iOS 5.1 beta Reveals Forthcoming iPhone 5 Clue, But Will It Be March, June, Or Next Fall?

A report from the French Apple-watcher site HardMac’s Lionel notes that last week, Apple released a beta build of iOS 5.1 to developers, in which is found a reference to “iPhone 5.1.” Lionel cautions that this discovery falls well short of meaning that does not mean that an iPhone 5 release is imminent, and says Apple will most likely closely monitor iPhone 4S sales, and if they continue to be healthy, then we can look for an iPhone 5 release in May-June 2012. On the other hand, if it appears that the smartphone competition is gaining too much sales traction, the iPhone 5 is likely ready for an earlier debut if necessary to allow Apple to continue its momentum.

Currently, however, there doesn’t seem much likelihood of a precipitous iPhone 4S sales slump anytime soon. An abstract of ChangeWave’s Apple iPhone 4S New Owners Report released last week reported customer satisfaction ratings for the iPhone 4S as higher than had been recorded for the preceding iPhone 4 in surveys last year, with 77% of 4S owners saying they’re Very Satisfied and 19% Somewhat Satisfied with their new iPhone. Only 2% of owners say they are unsatisfied with the 4S, so it doesn’t appear that the holdover 3.5″ Retina display is a major big deal for most users. The most frequent 4S complaints by survey respondents were that 38 percent of owners said battery life is too short (a known issue Apple is working on), and 30 percent say they want 4G Capability. Discontent with the iPhone 4S’s screen size was only mentioned by 11 percent of owners.

On the other hand, The Telegraph’s Consumer Technology Editor Matt Warman thinks we’ll see an iPhone 5 release in March, with a 4-inch display, citing reports that Steve Jobs was working on a “radical redesign” of the iPhone until very shortly before his death in October. Warman also cite the Japanese blog site, Macotakara’s claim that that Hitachi Displays and Sony Mobile Display Corporation have begun shipping displays for a “new iOS device.” Last week, Macotakara’s danbo also reported that according to the News of Nikkei Business , NTT DOCOMO will release an iPad supporting 4G/LTE in the Summer of next year and an iPhone with 4G/LTE by autumn. That does open discussion of a possibility that Apple might decide to let the iPhone 4S have a full-year production run before replacing it with the iPhone 5, although I think that’s unlikely. danbo also notes that NTT DOCOMO President and CEO Ryuji Yamada and Senior Executive Vice President Kiyoyuki Tsujimura, visited the United States in mid-November to meet with Apple CEO Tim Cook, with the basics agreed for sale of next generation iPads and iPhones.

With due respect to Matt Warman, I’m inclined to agree with Michael Nacethat a February or March 2012 release of the iPhone 5 would be a blunder for Apple and its U.S. carriers, at least barring any significant downturn in iPhone 4S sales. I concur with Michael (and HardMac’s Lionel) that that a June release, probably at WWDC 2012 is the most likely iPhone 5 release date.

As for the purported teardrop case design for the iPhone 5, I’m highly skeptical, although I wouldn’t categorically rule it out. However, what I think will really emerge is another rectilinear iPhone enclosure with a 4 inch display and a slightly larger footprint in order to accommodate.

It’s also looking like a pretty strong likelihood of the iPhone 5 having 4G/LTE support and NFC (near field communication) “digital wallet” capability as well, if associated battery life and security concerns can be sorted out.


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