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iPhone 5 Revealed: Larger Screen, Curved Back, Fewer Buttons

Tuesday 26th July 2011 by William Judd in iPhone, Mobile Accessories, Mobile News.

The image shown to the right is a design document for an iPhone 5 case, sourced to Mobile Fun from a Chinese case manufacturer. Luckily for us, the image shows the iPhone 5 and reveals some of the massive changes that have been made with the latest edition of Apple’s iPhone.

A CAD mockup of an iPhone 5 case from a Chinese case manufacturer


Soon after receiving the first image shown here, we were sent from a different manufacturer a mockup of how another iPhone 5 case would look. This release seems to corroborate many of the features indicated by the first image.

A mockup of a second iPhone 5 case, from a different manufacturer

If these images are authentic – and we have every reason to believe that they are – then the iPhone 5 is a radical evolution of the iPhone concept, and a bigger departure from the iPhone 4 than previous case images have shown.

Display

Starting with the front of the phone, we can see that the screen size has been extended considerably, from 3.5 inches to 4, although the overall size of the phone has remained the same. This has been accomplished by shrinking the bezel such that no space is wasted; the display stretches from edge to edge, and the top and bottom bezels have been considerably reduced in size as well.

It’s possible this ties into a patent filed by Apple a few months ago, which suggests that the extra space will be used for on-screen indicators and controls. These indicators could then be hidden, à la Lion’s full screen apps, to maximuse screen space for applications like 1080p video playback.

Form Factor

Another interesting point is the curvature of the iPhone 5. After going with a squared construction on the iPhone 4, Apple seem to have reverted to their curvaceous ways. The iPhone 5′s rear panel curves gently back around its edges, much like the iPhone 3G.

This likely means that the back will be metal, and could serve as a replacement for the iPhone 4′s unique side antennae which seemed revolutionary at the time, but caused so much trouble with call droppage last year.

On the other hand, Apple does have the capability to produce curved glass, after its purchase of a few hundred glass cutting machines, which were said to be too expensive for manufacturers. Curved glass doesn’t appear to be being used on the front display, but could very well make up the back.

The case shown in the design document does include a gap for the Apple logo; this may lend credence to rumours that the logo itself will serve as the iPhone 5′s attenae. This feature isn’t present on the second image however, so it may simply be a design choice between the two case manufacturers rather than a technical requirement.

Controls

Steve Jobs originally intended for the iPhone to be buttonless, but found he couldn’t quite get away with it. It looks like he’s some way closer to that goal with the iPhone 5; the physical home screen button has been replaced with a touch-sensitive ovaloid area which takes up the middle half of the bottom border. This area might be used for unique multi-touch gestures, given its increased size.

Another big difference is the placement of the side buttons; according to the design document these are now placed on the opposite side of the phone. The lock toggle is therefore quite close to the camera, but the volume buttons have moved much further down the phone, sitting just below the halfway point. It’s possible that these, and the lock button on the top, have been changed to be touch-sensitive rather than being physical buttons.

Conclusion

In a lot of ways the iPhone 4 was a mixed success for Apple, with a few design decisions representing a step backwards for the brand. This rethink of the iPhone design looks to combine the best features of the iPhone 4, some touches from iPhones gone past, and a trainload of exciting new developments. The iPhone 5 is rumoured to launch later this year, so soon we’ll see what Apple has wrought.

Update: Thursday, July 28th

Since this story’s initial release, many major websites have weighed in, including 9 to 5 Mac, CNET, T3 and Macworld. Community-driven news site Reddit also chimed in. Let’s have a look about what they had to say.

9 to 5 Mac have noted that the ‘touch-sensitive ovaloid area’ we suggested might be for gestures is backed up by an earlier report that claimed the iPhone 5 would feature a gesture based home button. Commenter @erkka also mentions that the lower volume buttons would make sense given how they are to be used as the camera’s shutter release.

Cult of Mac report that the curved backed design of the iPhone 5 would ‘minimise the attenuation issues caused by users bridging the iPhone’s antennas with their hand, which is what caused the whole Antennagate fiasco’. They also mention the larger home button area would make sense for gestures, and agree that Jobs may be a lot closer to the buttonless smartphone.

CNET UK point out that even with the expanded home button, it would be difficult to get more than a single finger in there, meaning that the gestures for that area are likely to be specialised one-finger gestures. They also point to their earlier report that shows the iOS 5 beta has a control panel that replaces the physical buttons, so a gesture area might not be too ridiculous.

Mac Rumors have written that many of the specifics of our analysis agree with an earlier story reported by ThisIsMyNext. That report claimed ‘the home button is doing double duty as a gesture area… will likely be enlarged’ and ‘the screen will occupy the entire… front of the phone, meaning almost no bezel.’ They also point out that although the case does suggest otherwise, mainstream news outlets have said that the iPhone 5 ‘will look largely similar to the current iPhone 4′.

Reddit users also wrote about the story, with the top-voted comment being by kermityfrog: ‘Too bad – just about everyone likes the form factor of the iPhone 4 better’. Many users echoed his sentiments, noting that a return to a curved assembly would be a big step backwards. User Shelby69 also contributed, writing that the lowered volume buttons could be to leave room for the sim card, which presumably wouldn’t change sides.

New cases have also appeared which appear to confirm our initial report, showing a dramatically thinner iPhone 5. It will be very interesting to see how many of these suspected features show up in the announced version – I am feeling confident!

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