It's been a long time coming: an Apple event is scheduled to begin today at 1 p.m. Eastern Time (10 a.m. Pacific). But this isn't just any Apple event. Not only is it the long-rumored and much delayed unveiling of theiPhone 5, it will also mark the first Apple event with new CEO Tim Cook at the helm since Steve Jobs resigned in August. All eyes are on Cupertino to see what Apple's got in store, and how it will all play out. Here's what to expect.
According to reports, Cook himself will take center stage at today's event, which is being held on the Apple Campus in Cupertino. Cook hasn't been much of a presence in most Apple events up till now, although he made an appearance at the "antennagate" press conference last year and led the Verizon iPhone launch (technically a Verizon event) back in January. Cook's certainly a leader, but his presence is much more measured than Jobs' legendary showmanship.
That could be exactly what Apple needs today. Since Jobs resigned in August because of his failing health, it's clear the company doesn't want to make a bigger show than necessary for the iPhone 5 launch. The Cupertino auditorium seats 250 people, quite a bit less than Apple's usual haunts of the Moscone Center or Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. As such, the whole affair will likely be more low-key than iPhone launches of the past, with a lot less self-congratulations or whoop-whooping from an Apple-stocked crowd. In keeping with the subdued spirit, Apple's not live-streaming the event.
Tone aside, this event is a big deal. The iPhone 5, after all, is coming months after it was originally expected, and it's Apple's flagship product. While rumors have predicted everything from a complete redesign to a WiMax 4G model over the past year, a consensus has emerged on what will probably be unveiled in Cupertino today.
The next iPhone will look a lot like the last one. It'll be an incremental upgrade, design-wise, and won't be called the iPhone 5 ("iPhone 4S" appears to be the leading candidate for the name). The processor will be the Apple A5, the same chip found in the iPad 2, and it'll sport an 8-megapixel camera. There's virtually no chance it'll have LTE connectivity or an NFC chip, but the AT&T version will support HSPA+ 21 networks.
If the name of the event is any indication, voice recognition will factor highly as a new feature. Last year Apple acquired Siri, a company that makes voice-to-text software, and some blogs have reported that the next iPhone will have much more extensive voice control than previous models, essentially bestowing the user with a "personal assistant."
Changing the game even more will be the addition of Sprint to the U.S. carriers that offer the phone. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Sprint is paying billions to get the iPhone in order to keep its customers from defecting. (Of course, there's always the crazy, out-of-left-field rumor that Sprint will exclusively get the iPhone 5 while AT&T and Verizon get the iPhone 4S, for whatever that's worth.) When will it be on store shelves? Best guess: Oct. 21. iPhone launches are always on Fridays, typically two to three weeks after the unveiling. Happy Halloween.
iCloud, iOS 5, and Apps
Just as important as the new phone is the software that runs on it, though we know pretty much what's in store here. The next version of iPhone software, iOS 5, was revealed back at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June. So was iCloud, Apple's ambitious new cloud syncing-and-storage service that needed a massive data center in North Carolina for it to work. But now both should be fully fueled and ready for launch.
We should get more details on iOS 5, when it'll be available for download, and which devices it'll work on (will the iPhone 3GS get it?). iCloud should get the full treatment as well, finally revealing whether it will work with non-Apple devices, what the Web interface will look like (will there be galleries?), and how exactly it'll work with video.
And what iPhone event would be complete without apps? Expect more than a few developers to take the stage with Cook, giving first looks at apps that really take advantage of iOS 5's features and the processing power and other hardware of the new iPhone. Given the tone of the event, there may be less emphasis on games and more on social networks and utilities.
Given the time of year, Apple may also reveal new iPods tomorrow, but there's been very little rumored about them, apart from a few reports of the some models being discontinued. If there are iPods, expect a new iPod Touch, an incrementally upgraded shuffle, and the final end to the long-in-tooth iPod Classic and the abomination that is the iPod Nano 6G. But it could be Apple will hold off the iPod announcement for the product's official 10th anniversary later this month.
One More Thing...
It's a tradition that Apple events always have something extra, sometimes amazing (iPod Nano!), sometimes "meh" (iTunes Match?), but in any case Cook will probably keep this Jobsian practice going. What could it be? That's anyone's guess. A new Apple TV is an idea that's been floated, though anything outside of an actual Apple-branded television would be underwhelming.
There's one possibility that's gaining traction, though. Steve Jobs himself may make a surprise appearance at the event, according to Reuters. This would of course depend on his health, but an appearance by Apple's former CEO would reassure customers and investors that Jobs really is still involved in company strategy. On the other hand, Jobs may want to stay away so as not to give the impression that Cook needs any help as the new commander-in-chief.
Remember, all Apple has officially said about today's event is "Let's Talk iPhone." That could very well mean Tim Cook will come out and give a 90-minute lecture on the Compass app. But that's doubtful. Whatever Apple reveals, PCMag will be there live starting 1 p.m. Eastern Time (10 a.m. Pacific).
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