The release of a new iPhone every September is a tradition at this point, but 2016 could be the year Apple shakes things up with its flagship smartphone. The inevitable iPhone 7 is rumored to make some significant design departures (seriously, no headphone jack?), and it could be accompanied by a more classic 4-inch iPhone set to release earlier in the year. 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.
On the bright side, 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.
Apple may also be boosting the audio performance of its speakers in future iPhones, according to a new 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.
Dual Camera Setup 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.
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 HTC One M8 and ZTE Axon Pro had a similar setup on the back to enable depth-sensing and all-focus pictures, while the LG V10 had two front cameras to let you pick between a close up look for selfies or a wider angle for group portraits.
However, the dual-camera setup is only expected to show up in the Plus version of the next-gen flagship, and even then, it may only be available in a higher-end or "premium" model of the Plus. Both the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus are expected to keep the same 12-megapixel sharpness.
MacRumors has also reported that the rear camera on the iPhone 7 will no longer protrude like it did on the iPhone 6 and 6s, which means that Apple fans may once again have phone with a truly flat backside.
A Smaller 4-inch iPhone
Those clinging to their iPhone 5s handsets in protest of Apple's newer, larger devices may soon have something to look forward to. The company is rumored to be working on a new 4-inch iPhone that would release early in 2016 at a lower price than the flagship model. This aligns with previous rumors of a smaller "iPhone 6c" that was expected to launch alongside the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but never saw the light of day.
According to Apple Insider, a new report out of China suggests that this smaller iPhone may be dubbed the "iPhone 5e," suggesting that it's a souped-up version of the original iPhone 5. Supply chain rumblings point to specs that include an Apple A8 processor, 1GB of RAM and Apple Pay support.
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 End of the Home Button?
The next iPhone might be shedding more than just its headphone jack. Many are speculating that the iPhone 7 may shed Apple's iconic home button, due to the fact that the pressure-sensitive 3D Touch technology on the iPhone 6s may be capable of handling navigation duties. While this would force Apple to get creative with how it implements Touch ID finger scanning, it would also allow the next iPhone's display to have a broader, possibly bezel-less design.
Stronger Guts, Waterproof Design
The iPhone 7 will likely pack a stronger Apple A10 processor, and, according to a report by TrendForce, could see a bump in memory to 3GB for extra-fast performance. The new handset might also pack a tougher exterior; the same report claims that the iPhone 7 may sport a waterproof design. While this seems uncharacteristic of Apple, a waterproof iPhone could help sway fans of Samsung's rugged Galaxy Active handsets.
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 One M9, 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.
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.