Over the last half-decade, Apple rumours have become a currency unto themselves, a veritable cottage industry based on guessing what new features or specifications will be found in whatever gizmo the company releases next.
With Apple holding a press event in San Francisco on Wednesday where the iPhone 5 will all but certainly be announced, speculation is riding at an all-time high. What is the company expected to introduce at its event and more importantly, why is any of it important?
The iPhone 5 "Da Vinci Code": The invitations Apple sends out to journalists generally contain some symbolism that hints as to what will be on hand. Last week's invite had a giant "12" and the words "It's almost here" hovering over the faint shadow of the number "5." With the event happening on Sept. 12, it's a no-brainer that the iPhone 5 – actually the sixth iteration of Apple's smartphone – will be taking centre stage.
Screen: So with that veritable certainty, what will the iPhone 5 bring to the table? Many in the rumour biz believe a bigger screen is in the offing, with Apple moving from its current 3.5-inches to four inches. That would make the device slightly taller but more conducive to the proper 16:9 aspect ratio used in many games and movies. Apple's main smartphone rival, Google, has made sizable market share gains on the backs of Android devices with bigger screens. If there's anywhere the iPhone is seen as lagging, it's in screen real estate.
Guts: Rumour has it the iPhone 5 will have a quad-core A6 processor, which would roughly double the computing power of the iPhone 4S. It's also expected to support Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular network connectivity, which could mean theoretical download speeds of up to 72 megabits per second, although speeds in the twenties are more realistic. Of course, people who don't want to shell out for costly LTE plans from their wireless carriers should still have the option to stick with slower, less expensive network connectivity. Hopefully.
Battery: A bigger screen and more energy-hungry chips means the iPhone 5 will need to have either a more powerful battery, or a bigger one. One of the biggest complaints with iPhones, especially the 4S, is with short battery life. Apple is going to have make improvements if only to keep the issue from exacerbating.
Design:The Wall Street Journal has reported that the next iPhone will have a much thinner screen, which would likely mean the phone itself would get even slimmer. The earphone slot looks to be moving to the bottom of the phone, so the dock-connector slot is going to get smaller. This move from the current 30-pin port to 19 pins is controversial, since it would make all existing iPhone accessories – from audio docks to FM car transmitters – incompatible without some sort of adapter. It also further spotlights Apple's bullheaded approach to third-party accessories; while most manufacturers are moving toward a common USB connecting standard, Cupertino continues to insist on flying solo.
iOS 6: Back in June at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple showed off some of the features that will be found in the upcoming software update, expected to launch with the iPhone 5. Among these are the replacement of Google Maps with Apple's own map app, more Siri support for additional countries (including Canada), better e-mail options and FaceTime calling over a cellular connection. With map functionality being a fundamental part of any smartphone, it remains to be seen whether Apple's proprietary app will be anywhere near as good as Google's, which will still be available as an alternative. Google also released a new standalone YouTube app Tuesday, earlier had Apple confirmed it was pulling the old version out of iOS 6. You can also expect Apple to show off a few never-before-seen OS bells and whistles.
NFC: One of those is likely to be near-field communication, a wireless technology that's becoming commonplace in smartphones. At it's World Wide Developer Conference, Apple showed off an iOS 6 feature called Passbook, which acts as a digital wallet where things like airline boarding passes and movie tickets can be stored. Wireless payments for everything from transportation to fast food purchases are expected to take off in the next few years; the iPhone 5 is likely to be equipped for the trend.
Music:The Wall Street Journal has also reported that Apple is working on a Pandora-like music streaming service, which would allow members to create their own custom radio stations based on artists they like. Could such an offering be part of the iPhone 5 launch?
And one more mini-thing? The rumour mill is also grinding furiously over expectations that Apple will soon unveil a new, smaller iPad. With Amazon and Google both striking it big with smaller, seven-inch tablets, expectations are that the company will move against this head of steam with a similar-sized device. But would the iPhone 5's thunder be stolen if such a product were announced on the same day? Probably, which is why it's not likely to happen – not yet, anyway. The company is also still plugging away on a TV project of some sort. Will it be a full-fledged television set, or a revamped Apple TV set-top box that can stream live broadcasts via an Internet signal? Either way, it's probably a safe bet that it won't be announced on Wednesday.
Who cares? Apple recently became the most valuable company in history, by market capitalization. With that development, the company is now at a triple inflection point:
First, when you're at the top, there's only one way to go. The only question is, when?
Second, the company has been without Steve Jobs – its founding visionary – for a year now. Is his influence still prevalent and sustaining?
Third, other companies are finally catching up or even surpassing it in product areas that it pioneered. How much longer can Apple keep up its decade-long hot streak?
With each successive release – and Wednesday is a big one – everyone is watching to see if Jobs' magic touch is still there.
Editor's note: What's your take? Can Apple do it again? Did we miss any rumours? Which do you take most seriously? Add your thoughts in the comments below.