There are few things consistent in the world of technology, but one of them is the iPhone. Every fall, like clockwork, Apple upgrades its beloved phone, introducing new software, new features, and new design. And this year promises to have some surprises, even if they’re not what you’re expecting. But are any of them enough to push the iPhone back to the forefront?
If you look at the numbers, the problem is simple: The iPhone has gone from being an innovative market leader to playing catch-up with Android both in sales and in technology. A widely circulated Imgur gag really sums up the problem on the technological end of the problem, but the real issue for Apple is market share. Between 2015 and 2016, it lost more than 2% of the market. While the company is in no financial danger, long-term, if the iPhone collapses, it could take Apple with it. So what’s the upcoming iPhone doing to reverse the trend? Let’s look at the rumors.
Thinner And Better
There are two things that just don’t qualify as rumors anymore: The next iPhone will be thinner and it’ll have a better processor. As far as the guts of the iPhone go, Apple is almost certainly going to introduce the A10, a faster system on a chip that will replace the current Apple A9. It’ll likely be a bit faster than your current iPhone, as Apple has offered modest upgrades in speed with each new processor. Considering Apple is offering 4K video shooting and better photographs, expect 32GB to become the new minimum amount of space on your phone as well.
It will also, of course, be thinner. It’s unlikely to lose too much weight off its already svelte 7 mm thick frame, but it will definitely lose a millimeter or two. How? By getting rid of something you use every day.
Goodbye Headphone Jack
Probably the most controversial rumor is that Apple is doing away with the headphone jack and will have you do everything from listen to your headphones to charging your phone through one port. The counter-argument is that this would be an enormous inconvenience, shove Apple further away from the technological mainstream, and force consumers to sacrifice their wallets to Apple’s quest to make everything thin. Either you’ll have to buy Lightning headphones, or you’ll need to invest in Bluetooth models.
This one is likely true, however. The Wall Street Journal has all but confirmed it, and it’s in line with Apple’s policy. Consider that the MacBook has one port for almost everything, much to the surprise of the tech industry. Secondly, it helps Apple reach two goals, to make the iPhone more waterproof and dustproof, a key selling point for rivals like Samsung; and to cut down the overall thickness. Nor does it hurt that this will force everyone using Square and other payment systems to switch to NFC payments, making them a bit more likely to use Apple Pay.
A Flatter, And Possibly Narrower, Design
2017 will be the ten-year anniversary of the iPhone, so it’s likely any dramatic changes in the visible design will be reserved for next year. Among the rumors for 2017 is that the Home button will be removed and the iPhone will be a flat pane of glass. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some changes in the works. For example, the camera is likely to be more flush with the body and the lines on the back, which allow the antenna to operate, will either be much thinner or go away completely. But the real question is just how big the screen will be.
Right now, the iPhone comes 4.7 and 5.5 inch sizes, and those are likely to stick around. But Apple recently introduced a 4″ phone this year as well, the iPhone SE, that was essentially just a smaller form factor with a few features left off. Apple may well be putting out three phones this year instead of two, provided it can get the smaller phone thin enough. Or they might have a “Pro” version, as that rumor keeps lingering.
Hello Smart Connector
Replacing the headphone jack will likely be Apple’s Smart Connector. Those three little circles on the side of your iPad have turned out to be a huge boon for Apple, taking away annoyances like Bluetooth keyboards and letting them turn out more accessories to use it with. Especially now that a useful port is going away, Apple needs something to point to prove it’s innovating, and being able to swap out iPad accessories for the iPhone will help.
Also intriguing is that Apple is finally getting into the smart home market with Home, a new app on iOS 10. Home is designed to put every smart home gadget, from light switches to thermostats, under one roof. The Smart Connector might start popping up on these devices as a way to more easily sync and control smart home tools.
The Apple Watch And Siri Will Be More Prominent, Whether You Want Them Or Not
Few people use Siri, and even fewer use Siri in public. And, yet, Apple’s iOS 10 keynote was all about Siri, not least because it’s clear Apple thinks voice control will be the future of smart homes. But if you pay close attention, you’ll notice signs that Apple is going to try and push the Apple Watch as well, such as Bedtime and Wake, new sleep tracking tools built into the clock function. As sleep tracking tools generally require a wristband of some sort, that will likely be the Apple Watch.
In fact, if we had to speculate, Apple is probably going to introduce a Fitbit-esque accessory for the iPhone this year. It’ll likely be a stripped down Apple Watch, not unlike its experiments with the iPod’s form factor. Call it the Apple Watch Shuffle.
Wireless Charging, From A Distance
This rumor is pure Apple: Supposedly, the company is working on a method of wirelessly charging your phone from up to fifteen feet away from your charger. There’s absolutely no question Apple is working on this tech. Their ideal phone is a smooth sheet of glass and metal you never open, and the Apple Watch could use long-distance charging as well.
That said, it’s unlikely Apple’s going to drop this bomb on a phone that’s largely just a fill-in for a more radical 2017 redesign. Expect wireless charging of some sort to turn up, however. Long term, it suits Apple’s plans.
Two Cameras, And Two Sim Cards?
One of the more unlikely rumors is that the iPhone will have a dual-lens camera, at least on the 7 Plus. Mostly this belief is built on Apple buying LinX, a dual-camera tech company, and a patent for a dual-viewfinder. The idea would be one lens would be dedicated to normal photos, and the other would have a specialty function like zoom or low light photography.
It’s a neat idea, but that it would be limited to one iteration of a product line doesn’t feel much like Apple. They like their products to more or less resemble smaller or bigger versions of each other. That said, if Apple is indeed introducing an “iPhone Pro,” this would be an idea tool to put on it.
The same is true of the rumor going around that the iPhone will have a dual SIM card tray, allowing users to switch between plans if, say, they cross a border. On the one hand, this would make sense for customers in Asia and Europe, who regularly hop networks and often need to switch out SIMs to avoid roaming charges. On the other hand, that would probably involve solutions that are, at best, inelegant, and there’s nothing Apple hates more. Still, Apple has been working on “virtual” SIM cards for a while, and it wouldn’t be unlike the company to introduce them here with an eye towards getting rid of the SIM tray altogether.
Where Is Apple Headed?
It’s safe to assume that this fall’s iPhones are mostly laying the groundwork for 2017’s new phone, which is likely to include a bunch of technological leaps forward. The main question is whether Apple will alienate customers with its increasing drive to get rid of headphone jacks and incorporate more unusual tech, or whether its bid to completely change the cellphone market, yet again, will be successful.
For now, the answer is likely no on both counts, and both answers are of Apple’s own making. Apple, more and more, sees itself as a luxury brand, not a technological one. In many ways, forcing customers to spend more on headphones and accessories is just good marketing. When Apple announced it was sheathing everything in gold, they made it clear that Apple products are something to be seen with.
That’s good for selling phones, but it means practicality is out the window. The real growth in smartphones is in cheap, workaday phones that can be sold across the world, a market Apple is fundamentally disinterested in. It’s likely Samsung and others will follow Apple’s lead in a few respects, especially wireless charging. But ultimately, Apple’s biggest obstacle towards putting the iPhone back on top may very well be Apple itself.