To make things more interesting, we have some awesome contenders now with the high-end Android phones, and Tim Cook might not be flexing the same aura as Steve Jobs in keynotes. So let's recap what we've heard so far, and then compare with the actual announcement tomorrow - the rumor timeline could have made for a fun episode of MythBusters.
Our own first mention of what would go into the next iPhone goes way back to last year, when news broke that Qualcomm has been selected to supply the connectivity chips for the next iPhone and iPad. Of course, at the time the big myth was still Verizon's version of the iPhone 4, which actually materialized, breaking the mould of an iPhone-a-year-exclusively-on-AT&T for the first time, and warming us up for announcements without Steve Jobs.
Afterwards the floodgates opened, and we had hundreds of news pieces related to the iPhone (s) about to be unveiled tomorrow - from wishful thinking, through analyst comments, to straight-out mockups. We have a pretty thorough infographic courtesy of AllAreaCodes on the right, displaying the timeline of most major iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S rumors, and there has been reporting on all of them here, so we won't repeat ourselves. The biggest myth to go seems to be the iPhone nano, when for a short while everyone assumed a cheaper version should be smaller.
Rather, we'd wager a guess about the eventual two iPhones about to be released tomorrow, and you can add to the speculation in the comments, then we'll compare the actual device (s) released to gauge if Apple managed to keep the veil of secrecy tight enough over something extraordinary, or the iPhone (s) this year will be largely a stopgap on the way to the iPhone 6th edition.
Apple iPhone 5
Such a name makes sense, since it would mark a fifth generation, and differentiate it from the iPhone 4S title, which already leaked like that in the inventory system. This one is supposed to be the "real" next iPhone, and the one to represent Apple until probably the next summer, unless it has decided on six month refresh cycles, which is unlikely.
the new iPhone will be thinner than even the current anorexic edition, is Foxconn's whining how hard is it now to place all these the components in such a compact body. Also, the persistent rumors that the shell or back is made of a metal alloy, instead of glass, and has a teardrop shape, add further to the possibility that we will have the next iPhone thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4. The iPod touch is, after all, 0.28" (7.2mm) thin, and we don't see why Apple wouldn't repeat that effort, if the shell is not glass anymore, with the eventual teardrop shape coming because of the thicker camera module at the top.
screen size is widely believed to have grown to 3.7"-4" with still Retina Display ppi, making the phone slightly wider and taller, as attested by various leaked cases, but with thinner bezel, judging from leaked schematics and alleged faceplates. Those frontal plates also hinted at an elliptical home button, which is to eventually double as a gesture area. Dual-core A5 chip allowing 1080p Full HD video recording with 30fps from a Sony or OmniVision 8MP camera sensor round up the alleged internals, and a combined GSM/CDMA radio is expected to turn the next iPhone into a truly worldwide phenomenon, with the antenna neatly tucked inside this time.
So far so good, but the biggest wow factor is expected to come on the software side this time. Besides the new features in iOS 5, the iPhone 5 is rumored to feature a fully-integrated voice recognition solution called Assistant, on account of which Cupertino has supposedly graced the next iPhone with 1GB of RAM to allow for smooth native talk interface navigation. We can think of many situations where this might come handy, and, as usual, the make-it-or-break-it moment is execution, which Apple has usually excelled at. How will the next iPhone be named is anyone's guess still, despite that Apple iPhone 5 has been the household rumor title. Regardless of what Apple calls it, if it is pretty enough, this thing will sell millions on new and old carriers alike.
Apple iPhone 4S
it leaked like that recently. This is widely expected to be an upgraded iPhone 4, at least internally. A dual-core A5 is likely, since it will allow the phone to stay relevant at least a year from now, and, besides, after Apple has splurged the big bucks on chip design and development for the iPad 2, the difference in production costs between an A4 or A5 is negligible for the overall BOM. The 8MP camera will probably land here as well, leaving the big differentiators between an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 5 to be design, chassis materials, screen size and the volume of memory.
Rumor had it that the affordable iPhone 4S would sport 8GB of internal memory and heavy reliance on iCloud, but leaked Apple inventory label last week hinted at a 16GB version as well. Another way for Apple to have cut costs is the rumor that this one resembles the iPhone 4, but the chassis is made of plastic instead of glass. We'd root for this scenario, since on paper it kills many birds with one stone - it will allow the costs to produce to come way down from the current iPhone 4 BOM, at the same time keeping its iconic design, and saving the "you get what you pay for" argument for later. In this way the insane iPhone gross margins will be kept, but some of Apple's exclusive design luster might be lost in the process.
Competition has been boiling in the mobile space this year, though, so from a business standpoint a more affordable iPhone with the same crazy margins for Apple will sell in droves in less-affluent target markets, making huge strides in China, for instance. This will let Apple's stock shoot to the moon after the first sales numbers are out, and the market share of the iOS empire to expand, which might have been the goal all along.
Both eventual devices - the Slim Jim iPhone 5 with larger screen and powerful voice recognition Assistant, as well as the affordable, but capable warrior iPhone 4S - are still shrouded in mystery until 10am Pacific tomorrow, but Apple's mojo again made a good job of keeping the hype alive throughout the year without lifting a finger about it. Now the only thing left is for Tim Cook to live up to it.