By Harry McCracken | Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 10:15 am
One product has dominated the buzz at this year’s CTIA Wireless show in Las Vegas: Sprint’s EVO 4G, the first 4G phone headed for the U.S. The fact that it’s Sprint’s first WiMAX handset is the big news, but with its 4.3″ screen at 800-by-480 resolution, twin cameras (8MP on the back, 1.3MB on the front), 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, 512MB of RAM, and 1GB of built-in storage plus MicroSD slot, this Android 2.1 phone has the best specs I’ve ever heard of in a phone.
Great specs, of course, don’t guarantee much of anything. Still, when I saw the EVO in person, my socks were indeed knocked off. It could be the kind of phone you consider switching carriers to get. (Sprint’s lead in 4G wireless ensures that no other U.S. carrier will get an EVO doppelganger just yet.)
The phone’s over-the-top specs also led me to wonder: How well-equipped will Apple’s next iPhone be? When the iPhone 3GS shipped last June, it seemed pretty beefy. But advances in screen sizes and resolutions, CPU speeds, cameras, and other areas have left the 3GS feeling fairly basic. Thanks to the quality of the iPhone OS, it still delivers an experience that fancier phones are scrambling to catch up with. And Apple, more than most companies, rarely ups the specs of its products for the sake of pure specsmanship. But chances are high that we’ll see a new iPhone (call it the “Next iPhone”) within the next few months…and it’s possible that its hardware will represent the iPhone’s greatest leap forward to date.
I’m guessing that we’re not going to get a 4G wireless iPhone. LTE, the standard chosen by both AT&T and Verizon Wireless, is really a 2011 thing; nobody would be able to use an iPhone on LTE this summer, and I suspect that Apple will prefer to wait until the networks are broadly deployed and technological kinks have been worked out.
How about a bigger screen? I like the EVO’s 4.3-incher, but it makes for a slablike phone that’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. Unless Apple surprises us with Next iPhones in multiple sizes, I think it’ll stick to a screen size not radically different than that of the 3GS. But maybe it’ll get more pixels and/or OLED technology, like the screen in Google’s Nexus One.
The Next iPhone might be the first one with an Apple-designed CPU; even if it isn’t, it might get something zippier than the current chip, plus more RAM to boost performance. Apple will presumably stick with fixed storage rather than a MicroSD slot, but if past evolutions are any indication, the Next iPhone will match the 64GB capacity of the high-end iPod Touch.
For as long as there have been iPhones, people have wondered why they don’t come with an iChat client. If the Next iPhone has a front-facing camera, it could do a great, video-enabled version of iChat.
As for the standard camera on the backside, it’s clear that high megapixel counts and built-in flash don’t automatically improve the quality of pictures: I’d take the wimpy current camera in the 3GS over the theoretically better one in the Verizon Droid any day. I suspect that Apple will only soup up the iPhone’s camera when it can show pictures which are unquestionably better than the ones the current model can produce.
Wild card: Maybe Apple will put something out of left field into the Next iPhone, such as Near Field Communications networking.
Thinking through all this, it wouldn’t stun me if the Next iPhone doesn’t sport sweeping spec improvements over the 3GS. With both the 3G and 3G, Apple targeted its enhancements rather than performing massive upgrades. And it seems quite possible that every dollar invested in making the iPhone OS better has a bigger payoff than if Apple spent the same buck on hardware.
Rumor has it that Apple’s WWDC conference will begin on June 28th. If it’s the launching pad for the Next iPhone, that gives us another three months to idly speculate. What’s on your wish list?