Apple only launched the iPhone 6s two months ago, but there are already rumours swirling about its successor — some far more believable than others.
At this point, Apple hasn’t even announced the iPhone 7, and it’s difficult to be sure of anything.
But here’s what people are saying, and what to expect.
It's highly likely Apple's next smartphone will be revealed at an event in September 2016 and will go on sale to the public the following month. It's a formula that Apple has been following like clockwork for years now.
With the iPhone 6, Apple introduced two different sizes of phone for the first time -- the 6 and the 6 Plus, now followed by the 6s and the 6s Plus.
This allows the Cupertino company to target people looking for a big-screened phablet device, without alienating customers who want something a little smaller. It's been a roaring success: The iPhone 6 landed Apple the most profitable quarter of any company ever, and Apple says the 6s sold even better than its predecessor during its first weekend of availability.
The iPhone works on a tick-tock release strategy. One year, the phone gets a big redesign and a new number (iPhone 4, 5, 6); the next, it gets revamped guts and a new feature or two, and an -s gets appended to its name (iPhone 4s, 5s, 6s).
This year was the 6s, which means next year should be the iPhone 7 -- with a totally new look.
Another no-brainer -- every year, Apple updates its mobile operating system shortly before the release of the newest iPhone. This then becomes the first device to ship with the new iOS version installed. In 2015, it released iOS 9 -- meaning iOS 10 should come out in 2016.
So what changes will the iPhone 7 redesign entail? Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Muster thinks that Apple might ditch the home button altogether, and incorporate a bigger screen. 'As many have speculated, the addition of 3D Touch may provide Apple with a way to eliminate the home button on the phone and use the additional space to make the screen bigger or make the device smaller,' he wrote in an analyst note. 'One barrier to this could be Touch ID, which is integrated into the home button currently. Apple would need to move the Touch ID reader to potentially the side of the phone to remove the home button.'
Munster pegs the chances of this happening at 50%.
That's not Munster's only prediction. The Apple analyst also thinks that Apple could use sapphire for the screen of the iPhone 7, as 'has long been rumoured.' Apple already uses sapphire for the screen in some Apple Watch models. This would make it less likely to shatter when dropped or hit.
There have been recent reports that Apple is looking to use OLED technology in future iPhones. But this shift is expected to happen in 2018 -- for the iPhone 8.
Battery life is a perennial concern for just about every smartphone on the market. As Munster says: 'Another area on which we believe Apple may focus is battery life. Looking at Macs over the past few years, Apple has close to doubled battery life for its Macbook line up (largely 5 hour battery to ~10 hours). It has achieved this through more efficient processors and software. We believe battery life is one of the biggest areas of potential improvement and one that might be most welcomed by customers.'
One of the wilder theories about the iPhone 7 is that it could be waterproof. The iPhone 6s is significantly more resistant to water than previous models -- one YouTuber even left his devices in underwater for an hour to prove it. This has sparked some speculation that Apple could take it one stage further with the iPhone 7, and openly advertise it as a waterproof phone.
There have been high-end waterproof smartphones before, albeit not from Apple: Samsung's Galaxy S5 was waterproof. And Apple now has experience making water-resistant devices -- the Apple Watch has an IPX7 rating, which translates into submersion in a meter of water for half an hour.
Ming-Chi Kuo, a well-respected analyst for KGI Securities, thinks that the iPhone 7 might be the slimmest iPhone ever. In a research note seen by Apple Insider, he pegs the forthcoming device's size as between 6 and 6.5 millimeters thick — down from 7.3 millimeters and 7.1 millimeters for the 6S and 6S Plus.
How will it achieve this?
There are reports circulating that Apple is considering ditching the headphone port altogether. Right now, it uses a standard 3.5mm jack. That means there's only so much slimmer the iPhone could become. If it removes the headphone jack altogether -- as Japanese Apple blog Otakara is claiming it might -- it would free Apple up to make the device significantly slimmer.
Be cautious about this one: The Independent notes that the blog has propagated false rumours in the past. But there' s a precedent for Apple aggressively removing ports. In the most recent MacBook, it got rid of everything but a single USB port (and a headphone jack), which is responsible for charging, connecting second screens, and plugging in accessories.
The change would also encourage people to use wireless headphones.
Apple has been granted multiple patents in eye-tracking technology that would let its devices use their cameras to see exactly what you're looking at and change the display accordingly — not displaying notifications when you're not looking, for example.
But Apple is granted numerous patents that never make their way into a finished product, so they're not a surefire indicator of what lies ahead for the company.
There are reports that Apple is considering launching a 4-inch, lower-end smartphone — speculatively called the iPhone Mini. It would drop in early 2016, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, and fill a similar spot in the market to the colorful iPhone 5C.
But it's also questionable as to why Apple would need an iPhone Mini. The dual-device model started with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus seems to be extremely successful, with a renewed focus on convincing users to switch from Android. If it can do that with its existing range, why does it need to launch a new device?
Apple does not, as a rule, comment on rumors and speculation.
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