It's been widely reported by a variety of reliable sources that Apple will announce the new iPhone 5 on September 12, and it will go on sale eight days later.
As much as we can know for sure sans Apple's official imprimatur, the new iPhone will connect via 4G LTE and feature a 4-inch screen. These are the headline upgrades; there are more, which I'll get to after the jump.
As per usual, I'll be on the physical line at an Apple store or pre-order an iPhone 5 to be delivered to my door so I can pass judgment in print as quickly as possible — and pass my 4S to my anxious wife.
But strangely I am not tingling with geek excitement as I have with past major iPhone upgrades (which is a place, sadly, I've been before).
Back in the day, a whopping five years ago, Apple unveiled the original iPhone. It was a radical reinvention of what then passed for a smartphone. A few months before the first Android phone went on sale in the fall of 2008, in the days when most phones still offered mere 2G connectivity, Apple unveiled a second generation 3G iPhone that raised the smartphone stakes even higher.
But since these early heady days when Apple set numerous bleeding-edge specifications standards, the iOS copycat Android smartphones have captured a major share of the U.S. smartphone market.
How? By ignoring much of the tech innovation that made the iPhone cool.
Android Spec Race
Google followed the Microsoft playbook for beating Apple — create an open OS able to run on anyone's hardware.
Predictably, Android handsets proliferated. And just as naturally, a can-you-top-this Android spec race began. Android phone screens got larger, data network connectivity got more speed, processors got more powerful, cameras and camcorders got more resolution.
As time passed and Android phones became more technologically sophisticated (even if they did & #8212; ahem & #8212; borrow some of the iPhone's ideas and, maybe, some patents), Apple showed no inclination to stay ahead — or even keep pace — with Android spec superiority in either screen size or data connectivity speed.
While Android phone screen sizes zoomed past four inches, iPhone's 3.5-inch display seemed to shrink by not increasing. While more and more Android phones connect to lickety-split 4G LTE networks, the fastest connection an iPhone can muster is AT&T's faux 4G HSPA network.
So how will Apple close this Android technology gap?
It won't be with screen size.
If reports are correct, the iPhone 5 will sport a screen "only" a hair over four inches with an 1136 x 640 pixel resolution in a smartphone world where new cutting-edge phones have screens around the 4.5-inch mark and 1280 x 720 pixels. The Samsung Galaxy Note phablet is the current screen size champ with its 5.3-inch bay window; the pending Note II will extend this screen lead with a reported a 5.5-inch pane.
But this additional iPhone screen real estate will not be evenly distributed — it's really more of an aspect ratio change. Again, if reports are accurate, the iPhone 5's 4-inch display will be the same width as the 4S, and simply longer and lankier with room for an extra row of icons.
This extra screen length means widescreen videos will no longer be letterboxed, and you'll see a lot more of Web pages, which is nice.
But a 4-inch screen still keeps Apple way back in the smartphone screen size pack.
Thin No Advantage
iPhone 5 is also expected to be the first with new in-cell screen technology, which integrates the touch and display area into a single, thinner layer. As a result, iPhone 5 is likely to be 18 percent thinner than the iPhone 4/4S.
But while thinness is something handset makers tend to tout, there's no real functional advantage. The iPhone 5 might reduce pocket bulge, but it's not as if previous iPhones were chubby. And, as we've discovered from testimony at the Samsung-Apple trial, 78 percent of us envelope our iPhones in a case of some kind, erasing any skinny advantage.
Apple is also reportedly reducing the familiar 30-pin connector to a 9-pin connector. I can't see how this smaller jack is an improvement. Not only does this smaller proprietary jack obviate all my iPxxx accessories and spare jacks, but now I have to shell out money for new cables or adapters. I would have been far happier if Apple had joined the rest of the smartphone world by switching to a microSD jack.
Apple also is moving the headphone jack to the bottom of the phone, another non-improvement improvement.
Apple And NFC
One iPhone 5 upgrade may push it beyond its Android competitors — NFC.
Yes, the Galaxy S III and a number of other Samsung-made handsets include NFC. But instead of promoting the mobile wallet aspects of NFC, Samsung is stressing its ability to transfer photos and video from one GS3 to another.
But the NFC community is drooling in anticipation of an iPhone 5 with NFC. One NFC chip executive told me an NFC-enabled iPhone would "cause the NFC market to hockey stick," and a banking executive quoted by Forbes on Friday noted an NFC iPhone 5 would be "a potentially disruptive mobile wallet."
But even with NFC and all the other aforementioned improvements, iPhone 5 won't be nearly as advanced as even year-old Android models.
As far as specs are concerned, iPhone 5 will launch quite a ways behind today's hardware even before it gets introduced, which is why I'm finding it hard to get excited about. Here's hoping when the big day finally comes and the next iPhone — whether it's called the iPhone 5 or not — is revealed, the device in my hand recaptures that old magic, and doesn't feel as tired as it looks on paper.