It’s with great trepidation that we risk waking the slumbering iRumor giant, and suggest what the next iPhone could bring. One of the biggest questions is whether Apple will add LTE to its next hardware update. Will they bother? what are the pros and cons? are they hurting by not having LTE in the 4S?
A quick primer for those unfamiliar: LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the fastest of the technologies that are currently marketed as 4G. In the US, Verizon has rolled out their seven-month-old LTE network at an impressive rate, and it’s already available in over 160 cities. AT&T, who has also been marketing HSPA+ as 4G, has an infant LTE network that is currently only available in five cities. The carrier has yet to release an LTE phone, though they do sell LTE tethering devices. Sprint is also making plans to ditch WiMax (their current 4G) for LTE, starting next year.
Why no LTE this year?
While Apple’s phone is now available on all three of those carriers, there are no LTE capabilities in the iPhone 4S. Apple likely skipped LTE on this year’s model for several reasons:
The Android LTE phones that have been released (like the HTC Thunderbolt, Droid Bionic, and Droid Charge) have all suffered from battery drain issues. Right now, any smartphone that has LTE needs to conserve power in other areas, or risk not being able to last the day on a full charge. Sacrificing battery life just to market the iPhone as 4G would go directly against Apple’s user-friendly aims.
Size could have been another factor that went into Apple’s decision to forego LTE. The first generation of LTE SIM cards are quite robust. a manufacturer that shoves one of these gargantuan chips into its phone has two options, neither of which are particularly appealing. One choice is to throw in all of the highest-quality hardware, and end up with a Sherman Tank of a smartphone. The other option is to cut corners in other areas to reduce size, but end up with a phone that has previous-generation capabilities.
Probably the biggest reason Apple had in skipping LTE in 2011, though, had to do with money. The iPhone 4S is a profitable phone, costing them an estimated $197 to make (for the 16GB model). sure, you only pay $200 for it, but that’s on a carrier-subsidized contract. The same phone costs $649 unlocked or off-contract. If they were to have used more expensive hardware in the phone to balance out LTE’s size and power-sucking issues, that bill of materials could have sharply risen.
Another factor is that one Apple carrier, AT&T, can already get away with saying their iPhone has “4G.” HSPA 14.4 isn’t nearly as fast as LTE, but it can be faster than 3G, and your average consumer may not know the difference. How many consumers, when shopping for a new phone, discern between the “4G” that’s in the Motorola Atrix, and the 4G in the Droid Bionic? That’s equal to the difference between the “4G” AT&T iPhone 4S, and a hypothetical LTE iPhone.
Also, the iPhone 4S is a world phone, meaning that the same model has all of the networking hardware needed for every network that it runs on. an LTE iPhone could require a separate model, which would also mean more expenses. Bringing LTE to the iPhone would have to add enough extra sales to make up for this added cost. The way the iPhone 4S is selling so far, we can see why Apple decided that this tradeoff wasn’t worth it (yet).
LTE in the iPhone 5?
So what about next year? when Apple releases the iPhone 5 (it could also be called the iPhone 6, as it will be the sixth iPhone), will any of this have changed? Undoubtedly. Any parts that Apple would have used in a 2011 LTE iPhone will all be cheaper in 2012. That’s just how the supply chain works, as parts age.
The LTE SIM card size problem is already taken care of. you can look no further than the ultra-thin Droid Razr and (to a lesser degree) the Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE tablet for evidence of that. They both have LTE micro SIM cards, which take up much less space than the full-size SIMs.
With size not being a problem for 2012, the biggest obstacle will be battery drain. It’s quite possible that Apple will have an A6 processor ready for the next generation, which could help with power conservation. another option would be to add a battery that supplies more juice than the 1420mAh model in the 4S. Whatever it takes on a hardware level, Apple isn’t likely to release an iPhone with worse uptime battery life than the previous generation’s model.
So will we see LTE in the next iPhone? I’d say we probably will. They could have added it this year, but it wouldn’t have likely led to that many more sales, and would have cost significantly more to manufacture. They can get away with not having 4G for another year, and they knew that. Fast data speeds are nice, but not if you’re making big compromises in order to add them. you could argue that the Droid Razr managed to make a thinner phone that does have LTE, but it’s ringing up at $300.