My former colleague Ellis Hamburger and I have a running inside joke.
When Apple releases its “S” model iPhone every other year, I tease him for being caught on the boring iPhone upgrade cycle with the same design, while I get the shiny new design the year after that.
This year is Ellis’ turn to laugh.
By now we’ve seen so many leaked photos and reports from accurate sources that it’s impossible not to believe them. The next iPhone is going to look nearly identical to the current one, except for a bulging camera, missing headphone jack, and new antenna lines.
Just take a look at the latest leak that hit Monday, which shows three variants of the next iPhone — the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, and the so-called iPhone 7 Pro, which will likely have a more powerful camera. It’s impossible to tell them apart from the iPhone 6s, at least from the front:
Beyond some speed and camera improvements, it’s difficult to imagine any other significant hardware milestones beyond opening up a new industry for headphone dongles.
So this year I’m in a conundrum. My iPhone 6 Plus, which I bought nearly two years ago, still works just fine. In fact, I don’t notice much of a difference between it and the 6S. I have no need for 3D Touch, and the camera is nearly as good. Even though I’ve never gone more than two years with one phone, I’m seriously considering skipping the iPhone 7 and waiting another year.
In addition to all the reports on the iPhone 7 that have been trickling through over the last few months, we’re also getting an idea what next year’s iPhone will be like. And it sounds like a radical change is coming.
According to early reports from Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and a few Apple rumours sites, next year’s iPhone will have a new glass design with no bezels around the screen, wireless charging, and an embedded fingerprint sensor in the display. (That also means no more home button.)
It sounds like Apple is holding its cards close to the chest this year, only to unveil a winning hand next year for the iPhone’s tenth birthday. 2016 will go down in history as a gap year for the iPhone, building up pent-up demand for something truly amazing in 2017. It’s the same pattern we saw in 2013 when everyone was clamoring for a big-screen iPhone, but Apple made us wait another year before it delivered.
In the meantime, Samsung is rebounding from a nasty few years thanks to some excellent new hardware. The Galaxy S7 Edge is the best-looking phone you can buy, and includes thoughtful features not found in the iPhone like water resistance, wireless charging, and a camera no other company has been able to beat yet. No wonder the research firm Kantar found that the Galaxy S7 is outselling the iPhone 6s in the US.
“The iPhone 7 had better be spectacular,” Walt Mossberg, the most famous technology columnist in the world, wrote shortly after the Galaxy S7’s launch. He noted that even though the iPhone is still the best (I agree), it has an “ever-thinning lead” over the competition, especially Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and likely its soon-to-be-released Galaxy Note 7.
Today, the only key advantage the iPhone has is the iOS ecosystem, which still attracts the best developers and delivers the most consistent updates to users. Other companies like HTC and Samsung have already managed to leapfrog Apple’s iPhone design.
Meanwhile, Google is an increasingly looming threat now that it’s beefing up its hardware division and plans to start making its own phones instead of relying on Samsung, HTC, LG, and others to push the Android ecosystem forward. It’s the right move, and one that should worry Apple in the long-term.
Here’s what I think will happen: A lot of people will find themselves in the same tough spot as me this fall when Apple announces the iPhone 7. We all bought the iPhone 6/6 Plus in record numbers in 2014 and 2015. Two years later, Apple is about to deliver a very similar phone just as we’re getting ready to upgrade. We’ll look at that phone, and the reports of what’s coming next year, and many of us will decide to hold off until 2017.
It wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Unless there’s some crazy, revolutionary technology hidden in the iPhone 7 that hasn’t leaked out yet, it likely won’t make sense to upgrade unless you’re still using an iPhone 5 or want to switch from Android. The real innovation likely won’t drop for another year.
It’s going to be a bad year for the iPhone.
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