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iPhone 5: Liquid Metal Casing and October Debut?

Apple (AAPL) earnings are next week, and the buzz cycle is in full effect. Focus has moved this year from the new iPad, to conditions at Foxconn, to Apple shares topping $600, to earnings, to Apple shares falling below $600. And now, it's all about the iPhone again -- specifically, the casing and the launch.

Up until last year, the iPhone was released each summer. But last October, Apple launched the iPhone 4S. The rumor then was that the release, which looked similar but included upgraded components, was just enough to get users by until the next revamp this summer. But analysts are betting the next one will not come until autumn of 2012.

The speculation picked up Thursday after Qualcomm (QCOM) reported a shortage of 28nm Snapdragon processors, which are expected to be a component in the phone. "At this stage, we cannot secure enough supply to meet the increasing demand we are experiencing [and] we're working closely with our partners to bring additional capacity online," said Qualcomm's CEO, Paul Jacobs, in an earnings call.

It's most likely that the new iPhone launches early in the December quarter (i.e. October) at this point, according to Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray. "We do not believe that Qualcomm's comments yesterday around chip shortages change the likelihood of an October iPhone launch."

Is it really that much of a surprise? Not so much, says Munster, "People assumed it would be June or October, with most assuming October."

International Business Times' Dave Smith adds that "Even if Apple couldn't realistically ship the iPhone 4S any sooner than October, that fall release proved to be the best thing for the company." Smith points out that Apple broke its single-day sales record on Black Friday, it was the No. 1 item on teens' and young adults' wish lists for the 2011 holiday season, and it was one of the best-selling items before, during and after Christmas.

The "holiday would help, but Apple tends to work in product cycles, i.e. the iPad launches every March/April and iPhone now launches every October," says Munster. "I think that is more indicative of Apple's thinking than shooting for the holiday."

Aside from the processor, the iPhone 5 is rumored to have a bigger screen and be thinner and lighter, reportedly thanks to snazzy liquid metal material for the casing.

Apple shares were down $3.54, or 0.6%, in recent trading. Shares have been volatile, closing as high as $636.23 and as low as $580.13 since first topping $600 on March 19. Jon Najarian, co-founder of TradeMonster.com, said on Breakout that some of the weakness may be attributed to traders raising money ahead of the Facebook IPO next month.

In a recent poll, Breakout asks which is more valuable: one share of Apple, one share of Google (GOOG), or $600 cash. As of 11 a.m. ET this morning, 50% of respondents said Apple, 14% said Google and 36% said the cash was more valuable.