14 August 2013

iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C: Release date, hardware specs, and rumors rounded up

With the iPhone 5S unveil all but confirmed for September 10, it’s now time to discuss the release date and the hardware and software specs. We expect the iPhone 5S to be released towards the end of September, most likely alongside the iPhone 5C — a cheaper, plastic-backed model that will come in a variety of colors. With the iPad release schedule shifted from spring to fall, it’s also likely that we’ll see a new iPad and iPad Mini at the same event, culminating in Apple’s complete domination of the mobile market for September and October, and probably the rest of the year as well.

What do we know about the iPhone 5S so far? As always, we seem to know a lot — but we won’t be able to confirm the leaks and rumors until the September 10 unveil. What seems fairly certain at this point is that we will get an iPhone 5S (not the iPhone 6), and a cheaper, plastic-backed version called the iPhone 5C. The iPhone 5S will receive incremental hardware upgrades, while the iPhone 5C will probably have similar specs to the current iPhone 5. The cheaper 5C, as you have probably heard, will be specifically designed to capture the mid-range market, where Apple is currently losing huge tracts of turf to Samsung.

In recent days, there have also been rumors that the iPhone 5C won’t be equipped with Siri, and that there will be a gold version of the 5S, along with the normal white and black. These changes, if true, are obviously intended to provide significant differentiation between the two models.
For more details, let’s dive into the iPhone 5S and 5C individually.

iPhone 5S: Hardware and software specs

The best leaks currently peg the iPhone 5S’s hardware as a somewhat incremental upgrade of the iPhone 5. There will the same dual-core CPU (but clocked a bit higher), an upgraded quad-core SGX544MP4 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and an IGZO screen (for increased brightness and/or reduced power consumption). The camera should be bumped up to 12-megapixels, and there should be a dual-LED flash. In terms of new features, the iPhone 5S will apparently have NFC and a fingerprint reader.

NFC functionality isn’t all that surprising, considering many Android phones have supported it for two years or more. The fingerprint reader is an interesting rumor that hasn’t gone away since Apple acquired Authentec, which has lots of fingerprint scanning-related IP. A recent rumor suggests that the Apple will use a sapphire glass Home button, with a fingerprint reader underneath it. Sapphire glass, as we’ve covered before, is very durable — though, unless you have adamantium claws like a certain hirsute superhero, sapphire glass is probably a bit overkill.

Another option is that Apple will embed the fingerprint scanning technology in the display itself, though we think that’s unlikely; the Home button makes a lot more sense.

As always with an “S” model, we don’t expect anything too crazy, hardware-wise. To be honest, I still think Apple will wait for the iPhone 6 before introducing the fingerprint reader, but we’ll see. Software-wise, the iPhone 5S will of course run iOS 7, which will be released for other iOS devices around the same time.

iPhone 5C: Hardware and software specs

The iPhone 5C is essentially a slightly curvier, plastic-backed iPhone 5. The C probably stands for “color,” but of course this model is expected to be a lot Cheaper, too. So far, Apple has relied on cut-price older iPhones to capture the mid-range market, but as this market continues to grow (thanks to developing markets in Brazil, Russia, India, China), Apple has been losing ground to Samsung and other smartphone makers. With the rich Western markets reaching smartphone saturation, and no visible strategy from Apple on how to compete with the growing threat of Samsung, Apple’s stock value has been steadily nibbled away by Wall Street.

Like the fingerprint scanner, I think it makes more sense to debut an iPhone Lite/Mini alongside the iPhone 6 — but the rumor mill is obviously against me here, insisting that we will see an iPhone 5C. Sometimes with Apple rumors, it’s hard to separate what the analysts want Apple to do (an iPhone Mini) with what Apple wants to do. It’s pretty clear that the mid-range market is running away from Apple, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple will chase after it — it may decide to stick to the very-high-margin premium smartphone market.

Anyway, back to the iPhone 5C’s specs: Expect something very similar to the iPhone 5 (dual-core CPU, tri-core GPU, 8-megapixel camera), but with a plastic back. These plastic backs should come in a variety of colors, and will almost certainly be permanent — you won’t be switching out your iPhone’s chassis for another color. Again, software-wise, the 5C will run iOS 7. Recent rumors suggest that Siri might be yanked from the iPhone 5C’s version of iOS 7, though, to further differentiate the cheaper phone from its flagship sibling.

With two new iPhones, and perhaps two new iPads as well, it’s clear that the September 10 event will be massively significant, both for consumers and shareholders. With Samsung taking control of the smartphone market over the last year, and its dominance of the tablet market being diminished by Google, Amazon, and Samsung, Apple will need to deliver something spectacular on September 10. We’ll be there, of course, and reporting it live.

Now read: Is Apple seeing double? Budget iPhone could arrive in two flavors


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