With the release of the iPhone 5 starting to loom large, apparent component leaks are starting to appear and users keen to purchase or upgrade to the new device are starting to speculate on whether or not the iPhone 5 will be able to take advantage of the new 4G AT&T and Verizon LTE networks that are being rolled out across the United States this year. While history with the iPhone 3G would suggest that Apple tends to wait until network coverage is fully established before releasing an iPhone that is compatible with the latest technologies, the latest quote from Verizon Chief Executive Daniel Mead in an interview with the Wall Street Journal seems to suggest that Apple is keen to embrace the new technology.
“You’ll see more coming from Apple on LTE…I feel very confident that they are going to be a part of it.”
The question of whether the Verizon iPhone 4 would be compatible with the Verizon LTE network was raised at the launch event last month. However, Apple COO Tim Cook noted that 4G compatibility would have required design compromises to the iPhone 4, which Apple were not prepared to make at the point in favor of releasing the iPhone on the Verizon network sooner rather than later.
The fact that the iPhone 5 will be a completely new device therefore raises speculation that Apple will choose to implement 4G compatibility in it, possibly releasing a single handset that is compatible with both the AT&T and Verizon networks. It is known from analysis of the chipsets found in the Verizon iPhone 4 that the the device is in fact both GSM and CDMA compatible. Apple could potentially choose a to manufacture a handset using chipsets that add 4G compatibility to the iPhone, although it is worth noting that there are a couple of issues which may preclude that from happening in 2011.
First, due to the relatively bulky nature of the current generation 4G chipsets, it is unlikely that a 4G compatible iPhone 5 would be any thinner than the current generation. Going by Apple short history of iPhone hardware revisions, the new iPhone that is due to be released this summer could even be a spec upgrade to the iPhone 4, perhaps implementing newer technologies such as the rumored A5 processor or NFC (Near Field Compatibility). If this is the case, then Apple will have to cram a hell of a lot of new technology into a space that is already pretty cramped.
This also leads on to the second obstacle in the 4G issue; battery life. Android owners are painfully aware that 4G eats up battery life and with less physical space for batteries in a 4G iPhone, is it likely that Apple would make the compromise of shorter battery life for faster network speed? Network connectivity is a huge part of how the iPhone operates but dramatically reducing battery life would not be on the cards. I’d suggest that Apple would only implement 4G compatibility if they could make changes to the iPhone battery technology that would ensure the new device could at least maintain the same battery life as the iPhone 4.
Depending on timescales it may be more realistic to expect a 4G iPhone in 2012, when new battery technologies have reached the stage of implementation in the iPhone. Otherwise, it may be more likely that we will see a 4G iPad 3 before we see the 4G iPhone.