Apple has mailed out invitations to America's major media inviting them to a special event Wednesday next week in San Francisco, with a monolithic-styled invite simply stating 'it's almost here', the number 12 specifying the date with a shadow in the shape of a 5 - presumably referring to the iPhone 5.
The tech world's best hype merchants are at it again
The iPhone 5 has become a cause celebre not just for the tech community but for Apple itself, which has seen its sales of its older generation devices slump as consumers await the new smartphone.
So effective has the build up been, that Nokia and Microsoft have jumped their joint announcement concerning the next generation of Windows Phone devices ahead of Apple's launch. Nokia's press conference is tonight (UK time). Samsung already announced its Windows Phone 8 devices last week, alongside its new Android Galaxy Note 2 smartphone-tablet hybrid.
So what do we know so far? Actually very little. The Apple community and rumour-mill/gadget blogs have been running over time printing stories of alleged case mock-ups, prototypes, and even the packaging - all unverifiable half truths and fanboy Photoshop efforts.
So what has Apple actually confirmed?
It will run iOS 6 - which will also be spread to older devices. This includes Apple's own proprietary maps - Google Maps is gone. This will have built in Siri navigation. Apple Passbook - effectively Apple's version of Google Wallet, which will store tickets, credit cards and (presumably) link to some sort of NFC connectivity in the device. This will also feature bells and whistles such as a 'do not disturb' mode and Facebook integration.
Youtube has also been removed, for spurious reasons (Youtube is owned by Google).
Apple has pre-announced that the device will feature a 9-pin connector, the first change to the standard Apple 30-pin connector in ten years, making it incompatible with third and first party accessories (and adaptor will presumably follow shortly).
It will use the new nano-SIM cards, Apple went to war with rival phone makers earlier in the year to force its standard to be adopted. This is strictly a space requirement - Apple has in the past attempted to do away with SIM cards altogether, but the telco push back was so huge it backed down altogether.
What do we suspect?
As you can see from the invite, the number five should lay to rest the naming of the device - the iPhone 5. There had been some suggestion that it might be name 'The New iPhone' - in line with the iPad 3's launch (read: The New iPad) earlier this year.
This is a generational shift for the iPhone. Apple's release schedules have followed half generational steps in the past - iPhone 3G to 3GS, then 4 to 4S. There will almost be a new design to the body and chassis of the device, sticking to Sir Jonathan Ive's pedigree, it will probably remain a masterclass in metal and glass minimalism.
We also know that Apple has been experimenting with in-cell technology to make its touchscreen thinner - this essentially reduces the three layers (glass, electronics, touch sensor) to two.
Apple will almost certainly expand the screen size beyond 3.5-inches. It will not go anywhere near Galaxy Note craziness, but probably to 4 or 4.5-inches to match rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, and allow for easier internet and app use. This will retain the faux 'retina display' resolution, hovering around 260dpi.
As mentioned above, NFC is a high probability, as it should integrate with iOS6's wallet capabilities - and match the opposition. This could still be subverted by space requirements (and Apple's alleged preference for web-only payment systems). If NFC is announced, presumably some additional software applications, similar to Android Beam (a file transfer/sharing utility).
Apple has generally shied away from the most bleeding edge processors. Rivals such as Samsung and HTC have opted for quad core processors, I would suspect Apple might back off a bit and release a faster version of its proprietary A-series chips in a dual core format - an A6. Perhaps a tweaked A5X from the iPad 3 - that is a dual core 1GHz Cortex A9, with a Power VR quadcore GPU SOC. The jury is still out on whether the battery trade off to performance benefits of quad core in mobile phones makes any sense. RAM shouldn't change, and will probably remain at 1GB.
Depending on the chip upgrade mentioned, the battery is the next factor. Again, this is a three way trade off - slimness vs battery life vs processor performance. I think Apple might go whole hog and attempt to smash the talk time of the iPhone 4S, rather than focus on CPU performance.
Will it have 4G? I think the market and the telcos are expecting this device to be the holy grail that drives huge adoption of their shiny new 4G networks. I think Apple might save it for the iPhone 5S next year. It is impossible to provide a decent 4G experience and preserve battery life - unless Apple has cracked the battery life problem, I doubt it is going to sacrifice its design and user experience to push a still nascent technology into its device. The UK, one of the most competitive smartphone markets in the world, hasn't even auctioned the 4G spectrum required yet - let alone constructed any networks.
Camera should remain unchanged. 8MP is more than enough, and other than hardware tweaking (such as a new flash or autofocus mechanism) expect little more than software tweaking. Apple may have responded to the excitement surrounding Nokia's Pureview technology, but it is doubtful in such a short timeframe.
The release date is usually the week after, so expect it to go on sale in the US on September 21 (Friday). The good news is the last two iterations of the iPhone have launched in the UK at the same time.
The completely left field rumour mill?
Liquidmetal casing. Apple has been linked to LiquidMetal Technologies, a company developing a method, similar to injection moulding, of setting liquid metal into one piece moulds like plastic. The metal mix is also allegedly incredibly strong - the problem that has dogged other companies attempting this method. This technology is probably too far into the future as of yet.
The mini-iPad - we won't see this. This is expected to be announced at another event in October.
A 3D-camera... Proximity sensors that change traffic lights at will... Steve Jobs appearing at the event as a hologram...