The release of a new iPhone every September is a tradition at this point, but 2016 could see a change in how Apple handles its flagship phone updates. While an iPhone 7 release seems inevitable this fall, with rumors of some significant design departures and possibly a new dual-camera, some are arguing that Apple's next major phone update won't occur until 2017.
Here's everything we've heard so far about the iPhone 7 — and everything we want from it.
So Long, Headphone Jack?
Talk about a jarring change. According to a report from Japan's Mac Otakara, the next iPhone will completely ditch its 3.5mm headphone jack, which comes standard on just about every mobile device in existence. This design choice may lead to an even thinner iPhone, but would also force users to rely on either Bluetooth or Lightning-based headphones. It's hard to fathom any smartphone without a 3.5mm jack, but if the latest, one-port MacBook is any indication, Apple may be looking to both slim down and simplify its devices.
Adding fuel to the headphone jack-less iPhone fire is a patent filing spotted by Apple Insider. The patent application describes a headphone that can switch between wired and wireless listening; it would plug into the iPhone's Lightning port.
Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark OfficeWhether such a device would be ready for the iPhone 7, Apple could be planning to soften the blow of its jack-less iPhone by bundling a pair of wireless earbuds with the device. According to a report from 9to5Mac, the iPhone 7 may include a pair of Beats-branded "AirPods," which would feature a noise-cancelling microphone that would let users make calls and interact with Siri much like they can with Apple's standard wired earbuds. These wireless buds are expected to include a carrying case that doubles as a charging dock, which would allow the headphones to maintain a sleek, port-free design.
That said, the death of the traditional headphone jack isn't quite guaranteed. As reported by 9to5Mac, a purportedly leaked component photo of posted to Weibo shows an iPhone chipset that sports a traditional 3.5mm headphone port. Despite the mounting evidence that points to a Lighting-only iPhone, traditional headphone fans might still have another year left to use their existing accessories.
Apple may also be boosting the audio performance of its speakers in future iPhones, according to another patent. The next-gen speakers could boost quality and volume of the onboard speakers by turning the handset's internal space into an audio chamber. According to 9to5Mac, the patented setup could turn iPhone components, such as circuit boards, into part of the speaker, allowing more air to be pushed through. It's unlikely that this design will surface in the iPhone 7, but with the removal of headphones, improved speakers could be a possibility.
Apple's Smart Connector for the iPad Pro could even make its way to the iPhone, since a new Logitech charging dock showed the connector can deliver power in addition to just clipping on a keyboard. At first, the Smart Connected was simply touted as a means to facilitate two-directional data transfer and deliver some power to accessories.
The Logi Base dock can charge your iPad Pro through the Smart Connector. AppleInsider speculated that this meant the Smart Connector could show up on the next iPhone, especially given those rumors about the headphone jack going away. That would mean the Lightning port could be taken up by a headphone cable, thus leaving the phone in need of a charging port.
The Smart Connector could give the iPhone 7 a secondary means of charging up. However, this is all just speculation at this point, and there's no indication whether the iPhone 7 would carry this feature.
Dual Camera for Better Pictures
If the reports are right, Apple is looking to retain its reign as the best smartphone camera by improving its iPhones' shooters. According to well-known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo at KGI securities, the iPhone 7 Plus will feature a dual-camera system that uses two different lenses to collect more image data. KGI also speculated that the phablet will come with an optical zoom to add 2-3x magnification, as well as optical image stabilization.
A report from ValueWalk says that Apple may release a separate iPhone 7 Pro that could be the lone recipient of this new dual camera.
KGI believes the new camera setup will integrate with LinX camera technology that Apple acquired last year, which would use the data from both cameras to create much higher-quality photos. LinX is an Israeli company that Apple bought last year, which specializes in creating high-definition images out of smaller multi-lens configurations, according to Apple Insider.
The two-camera setup is not a new idea for smartphones. The LG G5, for example, uses two cameras that allow you to shoot both regular photos and wide-angle shots with the same phone. The Huawei P9 also has two cameras, in this case both backed by Leica, where one camera captures info in monochrome and the other focuses on color. The result is supposed to be an image with the pixel size equivalent of 1.76 microns, which is impressive.
Both the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus are expected to keep the same 12-megapixel sharpness.
A leaked image from nowhereelse.fr reportedly shows technical drawings of the iPhone 7 chassis featuring a small bump for the camera in back, something that contradicts previous rumors which said the camera would be flush with the phone's back plate. Additionally, the opening for the iPhone 7's camera looks to be larger than it is on existing models, implying that the camera will be upgraded from the one on the 6s and 6s Plus.
A Japanese site called MacFan posted what it claims are schematics for the next iPhone. As reported via Mac Otakara, the schematic for a 5.5-inch iPhone — the same size as Apple's current iPhone 6s Plus — shows a dual camera. The schematic is also missing a headphone jack. The 6.2 x 3.07 x 0.29 inch dimensions of the phone in the drawing also match those of the 6s Plus.
According to Slashgear, the iPhone 7 could pack a battery with 7.04 watt-hours of power, which would be a big step up from the iPhone 6s Plus' 7.01 watt-hours. The iPhone 6s has 6.51 watt-hours of juice. Both of the latest iPhones trail the field when it comes to endurance. The iPhone 6s lasted just 6 hours and 46 minutes on the Tom's Guide Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over 4G LTE, compared to the 8:43 for the Galaxy S7. The iPhone 6s Plus lasted a longer 8:43, but that's no match for the S7 Edge (10:09).
Bold New Displays: OLED or IMOD
The iPhone 7 could mark Apple's biggest leap yet in terms of display innovation. According to Bloomberg, the company has opened a secret new facility in Taiwan in order to manufacture Interferometric Modulator Displays (or IMOD), whose reflective properties allow them to be more energy-efficient and more readable under sunlight than a standard LCD screen. This could potentially lead to a slimmer design and better battery life for the next iPhone, which could help the handset catch up to its Android rivals in terms of endurance.
A separate report from Reuters suggests that Apple may be looking to finally embrace organic light-emitting diode displays, which are more commonly known as OLEDs. OLED screens are generally thinner and sharper than standard LCD displays, and would help Apple play catch up with the extra vibrant AMOLED displays found on Samsung's latest phones. OLEDs are also capable of providing the type of smooth performance necessary for rendering virtual reality, which would make it easier for Apple to make its future iPhones VR-ready. The bad news? It's widely expected that an OLED iPhone wouldn't arrive before 2017.
The Next Next iPhone
Those rumors of 2017 improvements have some people wondering whether the iPhone coming out this fall will be little more than an incremental update. In addition to reports of the 2017 version of the iPhone will have OLED screens, yet another research note from KGI's Ming-Chi Kuo forecasts a major overhaul of the iPhone's case slated for next year. According to 9to5Mac's summary of Kuo's note, Apple plans to switch to an all-glass enclosure for the iPhone in 2017.
Another analyst — Mark Moskowitz of Barclays — has joined the chorus of Apple watchers who think that the iPhone 7 won't involve a major overhaul of the phone. In a summary of Moskowitz's research note by Fortune, the analyst says supply chain checks suggest no "must-have form factor changes." Moskowitz goes on to say that the iPhone 7 "could be more of a replacement cycle versus a mega cycle (i.e. iPhone 6).”
If these predictions pan out, it would break with Apple's pattern of coming out with new designs for its iPhone every other year. Known as the "tick tock" release cycle, Apple generally follows up an incremental update to its phones with more substantial changes. That major update was on target for this year, but if Apple is planning its overhaul for 2017, this fall's iPhones may focus on improvements to the camera and battery life instead.
Stronger Guts Insider, Waterproof Outside
Getting back to the next iPhone, it's almost a certainty that Apple will upgrade the processor to an A10 chip. According to a report by TrendForce, the phone could see a bump in memory to 3GB for extra-fast performance.
But that same TrendForce report also hints at a more interesting feature on the outside — namely, that the iPhone 7 may sport a waterproof design. While this seems uncharacteristic of Apple, a waterproof iPhone would keep up with similar features added to Samsung's Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge handsets.
Adding fuel to that waterproof rumor is a report from Taiwan's DigiTimes (and translated by I4U News) which claims that the iPhone 7's physical home button could be replaced by a touch-sensitive button. Such a move would make it easier for Apple to water-proof its smartphone. In its report on the touch-sensitive home button, MacRumors notes a patent was granted to Apple last month for a "liquid-metal home button" that deforms slightly when pressed before returning to its old form after you remove your thumb. Apple could also get rid of the home button entirely, using its pressure-sensitive 3D Touch feature to help you find your way around the phone.
Bezel-less, All-metal Body
Expected to look markedly different from its predecessor, the iPhone 7 might feature a bezel-free front panel and all-metal body, if a purported leak turns out to be true. In a video allegedly of the iPhone 7 prototype on the Foxxonn assembly lines, the phone looks a little like an HTC 10, with a clearly metallic body. The credibility of the video is in doubt, but the prototype does appear to be missing a headphone jack along the bottom edge, which jibes with other rumors. Of course, it could also be a pre-production model or not even be real at all, so we'd take this leak with a generous dose of salt.
MacRumors also claims to have a source that says the plastic antenna bands seen on the 6 and 6s will not be present on next generation, which should offer a sleeker and more uniform appearance to the iPhone 7.
For the last few years, Apple has announced new iPhones in September, with new models going on sale roughly two weeks after their unveiling. Last year, Apple announced the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus on Sept. 9, before putting the new phones on sale Sept. 25. It's widely anticipated Apple will follow a similar pattern with the iPhone 7.
But not everyone's convinced that Apple will stick to business as usual. Nikkei Asian Review reports that Apple has cut production on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus as sales have slowed. The report suggests that Apple could try to revive iPhone sales by releasing a new flagship earlier than usual.
Real world events may prevent that, though. According to Barron's, Morgan Stanley is warning that recent earthquakes in Japan may have affected the Sony plant that makes image sensors for Apple's phones. That could mean a delay for the next iPhone if the factory remains offline.
Apple has set the date for this year's Worldwide Developers Conference, which will take place from June 13 through June 17 in San Francisco. While Apple typically doesn't reveal hardware plans for its phones at that event, it will showcase the next version of iOS, which will power the iPhone 7. This first look at iOS 10 will give us some idea of what the new phones will be capable of doing.
Looking Forward: What We Want
The iPhone 6s is Apple's most impressive smartphone yet, with game-changing 3D touch functionality, fast performance and fun camera features. Still, there's plenty of room for improvement.
For starters, Apple should up the storage on its starting model from 16GB to 32GB. A measly 16GB of space is no longer acceptable for a smartphone — especially now that the iPhone can shoot 4K video. We'd also like to see a 256GB option added to the lineup, as opposed to the 128GB on the top end right now.
It also may be time for Apple to embrace sharper screens. The displays on the iPhone 6s (1344 x 750) and iPhone 6s Plus (1920 x 1080) are impressively vibrant, but are starting to show their limitations now that quad-HD (2560 x 1440) comes standard on many Android flagships.
Apple would also do well to up its game in the battery department. The iPhone 6s Plus lasted over 8 hours on our battery test — that's enough to get through a workday, but isn't nearly as impressive as the colossal 12-plus hours of juice we got out of Google's Nexus 6P.
Lastly, the iPhone 7 could benefit by taking a few cues from the newly released iPad Pro. The addition of multitasking and stylus support could help Apple's smartphone go head-to-head with devices such as the Galaxy Note 5, and would establish the iPhone 7 as a device for power users and mainstream fans alike.