iPhone 5: Rumors vs. Hardware Leaks

Thursday Aug 30th 2012 by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
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Even before the iPhone 5 is released, the many iPhone 5 leaks reveal quite a bit about it. Or do they?

It's widely expected that Apple will debut the iPhone 5 -- or "the new iPhone" or "sixth-generation iPhone" or whatever you want to call it -- at an event next month. But after a spate of hardware leaks, is there any point in CEO Tim Cook making a big deal of the unveiling?

Officially, we have little idea as to what the new iPhone will look like or what new features it will have. In fact, we have nothing but ideas, since Apple has draped the entire project in its signature close of secrecy.

Ask Apple anything about the iPhone 5 and all you get is a stern "Apple doesn't comment on rumor, speculation and unannounced products." But an absence of official information from Apple doesn't mean that we have nothing to go on.

Talk is cheap, and it's easy for people to claim they have "exclusive" information direct from "sources" deep in Apple. Personally, I much prefer to put my faith -- and stock -- in physical hardware. And while a Cupertino engineer has yet to carelessly leave a complete iPhone 5 in a bar, there have been no end of leaks of purported iPhone 5 parts.

The first of these leaks came in early June from Hong Kong-based parts form ETradeSupply that posted a video to YouTube of what they claimed was the metal chassis of an iPhone 5.

The video showed an iPhone chassis that is dramatically different from what we are used to with the iPhone 4 and 4S. To begin with, it replaces the rear glass panel -- an unnecessary piece of glass that has been the source of a lot of annoyance and expense to clumsy users -- with a unibody metal construction.

The chassis also showed a number of other critical changes. While the width remained unchanged, the new chassis is thinner than that of the current iPhone but at the same time longer. It’s long enough for Apple to make the long-rumored switch to a 4-inch screen, leaving behind the 3.5-inch screen that has so far adorned every iPhone made.

The leaked chassis also suggested that Apple had increased the size of the speaker grill on the underside of the iPhone and also moved the headphone jack from the top of the device to the underside, allegedly to make the device more rainproof.

But the most startling change present on the chassis was a smaller hole for the dock connector. Currently Apple makes use of a 30-pin dock connector for the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and some other iPod devices. But this smaller hole seems to indicate that Apple has finally decided to abandon this connector -- with its myriad of pins that are there purely for legacy support -- in favor of a smaller and more modern dock connector.

Is this chassis a real component? We don't know for sure but the overall fit and finish, along with the detailed machining, suggests that if this isn't a genuine part, it's a very elaborate fake.

My biggest reservation about calling this part genuine is that it surfaced long-rumored switch to a 4-inch screen leaked online. Does Apple still use blueprints? I don't know, but they seem awfully "old school" for a flagship consumer electronics company.

Would anyone go to the bother of faking a complete iPhone chassis? You bet they would! Case manufacturers would love to get a sneak preview of what the next iPhone is going to look like. They’d part with a small fortune for information that would give them an advantage over the competition.

The more convincing that information seemed, the more it would be worth.

So yes, there's certainly a motive for people to create elaborate fakes -- motives that go way beyond yanking the chain of the tech media!

But the chassis isn't the only part of the iPhone 5 that's allegedly been leaked. Later in June EtradeSupply struck gold again and came across what they claimed was the front lens for the iPhone 5. This matched up perfectly with the metal chassis and backed up the assertion that the new iPhone would sport a 4-inch screen.

This screen is not as big as some handsets, but it's quite an upgrade from the 3.5-inch screen that Apple has been using on the iPhone for more than five years.

Not only has the screen been made bigger, but the aspect ratio of the screen had been bumped up from the current 3:2 to 16:9 -- the aspect ratio used for widescreen TV and movies. Careful measurements showed that the new lens is 0.9 mm thick, some 0.1 mm thinner than the current lens. This might not seem like much of a change, but it's quite significant when you consider that the current iPhone is only 9.3 mm in its entirety.

The enthusiastic application of keys to the lens also suggests that the new lens is significantly more scratch-resistant than the existing lens that Apple uses on the iPhone.

The new lens also indicates that Apple has rearranged the sensor and camera holes, although until we see the component layout inside the handset, we can't tell why this might have been done.

While looking at the chassis and measuring the lens is interesting, the part of the chassis that attracted the most attention -- and generated the most speculation -- was the diminutive dock connector.

Initially the rumor mill suggested that 11 pins were going to be dropped from the 30-pin dock connector, making the new connector a 19-pin affair and far more svelte and slender than the current offering. Tech site Cult of Mac found that there are indeed 11 pins that could safely be dropped from the current 30-pin connector, including eight that supported the now outdated FireWire and another three that handled video-out functionality for a couple of obsolete iPods.

But things didn't stop there, and there was speculation that the pin count could drop to aspect ratio. These two rumors appear to be linked in that it has been suggested that the male connector -- such as that found on the connector cable -- will have 8-pins on each side, while the female connector -- found on the device -- has only 8 pins on one side. This would allow the iPhone to be connected in either orientation to a male connector or docking port.

And, as you might have now come to expect, photos of both the alleged dock connector port and plug have appeared online. The plug appeared on French website Nowherelse.fr while the connector starred in a video posted by repair firm SmartPhone Medic.

While there's no way of telling for sure if these are genuine parts, the screw holes on the dock connector board seem to line up with holes drilled in the metal chassis.

If this is a fake, it's a very elaborate and highly sophisticated one.

But wait, there's more!

To top it all off, a photo purporting to be an iPhone 5 logic board appeared on Sina.com. This component too matches up with the alleged chassis.

While there's no way for us to be 100 percent certain that these part are genuine until Apple releases the next iPhone and someone -- probably the guys and gals at iFixit -- carry out a teardown of the handset.

If all these parts are fake, then this must qualify as the hoax of the century. On the other hand, if all these hardware leaks are genuine, then there won't be an awful lot for Tim Cook to announce come the September launch.

Maybe he should just take the day off.

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