A Taiwanese website that has a had a decent track record of verified iPhone leaks is claiming today that Apple is evaluating 3 different hardware prototypes
of the iPhone 5, one of them including a slide-out keyboard. The Google translation of the report on tw.Apple.pro
is pretty hard to understand, but seems to indicate that in addition to the slide-out model, there will also be an updated "traditional" iPhone with minor under-the-hood improvements compared to the iPhone 4.
It's not clear from the googletrans what the phrase "sliding cover" refers to, but it may suggest a physical keyboard that slides out from the case. In addition to this model, Apple is supposedly testing an iPhone 5 that is styled like the iPhone 4 but with a longer-lasting battery and a better camera. Like the upgrade from the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS, then, it would be an evolution rather than a redesign, which is in line with recent reports. There is no description at all of the third prototype, though this might refer to the "iPhone mini" that has generated so much buzz of late.
There are - obviously - a lot
of things to question in this report. The iPhone's touchscreen is perhaps its most fundamental element, and so the idea of a slide-out keyboard pretty much flies in the face of Apple's whole design aesthetic. Steve Jobs explained back in 2007
why Apple decided not to put a keyboard on the iPhone, saying that once you do "it's there forever and [it's] hard to change the buttons to work with different applications." However, for some users learning to type on a touchscreen is a significant barrier, so it may be that Apple has decided to include this as sort of "training wheels" for those customers.
The report would be laughable if Apple.pro hadn't got it right on numerous occasions. In 2008, they showed off the unibody MacBook
before it was released, and in July of last year revealed the small touchscreen
which would eventually turn up in the new multitouch iPod nano months later. Last year, they previewed the white iPhone 4 bezel before the phone was even announced, and showed off an iPhone 4 battery in June. So this is not necessarily something you can laugh off... yet.