What you need to know about the upcoming iPhone 5

As the fall launch of Apple's signature smartphone approaches, users should begin preparing

Some time this fall -- in September or October -- Apple will unveil the interminably rumored iPhone 5, and Apple Stores will be packed with people wanting the latest version the day it becomes available. This script plays out every year, yet the enthusiasm only seems to grow.

Very few details are known about the new device. Although there's a rumor a day on what it will contain, the reality is that most talk is false -- much of the gossip is simply made up -- and only Apple knows for sure what to expect. But Apple has provided some hints, and its other products also point to what you can reasonably expect.

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First, the new iPhone -- I doubt it'll be called the iPhone 5, given that Apple has dropped version numbers on the rest of its hardware product line -- will run iOS 6, the modest update to the current iOS that focuses mainly on revised apps, Siri improvements, and greater iCloud enablement, such as through Apple's new Maps app with its turn-by-turn navigation for more recent iPhone models and its Passbook app for storing tickets and other transaction records.

That's all we actually know. Anything else is speculation or conjecture. Here's what's plausible:

  • Larger screen. The 3.5-inch screen (measured diagonally) of the iPhone is too cramped, a fact that has become more obvious in the last year as Android devices sporting high-quality 4-, 4.65-, and even 5-inch screens have come to market. Few of those devices take advantage of the extra real estate -- most blow up the existing screen layout -- though the more recent versions of Android take good advantage of it for widgets. Let's be honest: Blowing up the iPhone's 3.5-inch screen to 4 or perhaps 4.25 inches would make it much easier to read the contents of all those iPhone apps we use.

    A 4-inch (or so) screen could be added in a way that does not make the iPhone that much larger, retaining compatibility with many of the millions of dock-equipped devices out there. Apple is not afraid to break compatibility when it sees a larger good resulting, but I don't anticipate it going large for the sake of going large, as some Android manufacturers have done. Once a screen gets much past 4.65 inches in size, it's hard to thumb-type on it, and you can't keep it in a shirt pocket as easily. Apple could bring the iPad's split keyboard to a large-screen iPhone to get around the thumb-typing issue, but I suspect that if any device takes on the 5-inch screen size in Apple's portfolio, it would be the iPod Touch, to make it even more of an entertainment device.
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