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Flash Forward to the iPhone 5

written by: Spanner•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 10/28/2011

You might have only just taken out a new iPhone 4S contract, but it's never too early to begin pondering what delights Apple might have in store for us in the smartphone phenomenon's next iteration. We pick out our favorite rumors as we flash forward to the iPhone 5.

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    4G/LTE Cellular Data

    The iPhone 5 will need fast Internet, so 4G and LTE are essential. Clearly the new iOS superstar Siri isn't going anywhere, so we're sure she'll be there with bells on when the iPhone 5 arrives. Indeed, she'll probably bring some friends along. But Siri isn't a rumor, so why are we beginning with her in our iPhone 5 flash forward?

    As you may or may not know, Siri is web-based. She needs an active Internet connection to check what you're on about and to formulate a reply. The 3G networks are pretty good in terms of coverage, and can be quite fast, but the more load apps like Siri put on the cellular data network, the more it's going to suffer.

    What with the addition of iCloud to Apple's arsenal, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Cupertino is going to be pushing for more and faster Internet connections if only to keep its operating system features and native apps running at full throttle. Leaving out the latest cellular technology would be a massive oversight, and Apple isn't known for those.

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    Case Redesign

    The iPhone 3GS made continued use of the 3G's casing, and the iPhone 4S has done the same. This line of reasoning suggests the iPhone 5 is going to have a new external style.

    This would be a pretty safe bet if the iPhone 4(S) didn't look so damn good already. Even with its new guts, there's nothing aged, bulky, retro or unpleasant about the iPhone 4 design, and changing it purely for the sake of change would be a bad idea. This makes the redesign rumors a difficult one to tackle, as Apple is known for great designs and could come under fire if a new case turns out to be a step backward.

    The iPhone 4 isn't the last word in smartphone style, of course, and it's not at all impossible that Apple will change a few dimensions to accommodate any internal features the iPhone 5 can afford -- such as a slimmer profile, or larger screen. So our money is on a new look for the iPhone 5, but we wouldn't put the week's wages on it.

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    Near Field Communication

    A built in payment and micro-transaction opportunity for the iPhone 5? Chances are you've already seen, or used, near field communication technology. It's actually not very new at all, despite it being touted as the next big smartphone addition. So, what is NFC?

    Previously its main use has been door access, with a small key fob that you wave in front of a plate and it lets you through electronic locks. NFC isn't likely to be used for door access in smartphones (although there's absolutely no reason why it couldn't be) but for payments and fast, easy data gathering.

    The great thing about NFC is that only one side of the technology needs power (the reader, which in this case is the iPhone 5). Therefore, every price tag on every product on every shelf could have a battery-less NFC device in it. Waving your iPhone 5, with its new NFC receiver, in front of one of these tags brings up info about the product. It could be used to pay for it at the counter, too, with an on-screen PIN to secure the transaction. You might not even need to go to the counter, for that matter.

    This technology is already appearing in smartphones and cellphones (see Google Wallet), and a lot of people think Apple will adopt one of the many NFC formats out there for the iPhone 5. If it does so, Cupertino will probably establish the market standard for near field communication. It's coming, but there's a nagging doubt in the back of our mind about whether the iPhone 5 will deliver it. Even though we really hope it does.

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    Thunderbolt and USB 3

    As digital storage sizes skyrocket, and we begin counting memory spaces in terabytes, we'll want faster ways of sending these massive amounts of data back and forth. It's been happening since computers were invented, and the newest addition on the horizon is USB 3.

    Apple likes USB, as that's the only cable you get with the iPhone, so it seems very possible that the next generation of Apple smartphone will be compatible with the latest USB standard. The only shadow of doubt over the possibility is Apple's proprietary Thunderbolt port that's being added to its latest computers and monitors.

    Cupertino doesn't like competition, and if it wants Thunderbolt to succeed, USB 3 could -- possibly -- be seen as the enemy. If that turns out to be the case, the iPhone 5 might forego USB 3 compatibility -- sticking with USB 2 and lower -- while adding in Thunderbolt port access in the 30-pin dock connector. Want fast transfer speeds? All you need to do is buy a Mac.

    One way or another, the iPhone 5 is likely to adopt some form of contemporary high-speed data transfer system. But which one, we couldn't say. You can bet it won't be both, though.

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    New Screen

    As you can see, a larger screen is possible with iPhone 4 handset dimensions. The iPhone has seen significant screen changes before now, with the introduction of the beautiful, high-resolution retina display in the fourth generation device. But Apple has previously stated that the resolution of the retina display technology is the maximum the human eye can perceive on a 3.5-inch screen. So either it goes back on that statement and gives the iPhone 5 an even higher res display (not likely) or it leaves the screen alone.

    But there could be a third, and perhaps a little more left-field, option. It changes the physical size of the screen for the iPhone 5. A larger screen can mean an increased resolution without reneging on the retina display's remit. Then again, the current pixel density could easily support an extra half-inch across the diagonal without any signs of a jagged edge.

    What's far less likely is that Apple will actually increase the overall dimensions of the iPhone 5 handset. But if it can squeeze a larger, potentially full-bleed retina display onto the front of an iPhone 4-sized unit, that could be just what it needs to help wow an audience that's still in love with the previous model's design.

    Got any more expectations, desires or outside bets for what the iPhone 5 will have for us? Let us know in the comments. Ideally before next June -- that's when we expect to see it.