New iPhone expected at Apple event

Rumours are circulating that Apple's iPhone event at 1 p.m. ET may involve a new version of the current-generation iPhone 4 rather than focusing solely on the next-generation iPhone 5.
Apple is expected to unveil a new version of its popular iPhone on Tuesday. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Rumours are circulating that Apple's iPhone event on Tuesday may involve a new version of the current-generation iPhone 4 rather than focusing solely on the next-generation iPhone 5.

Apple sent invitations to journalists on Sept. 27 with the message "Let's Talk iPhone" under a grid of four iPhone icons indicating that an event would take place at Apple's Cupertino, Calif., campus at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET). That led to widespread speculation that the event would involve the launch of a next-generation iPhone.

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Last Wednesday, the technology blog 9to5mac.com first reported that two new iPhone codes had appeared in Apple's internal inventory system. They were "marked as tweaked iPhone 4s" with the codename N90A, the site said. The codename for the original iPhone 4 was N90.

That came amid rumours that a new, cheaper iPhone 4 might be coming, and in recent days, bloggers have speculated that Tuesday's launch might not be focused mainly or exclusively on the iPhone 5.

On Monday, German wireless carrier Vodafone began listing three versions of the "iPhone 4S" with 16, 32 or 64 gigabtyes of memory, causing a buzz on technology blogs and websites. Sixty-four gigabytes is double the maximum amount of memory that comes with the original iPhone 4, released in June 2010.

In addition, the technology blog Techradar noted that a reference to the iPhone 4S appears in the latest beta version of iTunes, released in late August.

Over the weekend, the technology website Gizmodo posted an article with photographs from a Brazilian factory showing a new iPhone that looks "just like the old iPhone 4" with the N90A model number. According to Gizmodo Brazil, the new phones will have less capacity and be cheaper than the current iPhone 4.

Matt Burns, a blogger for the website TechCrunch, wrote Monday that while "unsubstantiated leaks cannot be trusted," Apple could disrupt sales of Android and Windows Phone 7 smartphone models  by selling a cheaper iPhone.

"The iPhone 4 is still a hot phone despite being over 15 months old," he wrote. "Apple just needs to repackage the current hardware into a less expensive body to completely demolish the competition."

Many of the iPhone's competitors are currently priced lower. For example, Bell sells the 16 GB iPhone 4 for $659.95 with no contract and the competing Samsung Galaxy S II  4G for $60 less — $599.95.

iPhone 5 expected to have new OS, chip

Meanwhile, a slew of new features are already being reported by the media for the iPhone 5 in anticipation of its launch.

The Associated Press reported that the biggest change would likely be the inclusion of Apple's latest iOS mobile software, iOS 5, which has been slated for release this fall.

IOS 5 will include things such as wireless device setup and content synching and beefed-up camera, email and Web browsing apps.

A new service called iMessage will allow iOS 5 users to send text messages to each other over Wi-Fi or wireless carriers' data networks, while a folder called Newsstand will corral newspaper and magazine app subscriptions in one place to make it easier to find them. When it comes out, the software will also be available for Apple's iPad, iPhone 4 and 3GS and the two most recent generations of the iPod Touch.

A new iPhone is also expected to include Apple's forthcoming iCloud service, which will store content such as music, documents, apps and photos on Apple's servers and let you access them wirelessly on numerous devices.

As for hardware, a new iPhone isn't expected to look that much different from the iPhone 4, though it could be thinner and have a bigger screen. The existing iPhone is 0.37 inches thick and has a display measuring 3.5 inches at the diagonal.

An improved camera is anticipated, too. The existing iPhone has a 5-megapixel camera on its rear. A number of recently released smartphones have moved to 8-megapixel cameras.

One of the most notable hardware changes many industry watchers are predicting is the inclusion of a more powerful chip: Apple's dual-core A5 processor, which is the same chip it uses in its current iPad. The iPhone 4 runs on Apple's older A4 chip, and the move to a more capable chip should improve things such as multitasking, opening apps and gaming.

Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said a more powerful chip would be key for getting a feature like voice recognition on the iPhone, which is common on phones running Google Android software. Longtime Apple analyst Tim Bajarin said he wouldn't be surprised to see voice recognition either.

Multiple iPhone announcements unlikely: analyst

Despite speculation that Apple may show more than one new iPhone on Tuesday, Wu is skeptical. He thinks that in addition to a single new iPhone the company is likely to start selling a version of the existing iPhone 4 with less memory for $99. That would be $100 less than what you'd currently pay to get the cheapest iPhone 4 from one of its two U.S. wireless carriers, AT&T or Verizon Wireless, with a two-year contract.

Analysts also believe Apple could also use the event to trot out new iPods and updates to its iTunes music software, which it usually does in the fall anyway. Last September, Apple announced updates to iTunes and a line of revamped iPods, which included a version of the iPod Nano with a touch screen.   

As for when a new iPhone would be available, Wu suspects it would be fairly soon after it is announced. His research  indicates production plans Apple set with its suppliers in Asia called for manufacturing to start in October, so he would expect it to be available within a couple weeks of its announcement.

"We would be very surprised if it's longer than that," he said.

And as in the past, consumers are likely to clamour for it. Bajarin believes Apple could sell more than 25 million iPhones total during the holiday quarter, which would be well above the 16.2 million it sold during the holidays last year.

"There's huge pent-up demand for this," Bajarin said.

With files from the Canadian Press