Tomorrow, Apple will finally unveil its long-delayed next-generation iPhone. What this new iPhone will look like is anyone's (and, it seems, everyone's) guess. But a Chinese cell phone company has let it slip that at least the new iPhone to be sold by AT&T will operate on the carrier's HSPA+ (so-called) 4G network.
However, the new iPhones for Verizon and, reportedly, for Sprint, will only be 3G.
Why no 4G iPhone for Verizon or Sprint? Both Verizon and Sprint use "true" 4G network technology, LTE and WiMAX, respectively. Both LTE and WiMAX pull a lot more power and, therefore, drain a phone's battery more quickly.
AT&T's HSPA+ network, however, is essentially a souped-up version of its 3G technology, and doesn't suck out any additional juice. Apple is almost paranoid about providing enough battery life for all-day iPhone usage, and Cupertino execs have indicated iPhone would not include either LTE or WiMAX until their 4G power drainage problems are overcome.
A 4G iPhone for AT&T means more than simply faster Web browsing and data downloading. As anyone who uses an iPhone in New York, San Francisco or any crowded metro center knows, AT&T's service is, shall we say, unreliable, primarily because of the multitude the iPhoners jamming the network.
HSPA+ uses different, higher frequencies (a 2100 MHz spectrum band called UMTS for those of you interested in such tech details) vs. than AT&T's 3G network (1800/1900 MHz), which means the new 4G iPhone will operate in a less crowded airwaves, which means better and more consistent connections.
Tomorrow's iPhone forecast
You'll notice I keep calling the new iPhone "the new iPhone" instead of iPhone 5. This is because the iPhone 5 may not be called the iPhone 5.
Here are a few possibilities for what new Apple CEO Tim Cook may unveil tomorrow (yes, we're all hoping Steve Jobs puts in an appearance, but it'll likely be Cook's show):
Multiple models: a 4G iPhone 5 for AT&T, a slightly improved iPhone 4Ss for Verizon and Sprint, and a cheap iPhone 4 with just 8 GB of memory instead of the current 16 GB.
An iPhone 5 for everyone (including a 4G iPhone 5 for AT&T) and a second, lower-priced, iPhone 4 or 4S for everyone.
An iPhone 4S for everyone – one with 4G for AT&T, 3G for Verizon and Sprint – and a cheaper iPhone 4 for everyone.
My prediction: prepare to be disappointed. I don't think there will be an "iPhone 5."
I think we'll get an iPhone 4S for everyone, a new iPhone that will look nearly exactly like the current iPhone 4 with either the same sized 3.5-inch screen, or increased 3.7 inch bezel-to-bezel display, with HSPA+ 4G for AT&T and 3G for Verizon and Sprint, all with iPad's faster 1.2 GHz processor, an 8 GB camera and Apple's new iOS 5.
And, maybe, a cheaper iPhone 4 as well.
But Apple often defies expectations, so I also expect the unexpected. How's that for hedging my bets?
What's right/wrong with an iPhone 4S?
Why should you (or, more precisely, I and other propeller heads) be prepared to be disappointed in whatever Apple unveils tomorrow?
In terms of technical specifications, iPhone has been surpassed by a number of Android models, including the new Samsung Galaxy S II phones, which have larger 4-plus-inch screens and, at least the T-Mobile version due Oct. 12, a faster processor.
The new iPhone, whatever it'll be called, will lag badly behind newer Android phones, especially in screen size.
But the new iPhone will at least be an improvement over the current iPhone 4, which will cheer my wife, who's been stuck with my now really old 3G S iPhone. And there is a report that there'll be a 64 GB option (as well as the usual 16 and 32 GB capacities), which gives me a case of geek giddies – I'll finally be able to pack ALL my 11,000-plus music tracks with me, not just a truncated and boring playlist of a mere 5,000 songs.
And if it turns out the new iPhone has the same exterior dimensions as the current iPhone 4, my geek disappointment will be tempered by being able to use my current iPhone 4 battery case from Energizer.
Cook's presentation is due to start at 10 a.m. West coast time tomorrow, 1 p.m. on the east coast. Tune back here around two hours later to see if my predictions are on the nose or out of my tuchus.
A personal, self-promotional aside: CNN.com ran a story late last week advising you to sell your current iPhone, perhaps at NextWorth, sooner rather than later. Which is great advice – especially when I suggested the same nearly two weeks ago. Nice to know the CNN tech reporters read TechGoesStrong.