On Apple’s iPad 5, iPhone 5S, and Plastic iPhone

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to inspect a supposedly accurate—and seriously intriguing—physical model of the completely redesigned fifth-generation iPad. I briefly mentioned it on Twitter, but didn’t write a full article because some key details were ambiguous at that point, including how “final” the model was, and the release date. We’ve heard “late March” repeatedly from various sources, but unlike the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad, the casings for which were basically complete as of the Januaries before they launched, the iPad 5 didn’t seem to be finished yet.

What does it look like? Well, it’s a lot smaller than one would guess was possible: in portrait orientation, picture a 9.7” screen with virtually no left or right bezels, and only enough space above and below the screen to accommodate the mandatory camera and Home Button elements. Beyond that, it’s noticeably thinner, as well, which is to say the the fifth-generation iPad will be smaller in every dimension than its predecessors. As it will have the same chamfered edges and curves, calling it a “stretched iPad mini” is very close to entirely accurate, with the rendering below looking pretty close to what I’ve seen. The critical question: “how will Apple accomplish this?”

On Apple’s iPad 5, iPhone 5S, and Plastic iPhone

Rendered image credit: Martin Hajek

The changes are so considerable that a new screen technology, such as IGZO, seems like a given.

Going Retina for the third-generation iPad forced Apple to make that tablet a little thicker than the iPad 2, in part to seriously beef up the battery. Very little changed for the fourth-generation iPad. By contrast, this iPad 5 design is so much smaller that a full internal redesign—complete with a smaller, less power-hungry sequel to the A6X—can be safely assumed. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the new iPad remain roughly on par with the fourth-generation model in processing capabilities, with the improved screen, dramatically lower size, and reduced weight becoming the key selling points.

One piece of bad news: earlier this month, we heard that Apple was targeting the iPad 5 for March—something that seemed a little hard to swallow. As of now, we’re hearing October, give or take a couple of weeks. This part is pure speculation, but we’re guessing that the screens and processors are going to be hard to come by for a while.

If IGZO is in fact the screen technology inside the new iPad, Apple will be relying heavily on Japan’s Sharp, which has been struggling for some time with both financial and production constraints. We’d bet that stabilizing Sharp is a key concern for Apple going forward.

Our sources have also shared a few small new details on the upcoming iPhone lineup. The iPhone 5S will apparently look very much like the iPhone 5, but with a larger rear flash, and is indeed coming this year. Also planned for a 2013 release is Apple’s “low-cost” plastic-bodied iPhone, which is being developed with China Mobile in mind: the government-owned telecom company has over 700 million subscribers. One of our sources claims that Apple’s iPhone prices remain too high for most mainland Chinese customers—the iPhone 5 hardware alone starts at $849 there, versus the iPhone 4 at $500, in a country where the average annual salary is around $3,000 per person. The source has said that mainland Chinese iPhone 5 sales are already tapering off as a result of the pricing, which is higher than in Hong Kong.