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Apple's Sept. 12 iPhone 5 event: What to expect

The date is set and expectations are high. What will emerge from next week's event? Here's what is likely, and what isn't, about the new iPhone.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
6 min read

The wait is almost over.

Apple has officially announced a September 12 press event

in San Francisco, confirming months of rumors. And the invitation (reproduced above) leaves little doubt that the event will be the rollout of the iPhone 5 (or whatever name Apple chooses for its sixth-generation iPhone).

Rarely has a product ever been so analyzed, so rumored, and so leaked as Apple's next-gen phone. Not a day, or even an hour, goes by without a new picture of the rumored case, screen, connector jack, even headphones. Has all the excitement already been spilled, or is there something completely different yet to come? Here's a rundown, all rumors aside, of what to expect.

GSMIsrael, screencap by David Hamilton/CNET

The name: iPhone 5 or New iPhone?
If the name of the most recent iPad is any indication -- "The New iPad" -- that would be the easiest way to settle the naming convention for Apple's next handset. Then again, look at the looming "5" in the invite photo above. Unlike last October's iPhone event, where camps were split over whether there would be an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 (or both), this year it's unanimous that the look and feel of the next iPhone will finally take the design and feature leap many expected in 2011.

A new design
Remember how big a deal the redesigned iPhone 4 was? Expect a similar amount of focus on the engineering required to take what was already an incredibly compact phone and make it even slimmer. Of course, the pictures and rumors gathering thus far show a taller (if not wider) phone.

The two-tone color scheme and a return to a metal back could give the iPhone a look it hasn't had since the original model in 2007, but the overall look of the iPhone pictures seen thus far are more evolutionary than revolutionary, akin to the iPhone 3G's shift away from the iPhone.

The screen: Longer, thinner
A larger screen size seems all but certain, and all indicators say that the 4-inch screen -- increased in size from the existing iPhone's 3.5-inch screen -- will sport a different aspect ratio. A 640x1,136-pixel-resolution screen would enable an extra row of icons on the home screen, apps with extra visible screen space above the virtual keyboard, and HD videos with less letterboxing in landscape mode.

iPhone 5: 15 most-wanted features (photos)

See all photos

This screen could be manufactured using "in-cell" technology, a method of creating an even thinner all-in-one touch screen without any added layers. Or, it could be a new process. The resulting screen would allow for a slimmer iPhone, improve picture clarity, and even possibly extend battery life.

Most importantly, a larger screen would help the new iPhone keep pace with the wave of supersize Android phones that have become popular in recent months. Right now, the current 3.5-inch iPhone looks downright tiny in comparison to phones like the 4.65-inch Galaxy Nexus or 4.8-inch Galaxy S3.

A new dock connector (it's about time)
Recent images and mock-ups show what's been rumored for months: a totally new 8-pin connector, ending the reign of the trusty old 30-pin iOS connector. It's high time for a smaller standard: the wider, dust-collecting 30-pin port on the bottom of iPhones and iPads is an old legacy connector, and many connections are now made via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or AirPlay. A new 8-pin port will take up less space, which could possibly be used by more battery capacity without adding to the phone's overall bulk.

Of course, while a smaller connector may have its advantages, it has one major drawback: the long list of 30-pin accessories and cables will be instantly rendered obsolete (at least until there's an adapter available).

4G LTE: The biggest no-brainer of the bunch
The lack of 4G LTE wireless in the current iPhone is its most glaring feature deficit, and it's time that got rectified. The third-generation iPad's move to 4G was a milestone, not only for the iPad's lightning-quick access speed, but for the battery life while on 4G, too. The quality and availability of 4G LTE service makes this a clear-cut, long-expected upgrade, and one of the chief features likely to get detailed on September 12.

Of course, 4G LTE could dramatically affect the iPhone carrier equation. T-Mobile doesn't yet have an LTE network, making it even less likely that the fourth-place carrier will be getting the iPhone anytime soon. Sprint's nascent LTE network remains sparse as well, limited to just a few cities. As a result, look for AT&T and especially Verizon to no doubt use their much more-robust LTE networks as a selling point.

A new processor?
The iPhone has seen processor upgrades every generation since the iPhone 3G. An A6 processor could be quad-core; if it is, it'll be a more advanced CPU than what's used in the third-gen iPad, which has an A5X processor (with a dual-core CPU and quad-core graphics). Would that happen, or is there a chance that the new iPhone will have a shrunken-down A5X processor -- the same power, but in a more compact (and possibly more energy-efficient) package?

James Martin/CNET

iOS 6
Apple's latest version of iOS is a feature in itself for the next iPhone, although some previous iPhone models will share in many of the spoils. Detailed at WWDC 2012, iOS 6 has plenty of new features available to the iPhone 4S and some older iPhone models. But Apple has already indicated that -- like Siri -- some of the primo features of the new iOS (such as turn-by-turn navigation) will only be available on the latest iPhone and iPad models.

The official launch of iOS 6 should be detailed at this event, and odds are it'll debut a few days before the new iPhone goes on sale.

Expect the new Maps app with turn-by-turn navigation to be a highlight of this new iPhone event once again.

Siri, again
The latest generation of Siri will have more hooks in apps. Will it be easier to use? The capability to launch apps via Siri might suggest better in-car capabilities. Apple discussed Eyes Free, a technology being built into cars to take advantage of Siri connectivity over the next 12 months, at WWDC. More concrete details on Eyes Free with the new iPhone could emerge at this event.

NFC? Don't count on it.
Apple's Passbook

, a new app in iOS 6 that works like a mobile wallet, has led some to believe that NFC, or Near-Field Communication, a technology increasingly showing up in other smartphones, will make an appearance in the iPhone 5. Odds are slim this will happen; the latest indications are that the new iPhone's slimmer design might make NFC inclusion unlikely. Also, NFC in mobile-wallet tech is still embryonic, and hasn't gained much traction yet.

A new camera? Unclear.
The iPhone has made three successive leaps in camera technology with the iPhone 3GS, 4, and 4S; few people have any more complaints about the quality of the iPhone's camera. Instead, there could be additional camera modes or tweaks: multiburst, improved multifocus, or a better flash. With all the other new iPhone features, advancements in camera tech could take a year off.

iPad Mini or new iPods?
The original consensus was that Apple would use its September event to carpet bomb the competition with a slew of new products: iPhone 5, iPad Mini, new iPods, and the new iOS. Recently, however, the rumor mill has indicated two separate events: an iPhone launch in September, followed by the iPad Mini launch in October.

I agree with the latter assessment. Odds seem historically slim that Apple will allow anything else into this event. iPads, iPods...my gut tells me that these won't be around or even spoken of. Based on what we think we know so far about the new iPhone, the entire event could be spent discussing the new phone and its features (an iOS 6 recap). That would follow the game plan of the iPhone 4S event, where the legacy iPods were barely mentioned.

Meanwhile, rumors of the iPad Mini, with its alleged 7.85-inch screen, are growing at a daily rate. That device, should it emerge in 2012, seems destined for its own event sometime in October, along with long-overdue refreshes to the iPod Nano and Touch, both of which haven't been updated since 2010. Two events would allow Apple to double-dip in the news cycle as well, so a cheaper, smaller iPad -- a major product in its own right -- wouldn't get overshadowed by the new iPhone.

One thing's for certain: we'll know a lot more by the afternoon of September 12.

Stay tuned to CNET for complete coverage.

Tune in Wednesday starting at 9 a.m. PT for our Apple iPhone event live blog.