5 Things You Need to Know About the iPhone 5

If the growing buzz by smartphone component manufacturers, tech reporters, and bloggers is to be believed, we're now just a few weeks away from the iPhone 5.

Apple (AAPL) has been fairly quiet, but it's typically pretty secretive. However, judging by Apple's history, and by some of the rumors that continue to bubble to the surface, we can begin to arrive at some fairly likely conclusions. Let's go over five of them.

1. The iPhone 5 will Sprint into action

AT&T (T) has been selling the iPhone since its 2007 debut. Verizon (VZ) joined the fun earlier this year with the iPhone 4. Now it's been widely reported that Sprint (S) will become the third stateside carrier to hop on the bandwagon with next month's iPhone 5 debut.

Sprint wireless plans are typically cheaper than those of its two larger rivals, so penny-pinchers are already looking forward to next month. But wait -- this news gets even better.

AT&T and Verizon have discontinued offering unlimited data plans to new customers. Active web users on smartphones strained both carriers' networks, driving them to switch to tiered pricing models. In short, iPhone owners are data hogs. However, Bloomberg reported last week that Sprint is hoping to stand out from the competition by continuing to offer unlimited data plans.

We'll have to wait and see whether Sprint can keep that policy going once its network gets tested -- and if Verizon and AT&T will have to go back to offering unlimited data, should Sprint start gobbling up iPhone market share.

2. Leave your digital camera at home

One of the key upgrades in the iPhone 4 is its ability to take better pictures. The iPhone 3GS came out in 2009 with a 3-megapixel camera, while last year's iPhone 4 bumped up the resolution with a 5-megapixel camera. The iPhone 4 also added LED flash and a backside illumination sensor.

The iPhone 5 -- after more than a year of marinating -- should continue to up the ante for shutterbugs.

OmniVision (OVTI), which supplied image sensors for previous iPhones, is rolling out a small 8-megapixel sensor that reportedly shoots 1080p high-def video at 30 frames per second with electronic image stabilization. Will it be out in time for iPhone 5's production? If so, iPhone owners won't need to pack a digital camera the next time they're heading out.

3. Expect the iPhone 5 to be priced like today's iPhone 4

The original iPhone owners may be kicking themselves for paying as much as $600 for the first Apple smartphone, but diehard fans know that technology gets better -- and cheaper -- over time.

After a few early price cuts, Apple has kept to the same pricing script with its most recent introductions. Carriers subsidize the basic model enough to let consumers buy in at $199, in exchange for a two-year contract commitment. A model with double the storage capacity sells for $299.

Even with niftier features, the iPhone 5 should stick to those price points. Apple hardly wants to price itself out of the mainstream market, especially when faced with the success of cheaper handsets running Google's (GOOG) Android mobile operating system.

4. The iPhone 4 will not go away, but it will get cheaper

If you don't care about the iPhone 5 -- and you're thinking about buying an iPhone 4 right now -- it will pay to wait.

It's been 15 months since Apple introduced the iPhone 4, but you can still buy the iPhone 3GS. It's now offered at a mere $49 by AT&T and Verizon Wireless with a two-year contract.

This isn't like a showroom trying to clear out unsold cars when a new yearly model rolls in. Apple continues to make the 3GS, passing on the savings to customers who can't afford the latest model. Later this year, the iPhone 4 will be the new 3GS. The price may not drop to $49 right away, but it would be hard to sell last year's debutante for more than $99 when the iPhone 5 hits the market.

5. Don't expect your old cases to fit

Just as the form factor of the iPhone 4 is different than the iPhone 3GS, expect Apple to infuriate more smartphone owners when they upgrade to iPhone 5. That slick protective case that hugs your older iPhone like a glove may not be a good fit with the new handset.

Does Apple do this on purpose? Third-party accessory providers -- including the publicly traded ZAGG (ZAGG) -- don't seem to mind, since they, too, get to cash in on the renewed demand for covers and cases for the next generation of iPhones.

Either way, expect to shell out another $20 to $40 for a new case -- unless you like to live dangerously.

The Unanswered Questions

Earlier this year, the hot rumor indicated that the next iPhone would feature near-field communication chips, paving the way for easier financial transactions. That chatter has dried up as we get closer to an actual launch.

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It's also widely speculated that the new iPhone 5 will have the same speedy Qualcomm (QCOM) chip that is now part of the iPad 2. That's a safer bet than the near-field communication chips, which are already starting to creep into rival smartphones.

We will also have to wait and see whether the iPhone 5 will be capable of faster 4G connectivity, now that AT&T and Verizon are making inroads in upgrading their networks.

A little mystery isn't a bad thing. Thankfully, Apple usually throws in an unexpected surprise or two to make its inevitable reveal worth the wait.

What features do you want to see in the next iPhone? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not owns shares in any of the stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, QUALCOMM, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, AT&T, and Apple.

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