So, last month Gizmodo got their hands on a lost prototype of the next generation iPhone that some guy found at a bar. And the world exploded….. in anticipation of finding out news about the new phone. There was a whole lot of hubbub over the device, and news was coming so fast and fierce that I thought it would be best to leave that to Gizmodo, Engadget and other more professional tech blogs with direct access. Regardless, I think it’s time to chime in on the possibilities of the device given new information. So, what to we know about the next iPhone? Not much. When Gizmodo first got their hands on the device, it was loaded with a prototype version of iPhone OS 4, but it was quickly remote wiped by Apple. Besides from that not a lot was known for a while. The screen may be a higher resolution (as high as 960 x 640, which is 4X the current HVGA screen), the camera looks to be improved, and the battery has a little more capacity. The only definite goodies that could be gleaned from the prototype was the inclusion of a front camera, a flash on the back camera, the use of Micro-SIM cards, and a noise cancellation mic up top. This was all in addition to a very sexy new form factor that uses more aluminum and has what looks like a ceramic back to improve radio reception. I really hope that structural integrity improves since the current iPhone is a little flimsy (I dropped mine on some pavement the other day from about 3 feet, it’s fine but the cosmetic damage is disappointing).
However, the picture has become more clear today as another iPhone prototype has been found by some people in Vietnam and was swiftly sent over to iFixit. iFixit is an internet site that is meant to show people how to fix many electronics on their own. They also take the liberty of stripping down new tech to see how they tick. It was iFixit who thoroughly scanned through the iPad and eventually sent the A4 chip for XRay to see just what was inside it. Well they’ve done the same with the iPhone prototype and low and behold, it’s rocking the exact same A4 as the iPad. To revisit, the A4 is Apple’s custom SoC that combines memory, I/O, and the core ARM Cortex-A8 processor, which runs at 1Ghz due to specialized logic from Intrinsity – a design firm that specializes in modifying existing ARM processors and was recently bought by Apple. The A4 also has 256MB of RAM running on a 64-bit data bus sandwiched on top of the processor core in a package-on-package design to reduce its footprint. Overall, it’s a nice chip that has powered the heart of the iPad for some impressive speed and performance while offering excellent power management. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the A4 is coming to an iPhone since it’s virtually the same as the current chipset in the iPhone 3GS. The only difference is its reduced footprint, better power management, faster clockspeed, and better memory bus. Besides from that, the iPhone and iPad are identical in their processors, even the graphics chip are the same.
So while the inclusion of the A4 in the next iPhone (we’ll call it the iPhone HD) is a nice performance boost over the 3GS, I am a little worried about the iPad. Mostly because…. well…. what’s the difference now between the iPad and the iPhone? They have the same hardware (the iPhone HD may even get twice the RAM according to new rumors), very similar screen resolutions (960×640 vs. 1024×768 for iPhone and iPad, respectively), and will run the same software. And with the iPhone’s inclusion of cameras, standard 3G radio and GPS it makes the iPad seem sort of…. redundant. In my hands on review of the iPad I stressed that we should not think of it as a giant iPod Touch but rather the other way around, but with the iPhone and eventually the iPod Touch getting these new specs, it becomes harder to make that argument. The increasing similarity and feature parity between Apple’s $200 (subsidized price) phone and their $500 (base price with no 3G) multimedia tablet makes the choice between them much harder, or maybe far easier. To be honest, the iPhone HD seems like the obvious choice, especially as iPhone OS 4 is bringing several of the enhancements we’ve already seen on the iPad to the iPhone. Personally, I believe that this new problem only further proves that Apple undershot on their hardware for the iPad. They were designing the A4 for a tablet while it only compares to the hardware in state-of-the-art mobile phones. The A4 will work splendidly in the iPhone, but Apple must re-double their efforts for the next iPad and significantly update the hardware to something more substantial. I’ve thrown the Cortex-A9 name around before in previous articles, so I’ll only say that Apple should integrate this new chip, with its added dual-processor support, out-of-order execution, and faster clockspeed, into the next iPad and create some significant space between these two devices. Otherwise, I will never see a point in getting the iPad, and neither will anyone else with even half as much technical education as myself.