Hey, Let’s Design the iPhone 3GS’s Successor!

By  |  Monday, June 22, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Future iPhoneNow that the iPhone 3GS is out and many (but by no means all) of the rumors about it turned out to be spot on, it’s time to start wondering what the next iPhone will be like.

I’m assuming for the moment that Apple will stick to an annual schedule for major flagship iPhone revisions and we’ll therefore see the next big makeover around June of 2010–although as the phone increasingly becomes the company’s primary hardware product, I think we’re more likely to see new versions and various tweaks throughout the year, as we do with Macs today. And for no particular reason, I’m calling it by a name I know it won’t have: the iPhone 3GS2. (“The 2 is for second-generation.”)

Oh, and please don’t call these Apple predictions–this is…idle speculation. Nothing more.

CPU: The 3GS made a big leap here, replacing the 3G’s 400-MHz chip with a 600-MHz one. The 3GS2 could bump the speed up again. Or it could be the first iPhone to sport a processor designed by Apple itself–Steve Jobs has said that will happen. Or it might stick with its current CPU or a minor variant. It’s just too early to tell.

Storage: Let’s just assume/hope that the annual doubling of iPhone capacity happens and we see a 32GB iPhone and a 64GB one. (For me, at least, 64GB feels like the magic capacity that should let me pretty much stop worrying about digital elbow room, period.)

Screen: Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has speculated that Apple may sell an “iPhone Nano” that’s a bit more trim, with a slightly smaller screen. Sounds logical to me. But you gotta think that it’s not going to shrink the 3.5-inch screen on the current iPhone, nor expand it in a way that would make the phone less pocketable. A higher-resolution screen is a possibility–some phones now sport 2.5 times the iPhone’s 320-by-480 resolution–but then Apple would have to deal with the fact that there are 50,000 apps written with the current resolution in mind. (Maybe they could be upscaled.) The rumored OLED screen would be cool, but I wouldn’t bet any large sums of money on it.

Camera: Even with the 3GS, Apple has made no attempt to keep up with the state of the art in phone cameras, and the iPhone’s thin case places some limitations on the phone’s imaging hardware. But let’s assume that the 3GS2 will give us five megapixels of still-image resolution. And hey, the video chip inside the 3GS is capable of recording in 720p, so I’m guessing that next year’s iPhone will be able to capture HD video. Flash? Maybe, but only maybe. Optical zoom? No.

Video out: Apple surely isn’t quaking in its boots at the prospect of the Zune HD. But maybe the iPhone 3GS2, like Microsoft’s upcoming handheld, will be able to output video at HD resolution–720p, most likely. I like the idea of an iPhone that can double as a next-generation Apple TV…

Case: Apple’s not going to make an iPhone that’s a lot thicker. There’s a limit to how much thinner it can get, too, and if Apple were able to miniaturize its innards much more, I’m guessing it would use the space it freed up for a larger battery. So I’m guessing that the 3GS2’s form factor will be close to that of the 3GS, but with refreshed aesthetics. Maybe it’ll be the matte-finish iPhone that the 3GS turned out not to be.

Network: At some point we’ll see a 4G iPhone, and it’ll almost certainly be one based on the emerging LTE standard for next-generation wireless data. 2010 sounds a bit too early, though. I’m thinking the 3GS2 will be a 3G phone–maybe Apple’s last, and maybe not.

Carriers: This country is teeming with folks who’d like to see a Verizon iPhone, and maybe we’ll get one, especially if Apple thinks that Verizon’s plans for next-generation wireless are more solid than AT&T’s. But I don’t think we’d see the 3GS2 be available only on Verizon for very long–there are just too many AT&T customers who will be willing to spring for an upgraded iPhone (and who don’t want to leave AT&T) for Apple to ignore them.

Stuff we won’t see: A removable battery. A physical QWERTY keyboard. More buttons.

Software: It’s practically certain that iPhone OS 4.0, whatever it is, will sport more and more interesting new features than the iPhone 3GS2 hardware itself. Apple’s strategy to date has been to treat the iPhone as, esentially, software–with the hardware opting out of the phone spec wars, evolving slowly, and being the tail, not the dog. I see no reason why that’s likely to change.

Price: Now that Apple has iPhones at $99, $199, and $299, it’s got a price point for almost everybody. I suspect it’ll follow the same strategy it does with Macs, and improve the iPhones at each price fairly frequently while rarely cutting prices. The safe, obvious bet is that the 32GB iPhone 3GS2 will cost $199, and the 64GB one will cost $299. The current $99 iPhone 3G could be replaced by something akin to today’s $199 3GS, or by John Gruber’s iPhone Lite. (I wouldn’t be stunned to see an iPhone Lite appear well before twelve months pass.)

In short, I’m predicting speculating that Apple’s iPhone upgrades will continue to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. Any other guesses, wishes, dreams, or even flat-out predictions?


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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Chris Heath Says:

    Solid bit of ‘speculation’ – and about evolution vs revolution: The iPhone was a revolution when it was released… evolutions of that initial revolution are to be expected. There’s not reason for another revolution – yet.

  2. JEF Says:

    Here are a few more for you. What are you thoughts?

    Will we see:

    1. Third party external keyboards with bluetooth HID support?
    2. Background processes?
    3. Ability to buy the phone w/o immediately signing a contract? (like 2g phone)
    4. Subscription service + wireless file transfer? (basically the Zune social done right)
    5. An iphone messenger program similar to blackberry messenger?

  3. John Baxter Says:

    Unless it is trivial or pretty easy to make a CDMA version of the iPhone, don’t look for Verizon in 2010. There are CDMA/GSM chips, I think–do they come in low-enough power form to work in iPhone? And with CDMA going away “soon”, major engineering efforts aren’t going to happen, although Verizon will certainly need CDMA/LTE chips, which helps.

    In the short term, and here, it doesn’t matter to me: I can use AT&T. I can’t use T-Mobile, Verizon, or Sprint.

  4. coolio86 Says:

    Ok. The iPhone WILL come to Verizon, not this year obviously, MAYBE next year, but definitely by 2011, the iPhone will be on Verizon No Doubt with 4G LTE capabilities. And hopefully (crosses fingers) video calling!!