No, no not Christmas… better. Through the last two iPhone releases we’ve been bombarded with rumors leading right up to the official announcement. Last year in April, before the official announcement of the iPhone 3GS, many reputable sites believed the iPhone would have a front-facing camera. There were even “spy shots” of the “next-gen” iPhone showing green indicator lights next to a front-facing camera (just like the Mac webcams). Add to this the patent Apple released around the same time last year that included hints of a front-facing camera and it’s no wonder people were convinced.

iPhone Santa comes once a year too!

Much of the speculation going about this year is similar to last year’s with one significant difference – the iPad. At the same time Apple announced the iPad would run a slightly modified version of the iPhone OS they released an updated SDK to be used for both iPod Touch / iPhone development and iPad development. Hong Shim’s article did a good job of overviewing some of the more interesting features that were found in the new SDK so I won’t bother going over those again. I do want to take a moment to point out that, although the new software does indicate support for video calling, this in no way should be taken as a guarantee that the next iPhone will have such support. It’s very likely that this is simply support for future generations of iPads.

What has been happening over the past few years can almost be seen as an interesting game of “catch-up”. Apple releases their new iPhone at the advent of summer and big names (Palm, Blackberry, HTC, etc) spend the next year working hard to outdo the iPhone. In doing this, they introduce new hardware and ideas to the consumer’s image of an “average smartphone” and Apple is tasked with deciding which of these new standards (multitasking – Palm Pre, high-res camera – Everybody, etc) they want to bring to the next-gen iPhone along with some game-changers of their own (two words: App Store).

In my opinion, one of the most likely hardware changes in the new iPhone will be a camera upgrade. With the release of the 3GS Apple upped the iPhone’s camera to 3 megapixels (up from 2 in the iPhones prior) and added video recording capability (more of a software thing though it was certainly helped by the improved camera + processor hardware). 3 megapixels was certainly acceptable in mid-2009 but by the time mid-2010 rolls around (and certainly at the end of the next-gen iPhone’s first year) it just won’t be enough. The new standard is quickly shifting with smartphones like the Motorola Droid, Nokia N95, and HTC Hero all sporting 5 megapixel cameras. Granted, phones like the Palm Pre and the Blackberry Storm still utilize 3 megapixel cameras but you need to keep in mind that these phones tend to see a refresh more frequently than once a year (Palm Pre -> Palm Pre Plus in half a year).

Aside from a camera it is quite likely the maximum storage capacity will be doubled, once again, to 64 GB (with options for smaller sizes of course). I have my fingers crossed for a display refresh as well though this is one place the iPhone hasn’t seen much competition until recently. With OLED and AMOLED technology slowing maturing into actual products (Samsung Wave S8500 – AMOLED and Nokia 6215i – OLED) customers are starting to turn their focus to screens. I find it very unlikely that the iPhone will have AMOLED technology but I see a slight chance the jump to OLED could be made at the same time as an upgrade to high definition video capabilities. Additionally, another increase in onboard RAM along with a more capable processor might allow Apple to permit some level of multitasking without any noticeable decrease in performance. Doubtful, certainly, but a guy can dream.

Of course, at this exciting time of the year all we can do is wish, hope and dream for the new iPhone we’d like to see. Feel free to post your own thoughts on hardware upgrades you think might be in the works for the next gen iPhone!