Apple jumpstarted the smartphone space in 2007 with the original iPhone 2G, the competition has blown past them when it comes to hardware specs to date. That changes in 2010 with the iPhone HD.
We’ll cover the internals, the CPU and GPU, RAM and capacity in a future post, but in terms of what could easily be discerned so far, let’s break it down as follows:
The original iPhone (and all iPhone models since) sported a 480×320 multitouch display. That display remains the absolute best multitouch screen on the market, bar none, but the resolution has been eclipsed by Android and Windows Phone where 800(+)x480 has become the new norm on the high end. HD2, Droid, Nexus One, Desire, EVO 4G, the list of obscenely large displays on competing platforms seems to be growing monthly. We were wondering (read: hoping) Apple would match that last year, even though we thought it would cause problems for developers (the way it has for Android). Apple didn’t. They kept the iPhone 3GS at the same 480×320. This year we again hoped they’d match it. According to rumors, Apple won’t — they’re going to exceed it.
Gizmodo couldn’t see anything other than the connect-to-iTunes screen, so we don’t know for certain what the actual resolution will be, but they claimed to be unable to see the pictures, but Daring Fireball has said a whopping 960×640 is what’s supposed to be on the iPhone HD (hence the name TiPb predicted back in 2009 and Engadget hears just might be the name in 2010). That’s twice the vertical and twice the horizontal pixel count as all the previous generations of iPhone. It’s also over 300dpi at the physical size Gizmodo showed off. Daring Fireball points out, and our own past experience tells us, that’s past fair quality print resolution, especially for color work. With Apple’s sub-pixel anti-aliasing (where the red, green, and blue components of each pixel can be fired independently), it might just look as good as a high-end glossy magazine, and that would be incredible.
Being twice the current iPhone resolution also ties remarkably well into something Apple announced for the iPad and its larger, if less dense 1024×768 screen — pixel doubling. Every pixel on the iPhone can be doubled to occupy four pixels (2 vertical x 2 horizontal) on the iPhone HD and at 300dpi look pretty much identical. No blurry double-chunky like on the iPad, and no problem for older iPhone apps. No fragmentation. (And when developers update with universal binaries for iPhone, they should look fantastic, and should also work at 1x at the same size as current iPhone apps work at 2x on the iPad). In other words, it solves a lot of problems for Apple and developers.
When the iPhone 2G shipped without Mobile iChat it was a source of speculation (conspiracy theorists thinking AT&T didn’t want anything cutting into their lucrative SMS business). Since then there have been persistent rumors that not only was Mobile iChat coming, Mobile iChat video was coming with it. Of course, that would mean a front-facing camera — a webcam or chat-cam. While it didn’t appear on either the iPhone 3G or the iPhone 3GS, it is on the iPhone HD and strings for iChat have been showing up in the software starting in iPhone 3.2 for iPad and continuing into iPhone OS 4 beta 1.
Sprint’s upcoming Android EVO 4G will have a front-facing camera when it ships, and will be working on a fast WiMax connection. Whether or not AT&T, which still faces data issues in some markets, will allow iChat video over their 3G network is unknown. If not, like movie downloads on current iPhones, it could be restricted to Wi-Fi only use, where cell bandwidth is no issue. Perhaps it will be similar to how streaming video is handled today — lower quality of 3G, higher quality over Wi-Fi.
Bigger rear-facing camera
Gizmodo also noted that the camera on the back of the iPhone HD was “bigger”. 5 megapixels would be nice. The new Verizon Droid Incredible has an 8 megapixel camera but if the point-and-shoot wars have taught us anything it’s that pixel size… well, it matters, but it matters less than lens quality. We’d take a great 5 megapixel lens that doesn’t cut up the sensor too much and gives better low-light sensitivity than a bigger, worse camera (ahem, Droid).
We’d also take 720p video recording. The 3GS is good enough for casual use. 720p would replace 90% of our video camera needs as well.
There looks to also be a flash, which would match with rumors of Apple looking for LED flash components. No, it’s not built into a glowing Apple logo, but it’s there.
Many other phones have had this for a long time, and while it wouldn’t excite us as much as a quality low-light lens, we’re not upset to see it.
In addition to the same mic on the bottom of the device found in all previous iPhones, the iPhone HD looks to have a small mic on the top as well. Gizmodo theorizes that this is like the Nexus One — a noise cancelation mic that reads ambient sound and removes it from the main audio channel making you sound clearer to the person on the other end.
If there’s a top mounted iChat camera, however, could it also serve (or serve double duty) for chat?
The aluminum band around the iPhone HD is oddly broken at the bottom making it into two discreet pieces. Some have suggested this is so that the device can be easily opened and the battery swapped out. The EU is mandating user-swappable batteries, which is part of where the logic behind this line of thinking lies. There’s also a break up top, so we’re not even sure how far that logic goes.
Anything is possible, but given the size and type of batteries Apple is making lately, and the life they’re getting out of them, we’re not getting our hopes up. Gizmodo pegs the iPhone HD battery as 16% larger already — 5.25 WHr at 3.7V vs. the current 4.51 WHr at 3.7V.
For the most part we have external chargers. Unless we could swap the battery for one that supported inductive charging, that is…
UPDATE: Gizmodo has done an iPhone HD tear-down and the battery in NOT removable. (So here’s hoping those breaks in the aluminum are).
Like iPad, the iPhone HD will use a MicroSIM as opposed to the MiniSIM found in current iPhones and almost all other phones. They’re a standard and they’re likely to become more common in the future, especially with Apple supporting them. (AT&T, Vodafone UK, Orange UK, O2, and Rogers have already announced support for the iPad).
They’re also compatible with MiniSIM so you can cut down a MiniSIM to use it in a MicroSIM device, or put a “jacket” on a MicroSIM and use it in a MiniSIM device.
It’ll make frequent SIM-switchers’ lives more difficult for a while, no doubt, which might be part of the plan, but if it saves space inside for more battery, we won’t complain too much.
The first iPhone 2G used aluminum for the back, with a plastic stripe to allow radio reception. The iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS went full on plastic. The iPhone HD seems to have a more glass-like back, but what that means exactly is uncertain. Certainly glass on the front and back would double the breakable surface area of the iPhone HD.
Mention has been made of an Apple patent for ceramics that would be glass-like, tough, and radio transparent. According to a source who claims familiarity with past Apple ceramic initiatives, however, that’s unlikely for two reasons: pricing and rigidity. While there are ways around the rigidity, that drives up pricing. The flat backing, if final design, would be cheaper to deliver than something like the iPhone 3GS’ curved back, but it wouldn’t solve the rigidity problem. Apple has been so determined to keep their price-point down, raising it to cover the costs of a ceramic back might not make sense yet. Rather, something akin to Gorilla Glass could be used for the actual screen itself.
So there it is — a lot of rumor, a little hands-on, and just over a month to go before Steve Jobs takes the WWDC stage and almost certainly shows us all the final iPhone HD (or iPhone 4G, or whatever they call it). Like an episode of Lost, every answer until then will likely only leave us with more questions. We’ve shared our thoughts, now it’s your turn. What do you think of the 4th generation iPhone specs seen and rumored so far?