The iOSphere fed on familiar rumors – iWallet! Sapphire! September! – but it was thin gruel, with little in the way of substantiation. Or in some cases, of believability.
This past week, there was more speculation about Apple’s plans for a mobile payment system, but little in the way of detail. There is still no Consensus Rumor about whether two iPhone 6 models will be announced together or separately. The appearance of sapphire cover glass on at least one iPhone 6 model seems to have become an article of faith. And Apple itself apparently can’t make up its mind about just when in September to announce the iPhone.
You read it here second.
iPhone 6 will have Apple’s e-wallet
This renewed rumor is sweeping the iOSphere, all based on a story at The Information, behind a paid subscription barrier, that says Apple is talking with credit card company Visa about launching some kind of mobile payment system.
The story, or at least the part of it visible on the The Information website, has been repeated by a range of iOSphere websites, such as AppleInsider. The original story cites “sources familiar with the matter,” according to AppleInsider’s Mikey Campbell (who does seem to have either read the full story or, at least, read another post that has).
Campbell says that The Information story says that Apple is launching a “Google Wallet competitor” (which is probably the exact opposite of how Apple sees its mobile payments project) to let iOS users “pay for physical goods with their iPhone instead of a credit card or cash.” What apparently is meant is that the iPhone, or more exactly, your authenticated identity linked with retail and payment systems, becomes the means of authorizing some type of electronic payment.
Cage Chao and Steve Shen, DigiTimes, whose “sources in the iPhone supply chain” apparently believe that someone who really wants to buy a 5.5-inch iPhone, will buy a 4.7-inch iPhone instead its offered first.
The new system could be unveiled “as soon as this fall, with some saying the service may roll out with the so-called ‘iPhone 6,’” according to Campbell.
This isn’t just a Regular Old New Payment Method, though. “The people said Apple is in talks with major credit card company Visa to forge a partnership that could revolutionize the way consumers pay for goods,” Campbell explains.
“As noted by the publication, a direct partnership with Visa — or similar company — would be a huge step in bypassing the payment processing chain, saving both merchants and customers money,” Campbell writes, without explaining why or how an Apple-Visa partnership would either bypass the payment processing chain and thus save merchants and customers money.
The Sources Familiar With The Matter actually don’t sound too…well, familiar with the matter. According to Campbell’s interpretation of the original story, some of the sources say that Apple “at one point planned to integrate near field communication modules in its iPhone lineup, though another person claims the system is to rely on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.”
That’s a pretty big point with which not to be familiar. Google went with near field communications – known as NFC, a very short-range wireless technology used for “contactless payments” – to implement Google Wallet in its own line of smartphones. Apple introduced in iOS 7 its iBeacon technology, which extends location services in iOS via the Bluetooth 4.0 (low energy) radio now standard in all phones. iBeacon already lets iOS users make purchases in Apple’s retail stores, and according to many, easily can form the basis of a wider mobile payments system for iOS users shopping at other stores. [See “Apple's iBeacon turns location sensing inside out”]
iPhone 6 models will be announced on separate dates
Apple will announced the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 “several months later” than the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 “to avoid competition between the two models,” according to a typically haiku-like, 111-word post at DigiTimes, by Cage Chao and Steve Shen. That information is from “sources in the iPhone supply chain.”
DigiTimes usually only refers to “sources in the Asian supply chain,” or even just “the supply chain,” which could be, like, anybody.
The post addresses a repeatedly renewed rumor that one or the other or both iPhone 6 models have been delayed, usually for unspecified design or production “bottlenecks.” But DigiTimes sources claim the delay is deliberate because “Apple does not want to repeat the mistake it made in 2013 when it launched the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c simultaneously…”
But, as we showed earlier this year, the idea that Apple made any “mistake” with the iPhone 5c, or that the 5c failed to achieve the company’s goals, is simply false. [See “The great 'iPhone 5c is a failure' freakout”] In particular, defying iOSphere predictions and convictions, the 5c has drawn first-time iPhone buyers, many of them former Android smartphone users. In the recent third quarter earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the 5c had the fastest growth rate of the three iPhone categories – entry-level (iPhone 4s), mid-tier (5c), and lead (5s). [See “Top 5 take-aways from Tim Cook on Apple’s Q3 earnings call”]
9to5Mac’s Ben Lovejoy calls the DigiTimes post a “spurious claim,” arguing, among other things, “how would launching on separate dates prevent competition anyway? If someone wants the larger model, and it’s launched a little later, they’ll simply wait.”
So, what’s the Bottom Line? The Bottom Line is that we still don’t know very much about the Next iPhone or iPhones.
iPhone 6 sapphire displays will be a Big Deal
Freelance technology writer Gordon Kelly, in his “contributor” blog at Forbes.com, has a recent post with the headline “iPhone 6 Sapphire Display: Everything You Need To Know.”
He starts by noting, correctly, that “Much has been written – a lot erroneously – about all these elements [bigger displays, sapphire cover glass, etc], so I sat down with Professor Neil Alford, head of the Department of Materials at Imperial College London. Professor Alford was directly consulted by Apple 18 months ago about using different materials (including sapphire) in future devices. So let’s separate fact from fiction....”
Kelly somewhat under-delivers on the “fact” side and falls far short of telling us everything we need to know. Apple has made a billion dollar investment in sapphire production: the company is about to become one of the world’s biggest sources for the super hard material and seems poised to be the first to use it widely as a cover glass for its mobile device displays. [See “How Apple's billion dollar sapphire bet will pay off”]
At one point, Kelly wonders about if “sapphire glass is far more expensive” than current alternatives such as Corning’s Gorilla Glass?
“Not necessarily,” says Alford. Sapphire costs more to make because the material has to be melted at a much higher temperature, in specialized furnaces, than the quartz used for chemically toughened glass. “But if you can do this process on an economy of scale then the costs [of making sapphire] can be competitive,” Alford says. “It is actually a commodity material.”
Kelly also wonders “What unknowns remain about the iPhone 6 sapphire display?” as the rather conventional questions-and-answers so far have exhausted the topic. Professor Alford’s reply: “Whether there are different grades. Apple has a lot of smart patents including sandwiches of glass with sapphire so it might be going down that route. The only way to tell exactly would be to smash it up and put it under my microscope. Then I could tell you.”
Alford’s reply is, to say the least, rather non-responsive. There are in fact a lot of unknowns remaining about Apple’s billion-dollar-plus strategic investment in sapphire, including: whether it will actually be used in the 2014 iPhones, whether both rumored models will use it or just the “high-end” 5.5-inch model, whether sapphire will impact the phone’s price, what effect the material’s dielectric properties might have on the touch interface, and whether Apple and its supply chain partners have successfully solved one surprising sapphire problem – a proclivity to fracture at almost any point in the finishing process, due to unresolved strains in the crystalline structure.
Check out our slideshow “Here’s how Apple is spending $1 billion on sapphire” for an overview of the process.
The iOSphere is still divided on whether both or just the bigger Next iPhone, not to mention the rumored iWatch, will have sapphire. As usual, GForGames’ Mihai Matei makes much out of little. In this post, he claims that “According to Sun Chang Xu (news chief analyst at ESM-China), Apple will release a handful of products this year which will make use of sapphire glass. There’s going to be the iPhone 6, and of course, the highly anticipated iWatch.”
“So far, so good,” he continues, “but the problem is that once again, sapphire is a tricky material, and Sun Chang Xu believes that Apple will be forced to fit the aforementioned material on a limited number of devices. According to the analyst, only the highest-end models of both the iPhone and the iWatch will boast sapphire glass.”
Xu refers to herself on her Weibo blog as an “electronics analyst,” whatever that means, and won recognition in the iOSphere earlier this year for predicting that the iPhone 6 will have weather sensors. And the Weibo post to which Matei links seems to simply reference other sites, including AppleInsider.
So, it’s more like “everything we need to know but don’t.”
iPhone 6 “tentatively” set for mid-September announcement
Apple may announce the Next iPhone, or one of them, in mid-September, according to a story by 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman, who cites “sources briefed on the plans.”
It sounds like kind of a sketchy briefing.
“These people say that the second and third weeks of September are the mostly likely weeks for the event to be held, but they add that manufacturing uncertainties could alter the event’s timeframe,” Gurman writes. “A decision has not been finalized, and sources made it clear that the plans are in flux.”
That’s not the only decision that has not been finalized. According to Gurman, the in-flux event at least will unveil the rumored 4.7-inch iPhone 6, “but a final decision on debuting the larger, 5.5-inch “phablet” model at the event has not been made.” The smaller of the larger phones is “father along in both internal testing and manufacturing preparation, the sources added.”
Gurman repeated the conclusions of his January 2014 post on Apple’s health and fitness plans that the rumored “iWatch” will actually be a “wearable fitness band” that will exploit new features in iOS 8, and be “heavily dependent on the iPhone.” Gurman says the latest version of the mobile OS is on track to be available for carrier testing and for imaging the iPhone 6 production units in “late-August or early September.”
Apple is nearing completion of iOS 8.0′s development, and it plans to release a fifth and likely final beta to developers for testing on Aug. 4, according to the sources. Apple will finish up work on this beta 5 early next week, the sources said, and a golden master version of iOS 8 will be completed either in late-August or early September in order to provide ample time for both carrier testing and the installation of the iOS onto iPhone 6s in production.
Apple is said to also be planning a second event for the fall that will take place in October. As others have reported, this event would likely center around Apple’s upcoming wearable fitness band. Besides the wearable device, as we reported yesterday, Apple would utilize October to talk about the upcoming OS X Yosemite.
Not being a fitness freak, The Rollup is underwhelmed by the prospect of a wearable fitness band. But such a device, by definition, is limited in its audience appeal. As described by Gurman, it sounds more like an iPhone accessory than a genuinely new product category.