What to expect from the next iPhone

What we’ll see in this year’s iPhone, why we won’t seen an iPhone on Verizon until next year, and when to expect all the new Apple hotness.

We’ve got three weeks to go until Apple’s 2010 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Starting June 7, we expect Apple to shift into a higher gear and… Well, that’s just the thing. There’s a lot of confusion out there about, what, exactly, we’re going to see. I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t have seekrit sources deep inside Apple (seeds, if you will). But I do have the Chewbacca Defense:

More importantly, I have the inverse of the Chewbacca Defense, Occam’s Razor. In short, given a number of possible explanations, the simplest is probably true. And Apple isn’t as secretive as they think. They can’t hide their own past. We can divine a lot from what they’ve already done, extrapolate future behavior based on previous trends. So here’s what I’m sure we’re going to see, and when. Steve and company might surprise me, but I doubt it.

First, the main event. In his opening keynote on June 7th, Steve is going to announce the next iPhone, the iPhone HD. It will feature a 2VGA, 640×960 screen, come in 16, 32 and 64GB capacities, sport the same A4 CPU as the iPad, run iPhone OS 4, have 256MB of RAM and look identical to the production test model Gizmodo “acquired.” It will most likely be available two weeks later, on June 21 or 22.

How do I know this? Because it’s simply the overwhelmingly most likely scenario. Look at the facts.

  • Apple has announced and released their new flagship iPhone in June every year, at WWDC.
  • They’ve stuck to an annual update/release schedule for their other products, particularly in the iPhone, iPod (and presumably iPad) family.
  • The Gizmodo test unit is obviously real, and John Gruber pointed out than the markings on the back identified it as a late-stage production test, unlikely to change much, if at all, before full production.
  • The iPad comes in 16, 32 and 64MB capacities, and the Vietnamese teardown of a test model nearly identical to the Gizmodo unit revealed an A4 and 256MB of RAM.
  • The iPad has 256MB of RAM, and was almost certainly designed with OS4 in mind.

I suspect it will be called the iPhone HD because of the 4x resolution screen. We’ve seen multiple sources revealing the pixel doubled 640×960 resolution, the Gizmodo unit was obviously of a much higher resolution than current iPhones. No, the screen isn’t 720 pixels tall in landscape, but I’m willing to bet it will be capable of 720p HD video out. The screen will be extended viewing angle LCD, the same as the iPad, as this is more likely than Apple switching display technology to AMOLED.

Why will the iPhone HD have only 256MB of RAM? Because Apple clearly believes this is sufficient for the managed, limited multitasking in OS4, or they would have put 512MB in the iPad. And in practice, I have every confidence 256MB will be “enough for anyone.” Why? Because that’s what’s in the 3GS, and Backgrounder/Proswitcher work pretty well on the 3GS. And Backgrounder uses “real,” Android/WinMob-style multitasking. Apple’s PalmOS Cobalt-style multitasking is far more resource-friendly, and I expect it to multitask as smoothly on 256MB as Android does on 512MB. And all things being equal, less RAM is cheaper to produce, meaning more profit per phone. Apple likes profit.

I’ve heard rumors that the iPhone HD will be available June 7, but I don’t buy it. Apple wouldn’t rush a delivery date, no matter what kind of press difficulties they’ve had, and OS4, at the time of this writing, simply isn’t ready to burn onto production devices and have them in stores in three weeks. It’s far more likely that they’ll announce on the 7th and release two weeks later, as they’ve done with other devices. I’m betting the iPhone HD will go on sale on the 22nd, as Apple seems to like Tuesday launches. OS4 itself might be available for previous iPhones on the 7th, if it’s ready.

I don’t think Steve’s keynote will be all about hardware, though. In conjunction with the release of OS4, I expect Apple to release iTunes 10, with some important new features. The biggest new feature will be the incorporation of LaLa’s technology into iTunes Live, the ability to stream your entire iTunes collection to your iPhone from Apple’s shiny new datacenter in North Carolina. And because they’ve got all that server capacity lying around, they’ll also throw in the basics of MobileMe–email, contacts and calendar sync, maybe iDrive for people who aren’t already using Dropbox–for free.

Why do I expect this? Again, it fits the profile of past behavior. Apple knows they need to step up their cloud efforts if they’re going to compete effectively with Google, and yes, Microsoft. A little over a year ago, I wrote about computing ecosystems, and that is crystallizing more than ever. Apple wants to keep its users locked into its ecosystem, and that means they need to provide the same services as their competition. Google and Microsoft both offer email, calendaring and contacts management for free. Apple can’t afford to keep charging for the same. They’ve made these kinds of competitive moves before. The most recent was the introduction of the iBookstore, a direct response to Amazon’s Kindle business. Jobs and company aren’t stupid. They know they need to deliver. That said, I expect them to hold off some of the features currently in MobileMe–Back To My Mac, Find My iPhone, etc.–for paying subscribers. After all, this is Apple.

This fall, as usual, Apple will update their iPod line. Rolled into this will be the OS4 update for the iPad. Why? Because they’re also going to be updating the iPod touch to OS4, and the iPad is more similar to the iPod touch than it is to the iPhone. Makes sense that these would be related development tracks. Rumors surfaced that the iPad might be due for a price drop similar to the original iPhone. I don’t buy this. I could see it if the iPad were a slow starter, a way to prime the market. But right now Apple is still having trouble making enough of them to meet demand. There’s absolutely no reason to drop the price. Shipping it with OS4 this fall will be all the extra shiny they need for an update.

Okay, you say, but what about the elephant in the room? The big red elephant, with the V on it? As we’ve recently discovered, Apple’s exclusivity agreement with AT&T was initially for an unheard of five years. That doesn’t end until 2012. Don’t wait for the end of the world though, because we’ll see a Verizon iPhone next summer. Why then? Why not now? Because now doesn’t make sense. Verizon’s CDMA network is completely different from the GSM networks every iPhone currently uses, both in the United States and abroad. Apple is still making so much money from AT&T’s iPhones that it’s simply not worth it financially for them to design, build, test and support a different model on a completely different cellular protocol.

So why does this change next year? Because by next summer, when the 2011 model iPhone is due to be announced, Verizon will have completed their rollout of their 4G network, based on the LTE protocol. And who else is using LTE? AT&T, T-Mobile and pretty much the rest of the world other than Sprint. So next summer, when the time is right, Apple will announce the iPhone 4G–see why they didn’t use that moniker this year?–available on AT&T, Verizon and other LTE networks worldwide.

So what do you think? Does the glove fit?