It's worth cutting right to the chase: Here is a leaked image of the purported next-generation Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 6:

Source: Forbes

Right off the bat, this image looks pretty legitimate. After all, it's a larger iPhone complete with TouchID, next to nothing in the way of bezels, and generally a gorgeous design. It really does "look" like what one would expect from a next-generation iPhone. However, the question that investors and phone enthusiasts must ask themselves is this: Is this image real or just a very clever render?

Doesn't this look familiar?
The iPhone here looks familiar -- almost too familiar. Does it, perhaps, remind you of the following image?

Source: Martin Hajek and Steve Hemmerstoffer

While this image is certainly different from the alleged "photo" (for example, the render doesn't have Touch ID), the designs are extremely similar. Now, there's the argument that there are only so many ways to actually go about making a thinner, larger iPhone, and these two images may not be at all related, but the similarities (particularly the bottom of the phone) are rather striking.

A few more problems
The images that were "leaked" were suspiciously missing pictures of the side of the phone, where the volume buttons would be. In a slimmer design, the buttons would clearly need to be reworked/made smaller. This would also probably require a great deal more effort to "fake," which suggests that there's either something here that the leakers don't want us to see (i.e., a controlled leak) or that it really is a fake.

Another thing to notice is the unrealistic lighting, shading, and basic environment that this alleged iPhone 6 is situated in. This is in stark contrast to the Nov. 2013 leak of a next-generation Retina iPad Mini sporting Touch ID:

Source: Nowhereelse.fr

This leaves very little doubt as to the authenticity of the image, as the "environment" looks real and the tablet is very clearly being photographed by an individual with his phone. While this could also be fake, it at least looks like a real item in real lighting conditions in a real environment.

Is it fake?
At the end of the day, the iPhone 6 may very well look like the leak above, and the leak itself may prove legitimate. There really are only so many ways to make a larger, thinner iPhone, and the leaked image does look plausible. However, there are too many near-exact similarities to the render provided that call into question the authenticity of the picture. Plus, the environment/conditions in which the phone is situated don't look all that realistic either.

Only time will tell, of course. Apple would be wise to get a bigger phone out the door as quickly as possible to intercept the next-generation products from Samsung, HTC, and others, particularly as the products from these players continue to become more compelling from a capabilities and even software experience standpoint. Apple can't afford to lose any further high-end/flagship sales, as these high-margin products are the key to Apple's profitability and long-term future. Bring on the larger iPhone!

This is Apple's next big thing
If you thought the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad were amazing, just wait until you see this. One hundred of Apple's top engineers are busy building one in a secret lab. And an ABI Research report predicts 485 million of them could be sold over the next decade. But you can invest in it right now... for just a fraction of the price of AAPL stock. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening new report.

Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.