazy idea is that Apple might use them to create sonar-maps kind of like in the movie 'The Dark Knight,'" Heine opined.
Houston, we have lift-off.
"Remember how Batman took Lucius' sonar concept and applied it to every cellphone in Gotham to create a huge sonar-based live map to find The Joker? Here's a refresher if you don't, but yeah, the Apple concept is kind of like that High Frequency Generator idea, only on a smaller scale."
Let's talk crazy: The Apple inventors listed on the patent probably also took Lucius' idea. Batman did. It's obvious when you think about it, because the Apple concept revealed in an official patent filing clearly really is kind of like the special effects plot device in a Hollywood superhero movie based on a comic book character. Only on a smaller scale.
iPhone 6 will have a flexible screen, or maybe a bendy body
There's something infectious about David Price's enthusiasm for Apple patents. In another post at Macworld UK, he looked at "the clues pointing to a bendy iPhone 6 - or iPad mini 2."
"Apple's iPhone 6 may have a bendy, flexible display and body, if recent tech innovations and patent activity are any indicator," he declares. "Imagine that: You'd be able to fold it up and pop it in your pocket, and dropping it would be far less of a worry."
Imagine that. And we mean ... really imagine it. Imagine your iPhone 4 or 4S -- and all of its internal componentry -- as something you can "fold up" apparently like a piece of paper that's made of plastic (to mix technologies) and pop it in your pocket.
Price seems a tad confused or at least confusing in his post. Almost everything he references is about flexible-display technology -- a screen made of flexible plastic polymers instead of layers of glass. The example he, and everyone else, cites is the year-ago demonstration by Samsung of a prototype flexible screen, now confusingly dubbed "Galaxy Skin" by pundits, making it sound like a forthcoming smartphone or tablet. According to one story that Price links with, the flex-screen technology may appear in production by mid-2013, though for what products is unclear. Price also recycles a reference to a bendable battery.
But even if we grant both of those advances, that doesn't get us very far. What about all the other components, like the body, the radios, the antennas, the CPU and memory chips, the logic board-- to mention just a few -- for which no one has demonstrated bendy prototypes, or even hinted that they're in development?
The chief advantages of the Samsung prototype -- assuming it can achieve comparable resolution as current displays -- are its extreme thinness and its ability to withstand hammer blows, as the video link above shows. Those are substantial gains. But the belief that an iPhone as foldable as paper or as bendable as a plastic report cover is just around the corner is pure fairy dust.
"These legal manoeuvrings [an apparent reference to Apple patent applications] make it clear that flexible displays are on Apple's radar somewhere, but who knows where they'll turn up - if at all," Price says.
So what's the "final verdict" by Price? "We're not going to lie to you: it's a long shot," he says, which understates the odds against it by several orders of magnitude. Having spent nearly all of his post on flexible displays, Price now substitutes "flexible body" apparently hoping no one will notice the change up: "a flexible body would be a wildly unpredictable step."
Which makes it perfect for iOSphere rumoring.
iPhone 6 will actually be iPhone 5S, which will be followed by iPhone 6
Thank heavens for Jefferies stock analyst Peter Misek. He laid it all out in an investors note this week, and provided endless fodder for rumors about both the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 6.
The Next iPhone will be iPhone 5S, and it will be announced in June 2013. And it will be a Phone of Many Colors, according to Misek.
"Misek is predicting the iPhone 5S has a new 'super HD camera/screen, a better battery, and NFC,' and 'possible updates include an IGZO screen for Retina+, 128GB storage,'" according to the initial post on this by Business Insider's Jay Yarow, on Dec. 10 at 10:25 a.m. "He's also predicting it comes in 6-8 colors, presumably similar to the iPod Touch which comes in a bunch of colors."
IGZO, for the uninformed, is indium gallium zinc oxide, a display technology that is supposed to greatly reduce power consumption, while boosting pixel densities and improving the signal-to-noise ratio for touch input. It's been reported recently that Sharp will have IZGO screens for smartphone and tablet makers to release in their products around mid-2013. No word on whether they'll be bendable.
But, somewhat confusingly, in a separate post on this same Misek note, Yarow actually quotes Misek in full about the separate iPhone 6: "Several iPhone 6 prototypes appear to be floating around. The model with a 4.8" screen is the most interesting. It has a Retina+ IGZO screen, a new A7 quad-core processor variant, and a new form factor with no home button. Full gesture control is also possibly included."
Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt's more complete post clarifies that Misek's note is essentially a report on his recent visit to some of Apple's Asian suppliers.
Based on his sources, Misek apparently now thinks an iPhone 5S will be released in June 2013, offering an array of significant improvements but apparently within the existing form factor. He seems to think the iPhone 6 design is not finalized, that the prototypes indicate Apple is experimenting with screens of larger than 4 inches; he offers no prediction on when it might be released.
Business Insider's Yarow writes that the June release by Apple would be "a break from the pattern it's established over the last two years." And we all thought that two-year pattern, an eternity in mobile device time, was set in stone. Except for the different three-year pattern that preceded it, when iPhones were released around mid-year.
The best part of Yarow's post is a reference and link to a recent article by Horace Dediu, founder of Asymco, who makes a case that Apple may be speeding up its product release cycle. Dediu picks up on a provocative recent comment by former Apple CEO John Sculley, who thinks that Apple is moving to a six-month, instead of 12-month, cycle for releasing products. In his post, Dediu weighs what he readily admits is currently just circumstantial evidence to support that claim.
One intriguing change Dediu notes is Apple's contract manufacturer, Hon Hai, shifting production facilities closer to sources of labor on mainland China. "Until this shift, Hon Hai's production has depended on migrant labor which is difficult to manage," Dediu writes.
"Moving production so that the labor is local means a steadier workforce with better economies from learning curves. However it also requires a more stable order book," he writes. "Production for Apple has tended to be 'bursty' with breakneck round-the-clock crush followed by periods of idle time and re-tooling. This is not only inefficient but it also creates strain and stress and lowers morale." A shift to twice-a-year product releases would create that needed stability in orders.
iPhone 6 ought to be iPhone 6, not iPhone 5S
Xavier Lanier, publisher of GottaBeMobile.com, didn't respond well to Misek's predictions of an iPhone 5S being available next June.
Not well at all.
"The latest Apple rumors suggest the company will launch the iPhone 5S in June, but iPhone users deserve more than a minor hardware update or two," he complained in a post.
"Apple should introduce an entirely new device, rather than morphing the iPhone 5 into the iPhone 5S," he declared. "Would it kill Apple to go the extra mile and skip right to the iPhone 6 when it introduces iOS 7 next summer?"
Such rhetorical questions -- "a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point and without the expectation of a reply," as Wikipedia puts it -- are commonly used in the iOSphere as substitutes for more demanding skills ... like analysis.
The original iPhone "didn't just stand out from the competition, it didn't have any competition" because, among other things, "Android phones weren't even available back then and normal people carried dumb phones." An uncharitable person might suspect that Lanier really wanted to write "dumb people carried normal phones" but decided against it.
"Well, guess what? It's been five years and many would argue that the competition's caught up or is at least right on Apple's heels."
But instead of giving us originality, not to mention magical and insanely great phones, we've been getting these "S" things ever since the iPhone 3GS, "a relatively minor upgrade" with "some nice new features ... but many iPhone 3G users didn't see a reason to upgrade." That could have been because many of them were still in two-year carrier contracts, but that's a quibble.
"The iPhone 3GS was the first 'tock' in what would become Apple's tick-tock release schedule," Lanier fulminated. He doesn't mean "tick-tock" as praise.
"Apple finally introduced the iPhone 5 a full 27 months after the iPhone 4," he rants. Because the iPhone 4S, which has been by far the biggest-selling phone in the company's brief smartphone history, doesn't count, being just a tock.
"The ridiculously long wait between design refreshes may have flown in years past, but Apple's going to have to do more to keep people from switching to alternatives in 2013," Lanier continued. "As much as some of us love our iPhones, smartphone users need to look to Android and Windows Phone devices for the latest and greatest hardware features. Features like Near Field Communication (NFC), humongous batteries, big displays and haptic feedback are all missing on the iPhone 5."
If only these great hardware features were present, Apple clearly could sell way, way more than the 120 million iPhone 5 units projected by, among others, Peter Misek in the product's first six months of availability.
"Apple needs to go back to the drawing board and announce the iPhone 6 at WWDC 2013," Lanier concludes.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnww Email: [email protected]
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