Yes, that's right: we haven't even put 2012 to bed yet and it's time to start talking The Next iPhone.
Consensus at this ridiculously early stage is that the latest chapter in Apple's mobile success story will go by the name iPhone 5S, and what is claimed to be the first image of a prototype of the device has just washed ashore from the great ocean of the world wide web.
Component supplier ETrade Supply is claiming this slight blurrycamish snap is the back shell of the iPhone 5S, while it also has another pic of the innards, which it has posted side-by-side with a similar pic of the iPhone 5 to highlight the differences.
On the surface of things, there's nothing obvious to immediately rule out the chances that this is Apple's next iPhone. The placeholder values for the likes of the model number and IMEI confirm that it's clearly a prototype, while visually the rear shell is very similar looking to the iPhone 5 from the outside but that's to be expected given what for Apple was a significant design makeover with the current model.
The side-by-side shots reveal a slightly reconfigured screw hole arrangement for the logic board, plus a few other minor differences, which again would be in keeping with the kind of evolutionary development an “S” release would bring.
It's still early days (even if the iPhone 5S/6 does arrive ahead of schedule, as some are suggesting), and we can speculate freely without much fear of contradiction at this point.
This could very well be a next iPhone prototype, but the obvious alternate hypothesis the comes to mind is that it's a prototype for the current model that was rejected, or even an outright fake.
With Apple, you never know.