Ask Maggie: iPhone 5 rumors and iPhone-tracking woes

In this week's column, a roundup of the latest rumors on the much-anticipated iPhone 5 and some perspective on recent privacy concerns related to the iPhone.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
10 min read

The summer is quickly approaching and Apple fans are asking when the new iPhone 5 will be out and what new features it will support.

Since 2007, when the first iPhone hit stores, fans of the device have come to expect a new version every year in June or July. But some reports are suggesting that the device may be delayed until the fall. In this week's Ask Maggie, I look at some of the recent rumors surrounding the iPhone 5 to help readers plan and plot their purchasing strategies for the latest iPhone.

I also offer my perspective on how concerned smartphone users should be on the recent news that Apple iPhones and iPads have been tracking users' locations. And finally, I answer another reader's question about when Verizon will offer tiered pricing for its mobile data service.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you've got a question, please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header.

Round-up of rumors

Six months ago, the No. 1 question I used to hear from readers, friends and family was: When will the iPhone be on Verizon? Now, the No. 1 question I hear is: When will the iPhone 5 be available?

I don't have any special relationship to Apple execs, Steve Jobs or Tim Cook, but the rumor mill has been working overtime lately. Instead of selecting an individual question to answer on the subject this week, I thought it might useful to just provide a summary of what rumors are out there in an effort to help consumers figure out what to do.

For months, sources in the component industry have indicated that the launch of the new iPhone 5 wouldn't happen during Apple's usual time frame of summer, but a little later in the year. This week Reuters cited sources in Hong Kong who said that the iPhone 5 is expected to go into production in July. This means the device would likely ship in the U.S. around the beginning of September.

This rumor contradicts a different rumor reported by AppleInsider earlier this month that indicated that suppliers in South East Asia didn't expect production of iPhone 5 to begin until September, which would push back the release of the iPhone 5 until October.

What's the hold-up? According to various reports, Apple seems to be taking its time assembling new components for the iPhone 5. The company may replace the hardened glass on the back of the device with a metal backing. There was also a report from Digitimes that said since the iPhone 4 is still selling so well, the company is still producing panels for that device. The thinking here is that Apple may not be in a hurry to roll out a new product.

Now that we have a rough guesstimate of when the new iPhone 5 might be on the market, what's different about this iPhone than the previous one?

Most reports suggest that the new iPhone 5 will look a lot like the current iPhone 4. But there will be some hardware and software differences. For example, many people expect the iPhone 5 to have a faster processor, the A5, which will offer similar performance the iPad 2. As I mentioned earlier, there is talk of a new metal back that would replace the hardened glass backing on the current iPhone.

And there's been a lot of talk about the device's screen. Many people believe the new iPhone 5's screen will be bigger. Instead of the 3.5-inch screen on the iPhone 4, the device may have a 4-inch "edge-to-edge" screen. The home button would likely be eliminated with the functionality built into a button possibly on the side of the device. The new iPhone 5 is also expected to have a new and improved 8-megapixel rear camera.

Back in February, a Taiwanese blog, Apple.pro, reported that it had hands on information pointing to three different models being considered for final production of the iPhone 5. One has a physical keyboard that slides out, and another is said to be like an iPhone 4 in styling but with a longer-lasting battery and a better camera.

What's likely to be missing from the iPhone 5?

There had been speculation that the iPhone would include technology called near field communications, or NFC, that would enable the iPhone to act like a credit card for payments. The New York Times said in March that it had confirmed that Apple has indeed been working on the feature, though how soon it may debut is still up for speculation. The Independent also reported in March that Apple does not plan to include a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip in the next version of the iPhone. According to the Independent, Apple is working on its own system because the current standards are too fragmented. And it doesn't expect the functionality to be available until 2012.

The iPhone 5 also won't likely include support for 4G LTE wireless service. Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, hinted on the company's quarterly conference call earlier this week that 4G LTE chips aren't ready for prime time. He said that this "first generation of LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises" that would likely require a higher level of integration.

This wouldn't surprise me given that Apple typically lags at least a year behind in terms of components used in many of its products. If you'll recall, the first iPhone in 2007 supported a 2.5G mobile network, even though there were already several phones on the market at that time supporting 3G.

This news may disappoint some Verizon Wireless customers, since Verizon is the only major U.S. carrier with an 4G LTE network that has launched. But Verizon subscribers can look forward to the fact that the iPhone 5 on Verizon will be a "world phone." Verizon CFO Fran Shammo confirmed during the company's quarterly conference call that the next iPhone sold on Verizon's network would be able to be used overseas.

Apple hasn't commented.

Of course, most of what I've said here is still speculation. Apple hasn't confirmed any of this information. And it's difficult to say for certain when the iPhone 5 will launch until Apple has announced it. But one thing is certain. Apple will probably sell a lot of iPhone 5 devices.

Apple reported earlier this week that during the first quarter of this year, Apple sold a whopping 18.65 million iPhones. That's an increase of 113 percent over what it sold during the same quarter a year ago.

Related links
Report: Apple to begin producing iPhone 5 in July
Rumor: Apple to delay Apple to delay iPhone 5 production until fall
Report: Next iPhone not coming until October?
Rumor: Analyst expects A5 and 8MP camera for iPhone 5
Report: Next iPhone to feature bigger screen
An iPhone with slide-out keyboard?
New York Times confirms future iPhones to get NFC
Report: No NFC chips in next iPhone

iPhone tracking: How worried should I be?

Dear Maggie,
I am in the market for a smartphone. And I've been trying to decide between an iPhone and a Google Android phone. But now I'm totally creeped out by the recent news stories about the iPhone tracking people's whereabouts on their iPhones. Now I don't know what to do. I was going to get the iPhone, but I'm thinking I shouldn't. Is the Android device any better? How concerned should I be over this issue? I really want a smartphone.


Dear Cynthia,

I agree that the tracking situation is a bit creepy. But to be honest, cell phone providers have been tracking you as long as you've owned a cell phone. They need this information to bill you. It's how they know whether you're roaming on another network or to tally your monthly voice and data usage. The government also mandates wireless carriers track you, in the case of an emergency. This way when you call 911, emergency responders know how to find you.

What's more, lots of people find apps that track your whereabouts useful and fun, and they actually willingly give this information away. For example, people who use FourSquare and other social-networking services that use GPS to track your location are giving up this information freely.

But what's troubling about recent reports about the iPhone and 3G iPads is that information about where users have been is being stored in an insecure file on the phone or tablet. And because iPhones and iPads must be synched to computers, the files are also sitting unencrypted on these devices too.

The danger is that these devices could be stolen or hacked, giving someone else access to a record of your whereabouts for the past few months or year. Stalkers could use this information to locate their victims or thieves could use it to build a profile of you and use information to steal from you.

I agree whole-heartedly that this is troubling. I don't like the idea of someone gaining access into my comings and goings. But the truth is that you shouldn't panic. At this point, the information that is tracked and stored is on your personal devices. This means that the only way someone can access it is if he or she gets access to your phone or computer. So unless your iPhone or computer that you sync your iOS devices to is stolen or somehow compromised, you shouldn't have to worry.

Now onto the other part of your question: Do Android devices track your location? The answer is yes. Since the iPhone tracking broke, there have also been reports indicating that Android smartphones also capture and store similar location information. But experts say accessing the file on an Android device is a little more complicated than it is on the iPhone.

To get to this information, Android phones need to be "rooted," which removes most of the system's security features. But since Android devices don't have to be synced to a computer, this data probably only resides on the handset and isn't likely on your PC, too.

An article by Ars Technica also suggests that Android devices store less data than Apple's iOS devices. Android phones put the information in a limited cache that stores up to about 50 entries for cell tower triangulation and 200 entries for Wi-Fi base station location. By contrast, the Apple iOS consolidated.db file holds much more data and keeps a running tally over months.

While some people suspect that cell phone makers may be storing this information to help advertisers better target subscribers, the tracking technology may also be used to help route calls and data sessions. And it could be used to help location-based apps on these devices when GPS signals aren't available.

Anyway, at the end of the day, I'd say that people should be concerned about the privacy issues associated with these tracking logs on phones. And Apple and Google should explain why they are necessary or useful to consumers so that they better understand how the data is used. But I wouldn't stop using a smartphone because of the possible dangers.

We live in a digital age when every time you use your credit card or EZ Pass to pay a toll someone is able to track you. We give up personal information about ourselves on social-networking sites like Facebook, posting pictures and personal data that almost anyone can see. Do these things each chip away at your privacy? Yes, but that doesn't mean I will stop using my credit cards, EZ Pass, or Facebook. And I will not give up my smartphone.

But if you feel strongly about ensuring that this type of information about you is kept private, you may want to hold off on getting a smartphone until privacy concerns are addressed by these companies.

When will Verizon get tiered pricing?

Hi Maggie
I am 16 years old and I've been wanting to get a smartphone for a while. I'm able to upgrade my phone on May 3 and start a new 2-year contract. I was thinking about getting the Droid Incredible 2 if it is out by then. The thing is that the $30-per-month fee for data is pretty expensive for a teenager like me. I definitely don't need an unlimited plan, since I will probably be on Wi-Fi most of the time. I've heard rumors that Verizon will offer a tiered data plan soon. Is this true? And if it is, when will Verizon offer their tiered data plans again?

Thanks a lot

Dear Eddie,

I agree that $30 a month added to your monthly phone bill is expensive. So it's probably wise to look for a plan that would fit your budget and needs better. And I've got some good news for you. On Thursday, Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said during the company's first quarter conference call that Verizon Wireless would be moving to tiered pricing this summer both for its 3G and 4G services.

The part I am not sure about is what those tiers of service will look like. Verizon may choose to continue offering an unlimited service priced at a premium. It could then offer other tiers of service with usage restrictions that cost less. AT&T and T-Mobile USA offer tiered service today. AT&T offers 2GB of data per month for $25. And a 250MB service for $15 a month. T-Mobile's lowest tier of service is $10 for 200MB of data.