With iPhone sales falling, the stakes are rising for what Apple has planned for its next iPhone. The rumor mill has been firing on all cylinders in advance of the iPhone's traditional fall launch, with Apple reportedly planning three new models of its smartphone. That said, a growing number of Apple watchers are suggesting that a more substantial update is in the works for 2017.
Here's what people are predicting for the iPhone 7:
- An iPhone Pro Leaked photos suggest a third model will appear alongside the existing iPhone and iPhone Plus phones this fall. Dubbed the iPhone Pro, this version is expected to offer improved cameras, a massive amount of storage and a Smart Connector for attaching to accessories and charging devices.
- Headphone jack gone? The iPhone 7 might ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack in favor of a slimmer design, requiring Lightning-compatible headphones.
- Dual cameras (at least on some phones) At least one version of the iPhone could sport a dual-lens camera, though it's unclear whether that will be the iPhone Pro, the iPhone Plus or both models. Meanwhile, the camera on the regular iPhone 7 is expected to be physically larger than what you're used to with the iPhone 6s.
- 32GB of storage. According to multiple reports, Apple seems to have realized what the rest of the world has long since concluded — that 16GB is too little capacity for today's smartphones.
- Built tougher. The iPhone's expected to become more durable, matching the waterproof features Samsung added to its flagship phones.
- September release date: There's no reason to suspect that Apple will veer away from its pattern for the last several years, though Apple may move away from releasing a major phone overhaul every other year.
- AMOLED Screen a Possibility (for iPhone 8) Apple may be looking at bold new displays for its phones, but it's possible those changes could wait until a 2017 version of the iPhone.
Here's a deeper look at everything we've heard so far about the iPhone 7 — and everything we want from it.
The iPhone Pro
Expect Apple to keep the 4.7- and 5.5-inch designs for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. But a growing number of leaked photos suggest that there will be a third iPhone called the iPhone Pro.
Credit: NowhereElse.frFrench site NowhereElse.fr has the latest photos, which feature the iPhone Pro alongside two phones labeled the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 7. The iPhone Pro sports a dual-lens camera on its back — more on that below — and a Smart Connector like the one you'd find on an iPad Pro.
That image is consistent with an earlier leaked photo that appeared on the Chinese social networking site Weibo, which also showed a Smart Connector port on the back of an alleged iPhone. (Also notable about that photo: There's no visible mute switch. No mute switch could be a hassle for iPhone users, though a number of Android handsets lack a switch.)Credit: Weibo/iappsnews
Adding a Smart Connector would give the iPhone Pro a new way to connect to accessories and charging devices. Other possible features in an iPhone Pro could be 256GB of storage, according to 9to5Mac, while Cult of Mac speculates that the dual-lens camera could leverage Apple's 2015 acquisition of Linx by incorporating that company's technology for producing better photos in low light.
If it exists, an iPhone Pro figures to have a pro-sized price tag. PocketNow spotted pricing chatter on Weibo that suggests a base model iPhone Pro could cost around $850 once you figure in currency conversion and export fees. That's a hefty premium that will require some standout features to get people interested in buying a pro-level phone.
No More Headphone Jack?
We may not know the fate of the mute switch, but evidence is mounting that another familiar iPhone feature is set to be banished from the iPhone 7: the 3.5mm headphone jack. Japan's Mac Otakara was the first to claim the next iPhone will completely ditch its headphone jack, and the rumors have only picked up steam since then. The Wall Street Journal says its sources confirmed the headphone jack is a goner, with the Lightning port now serving as both a place to charge your phone and plug in earbuds. And CAD renders allegedly of the new phone posted on NowhereElse.fr depict an iPhone without a 3.5mm jack.
Even more evidence suggesting the headphone jack's days are numbered on the iPhone comes from a video posted to Weibo spotted by Dutch site TechTastic. The 6-second clip shows the bottom of what looks like an iPhone 7 with a Lightning port and dual speakers but no headphone jack.
It's hard to fathom any smartphone without a 3.5mm jack — though the Moto Z phone has done away with its 3.5mm jack in the name of thinness — but if the latest, one-port MacBook is any indication, Apple may be looking to both slim down and simplify its devices. The leaked CAD render also shows speakers where the headphone jack would have gone, suggesting Apple could add stereo sound to its next iPhones.
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.
Third-party accessory makers may offer a clue about Apple's plans. Mac Otakara spotted a Chinese company advertising Lightning-to-headphone adapters, which don't do much to reassure us about a headphone jack-free future.
Source: Tama ElectricRenders of the upcoming phones based on reported blueprints leaked to @OnLeaks have appeared at uSwitch. Those renders, apparently based on blueprints from an Apple subcontractor, don't include a headphone jack for the new models.
If the absence of a headphone port has you feeling bereft, you can cling to the hope offered by other purported leaks that suggest that Apple may not be ready to get rid of its headphone jack just yet. Photos posted to a microblogging site by a Chinese smartphone repair shop claim to show a 4.7-inch iPhone 7 that retains a 3.5mm port for headphones.
Dual-Camera: iPhone Pro Only?
With the Galaxy S7 overtaking the iPhone as the best phone camera, Apple likely wants to re-establish the iPhone as the top camera smartphone. If reports are right, the company is turning to a dual-camera system to pull that off — at least for some of the new phones.
Well-known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo at KGI securities said earlier this year that the iPhone 7 Plus would feature rear cameras with two different lenses to collect more image data. KGI also speculated that the 5.5-inch phone will come with an optical zoom to add 2-3x magnification, as well as optical image stabilization. A report from ValueWalk said that the iPhone 7 Pro could be the lone recipient of this new dual camera.
Image via NowhereElse.frMore leaked photos posted on NowhereElse.fr claim to show the dual-camera setup on the iPhone Plus — these images predate the iPhone Pro leak — as does a leaked photo, allegedly from a presentation by Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn, from the Chinese site MyDrivers. The website also published photos of the purported iPhone 7 with just a single camera, though 9to5Mac says the 4.7-inch phone features a larger hole for the camera, with the component moved closer to the corner of the device.
Whatever phone a dual camera appears on, 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.
The new iPhones are expected to keep the same 12-megapixel sharpness. As for the lens on the iPhone 7, it's likely to be a single lens, but it will be much bigger than the one on the iPhone 6s if the leaked images on NowhereElse.fr are anything to go by. (The lens will also protrude prominently from the back of the phone, based on that leaked photo.)
More Storage on the Base Model
The days of having to cram your photos, music and other files into the iPhone's 16GB capacity — or paying up for a model with more storage space — could come to an end with the iPhone 7. When word of the iPhone Pro leaked, it contained another tidbit of information about Apple's fall iPhone lineup: Apple is reportedly boosting the starting amount of storage on the iPhone to 32GB. The Wall Street Journal confirmed those plans, citing a source familiar with Apple's iPhone roadmap.
All that squares with earlier reports: As noted by 9to5Mac, IHS Technology analyst Kevin Wang has found supply chain evidence that the next iPhone will come with at least 32GB of storage, meaning Apple will finally ditch the 16GB iPhone. That will be a welcome addition as 32GB is pretty much the standard for flagship phones these days.
Wireless Charging for iPhone?
Apple could introduce a new way to charge a future iPhone. The Verge did some digging and found that Apple has ramped up hiring of employees who specialize in wireless charging, including two recent hires from charging startup uBeam. That would square with a Bloomberg report that Apple is looking for ways to wirelessly charge your iPhone from a distance, without having to use a charging mat. Of course, that Bloomberg report speculated such a feature wouldn't be ready into 2017.
Credit: MyDriversHowever, the leaked photo posted on MyDrivers that depicts a dual-lens camera on the iPhone 7 Plus also lists wireless charging as one of the features on Apple's high-end phone. That photo is allegedly from a presentation at Foxconn, which would build the next iPhone, if that lends any weight to the rumor.
So what can we expect the iPhone 7 to look like? Leaked photos on the Italian site Macitynet suggest the new models will sport the same colors as the current iPhone lineup — gold, rose gold, space gray and silver. That doesn't necessarily preclude other colors from emerging closer to the iPhone's fall release, though.
The new phone 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 Foxconn 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 if you're looking for consistency in your rumors, this prototype looks like it's also missing a headphone jack.
In terms of dimensions, you can expect something similar in size to the iPhone 6s. According to a sketch posted on French site NWE, the iPhone 7 will have the same 138.3mm height and 67.12mm width as Apple's latest phone. The sketch makes no mention of depth, however, so it's hard to tell whether or not the iPhone 7 will be significantly thinner than the 6s.
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. The leaked photos posted on NowhereElse.Fr seem to confirm this: they appear very subtly at the top and bottom of the phone.
If you want to dream about a more substantive upgrade to the iPhone 7, a patent grant found by Patently Apple suggests a future iPhone may come with an all-glass body featuring a wrap-around display that curves around the edges of the phone.
A More Durable iPhone
Water and iPhones haven't mixed, but that could change with the iPhone 7. TrendForce is expecting the new phones to be waterproof, which would match a similar feature that Samsung currently touts for its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. Certainly, the removal of a headphone port from the next iPhone would simplify waterproofing the device considerably.
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.
The MyDriver photo that mentions wireless charging as an iPhone 7 Plus feature also claims that the phone will be dust- and water-resistant for what it's worth.
Some of the iPhone 7's improvements are fairly easy to predict. You can probably expect the new iPhone to feature an A10 processor since Apple routinely upgrades the CPU in its phones with each new release. And Digitimes reports that Intel will supply half of the LTE chips for the iPhone 7.
Leaked images suggest Apple may move the antenna lines that typically wrap around the top and lower third of the iPhone's rear to the edges, making for a more streamlined look.
Battery life also figures to improve. 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).
Dueling Display Rumors
We haven't mentioned the screens on the iPhone 7 because there's conflicting reports on just what Apple plans to do with the displays — and when. Bloomberg reports that Apple has opened a secret new facility in Taiwan to make 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, also 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 2017 iPhone
Yes, that's right — the iPhone 7 isn't out yet, and we're already talking about the phone coming after that. 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.
Analyst Mark Moskowitz of Barclays wrote earlier this year that supply chain checks suggested no "must-have form factor changes," according to a report in Fortune. Likewise, the Wall Street Journal's report on the disappearing headphone jack in the iPhone 7 suggests that Apple is holding off on major changes to the iPhone until next year, which coincidentally marks the device's 10th anniversary."
All of this could signal a move away from Apple's traditional approach to releasing a major iPhone update one year, followed by a more modest update the following year. Nikkei Asian Review reports that Apple is planning on extending the iPhone's product cycle, meaning the phone maker would go longer between major iPhone updates. Nikkei Asian Review says the move reflects a maturing smartphone market where there are fewer earth-shattering enhancements to make. And the same Wall Street Journal report that claims the headphone jack is a goner suggests that Apple may be planning more substantial features for 2017 as that's the 10th anniversary of the iPhone's release.
Apple's declining iPhone sales during its fiscal second quarter and reports that it's cut production on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus had some people speculating that the company might move up the launch date for the iPhone 7. Apple's suppliers in Taiwan have also ramped up hiring, CNBC reports, a month earlier than normal. However, that's reportedly because of a more complex design, Taiwan's Economic Daily News said, which might be referring to the internal components rather than the exterior look of the phone.
However, now that Apple's annual developer conference has come and gone without any hardware news (though Apple did preview this fall's iOS 10 release), expect the new iPhone to make its usual September debut.
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.
We hope that reports of Apple upping the storage on its starting model to 32GB turn out to be true. 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, even if those features only wind up on the rumored iPhone 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.