Safe Bet: iPhone 5 by October

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It’s a time-honored tradition as far as Apple rumors go: Small blogs, analysts and trade papers in Asia scare up rumors for months, and then finally, the mainstream news outlets show up, citing “people familiar with the situation” in an authoritative gesture.

And so here we are, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Apple’s preparing a new iPhone for the third quarter. Reportedly, Apple has now placed orders for key components.

(MORE: 15 Million ‘iPhone 5’ Order Signals Major Push in September?)

So what its in store for the iPhone 5 (or iPhone 4S, or whatever)? The WSJ says to expect a thinner, lighter design and an 8-megapixel camera. No word on the processor, but it’s widely believed that Apple will use the same dual-core A5 chip that appears in the iPad 2.

The sources also say that this new iPhone is “complicated and difficult to assemble,” which could delay shipments, but also suggests that this isn’t just an iPhone 4 with a spec boost.

Indeed, the shape of the next iPhone has been the biggest point of contention in all the rumors we’ve seen so far.

Analyst Peter Misek has said to expect essentially the same design as the iPhone 4 with some minor cosmetic changes. The blog This Is My Next expects a teardrop design, with a backside that tapers off at the bottom, kind of like a MacBook Air. One recurring theme in rumors is an edge-to-edge display that allows for a larger screen, possibly 4 inches diagonal. The Wall Street Journal weighs in on none of this.

As for timing, a third-quarter launch falls in line with previous reports, which have said that the iPhone 5 will arrive in September, or possibly August.

Apple has already broken tradition by not launching new iPhone hardware over the summer, as the company has done for the past three years, instead putting an emphasis on iOS 5. The new software includes better notifications, Twitter integration, Wi-Fi synching, iMessage for communicating with other iOS devices and the iCloud storage service. Whatever hardware Apple launches in the coming months, expect the focus to remain squarely on what the new software allows you to do.

MORE: Apple Debuts ‘iTunes in the Cloud’