iPhone 6 price, specs, release date rumours - two screen sizes and tough sapphire glass
Posted on 5 Mar 2014 at 16:41, by David Ludlow
Updated on the 5 March 2014, with rumours of Apple using quantum dots
Thanks to the raft of product announcements at the end of 2013, including the
iPad Air, iPad Mini with Retina Display, iPhone 5s and iOS 7, we got a glimpse of what Apple had been up to and an idea of what the hotly anticipated iPhone 6 would be like.
With the Samsung Galaxy S5 released, we now know what the big competition is doing this year, too, and what Apple has to beat.
With the rumours pouring in thick and fast, we're starting to build up a great picture of the iPhone 6. In this article, we're examining all of the rumours and information as it comes in. We update regularly, so keep checking back to get the latest information.
iPHONE 6 SCREEN
The one thing that everyone seems to be able to agree on is that the iPhone 6 will have a larger screen than any other iOS smartphone before it. There's a definite market for large-screen phones, as we've seen with the HTC One, Sony Xperia Z, Samsung Galaxy S5 and Samsung Galaxy S4, so it makes sense for Apple to compete on screen size.
The question that has to be answered is, how big will the screen be? Early rumours suggested that there would be a 4.7in screen. Most rumours suggest that the screen will have a Full HD 1,920x1,080 resolution. However, we think that the resolution could be wrong, mostly because of the way that Apple works.
Generally speaking Apple likes resolutions that scale easily from previous products, so it and developers know how apps will look on-screen. Full HD doesn't do this from the existing iPhone or iPads. We think that Apple could quadruple the existing iPhone 5S's screen resolution, giving an iPhone 6 with a resolution of 2,272x1,280 instead. We've covered why the iPhone 6 won't have a Full HD screen in more detail.
While Apple has not previously made a large-screen phone, upping the screen size for the iPhone 6 makes a lot of sense. It means it can compete with the large-screen phones from other manufacturers and keep the iPhone 5S as a smaller alternative, giving iPhone users more choice.
Increasing the screen size isn't all that Apple seems to have planned, as the company is also looking at ways of improving image quality. Apple has long been known for its high-quality screens and it seems that it wants to stay ahead of the pack with its latest smartphone. This time around, Apple is said to looking at quantum dot technology for the iPhone 6.
Quantum dots are man-made nanoparticles of semiconductor material, used to create light. They're so small that quantum effects start to take place. Without getting too bogged down in the science, the result is that the size of the dot affects its behaviour.
From a display manufacturer's point of view, this behaviour can be harnessed, as the size of the quantum dot directly affects the wavelength of its light emission. The smaller the dot is, the closer to the blue end of the spectrum; the larger the dot, the closer to the red end of the spectrum it gets.
What's exciting about this is that displays can be fine-tuned using quantum dots of specific sizes. It means that a display can show more accurate colours. Quantum dot is not new technology and the Kindle Fire HDX uses this technology in its screen already. However, as we noted in our Kindle review, one of the downsides was some light bleed around the edge of the screen.
Apple is aware of this problem and is working to correct it. According to recent patents, discovered by Patently Apple, the company is also working on a methods to improve colour gamut. If Apple can overcome some of the limitations of quantum dot technology, the iPhone 6's screen could be hugely impressive.
iPHONE 6 TWO SCREEN SIZES
According to this information, the iPhone 6 will ship in 4.7in and a phablet-sized 5.7in. This would be the first time that Apple has launched one mobile product in two sizes, but the company is apparently ready to make an exception this time around.
Even more fuel was poured on to the fire of this rumour, this time with information that a 4.7in iPhone 6 to be joined by 5.6in iPhone phablet.
According to Taiwan's Economic Daily News, Apple is set to launch a new phablet alongside the iPhone 6, with a 5.6in screen size. The site is reporting that Apple will not launch this product under the iPhone brand. There's no information as to what the product will be called, but it's possible that it could fall under the iPad category.
According to the reports, the new product is a result of Apple experimenting with screen sizes. In some ways it makes sense to have the larger product, as it gives consumers more choice and lets Apple compete with its competition at all screen sizes.
The new device will apparently have a sapphire glass screen, making it extremely tough and durable. Unfortunately, that's all the information that we have for the time being.
We're not entirely sure that we believe these rumours. We know that Apple was reportedly trying different screen sizes, but trying and releasing are two completely different things. With all of its existing mobile range, Apple has kept things simple by having just one screen size; complicating the line-up with two screen sizes doesn't feel like the kind of thing that the company would do.
Besides, Apple already has the smaller iPhone 5S, so we'd imagine that this will sit alongside the iPhone 6 as the smaller handset. We can't completely rule out this rumour, but given by past form, we'd say that the iPhone 6 available in one screen size seems more likely.
iPHONE 6 SIZE
ETNews has been reporting that the iPhone 6 will be the slimmest iPhone yet. In fact, at a reported 6mm thick, the iPhone 6 would shave 1.6mm off of the iPhone 5. It would also make the iPhone 6 half the thickness of the iPhone 3GS.
Making the iPhone slimmer also raises the question, will it be called the iPhone 6 at all? When Apple made the iPad slimmer and smaller, it went with iPad Air. Plenty of people believe that the iPhone 6 could be the iPhone Air instead.
It would make sense in a way, as Apple could continue to sell the iPhone 5S as the smaller screen version and have the iPhone Air as the slim, large-screen model
iPHONE 6 RELEASE DATE
The short version is that nobody really knows when the iPhone 6 is coming out. Everyone has a guess, but it's usually wrong. In other words, Apple releases a product when it's good and ready.
Typically, Apple releases a new iPhone once a year, around September. This time around, the rumours are that Apple is breaking that cycle. As the iPhone 6 is largely a complimentary product to the iPhone 5S, giving people a choice of screen sizes, the argument is that Apple will release the new smartphone soon.
So far, we've seen May, June and July all rumoured for a launch date. The information comes from a wide variety of conflicting sources, so none of these feels right.
However, there's a more persuasive argument that the iPhone 6 will launch in September, as is usual. It all comes from the financial report submitted by GT Advanced. This is the company that will manufacture sapphire glass for the new smartphone (see below for more information).
In GT Advanced's earnings report, it's clearly stated that the company expects to earn the vast majority of its money in the second half of the year. That means, from July, GT Advanced will be producing sapphire glass that will have to be shipped to China to be used with the iPhone 6 production line. That would seem to suggest that the iPhone 6 will be released in September, one year after the iPhone 5S.
It's hard to argue with those kinds of figures, but we'll bring you more information as we have it.
iPHONE 6 TOUGHER CONSTRUCTION
Although beautifully made, the iPhone is just as breakable as any other smartphone, with plenty of people walking around with cracked screens after a drop. Apple appears to be working on a solution to this problem, toughening up its products.
A new deal could signal a super-tough sapphire screen for the iPhone 6. According to reports, Apple has struck a deal with GT Advanced technologies to produce sapphire glass in a plant in Arizona.
The deal was announced by GT Advanced Technologies in a regulatory filing. "The sapphire glass that GT will make in the facility will be used to cover the camera lenses in Apple's phones and the fingerprint-reading devices in its latest products. GT's technology also can be used to make scratchproof glass covers for smartphones, although it is not used for that purpose by Apple today".
Apple is due to pay $578m, which GT Advanced Technologies will use to buy and operate sapphire production equipment in a new Arizona facility. GT Advanced Technologies will pay back the Apple over a five-year period.
While the deal should, in the short-term, provide Apple with the materials it needs for existing components, there's a long-term plan, too. As part of the deal, GT Advanced Technologies will "deliver low cost, high volume manufacturing of sapphire material" using a large-capacity furnace.
Synthetic sapphire glass gets its name because it's transparent, although it's not technically glass. However, sapphire's advantage over glass is its incredible durability and hardiness. Sapphire has a value of 9 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, putting it just behind diamond. This means that it's extremely difficult to break, resulting in fewer broken iPhones, saving money in repair costs.
It would seem almost certain now that Apple will go with Sapphire Glass. Thanks to GT Advanced's earnings report, covered by Forbes. Looking through the filing, GT Advanced appears to be doing little business in the first and second quarters of the year, but expects to jump massively to $500-to-$700m in the last six months of the year alone.
What this tells us is that GT Advanced is now fully committed to Apple and that it expects to ramp up production of sapphire glass in the second half of the year. Revenues of this size can only be generated by one product: the iPhone. As noted above, this information would also seem to give away the release date, ruling out the iPhone 6 coming in May.
As well as looking at the screen, Apple is also said to be looking at toughening up the case by investigating liquid metal for the iPhone 6. Liquid metal would encase the iPhone 6 is a super-tough metal, built up layer-by-layer, making it a lot hardier and more difficult to break. According to new information, Apple has put in five patents for liquid metal.
One describes how bulk metallic glasses (BMG, or liquid metal to give it the more familiar name) would be layered on top of each other to create components. The main focus on this invention is via 3D printing, allowing Apple to build components and cases from computer-generated designs.
What's more Patently Apple, which found the information, believes that Apple has already used liquid metals in the iPhone 5S, suggesting that the technology is already available. It's clear, then, that Apple is interested in liquid metal for the iPhone and iPad range, so it's now a matter of when.
iPHONE 6 CAMERA
For the iPhone 5S Apple upped the physical size of its 8-megapixel sensor, meaning that each pixel gets more light. In addition, it upgraded the lens from an f/2.4 model to an f/2.2 model, increasing low-light performance again. Combined with the A7 SoC, the camera has a couple of neat modes, including a 10fps burst mode that goes on until the phone's memory is full, and a 120fps slow-motion mode.
It would make sense if Apple was to use this sensor in the iPhone 6, although, given it's a bigger phone, with more room inside for components, it could well up the pixel count, with a 12- or 13-megapixel on the cards.
Apple may also be considering going in a completely different direction, particularly if a new patent is to be used. This suggests that the iPhone 6 could get a refocus-able lightfield camera.
Reported by 9to5Mac, a patent has been granted to Apple for a lightfield camera, allowing people to refocus their shots after they've been taken.
The technology works by capturing light fields, rather than a single 2D capture of the moment. The net result is that a photo is no longer a fixed capture, but one where you can select a part of the picture to completely refocus the image.
We've already seen the technology in use with the Lytro Light Field camera. It's an interesting product, using software to let you choose the point of focus after the image has already been capture. You can see an example of this in the shot below.
Part of the problem with the system is that the Lytro camera only took low-resolution photos, which were no good for printing at a later date. Upping the resolution isn't that easy and, by the details of the patent, not something that Apple is going to do. Instead, the patent refers to a high-resolution and low-resolution mode, with the patent covering a "digital camera system configurable to operate in a low-resolution refocusable mode and a high-resolution non-refocusable mode".
From the sounds of this, the lightfield option would be an option in the camera mode, much as Slo-Mo is with the iPhone 5S. The Slo-Mo editing tools, which are easy-to-use and incredibly intuitive, so if Apple can bring the same approach to lightfield, it could offer a completely different smartphone photography experience.
The patent contains no information as to when or if Apple will use the technology, particularly as it could be hard to slim it down to fit into a smartphone. Still, we can just hope that it will be ready for use in the iPhone 6.
Something that seems a lot more likely is the iPhone 6 to get optical image stabilisation (OIS). This all stems from the rumours that Apple is keen to make the photography better on the iPhone 6, focusing on quality over specifications. While the sensor looks set to stay at 8-megapixels, OIS could help reduce shake and improve photography, particularly in low light.
The information comes from The China Post, quoting from Nomura Securities, stating that Apple "may adopt an 8 mega-pixel (MP) camera with improved optical image stabilization on its upcoming handset, instead of the 16 MP upgrade anticipated by industry observers".
This information follows an Apple patent for improved autofocus and OIS. Information in the patent shows that Apple plans to use a lens actuator module that contains an autofocus mechanism "capable of moving a lens according to at least three degrees of freedom" and an OIS mechanism ""capable of moving the lens according to at least two degrees of freedom".
If this information turns out to be true, we're pleased. We've long said that more megapixels doesn't lead to better quality (quite the opposite in many cases), so focusing on the core components and increasing quality is a much better idea.
iPHONE 6 STORAGE
In terms of storage, 64GB has been the top model for a couple of years, and continues to be so for the iPhone 5S. We're not expecting this to change for the iPhone 6, although we know that the Apple can make a 128GB model, thanks to the recent launch of a 128GB iPad 4.
The new model doubled the maximum capacity of the previous high-end iPad (64GB). This update was said to be about increasing the variety of uses for the tablet, with Apple stating that more storage was good for large files for use in applications such as CAD and music production. It's also a more useful amount of storage for photos and videos.
iPHONE 6 A7 SoC
At the moment, the Apple A7 system-on-a-chip (SoC) is the main focus for the company. This is the first 64-bit mobile chip and it's extremely fast. In fact, in our benchmarks on using the iPhone 5S, we found that the A7 is by far the fastest mobile processor. Apple has now used the A7 chip in both the iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina Display.
Where as in the past Apple had to tweak the graphics part of the SoC to work on an iPad's screen by adding quad-core graphics (the latest chip with the A6X), with the A7 this isn't required. Instead, the A7 is fast enough as it is.
With that in mind we'd expect to see the same chip used in the iPhone 6. However, the only caveat is when the phone comes out. If it's early next year then we'd expect the A7 chip to be used as is; if the release date is closer to the end of next year, then we could see a tweaked version, perhaps even a quad-core variant.
iPHONE 6 PRICE
Apple typically releases its new models at the same price as the old ones. If that holds out, then, and assuming that the 16GB model is dropped, we'd expect the 32GB model to cost £529, the 64GB model £599 and the 128GB model £699. However, if the company continues to sell the iPhone 5S, we could be in for some new pricing, with the iPhone 6 a premium model that sits above it, in which case all bets are off and we have no idea how much it will be.
If Apple does decide to make an iPhone with a larger screen, there's also a good chance prices will increase too. Susquehanna analyst Chris Caso, speaking to AllThingsD, predicted that there could be a $50 to $100 premium for a larger iPhone 6, compared to the 4in iPhone 5s.
Although this goes against Apple's tradition of keeping prices the same across generations, it's not a rule the company is afraid to break every now and then. Last month's iPad Mini with Retina display launch introduced a $70 premium over the entry level model, so a price hike isn't out of the question.
iPHONE 6 MOBILE PAYMENTS SYSTEM
As the smartphone become more ubiquitous it makes sense for it to be at the heart of everything we do, including paying for goods. Now, Time Cook, Apple's CEO, has dropped a rather massive hint that Apple is looking at a mobile payments system, which could launch with the iPhone 6.
Reported by [a href="http://business.time.com/2014/01/30/apples-next-big-thing-could-be-allowing-you-to-easily-pay-for-stuff/"], Cook told investors on a recent earnings call, "You can tell by looking at the demographics of our customers and the amount of commerce that goes through iOS devices…that it’s a big opportunity on the platform."
The question is, how will Apple approach this. Current mobile payments systems rely on NFC. There are plenty of NFC readers in shops now, providing contactless payments via card and phone for transactions of up to £20. However, Apple has so far shunned NFC, refusing to introduce the technology in any of its smartphones or tablets.
Following this, we could assume that Apple will want to go its own way. On its side is the fact that Apple is actually already one of the biggest companies dealing with mobile payments, thanks to the collection of credit card details and payments it processes through iTunes and the App Store. It would make sense for Apple to find a way to open up its systems and start letting people pay for goods in stores.
One way it could do this is with iBeacon. This indoor positioning system uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), letting low-cost transmitters advertise their presences to iOS 7 devices. For example, the system can be used to broadcast offers in a shop alongside a payment system. In fact, Apple already uses this technology in its stores to let customers pay for goods without having to approach a till.
Apple could roll out iBeacon to other shops, making it an addition, not replacement, to NFC terminals. The benefit of Apple's system, particularly if used with verification, such as through TouchID, is that it could allow transactions of any value, rather than the £20 limit of today.
BEWARE FAKE PHOTOS
The problem with reporting on a product that doesn't officially exist is working out which leaks are real and which ones are just made up. Sadly, the most recent iPhone 6 photos have proven to be fake.
Posted by a Twitter user, @mornray886, the photos purported to show the iPhone 6. However, closer inspection showed that things weren't quite as they appeared. For starters, the Twitter user was new and had only posted up these pictures.
Secondly, the phone was covered in protective plastic, but both the front and back had identical air bubbles. Finally, a Reddit user showed that the fingerprint smudges were lifted from an iPad render made by Martin Hajek. This proved that the iPhone 6 photos were just an artist's rendering.
We're not against renders, as they can help visualise what a feature might look like. However, we are against renders being passed off as the real thing. As for the iPhone 6, we're going to have to wait a bit longer to find out what it will really look like.
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