Coverage I don’t miss writing: the iPhone-rumor story

If it’s Monday–or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or a day on the weekend–it must be time for another round of rumor stories about the next iPhone. The latest claim: The iPhone 5, assuming Apple calls it that, will have a curved glass screen.

That report follows dozens of earlier items that have suggested the next smartphone to come out of Cupertino will feature a bigger screen, possibly spanning its entire front surface; will support the vaguely-named and potentially useful wireless technology called Near Field Communication (unless it won’t); will have an 8-megapixel camera; will run on the same A5 processor as the iPad 2, perhaps in a dual-core version; and will let users switch between the CDMA and GSM wireless standards.

When I was blogging for the Post, the iPhone-rumors post was a regular ingredient of my coverage. I had my reasons: Those posts usually drew a good stream of traffic, my editors consistently wanted them and I could have fun critiquing the implausibility of a particularly outlandish forecast.

But I don’t know that the aggregate of all these iPhone-rumor writeups yields a huge amount of useful data. Some of them should be obvious–of course, the next iPhone will have a better camera and a faster processor, and a bigger screen makes eminent sense too. Others, such as the claim that the iPhone 4′s successor will feature a slide-out keyboard, defy credibility. A third category struggle for relevance: Can somebody define for me the upgrade in usability provided by a curved glass screen? (Confession: I didn’t even notice the slightly concave “Contour Display” on the Nexus S when I reviewed that Android phone.)

I realize that Apple makes a lot of cool stuff, and that the prospect of a new iGadget is more exciting than the upcoming debut of this year’s 20th new Android phone. But at a certain point, hanging on the details of the next Apple release gets to be a waste of time. The breathless evolution of smartphone technology just about ensures that no matter how well you time your purchase, your new iPhone will start to feel antiquated by the time its two-year contract still has eight months left.

You would do better to think about what you’d like to see improved on the current iPhone. Setting aside problems created by Apple or the carriers selling the thing in the U.S.–such as Apple’s control-freak curation of the App Store or the permanently-locked SIM card slot of the AT&T iPhone–my own wish list mainly consists of software issues.

There’s the iPhone’s app-switching interface, which barely competes with Android’s and falls woefully short of the elegant multitasking UI in HP’s webOS. Its clumsy notifications interface–a dialog that pops in front of everything else and must be dismissed before you can resume what you were doing–is an embarrassment compared to what its competitors offer. Its practice of routing most computer-to-phone synchronization through iTunes looks obsolete in an increasingly wireless world. (Edit, 11:55 a.m. I can’t believe I forgot to mention how weak its Maps app looks next to what ships on even entry-level Android phones.)

I’ll bet that fixes for those flaws represent the iPhone upgrade most people want. And if Apple has been paying any attention to the competition, that’s the upgrade you, as an iPhone 4 owner, should get for free whenever Apple ships the next major revision to iOS. (Those of you with an iPhone 3GS may be out of luck, and iPhone 3G owners almost certainly are, to judge from the history of Apple’s major iOS upgrades.)

But that iOS update–iOS 5, presumably–will ship when Apple has it ready and not sooner. Look up all the rumor reports you want in the meantime, but treat them as the equivalent of celebrity gossip: something read more for entertainment than enlightenment.

Update, 10/4/2011, 11:40 p.m. Now that the real iPhone 4S has made its debut–without a curved screen, larger screen, full-surface screen, or NFC chip–you may enjoy reading an inventory of incorrect iPhone predictions from ReadWriteWeb’s John Paul Titlow and the snarkier debunking by Gawker’s Ryan Tate.

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11 thoughts on “Coverage I don’t miss writing: the iPhone-rumor story

  1. Rob, I always got the sense that you only begrudgingly published the rumor du jour posts, for exactly the reasons you lay out. And these days, they are based on screen shots of a Chinese company’s new case or speculation from analysts who have no credibility whatsoever.

    The posts are click-bait, and it is clear that websites are only giving readers what they want, even if, as you say, they really serve no purpose.

    My son and I used to talk about the “upcoming” Verizon iPhone for years before it was announced, and finally agreed that unless Steve Jobs or Ivan Seidenberg themselves announced it, to ignore everything else.

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  3. I, for one, know exactly what you mean on this topic.

    (Also, I’ve got a wireless Canon printer too… always surprised at how often the thing tells me about a “communication error.” Never had to unplug the thing, tho!)

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