iPhone 6 rumour rollup for the week ending February 3

The iOSphere was giddy at the prospect of interchangeable camera lenses.

There's nothing like a document, with quotable information, to get the iOSphere's juices and rumors flowing. One document that surfaced this week fueled anew rumors that the iPhone 6 will have the almost scratch-proof synthetic sapphire screen.

Also this week, predictions that Lenovo's decision to buy Google's struggling Motorola smartphone business will for sure affect Apple and the iPhone 6. No one seems quite sure how, though.

And let's not overlook new patents or patent applications: the iOSphere was giddy at the prospect of pressure sensitive touchscreens, and interchangeable camera lenses.

You read it here second.

iPhone 6 will have sapphire glass screen

9to5Mac discovered some recently-published federal correspondence that shows Apple is moving fast to get its big new synthetic sapphire crystal manufacturing plant up and running in February. But exactly what the plant will be making, or what Apple will be using the nearly scratch-proof material for, is still unclear. And that makes it a perfect breeding ground for iOSphere rumors.

Apple announced in November that it was opening up the plant in Mesa Ariz., in a $578 million joint operations deal with GT Advanced Technologies. GT is apparently providing, and running, the advanced furnaces for manufacturing the sapphire crystal in bulk. To get a sense of what the process entails, check out this enterprising April 2013 report by PocketNow, which visited GT's Salem, Mass., sapphire plant.

What you end up with is a cylindrical mass of industrial sapphire weighing just over 250 pounds and called a "boule." Here's what it looks like. Wikipedia has more details on synthetic sapphire. And GT has information about its furnace products. 

Gurman's post at 9to5Mac draws on some new information in the "Production Notification Application" filed Dec. 30, 2013, by the City of Mesa, Ariz., for "Project Cascade."

This brief document is seeking "expedited" approval from the U.S. Foreign Trade Zone Board, "so that we can meet an aggressive go-live timeline of February 2014," according to James Patton, Apple's deputy director, global trade compliance, in a brief, Dec. 17, 2013 letter.

The application describes the plant in general terms: "Project Cascade will conduct high-tech manufacturing of intermediate goods/components for consumer electronics. All finished components will be exported. This high-tech manufacturing process will create a critical new sub-component of Apple Products to be used in the manufacture of the consumer electronics that will be imported and then sold globally. By pulling this process into the U.S., Apple will be using cutting edge, new technology to enhance and improve the consumer products, making them best in class per product type."

From this point, Gurman's post and all the others, including this one -- is largely about interpreting these texts. One interpretation is that the Mesa plant is simply creating sapphire boules (intermediate goods?) to ship overseas to other Apple supply chain companies, to be worked into final form, whether camera lens covers or part of a new display panel assembly. Or the plant may bulk-manufacture the sapphire and do some kind of additional work to prepare it for the supply chain.

The fact that Apple says Project Cascade will result in a "critical" new sub-component could be interpreted as suggesting something like a display cover glass rather than a camera lens cover.

Gurman is confident that the "aggressive" February launch means that Apple will soon be using the material in products: "A February launch for the plant would indicate that Apple will begin producing sapphire for integration with Apple products as soon as later this year."

Given how opaque the Apple supply chain is, The Rollup is less confident. One question is whether the Arizona sapphire is being ramped up for 2014 products, such as the iPhone 6, or for the design and development schedules of 2015 products. In both cases, Apple could be "aggressive." But the overall timeline will be quite different.

iPhone 6 will be "affected" by Lenovo's purchase of Motorola

Motorola Mobility has been a drag on the Android smartphone ecosystem, a chronic under-performer when it was part of Motorola, when it was part of Google, and in all likelihood now that it's part of Lenovo.

The upside, according to some, is that Samsung and Google won't be kicking sand in each other's corporate faces because Google now goes back to being "just" the Android software provider instead of a smartphone seller.

But according to International Business Times' Raymond Ronamai, the Lenovo acquisition has, you know, implications for the iPhone 6 and Apple's mobile business. How could it not?

"Lenovo Group announced on Wednesday that it has agreed to buy Google Inc's Motorola handset division for $2.91 billion, hinting that the PC maker is set to take on companies like Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics in the smartphone sector," Ronamai writes. "The deal will help the Chinese company explore other markets through the Motorola brand."

Spending nearly $3 billion seems more like someone pounding the table and pounding his chest and screaming at the top of his voice rather than "hinting." According to the a story in The New York Times, "Lenovo executives said they would retain both brand names, and in some cases, the two brands might be sold alongside each other." But the same article points out that "Motorola, with barely more than 1 percent of the smartphone market share, is a shadow of the company whose Razr handsets were the must-have devices of the pre-smartphone era."

"We are not restricting Lenovo to China or Motorola to the U.S.," said Wai Ming Wong, Lenovo's CFO. "They are two different brands with different sets of propositions for the customers. The key for us is to sell more devices to the market."

Good luck with that.

IBT's Ronamai cites a Note To Investors from JP Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz, who argues that the deal will "consolidate the fragmented Android smartphone arena" by, you know, adding that barely-one-percent share to Lenovo's. And that consolidation is "limiting Apple's ability to woo Android users who are unhappy with the current cheap and lower-quality devices, reported CNET."

"If this trend takes place, Apple may be affected as its products are priced on the higher end," Ronamai writes. "The availability of high-end smartphones at a reasonable price from companies like Samsung and Lenovo may force Apple Inc. to lower the price tag of its products."

All the if's, could's, and may's add up to a kind of black hole of iOSpherian rumor. Lenovo's purchase of Motorola has little effect on the overall dynamics of the smartphone market. After years of imitative innovation from Android smartphones, it's only been relatively recently that high-end phones comparable to iPhone have started to prove themselves in the market. And yet Apple has not responded by cutting prices and it's highly unlikely that it will in future.

Apple is not competing, and never has, on price.

iPhone 6 will have pressure-sensitive touchscreen

AppleInsider's Mikey Campbell picked up on a newly-published Apple patent application to add pressure sensitive sensors under the display's surface. One idea is to have the sensors under the masked-out edge of the iPhone, or iPad, screen.

Pressing with varying degrees of force "can be translated into a secondary mode of input," Campbell noted.

The patent application document is available online.

Campbell's description of the invention suggests it may be used to make multi-touch gestures more accurate: for example, enabling the display system to accurately know that a swiping gesture is originating from a particular location on the edge of the device screen.

Another use is analogous to the "palm rejection" technology currently in use for iOS devices. The patent application describes one example that "illustrates a user resting their thumb on one portion of a display while interacting with the UI via another finger. Without force sensor tech, the GUI would recognize the motion as a multitouch event rather than reject the inadvertent thumb touch," Campbell explains.

As usual, Campbell avoids the idiotic conclusion that any given patent will make it into the next iPhone just a few months away. ValueWalk, International Business Times, and some others weren't so circumspect.

Again, there is no indication whatever that this will appear in iPhone 6. Or iPhone 7 or iPhone 8. So, don't hold your breath.

iPhone 6 will have interchangeable camera lenses

Campbell also posted on two other recently published Apple patents that show a way to snap on an array of advanced lenses and other components to the iPhone's existing optical system. This is somewhat analogous to using interchangeable lenses on a digital single-lens reflex camera.

One of the patents was covered when the application was filed in 2012.

Essentially, the ideas seem to be creating a removable case for the imaging system, and then allowing attachments to be fitted, for a wide angle lens or for electrical components for zoom or for image stabilization.

"The removable case portion includes components that can substantially change the optical characteristics of the subsystem," Campbell writes.

The U.S. patents are No. 8,638,369 for a "back panel for a portable electronic device with different camera lens options" and No. 8,639,106 for a "magnetic add-on lenses with alignment ridge."

One example of an optional attachment a mounting with a trio of different lenses that can be rotated into position -- looks like this

What it seems like is an internal version of something like Olloclip's 4-in-1 lens, which clips on to the iPhone over the existing camera giving you four options: a fish-eye lens, a wide-angle lens, and a choice of two macros. Check out this October 2013 CNET review

Don't hold your breath, part deux.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwEmail: john_cox@nww.com

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