iOS 5.1 is purported to contain 4G LTE code, suggesting that the iPhone 5 could be announced in June, even if iOS 6 is still in beta production. But would Apple launch the iPhone 5 without iOS 6?
A few weeks back, CNET blogger Joe Aimonetti put together an interesting blog post, laying out a discovery made by iDownload Blog tipster Krishna Sagar that code within iOS 5.1 that would allow for 4G LTE connectivity. Aimonetti explains that “Using iFile on a jailbroken iPhone 4 (running iOS 5.1, of course) Sagar was able to find code strings indicating 4G connectivity actions during phone calls, including code that ends a 4G call when FaceTime is activated.” He hedges any absolute claims of the iPhone 5 will be 4G, saying that the discovery of this new code “doesn’t necessarily mean the next iPhone will be 4G LTE-ready,” but he does note that it appears the software side of “4G connectivity is already inserted into iOS and, if the hardware allows, can be implemented.” In other words, all we need at this point is the hardware.
The angle of this particular story is that Apple is indeed working on a 4G LTE iPhone 5 — a story line that is all but assumed at this point, thanks to the 4G connectivity of the iPad 3. For this reason, some may have passed over this iOS 5.1 4G code revelation as a mere retread of what we already know. What I find interesting about it, however, is that, if the current form of iOS 5.1 would enable a 4G LTE iPhone 5, could this mean that Apple will launch the iPhone 5 with iOS 5.1 (or maybe an iOS 5.2), giving them the opportunity to debut iOS 6 beta at the WWDC and releasing it in full sometime in the fall? Clearly, Apple could do this if iOS 5.1 contains all of the functionality needed to equip the iPhone 5 with 4G.
But would Apple release a new iPhone with a mere refresh of the current iOS?
Apple enthusiasts are always looking for discernible patterns in their products’ release schedules, in spite of the fact that Cupertino seems to go out of its way to explode expectations. One thing has been fairly consistent, however: the new iPhone has religiously debuted with an alpha version of a new iOS. Even last year, when the WWDC came around, revealing only the testing version of iOS 5, we didn’t get an iPhone 5 to go with it; it wasn’t until the fall, when iOS 5 was ready to roll that we got the 4S hardware to go with it. Using this model, we’d need to see iOS 6 beta introduced very soon in order for it to have a chance at debuting at the WWDC in June along with the iPhone 5.
If Apple were to run and ship the iPhone 5 with iOS 5.1 or 5.2 instead, it would most certainly break with tradition. It appears that the current operating system — or perhaps one more refresh of it — could handle the job of ushering in Apple’s first 4G smartphone, but would Apple really go this route?
The answer, in my opinion, depends heavily on marketing, not technology. Last year’s iOS 5 and iPhone 4S emphasized software innovations, not major hardware advancements. While there were some hardware upgrades, such as the camera sensor and A5 processor, Apple made iOS 5, iCloud, and Siri the centerpieces of its marketing campaign for the 4S. And it should come as no surprise: Apple has been very clear that they often seek to innovate on the software side of things first.
Whereas the iPhone 4S’s marketing strategy had to be predicated on software enhancements — since it didn’t get the form factor or larger screen upgrade that many were hoping for — the iPhone 5 is slated to be a big hardware overhaul. By all accounts, we are going to see a new form factor and a larger screen, along with a new processor, an even better camera sensor than what we’ve got on the 4S, and who knows what else.
If these features are going to be the major selling points for the iPhone 5, could Cupertino skate by with iOS 5.1? It isn’t an easy question to answer, since as recently as the iPad 3′s launch, we saw Apple utilizing all of the new apps and software updates to really highlight the new iPad’s Retina display. With that in mind, one can imagine that they will want to do the same with the iPhone 5, rolling out a ton of new software enhancements that will inevitably come with iOS 6.
But let’s not forget: shipping the iPhone 5 with iOS 5.1 or 5.2 and not the brand-new iOS 6 will not be a deal-breaker for the average user. While geekdom will wring its hands over a move like that, the vast majority of people who will come to own an iPhone 5 won’t even bat an eyelash; if it looks cool, they’ll buy it.
What we can take out of this, however, is that, even without iOS 6 ready to go at the WWDC, it appears that Apple may indeed have the software means to still release the iPhone 5 in June.
By Michael Nace