Credit: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
If the latest anonymously sourced reports are to be believed, Hon Hai's Foxconn unit is about to start hiring Chinese workers to make the iPhone 5S widely expected to debut this summer. It's an easy bet, given that Apple has begun production in the spring for a new iPhone released in the summer for nearly every year since the iPhone's debut in 2007. The iPhone 4S and 5 were the two exceptions, with production starting three months later and the products shipping three months later.
So it's no surprise that the iPhone 5S -- or whatever Apple ends up calling it -- is about to enter production. But that lack of surprise is not confined to the production schedule for the new iPhone: The rumormongering sites have struggled to come up with cool claims for what the new iPhone will offer. Since the iPhone 5's debut in October, they've been stuck with the same tired "rumors" (meaning guesses and inventions) of faster speed, better camera, larger size and/or smaller size, new bezel, and ... well, that's really all they can theorize.
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The lack of imagination on the populist media's part isn't occurring only for the iPhone. The less-frequent but constant rumors on new Samsung Galaxy models follow the same pattern, though given that Samsung has a dozen screen sizes available for its various Android devices, any screen-size "rumor" is bound to be true at some point. Likewise, the less frequent rumors for HTC's Android plans or Nokia's Lumia series of Windows Phones follow an identical script.
The question is that if the fanboy media have run out of ideas for the next generation of smartphone makers, does that suggest Apple, Samsung, Google, HTC, and so on are also past the era of meaningful innovation for their smartphones?
It's possible. The last iPhone to truly break new ground in hardware was the iPhone 4. Other than the possible inclusion of the never-used near-field communication (NFC) technology, Android devices haven't broken new hardware ground, though there's been much experimentation on screen sizes and included ports. There's been no real hardware innovation on the other mobile platforms for some time. Yes, a few years ago, Nokia experimented with a 41-megapixel PureView camera for its defunct Symbian devices, but it abandoned that technology quickly, as getting much past 8 megapixels ironically degrades picture quality at the size of a smartphone camera.
Instead, what we've seen is continuing hardware refinement: thinner and lighter bodies, better screens, faster processors, better graphics processing, better cameras, better microphones, and better speakers. They're all welcome, but very evocative of the PC market, where for years there's really been little to say about a new PC other than maybe how it looks.
That's why the bigger action in smartphones in the last couple years has been in the software realm. Take Apple's Siri voice assistant, the auto-stitching panoramic photography feature that debuted in Android and was copied in iOS, and the software in the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S 4 that lets its infrared sensor be used for touchless gesture detection and for sending scan codes to traditional shopping checkout terminals.