Where does Apple go from here?
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2017 was an interesting year for Apple. In addition to the iPhone 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus—two phones that predictably followed the trajectory plotted by their immediate predecessors—Apple also released the iPhone X, a pricey phone that sought to challenge typical iPhone conventions.
This year, Apple finds itself at somewhat of a fork in the road: either continue down the path forged by the iPhone 7 and 8, or adopt the X's norm-defying features as permanent fixtures for future iPhones.
So in the spirit of speculation, let's take a moment to collect our bated breath and gather everything we know (or think we know) about the next generation of iPhone.
In all likelihood, there'll be as few as two and as many as four new iPhones this year. The most obvious possibility, based on recent iPhone release cycles, is this tandem:
· The standard iPhone (think iPhone 8, iPhone 7, etc.)
· The larger iPhone Plus (think iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 7 Plus, etc.)
As far back as most people care to remember, iPhone shoppers have had the option of choosing between a big ol' iPhone and an especially big ol' iPhone, with the latter paying more for the added display real estate and an extra camera lens on the back.
Last year followed suit, with the extra-premium iPhone X representing a new and exciting third option. The question now is this: How much of the iPhone X's "new and exciting" features (including its design language) will be folded into the mainstay iPhone lineup?
In other words, will the ostensibly-named "iPhone 9" be more of a follow-up to the iPhone 8, or rather, more of a spiritual successor to the iPhone X?
A budget-friendly iPhone (to accompany the two flagships) could also be in the cards. There seems to be a growing belief among industry insiders that Apple could be adding a new, lower-cost option to its lineup that cuts out some of the higher-end features found in the two top-shelf offerings released alongside of it.
To reduce manufacturing costs on this "iPhone Lite," Apple could theoretically abstain from outfitting it with an expensive, edge-to-edge OLED display, opting instead for LCD. In fact, there were reports as recent as last week suggesting that Apple is planning on borrowing LG's MLCD+ display technology for its lower-cost iPhone (tech that can already be found on LG's recent G7 ThinQ smartphone). MLCD+ displays are capable of getting super bright while saving on battery life—perfect for Apple, who's already struggling to secure enough OLED displays to meet demand.
Eliminating the face-scanning hardware that power the iPhone X's Face ID security system might also be an viable cost-cutting measure, though Apple might be reticent to re-introduce a fingerprint scanner (and, by extension, the home button).
But a fourth, more interesting iPhone might also be in the works for 2018.
Rumors of a low-cost, bite-sized follow-up to the iPhone SE are also making the rounds of late, especially after the website 9to5Mac reported last week about alleged "iPhone SE 2" cases going up for preorder by a third-party case manufacturer.
But there's reason to be wary of this development: As elegant as those renders appear to be, they also paint a puzzling picture of a would-be budget-friendly phone. For instance, wouldn't the inclusion of an edge-to-edge display and Face ID hardware place this iPhone in a higher price bracket than what a phone like the SE would hope to occupy? After all, one of the chief selling points of the iPhone SE (other than its smaller size and somewhat retro design) was its significantly lower price tag.
There's always the possibility that the next iPhone SE will retain its home button and fingerprint scanner, with most of its major upgrades happening underneath the hood. This, to me, is the most likely outcome—the hardware of an iPhone 7 or iPhone 8 in the body of an iPhone 5s.
Last year at this time, we speculated that the iPhone class of 2017 would be the first to adopt wireless charging, and although that prognostication proved correct, it didn't unfold quite in the way we were hoping.
For a couple of years now, rumors have swirled relating to Apple's potential interest in non-inductive wireless charging—that is, wireless charging that works via proximity rather than a charging pad.
There's no denying the coolness factor of this prospect, but there's also no indication that Apple's getting any closer to implementing this type of tech in their products anytime soon.
Unfortunately, it won't truly be iPhone season until this Fall—typically, Apple announces its new phones at a conference in September before rolling them out shortly thereafter.
However, it's not hard to envision a scenario in which the iPhone SE 2 (should it even exist) is announced within the next four to six weeks. After all, the original iPhone SE found its way to the marketplace by the end of March, 2016. The company could be waiting until its Worldwide Developers Conference in early June to announce a follow-up to the SE, but it also hasn't unveiled an iPhone at WWDC in eight years, so I wouldn't bet any money on that.
Maybe—just maybe—if we all go to bed real early tonight, we'll wake up tomorrow to an exciting iPhone SE 2 announcement.
Fine—I'll give you the crazy stuff. Just bear in mind, however, that some of these are based on wild speculation, patent filings, industry rumblings, or a healthy mix of all three. Some of them have even become perennial rumors, showing up in all of our iPhone rumor round-ups going back years. You've been warned!
· Apple is working on a foldable iPhone.
Another year, another "foldable smartphone" rumor. Several smartphone manufacturers (including Samsung and Apple) hold patents for foldable smartphone tech. 9to5Mac recently cited industry analysts who believe that at least one of these phones will be unveiled before the end of 2018, but based on Apple's iPhone launch cycles, it probably won't be a folding iPhone that finally sees the light of day.
· We might see an iPhone with three primary cameras at some point.
The website Mac Rumors reported this month that Apple is gearing up to launch an iPhone with three primary cameras and perhaps even 5x optical zoom. I guess it makes sense that it would come to this eventually... What do you do after adding a second camera? Add another one, stupid! Still, the Fall of 2019 is a long way off—nothing's set in stone.
· Apple is developing a curved iPhone display with touchless gesture control.
Picture this: a curved iPhone display that responds to your hand gestures without touch. According to Bloomberg, Apple is in the midst of some engineering experimentation with both curved iPhone displays and touchless gesture technology. Unfortunately, there's no indication that these features will belong to the same display, and Bloomberg reports that both concepts are, at the very earliest, two years away. So, uh... See you in 2020!
· New iPhones might ship without the headphone adapter dongle.
Say, wouldn't it be crummy if the most irritating rumor in the "crazy rumor" section of our round-up was also the rumor most likely to come true? Tech Radar made us pull our hair out recently when it published a feature concerning the endangered state of the infamous headphone dongle (Apple's solution to yanking the 3.5mm headphone jack from its entire smartphone lineup).
There's growing speculation that Apple will move even further away from the headphone jack by simply not acknowledging its absence. The assumption is basically this: Rather than include a dongle in every iPhone box to support users who aren't ready to go wireless, Apple will simply phase it out for future iPhones. In this scenario, you'll still be able to purchase the dongle separately, of course—there is money to be made, after all. To be fair, there's almost zero evidence for this, but admit it: You can easily see this happening.