Pictures leaked online claim to show the case for the forthcoming iPhone 5S, Apple’s next update of its market leading smartphone.
Surfacing on French website Nowhereelse.fr, the images reveal an exterior virtual identical to the current iPhone 5, which was only released in September.
But a closer look at the inside of the part shows the fixing points of some of the internal components – which differ from the latest model – seems to suggest that it could be a new part for an updated phone.
Nowhereelse.fr hedge its bets, admitting that while it could be a case from a new iPhone prototype, it could equally be part of a well-made Chinese iPhone clone.
It says it first found the images published on the website forum iPhone5Parts and makes no attempt to confirm their authenticity.
Nevertheless, the apparent leak comes as the rumors have begun to circulate online that Apple is already about to begin making the successor to its latest smartphone.
A Chinese site in November claimed the firm was set to begin trial production of the new model this month, although has no details of what new features it may contain.
The Commercial Times estimated that full commercial production of the rumored iPhone 5S will begin as early as Q1 2013, with the December run only expected to return between 50,000 and 100,000 units.
Facing low yield rates in the production of iPhone 5, Apple has accelerated the certification processes for related parts and components for the iPhone 5S, the paper revealed, according to DigiTimes.
“While the speculated iPhone 5S is expected to enter volume production in the first quarter of 2013, Apple is also likely to release a new version of iPad a quarter later than the iPhone 5S, since the display resolution of its latest version of iPad has come out lower than expected,” the paper said.
However, while the firm may begin trial production, some believe it may not go on sale until later next year.
“The industry was surprised at how quickly the iPad 4 replaced the 3, however that was to make all of its top line products have the same connector,” said Luke Peters, editor of T3 magazine.
“Trial production might see we see snippets on the web, but its usually 6-7 months until we see a launch, and so I would expect to see a new version, be it an iPhone 5S or a 6, late next year.”
It comes as Samsung’s Galaxy S3 has become the world’s best-selling smartphone model for the last quarter, pushing aside Apple’s iPhone.
Apple has dominated the chart for more than two years, research firm Strategy Analytics said.
It claims Samsung sold 18 million S3 models in the third quarter, compared with iPhone 4S sales of 16.2 million.
Strong sales of the flagship Galaxy S3- which comes with a large 4.8 inch touchscreen – helped Samsung post a record $7.3 billion operating profit in the July-September quarter.
Apple customers were also believed to be waiting for the release of the iPhone 5, which is expected to propel Apple back to the top spot.