iPhone 5 Rumored To Pack Serious Performance Upgrade

We've heard plenty from tablet and smartphone manufacturers at CES about their upcoming 2011 products. Apple has remained nearly silent about its own plans, but Taiwanese sources have surreptitiously reported that the next-generation iPhone 5 will pose a threat to the best-laid plans of everyone else.

According to the Hong Kong-based newspaper Apple Daily, the iPhone 5 will incorporate several new technologies. Apple is expected to ditch the penta-band UMTS antenna currently within the iPhone 4 for a Qualcomm dual-mode chip that supports both CDMA and GSM technologies. This would remove the need to manufacture separate phones for Verizon and AT&T and theoretically allow the company to negotiate a better purchase price.

Other changes include the rumored development of a new processor dubbed either the A5 or the A8. Regardless of the chip's code name, it's supposedly a dual-core Cortex-A9. Since the current A4 inside the iPad/iPhone 4 is a Cortex-A8, just moving to the more powerful architecture would be a step up. If Apple jumps from a single-core A8 to a dual-core A9 at the same 1GHz clock rate, performance will significantly improve as well. Presumably the next-generation chip will be trimmed to conserve power in much the same way as the A4 was.

The SGX543 GPU. From what we're hearing, it's going to be impressive.

The other major upgrade is billed as a dual-core GPU based on the recently announced SGX543. The iPhone 4/iPad both rely on a single SGX535 processor. The diminutive GPU offers a fill rate of 500MPixels/s, and can draw up to 28M polygons/s @200MHz. The new SGX543 is significantly more powerful core-for-core (33.25M polys/s at 200MHz and a fill rate of 1GPixel/s). Whereas the SGX535 is designed as a single-core implementation, however, the SGX543 is explicitly designed to stack in configurations of 1-16 GPUs. (Think of this as SLI-on-a-stick). An iPhone 5 with a dual-core SGX543 GPU would therefore theoretically be able to draw more than 2.4x as many polygons and would offer 4x the fillrate when compared to its predecessor.

Such hardware would substantially widen the sorts of activities the iPad/iPhone could capably handle. 1080P would be absolutely no problem, and Apple could theoretically bring the iPad's display resolution up to near iPhone 4 levels without straining the GPU or slowing the device's refresh rate. We aren't holding out for streaming HD video over anything but WiFi, even if the next-generation flavors are theoretically up to the challenge. At the rate so-called 'unlimited' plans are collapsing or being capped by 3-5GB limitations, only those of us who manage to hold on to grandfathered plans will be in a position to take advantage of such features.

We don't think the likes of Blackberry's Playbook or upcoming Tegra 2 tablets are automatically in trouble, but Apple seems to have planned for this fight in advance. The iPhone and iPad still command more mindshare than any specific device from any single manufacturer, which makes this battle Apple's to lose.