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Apple Picks the Worst Time to Go Subtle

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Rumor has it that Apple will truly "Think Different" with its newest incarnation of the iPhone: It's decided to go subtle.

According to All Things Digital, Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek believes that rather than delivering a suped-up iPhone 5 with 4G speeds and NFC, the flagship device will only undergo "minor cosmetic changes."

"We believe the likelihood of the iPhone 5 launch in September including LTE is now remote," Misek said. "According to our industry checks, the device should be called iPhone 4S and will include minor cosmetic changes, better cameras, A5 dual-core processor, and HSPA+ support."

In addition to the slight upgrade, Misek said that the iPhone 4S could launch on Sprint and T-Mobile's networks. "On Apple's last earnings call, management responded to a question about launching the CDMA iPhone at other carriers as 'we are constantly looking and adding where it makes sense, and you can keep confidence that we'll continue to do that.' "

All Things Digital's John Paczkowski notes that Misek's prediction coincides with Concord Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo's outlook. Kuo believes, too, that the hardware will receive only "slight modifications" and ship in October.

Granted, any improvements on what's already one of the best smartphones on the market is welcome and appreciated, but when Android's leading in market share, delivering dual-core and 4G devices at a rapid clip, and appears to be spearheading new NFC initiatives, now isn't the time for Apple to hedge its bets and think small.

And worse yet, if Kuo is correct, the company will wait until October to ship the stunted device when the rest of the smartphone industry has progressed even future.

With WWDC only a few weeks away, Apple could easily lessen the sting of an iPhone 4.5 with some amazing iOS features. Responding to Google Music and Amazon's Cloud Drive, a cloud-based iTunes is on the list of analysts' expectations. We may also see wireless OS updates by the next version. And while other software improvements are undoubtedly underway, will it be enough?

Four years ago, Apple trailblazed the smartphone industry. And in years since, competitors have caught up and -- in some instances -- have surpassed the iPhone's admittedly outdated features. (Android's status bar, Google Voice, and turn-by-turn navigation features, to name a few.) Apple cannot choose this moment to grow complacent with iPhone improvements. It may be able to afford to do so with the iPad and its dominant share of the tablet market but now, in May of 2011, Apple needs to go back to where it was in 2007 and deliver a revolutionary smartphone that blows everyone else out of the water.

And honestly, an edge-to-edge screen isn't going to do it.

(See also: AT&T: No New iPhone Before August and Google Reveals the Future of Android)

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POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.