While no one outside of Apple’s inner circle knows the answer, we can make educated guesses about what the iPhone 5 (or maybe it’s called the iPhone 4GS) will look like and what surprises might be in store for the Apple faithful. But the question of 4G capability is different, and it has both technical and marketing aspects.
On the technical side, a strong case can be made that the iPhone should not support 4G. Truth is, the new 4G chipsets are still very inefficient in terms of power consumption. Recall the atrocious battery life of the iPhone when the 3G chipsets were in a similar state, and how the 3G chipsets became more power efficient over time.
“The original iPhone wasn’t anywhere good enough with battery life,” Kyle Wiens of iFixit told me recently. “The battery life of the iPhone 4 seems acceptable. My guess is that Apple, with the use of improved chipsets, will reduce the battery size by 20 percent. Same battery life, smaller battery.”
The 4G chipsets still have a ways to go. “I don’t think anybody is expecting Apple to go to 4G this year,” Wiens says. “It’s the chipsets and faster wireless protocols that are really the battery hogs. Look at the battery life of every new 4G phone; it’s not acceptable.”
On the other hand, tech analyst Rob Enderle says he would be surprised if Apple doesn’t go with 4G on the iPhone.
“Another 3G phone would be a problem given the heavy push into 4G and would likely give iPhone 4G competitors an unusual advantage,” Enderle says, adding, “Apple tends to like to lead rather than lag on technology. They don’t like being followers.”
What about battery life? Enderle admits that the first Apple 3G iPhone took a battery hit, with the iPhone 3GS likely being the best of the series. But Enderle figures Apple will get aggressive on using a 4G capability that doesn’t lead to short battery life.
“That’s what they did with the first MacBook Airs,” Enderle says. “They put in a 1.8 GHz processor so they could argue they had performance but then throttled it back to around 900 MHz to keep the laptop from melting. So I’d expect a slow 4G over a 3G offering, but we’ll see.”
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.