An article published last April in Forbes, or how to create needs through the management of industrial leaks and the rendered concepts they inspire.
A video released this week by Unbox Therapy provided the best sense of scale yet for the rumored 4.7 inch iPhone 6. The maker of the video, Lewis Hilsenteger, credited Apple blogger Sonny Dickson with locating the “leaked” case design in which his prop was based. A little additional research confirmed my guess that the origin of the hot pink silicone case was in fact a booth at the recent Hong Kong Electronics Fair.
Nobody thought that the case came directly from a Foxconn factory, so the critical question is really about how accurate is the geometry of the mold that the case is based on. A look through the iPhone 6 posts on Steve Hemmerstoffer’s French-language NowhereElse.fr blog suggests the provenance of the case as well as the origin of the engineering sketch that its geometry was based on. Hemmerstoffer asked Dutch 3D designer Martin Hajek to make a rendered version of the iPhone 6 (see below.)
Before discussing Hajek and his iPhone concept designs, it is worth explaining some detail about how the “leaking” process works with Apple products. Very little if any of the information that we see in the tech press is actually leaked directly from Apple or its direct manufacturers (Foxconn, etc.) Almost all of it comes through the “supply chain” to bloggers and financial analysts. In some cases, for instance sapphire crystal maker GT-Advanced’s projection of 2H2014 revenues, publicly released information from a supplier tips about the timing of an upcoming iPhone. Most of the time, though, the details about the dimensions and specific feature geometry of new iPhone models, as in the present case, come from the hive of accessory suppliers clustered around Apple’s actual manufacturers.
Many false rumors arise from guesses about the intended relationships between named entities How case manufacturers get their “inside” information is not clear, but it is not hard to imagine that people in the tech sector in China have earlier access to accurate information than those in the non-Chinese speaking world . Even with Google Translate it seems to take time for Chinese-language information to percolate out into the largely English-speaking tech audience that follows Apple products. And without understanding the nuance, not just of Chinese but of specific technical vocabulary, it is not always clear exactly what is being said by Asian news sources. Many false rumors arise from guesses about the intended relationships between named entities. As with all text analysis, it is far easier to account for the “big words” than to pin down the exact meaning intended by all of the little “and”s, “if”s, “but”s and “or”s.
The image above is by Martin Hajek based on the sketch and case referenced above from the Japanese MacFan magazine. It looks identical to the case used in the Unbox Therapy video I wrote about earlier in the week. Although Hilsenteger’s hands-on approach is great for intuitively understanding the implications of scale, Hajek’s renders really help you visualize what the iPhone 6 might really look like. Everything about this “concept” is plausible. It follows the design conventions of the iPad Air, reduces the bezel but maintains a “bumper” and places controls in logical places. It looks like an iPhone!
Above is Hajek’s extrapolation based on the MacFan sketch of what the eventual iPhone line would look like, from the 4 inch iPhone 5s to the 4.7 inch iPhone 6 to the phablet-sized 5.5 inch iPhone. Most accounts point to this largest model not being available until the end of this year, if then. What it will be called is also a question. iPhone Plus, perhaps?
The rumor mill runs on, of course, and once Hajek gets in gear he tends to iterate through each new data point. Another rumor from Macotakara, the Japanese publisher of MacFan and the origin of most of the current iPhone 6 intelligence, is that Apple will use a process similar to the Squair Curvacious Bumper on its new iPhone. Taking this to its logical conclusion in combination with recent advances in curved glass screens, Hajek designed a version of the iPhone 6 with rounded glass edges that seamlessly runs into the side bumpers. The image above compares this approach to the current iPhone 5s.
What’s clear to me from these images is that they don’t really look like an Apple design solution. “This way the 4.7″ version can be made a whopping 4mm narrower,” Hajek explains, “looks like a nicer fit to the hand!” Yes, it would probably feel smooth in the hand like a polished pebble, but it looks rather cartoonish. Even though sapphire is much much tougher than Gorilla Glass (apparently sapphire’s un-scratchability is the key to its un-breakability) the curved glass edge feels exposed. The bigger problem may be that the curved edges of the screen will distort images or video and lead to a narrower (or shallower, depending on orientation) addressable screen area. The HD proportion of contemporary smartphones is already very extreme for many applications, and this would accentuate the contrast between the two dimensions.
The important point here is that the correlation between rumors and eventual product is clearly increasing from this point on, but that doesn’t mean that erroneous information will be automatically screened out. Apple’s designers and engineers and their manufacturing partners on the one side, and the legions of third-party manufacturers, bloggers, analysts and fantasy prototypers (#AFPL) on the other, are on a convergent course. In the end, Apple will fulfill our expectations, but those expectations will have been formed, in large part, by this global apparatus that is trying to predict what Apple will do! It is an echo chamber, yes, but also a mind. There is intelligence there, if you know how to see it.