iPhone 6 rumour rollup for the week ending March 14

More hints of iOS8, the perils of questioning the Dawn of the Age of Sapphire, and more

With spring stirring, so is the iOSphere's optimism, not to mention Wall Street's. The thrilling prospect of a Big Screen iPhone 6 is prompting visions of an upgrade tidal wave.

Also this week: more hints of iOS 8, a work progressing; a patent for a range finder sparks dreams, somehow, of "Kinect-like" motion sensing and 3D..something or other; Digitimes discovers the perils of questioning the Dawn of the Age of Sapphire.

+Also on Network World: Hands on with iOS 7.1: A few good improvements |  Best Instagram accounts of enterprise technology companies +

You read it here second.

iPhone 6 will have a 5-inch screen, and zillions of iPhone and Android users will upgrade

The 5-inch screen that the iPhone 6 is bound to have "will lead to a big replacement cycle that may poach customers of Samsung," writes Larry Dignan, of ZDNet. "That theory is what has analysts getting wound up about Apple's earnings prospects.

Dignan gets a bit wound up himself at the prospect.

He cites comments by two stock analysts. One is Pacific Crest's Andy Hargreaves: "We believe Apple can sell a 4.7-inch iPhone at a subsidized price of $299, which should generate incremental gross profit on replacement sales and attract new customers that had previously purchased Android phones specifically for a larger screen."

"Is the chorus of analysts right about the iPhone 6?" wonders Dignan. "Probably. As noted before, the Android launches of late have been lackluster. Apple just doesn't have to do much with the iPhone 6 beyond offering a larger screen. Other improvements are likely to be gravy."

Somehow, The Rollup thinks it all may be a bit more...complicated.

When Apple announced the iPad with Retina display, it increased the starting price from $329 to $399, a 21 percent rise presumably in response to the higher costs associated with the advanced display. The screen assembly for a larger-than-4-inch iPhone also will be more expensive. Today, the starting price of the iPhone 5S is $199, with a two-year contract. Hargreaves is estimating that a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 will sell for $299, which is a 50% increase.

It's really unclear at this point what Apple intends with the iPhone brand. The 5C was the first extension. If it deems the time is right for a larger-screen phone, will that be for a single, high-end model the follow-on to the 5S? Will it be a third model? Will Apple stick with two models and give them both the same sized larger screen? Is the company really prepared to increase the price of its phone?

Those questions make Dignan's assertion "Apple just doesn't have to do much with the iPhone 6 beyond offering a larger screen." sound a bit oversimplified.

iPhone 6 firmware iOS 8 to have improved iCloud integration

Finally, a rumor that is actually based on reporting.

Screenshots purporting to be of iOS 8, and details of new cloud-focused apps that could appear in the next release this year, continue to crop up.

9to5Mac's Mark Gurman has been on top of trying to confirm and elaborate on both.

In one post this week, he shows images first posted on the Chinese-language website Weibo. "Even though the source of the images is absolutely uncertain, I have confirmed with several sources that these shots are legitimate," he writes.

Here's one shot, showing part of the home screen. Honestly, The Rollup couldn't see any real differences when comparing this image with one of the just-released iOS 7.1. As was the case with 7.1, the visual changes in iOS 8 may be quite subtle, with more attention paid on addressing issues that Apple didn't have time to deal with in the fast development of iOS 7, leading up to its release in September 2013.

That becomes apparent in Gurman's earlier post, where he explored information about two new iCloud apps for iOS, along with some new developer tools.

"Apple is developing versions of the Mac operating system's Preview and TextEdit applications that are optimized for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch," Gurman writes. "The applications are said to not be designed to actually edit PDFs, images, or text documents. Instead, the apps are built to serve as tools to view Preview and TextEdit files stored in iCloud by OS X. Apple added iCloud synchronization for Preview and TextEdit with OS X Mountain Lion, but has not yet released iOS counterparts to actually view the synchronized content."

IOS users will work with the iBooks app to edit and manage PDFs, with iWork's word processor Pages for other documents, and the new iOS Preview and TextEdit apps to view and sync the cloud-stored documents created on a Mac.

Gurman's sources tell him development is still in early stages and that it's not yet clear whether these new apps will ship with iOS 8.

Also on tap: "Apple is said to be researching new iCloud storage tools to make the development of server-integrated App Store applications for iOS simpler," Gurman writes. "Developers have long complained that building App Store apps that rely on iCloud is a complex and unreliable process. This potential future initiative would be designed to resolve those issues."

iPhone 6 to have "Kinect-like" motion sensor

This is the typical "if it's an Apple patent, it will appear in the next iPhone" rumor.

"On March 13, two new published patent applications hinted at Apple's foray into three-dimensional images in mobile devices," writes Precious Silva in a post at TheBitBag. "The patents also describe a system allowing better ways mobile phones can connect or work with laptop computers. Will Apple really introduce a Kinect-enabled iPhone?"

The answer to that is almost certainly "not in 2014." The BitBag post, with the headline "Apple iPhone 6 to Feature Kinect and Force-Detecting MacBook Trackpad," was pure clickbait.

It was based on an AppleInsider post by Shane Cole, who covered two newly published Apple patent applications: one dealing with what Cole terms a "Kinect-like iPhone motion sensor," the other a "force-detecting MacBook trackpad." We'll focus on the motion sensor.

You can find the text of the patent application online at the US Patent and Trademark Office website. 

The application "relates generally to range finders and more specifically to range finders integrated with imaging technology." Range finders are used "for determining a proximate range or distance of a target object" and the text briefly summarizes them. According to the application, "currently available range finders often do not provide the desirable accuracy and performance that many applications require."

So why would you want that? Lots of reasons apparently, including (from the text): "to map a space for inventory control, space planning, space navigation, and photo sharing; for 3D object scanning and pattern matching; as a navigation aid for the visually-impaired to detect landmarks, stairs, low tolerances, and the like; as a communication aid for the deaf to recognize and interpret sign language for a hearing user...."

Well, you get the idea. It is recommended to not hold your breath as you await these wonders.

From what The Rollup can tell, the invention described in the document uses light emitters embedded in the phone to send a beam through a fixed or moveable lens. The beam hits an object in front and reflects back through the same lens. Circuitry and software figure out the distance between the phone and the object.

So basically, it's for a more accurate range finding technology that can be embedded on a mobile device and combined, somehow, with "imaging technology." Whether that means the iPhone gets "Kinect-like" capability, or just a "Kinect-like" range finder, is something that only time will tell.

Just don't expect it on the iPhone 6.

iPhone 6 will have sapphire glass on only about 16 percent of units

We're kidding a bit with that headline.

The rumor in question is the conviction that when iPhone 6 is released later this year, the traditional Corning Gorilla Glass screen cover will be replaced by synthetic sapphire, produced in raw form at Apple's new Mesa, Ariz., plant. Its partner is GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT), which has expanded from being a supplier of sapphire furnaces to also being a supplier of sapphire material. Apple is buying over a half-billion billion dollars in furnaces and related gear from GTAT, which apparently will operate the equipment at the plant.

There are a whole bunch of still-unanswered questions about Apple's plans and its schedule.  

This week, a brief Digitimes story, which sketchily summarizes a new report (apparently only available for purchase) from the company's research arm. That report claims that "typical production cost for a 4-inch sapphire wafer is $30." (Currently, this appears to be true, but it's a price that GTAT has been working to break.) The Digitimes research apparently then works backward from what it says is GTAT's forecast of sapphire revenue for the balance of 2014, in the $188 to $348 million range, and factors in other data based on assuming that Apple may introduce an iPhone 6 with a 5-inch screen.

The result is an "output of 6.27-11.6 million 5-inch sapphire-made screen covers," according to the summary blogpost. "As Digitimes Research estimates that Apple will ship 70 million units of the new-generation iPhone in 2014, the output of sapphire screen covers from GTAT will account for 9.0-16.6% of the iPhone shipments."

This analysis is being disputed, particularly by GTAT investor Matt Margolis in a blogpost this week. The weakest point in Digitimes analysis is the sapphire revenue estimate.

"GT's management had stated a few weeks ago during their latest conference call that sapphire would account for more than 80 percent of their 2014 revenue," Margolis notes. "Their 2014 revenue estimate was $600-800m; at 80+ percent [for] sapphire that would account for $480-640m in sapphire revenue. The company did not break out revenue between sapphire equipment (ASF furnaces) and sapphire material." This matches The Rollup's own notes taken during that earnings call. GTAT also said that the bulk of this revenue would come in the latter half of 2014.

Margolis also talked with a leading materials industry analyst, Eric Virey, of the French consulting company Yole Développement, which covers an array of components and materials markets. "Eric estimated that GT could make sapphire screens at $6.40 per unit and they would be sold for $8.00 unit....He also estimated that 42m units could be made in 2014 and more than 85 million in 2015." Margolis argues that Virey is very (implying "overly") conservative in his estimates and that output, at least, could be higher.

It would probably have to be in 2014 to meet demand for a large-screened flagship iPhone. In October to December 2013, Apple sold a total of 51 million iPhone, though that included 5S, 5C, and at least some 4S and 4 models.

All of this data, or rather its interpretation, is already being mangled by the iOSphere. At 9to5Mac, Peter Mayo happily quoted Margolis to discredit the Digitimes Research conclusions but then showed he hadn't read Margolis, or Virey, very closely.

"GT is expecting more than 80% of its revenue in 2014 to come from sapphire and this would require production of a lot more than 11 million units," Mayo writes. As noted, that revenue includes both sapphire material, such as the project with Apple, and sales of sapphire manufacturing equipment. "9to5Mac has already reported that Apple has procured enough sapphire machinery, through GT, to make over 100 million iPhone screens a year," Mayo continues.

The question is when that level of production will or can be achieved. Mayo for example ignores Virey's estimate that the GTAT/Apple plant in Mesa could deliver material for about 42 million iPhone covers by year's end, and then double that by the end of 2015.

Virey, as quoted by Margolis, thinks that given the size of the Arizona project, the most likely use of sapphire in this quantity will be in smartphone screens and not, for example, cover glass for a rumored smartwatch. But Tim Cook has recently reiterated that Apple will be introducing new product "categories" plural later in 2014. There's at least a chance that sapphire glass might feature in one or more of these, and move into smartphone screens in 2015.

iPhone 6 will have a microUSB charging port, because of EU regulations

This is a pageview-engineered rumor, erroneously based on the latest news that the European Union has extended its "support microUSB charging or die" rule from smartphones to tablets.

The news of the extension was reported by, among others, KnowYourMobile, in a post by Paul Briden. "A while back the European Union passed into law a requirement that all smartphones sold within its member states use microUSB chargers, but crucially, that legislation didn't cover tablets," he writes, unhappily. "Happily, this has now changed, as the EU has expanded the statutory law to include tablet devices."

Even though this rule extension doesn't apply to the iPhone 6, or to any smartphone, David Gilbert at International Business Times created a post saying that it did, with the clickbait headline "Will EU Ruling Force Apple to Change iPhone 6 Charger?"

It's on ominous post. "An EU ruling will force all smartphone manufacturers to use microUSB chargers from 2017 - potentially causing trouble for Apple," he writes.

Except it doesn't. For years, Apple has complied with the smartphone microUSB mandate by offering an adapter for its older 30-pin connector and the newer Lightning connector. The adapter is acceptable under the EU mandate.

As Gilbert, at the end of his own post, admits. "If Apple didn't want to give up using its proprietary ports, it could possibly get around the legislation by including a lightning-to-microUSB adaptor in the box with every new iPhone, iPad or iPod."

Oh.

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

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