iPhone 6 rumor rollup for the week ending April 19

Worker bee hirings, delay depression, fab phablet, megapixel magic

With the iOSphere's spring warming trend come swarms of Chinese worker bees, presaging the start of iPhone 6 production.

Unless of course there are delays. And woe is us: it looks like every new Apple mobile product -- except possibly updated earbuds and colored Lightening-USB cables -- is being delayed. All those worker bees may end up just standing around, reading iPhone rumor sites to know what's going on.

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Also this week: newly recirculated rumors about the iPhone 6 fab phablet and the magic of more megapixels.

You read it here second.

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"Numerous iPhone 6 renders have shown that its profile will boast of a bezel-free form on four edges, thus eliminating the need for a capacitive key on the phone's front portion."

Erik Pineda, International Business Times, explaining how he knows that the "phablet-size" iPhone 6 will scrap the iconic home button -- because he's seen lots of fan art that imagines an iPhone without the iconic home button.

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iPhone 5 will be announced soon, because Foxconn is hiring more Chinese assembly line workers

Both Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal are reporting that Foxconn, which assembles iPhones for Apple, has started hiring additional assembly line workers, as it prepares to start production of the Next iPhone.

According to many in the iOSphere, this means that the iPhone 5S or 6 or something will be announced soon. Even though no one really defines what "soon" means, and almost no one has any idea of the time it takes for an electronics company to move from hiring new workers to shipping pallets of new smartphones to warehouses in the U.S.

Foxconn is the trade name for Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., which announced that since the last week of March, it has been adding about 10,000 line workers each week at its Zhengzhou, China, facility, a major iPhone product site, according to the Journal.

According to the Journal: "'We have been very busy recently as we will start mass-producing the new iPhone soon,' said a Zhengzhou-based Foxconn executive with direct knowledge of production plans."

Bloomberg filed a very similar story, citing a "person familiar with the plans" at Zhengzhou, who could be the same person who talked to the Journal for all we know. "The extra workers will assemble the new [iPhone] device as well as existing models and have been added at Apple's request to boost capacity, the person said," according to Bloomberg.

TechnoBuffalo didn't hesitate to fill in the blanks left by the lamestream media. "iPhone 5S production is expected to begin this quarter and Apple will likely launch the phone later this summer," Todd Haselton assured readers. "However, a recent report suggests that manufacturing issues may cause some delays."

So, iPhone 5S will likely launch later this summer. Unless it's delayed. Then it will be, you know, later.

iPhone 6, iPhone 5S and iPhone iCheapo are all delayed

Speaking of delay, or more accurately of delays, plural ... CNET's Dara Kerr warns that, while its rivals "forge ahead" with mobile device, "Apple could be experiencing production delays across the board."

Apple's vaunted well-oiled supply chain "could be" buckling, skewing, grinding to a halt. Across the board.

The source for the news of this dramatic breakdown is a StreetInsider.com story based on a report by Jefferies stock analyst Peter Misek, "who recently visited Apple's Asian suppliers." Misek concludes that the "rumored iPhone 5S will most likely be delayed" from an expected July date for start of sales. "Misek also said that the possible low-cost iPhone launch could be pushed to this year's fourth quarter and an iPhone 6 probably wouldn't come out until 2014."

The 5S delay is caused by unidentified "preproduction issues" and "mass production [is] at least a month or more away." And let's not forget the "publicly discussed delay of iOS 7," according to CNET's Kerr. That might sound as if Apple has been talking about this, but she's actually referring to a recent online discussion by several tech bloggers and Apple watchers, some of whom said they've heard that iOS 7 is "behind schedule," a terms which means something different from "delay." (More on this distinction later.)

In any case, the preproduction issues and the iOS delay "puts a July availability at risk," according to Misek. Finally, Misek, using what's called the "Royal We," concludes, "We continue to believe there is almost no chance the iPhone 6 launches in CY13 [calendar year 2013] due to supply chain issues."

But the bad news doesn't stop there. Because "the iPhone 5S delay is expected to affect production of other Apple products too," according to CNET's Kerr. "Misek said the iPad Mini refresh will also be pushed back and that he didn't see any evidence of a possible iWatch in production. The iPad 5 refresh could happen, said Misek, but he believes the volumes will be low. Finally, he said that an iTV for 2013 is unlikely."

Kerr doesn't pull any punches. "If Misek's calculations are correct, there's most likely some gnashing of teeth in Cupertino as Apple works to get a new product in the pipeline as soon as possible," she writes.

No kidding. At this rate, Apple will be left announcing updates to its Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic or color versions of its Lightning-to-USB cable.

The StreetInsider version carries a very few additional details, including this also unsupported statement by Misek: "Apple seems to be facing material technology risk with its screen [technology] transitions causing yield issues and its app processor transition facing possible ramp issues at TSMC."

This statement refers to two still-unsubstantiated claims, or fears or hopes, depending on your viewpoint. First, that Apple is making a major shift in its screen technology for the next phone and tablet products, and that manufacturers are having trouble hitting production targets for the new displays. Second, that Apple's transition to designing its own processor cores, instead of licensing those provided by ARM, is having similar problems because it's shifting processor manufacturing from Samsung to rival TSMC and the latter is, again, having manufacturing problems.

The issues that Misek raises are real ones, in the sense that all companies like Apple face the challenge of managing a group of suppliers and manufacturers, especially during technology transitions. But there are two frustrating problems in trying to evaluate his claims.

First is their lack of detail. Was Misek talking with companies that actually are part of Apple's chain of suppliers? What actually are the "preproduction" issues that are causing the alleged delay of the Next iPhones? It would also help if Misek added more context. For example, many of these same Apple supply chain companies also supply rival smartphone makers, such as Samsung, Nokia, HTC. Are any of them being affected by supply chain issues, or are these issues unique to Apple?

Second is the idea of "delay." Presumably Apple, or any company, has a schedule for bringing a new product to market. But if new technologies are involved and changes to manufacturing lines, the schedule has to be flexible. Apple, like most other companies, has never announced a target date for unveiling or releasing a product. They may not even have a hard target date, but rather a time frame or window, in which they expect to launch the product, assuming that all the complex issues are resolved in bringing a product to that point.

A schedule, which in a case like this is really a schedule of many individual schedules, can be adjusted: more resources or expertise brought to bear on a specific issue or area, accelerating other areas, and so on. Some parts of the product development cycle can fall "behind schedule" but the product can still end up "on time."

iPhone 6 will be a 4.8-inch phablet without a home button

Misek's few comments about the iPhone 6 apparently were the basis for Intentional Business Times' astoundingly speculative (even by IBT's standards) post by Erik Pineda, which went far beyond anything Misek said.

Here's how Pineda started: "Apple will not compete in the phablet arena this year, a new report said, which means the much-speculated 4.8-inch iPhone 6 will see its release date next year, likely on June 2014."

According to Pineda, "the iPhone 6 is considered as representative of Apple's radical device revisions." For the iPhone 6, Apple "will dump its resolve of sticking to the 4-inch screen size." This conclusion seems to be based on, well, nothing except months-old reasoning that concludes larger-than-4-inch-screen smartphones are what most buyers want and therefore Apple has to come up with one. [This the argument of CNET's Dan Farber, for example.]

Second, iPhone 6 "could see the retirement of the tech titan's iconic Home button."

His basis for the second conclusion? "Numerous iPhone 6 renders have shown that its profile will boasts of a bezel-free form on four edges, thus eliminating the need for a capacitive key on the phone's front portion." Meaning, fan art of what the iPhone 6 might look like reveals ... what it will look like. Presumably, Apple's designers are trolling the fan sites' "concept art" looking for ideas.

Third and last, iPhone 6 "is also widely believed to carry the A7 [Apple-designed chip] 64-bit computing technology." This, conclusion, too, seems to be based on very little.

AnandTech's Anand Lal Shimpi has an overview, from October 2012, of ARM's 64-bit development (ARM being the basis for the Apple-designed A series processors used in the iPhone and iPad). His post jumped off from AMD's announcement to introduce in 2014 new processors based on the ARM 64-bit cores.

Whether or how that fits in with Apple's processor plans, and schedule, is pure speculation. So far, the company is still using two-core 32-bit processors, while some high-end rival smartphones tout four-core chips, but the difference hasn't resulted in a perception that the iPhone under-performs. To fully exploit the performance-tuning and power-saving benefits of multiple 64-bit cores, there's a lot of operating system work that needs to done, and some software developer education would benefit app performance.

iPhone 5S will have 12-megapixel camera

The Vietnamese-language site Tinhte.vn -- initially picked up picked up by the iPhone in Canada blog -- the Next iPhone will move up to 12 megapixels, with improved "high dynamic range," and nighttime shooting, according to MacRumors' Juli Clover.

High-dynamic-range imaging is a "set of methods used in imaging and photography to capture a greater dynamic range between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than current standard digital imaging methods or photographic methods," according to the Wikipedia entry. In practice, that means being able to "capture more accurately the range of intensity levels found in real scenes, from direct sunlight to faint starlight, and is often captured by way of a plurality of differently exposed pictures of the same subject matter."

Currently, iPhone 5 has the same 8-megapixel rear camera, with an f2.4 aperture, first found in the iPhone 4S. One change with the iPhone 5: a hard, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal over the actual camera lens.

As Clover notes, "An improved camera has been a long rumored feature of the iPhone 5S, but there are few specifics available." The "12MP" qualifies as a specific. Or at least a specific rumor.

The new camera module, according to the Vietnamese website, will be provided by Vietnam's Wonderful Saigon Electrics, about which you can learn more from the company's helpful, English-language YouTube video.

How reliable is the rumor? "Tinte has had access to prototype and pre-release iOS hardware in the past, though there doesn't appear to be any hardware in any hands at this point, so it shouldn't be considered anything more than a rumor," writes iMore Editor-in-Chief Rene Ritchie.

He adds some sensible context, which actually applies to a range of phone hardware specifications.

"I've only heard that there'll be a 'better camera,' not that there'd be a higher megapixel camera," Ritchie writes. "Personally, I hope that's the case. Apple doesn't [need to] chase the megapixels this time around. The iPhone 5 megapixel count is fine. What we need next are things like sensors with bigger microns, and optical stabilization, and anything that helps take in more photons so we get better images in a wider variety of conditions, from low light to high motion."

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. : @johnwcoxnww john_cox@nww.com

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