How a plate of sushi tells us about the iPhone 5

Apple’s next smartphone is still the subject of speculation, but a photo that popped up on Flickr has sparked a web frenzy that all but confirms a new camera on the next iPhone.

The photo in question is of a plate of sushi, but it’s the information inside the image – mostly the megapixel size and the GPS coordinates in play – that’s behind heightened excitement levels on many online forums, blogs and news sites.

So what does it mean?

What's the resolution of the iPhone 5? Click the image to see this bigger.

Inside every photo is what’s called “EXIF data” or “exchangeable image file data”, an information stream that includes all sorts of useful information about the photo, including the camera used, lens type, shutter speed, low-light sensitivity, megapixel count, and so on.

On this photograph, the camera type is listed as an iPhone 4, while the pixel count is seen as 3264 by 2448. When you multiple these numbers, you get 7,990,272, or just under 8 million pixels.

Another way of saying “eight million pixels” is “8 megapixels,” a sensor size that rumours have suggested will appear in the iPhone 5 for months now. Meanwhile, the iPhone 4 features a 5 megapixel sensor measuring 2592 by 1944 pixels (5,038,848).

The GPS coordinates found inside the photo. Click on the photo to see it bigger.

Then there’s the GPS coordinates in the EXIF, a type of information that can only be stored in images if the camera has access to a positioning system. Most still cameras – compacts and interchangeable lens cameras – don’t have a way of grabbing a location after taking a photo, but a smartphone does, often taking a quick snapshot of the position from the GPS found inside handsets.

On this photo, the coordinates found are “37º 19.93′ N, 122º 1.82′ W”. Stick that into Google Maps and you’ll find yourself staring at a building at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

It’s important to note that despite the photographic evidence, this is still just a rumour. EXIF information can be faked pretty easily with the right tools, and this could all be one giant hoax by someone with a lot of time.

Still, based on the level of rumour we’re seeing lately, we’re guessing it won’t be long now until we find out from Apple directly.