Rumor Has It: The iPhone 5

Published on July 24, 2012

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Another week goes by and more rumors and speculation leak from “Apple® sources” of further features to be incorporated into the new iPhone 5, slated for release in Q4 this year. This week’s CNET rumor log relates to the potential change in the proprietary 30-pin connector on the iPhone and the alleged commencement of production of the device in Shanghai.

On the surface, this change in the connector does not seem a major discussion point for Laird Technologies® CPBU, but in reality this could spur further interest in two CPBU Bluetooth® audio modules: the BTM510 and BTM511. These stereo streaming audio modules have found favor in a variety of smartphone audio accessories, such as high quality speaker systems, audio docks and Bluetooth stereo headsets. Any altered connector would require Apple accessory manufacturers to develop a further series of devices, but if Bluetooth, rather than a wired interface / connector, is the connectivity option, their products will seamlessly support the newer Apple devices.

The CNET log makes for further interesting reading as you scroll down through the timeline. The June 25th update relates to the possible inclusion of NFC (Near Field Communication) capabilities and marries up with similar reports at NFC World website. Google’s Android platform and devices provide NFC support and makes sense that Apple would add NFC wireless capabilities to its short range wireless portfolio that includes BT v4.0, including BLE and Wi-Fi.

NFC can trace its origins back to RFID and rapidly developed further with the establishment of the NFC Forum in 2004, leading to specifications for interoperability and standardization via ISO, ECMA and ETSI. NFC operates in the 13.56 MHz frequency band and provides a proximity-based technology, wherein devices connect with only a touch or when in a few centimeters of each other.

It is this secure, intuitive connection methodology that has prompted the likes of Nokia®, Sony®, Google® and potentially Apple to embed NFC into their devices. NFC doesn’t have the widespread awareness of other wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but its growth potential is expected to be as significant – current forecasts by Juniper Research state that NFC transactions will reach $180bn by 2017. The key drivers for this are the incorporation into the smartphone sector, leading to enormous economies of scale and related component cost reductions, and its subsequent use for mobile / contactless payment systems.

NFC provides for three core application categories:

  • Card Emulation Mode - Transactional based solutions; Mobile payments, Ticketing, Transport
  • Reader Mode -  Service availability: Advertising, Information Access
  • Peer to Peer - Connectivity based solution – setup, configuration and data transfer

It is clear that Google with its current implementation of NFC into its flagship phones (Nexus and now the SIII) plus its Google Wallet application is aiming squarely for the first of these application areas. Apple announced the Passbook application in its recent iOS 6 updates and, combined with the possible NFC incorporation into the iPhone 5, strongly points to Apple’s push for a similar foothold in the mobile payments ecosystem.

It is the third of these core application areas that provides most interest for wireless connectivity manufacturers such as Laird. The peer-to-peer mode of NFC can provide significant benefits to existing wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, in its ability to enhance the set up and configuration of these technologies.   The Bluetooth pairing process can be relativity lengthy in duration and, for devices without a display, potentially complex to ensure connectivity to the correct target device. NFC can reduce both of these issues by simply bringing the device in very close proximity of the target Bluetooth device to use NFC as a faster communication channel to exchange the Bluetooth pairing information between both devices. Additionally this close proximity allows for a reduction in potential man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks on the pairing process, so making it even more secure.

Nokia has been using NFC for this enhanced Bluetooth pairing process for some time and provides NFC tags with its smartphone packaging that allow users to “tap” their Nokia Bluetooth peripherals to that tag for seamless pairing to the smartphone. The potential addition of Apple into the NFC segment and expected reduction in component costs as more and more devices proliferate into the market will lead to great demand for OEMs looking for wireless connectivity options that combine BT / Wi-Fi plus NFC into their end products.