Apple reshuffled its iPhone lineup in 2017, introducing the iPhone X and its much-copied notched display alongside the more traditional looking iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. And while that meant some big changes to Apple's iPhone lineup — the iPhone X has an OLED screen and 3D facial recognition, while all three phones support wireless charging — an even bigger overhaul could be in the works for 2018.
Apple's 2017 iPhone lineup figures to change next year. (Credit: Tom's Guide)
We're still a few months away from the usual fall release of new iPhones. And yet, details are already emerging about how Apple plans to follow up on the iPhone X. Here’s a look at all the latest rumors surrounding the 2018 slate of iPhones, including a potential update to the iPhone SE.
Latest Update: May 18
- An iPhone 8c? While the prospect of an iPhone SE 2 is seemingly less and likely with every passing week, an investment firm reports Apple may be inclined to re-release the iPhone 8 in an assortment of pastel hues, similar to the iPhone 5c, in an effort to double-down on younger buyers.
- 3D Touch Becomes a Premium Feature: Not every iPhone may offer 3D touch in 2018. A report claims that Apple could only offer 3D Touch on OLED-based iPhones to further differentiate them from less expensive models with LCD screens.
- Dual-SIM Model in the Works: Another report has Apple working on a multiple versions of a 6.1-inch iPhone for the fall — one with dual-SIM capabilities and one without. Dual-SIM phones are particularly popular in Asia.
- iPhone SE 2 Possibilities: A leaked image of the iPhone SE successor Apple could be working on shows a phone with a glass design and a headphone jack. However, another report claims production hasn't even started on the iPhone SE 2, so we may not see that phone until the fall.
When Can We Expect Apple to Update Its iPhone Lineup?
Considering this year’s iPhone releases are still fresh in the memory, it’s a safe bet Apple’s not planning any big announcements in the first half of 2018. Apple typically holds off on major iPhone updates until September, and there’s no reason to believe it will deviate from that pattern.
One possible exception: apart from a boost in capacity, Apple hasn’t updated the iPhone SE since that phone arrived in March 2016, so a new version could arrive before the fall. However, the deeper we get into spring and summer, the less likely an iPhone SE update becomes, especially in light of reports that Apple is putting all its efforts into this fall’s releases, though some fans of Apple's 4-inch phone still hold out hope.
What Will Apple Call Its 2018 Phones?
That’s up in the air, too. It’s unclear if the iPhone X moniker is a one-off that Apple used to mark the 10th anniversary of its smartphone lineup or that all future phones featuring the new design will be part of the X family. That’s something we expect to become more clear as we get deeper into 2018, especially as we find out just how many iPhones Apple has planned for this fall.
How Many iPhones Will We See in 2018?
Evidence is mounting that Apple has at least three iPhone releases planned for the fall, just like it released the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X in 2017. The difference this year could be that Apple releases all three phones at once; last year, it had to stagger the iPhone X launch, releasing it after the 8 and 8 Plus shipped.
KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo was the among the first to suggest that Apple would release three new iPhones in 2018. It's believed that one of those models will come with a 5.8-inch screen to match the iPhone X, but it'll be flanked by another featuring a 6.1-inch display. The largest of the bunch could deliver a display size of 6.5 inches, according to Kuo.
Bloomberg also picked up on Apple’s three iPhone strategy, reporting that the 6.5-inch device would be a Plus version of the iPhone X, while the 6.1-inch phone would feature an LCD screen and cost less. RBC Capital Markets analyst Amit Daryanani thinks the 6.1-inch phone will be called the iPhone 9, while forecasting that the other models will be known as the iPhone XS and XS Plus.
A report in Taiwan's Economic Daily News downplays the possibility of an iPhone 9. Instead, the report claims that all three phones will carry the iPhone X branding. A cheaper version with an LCD display will be called the iPhone SE and start out $799; the iPhone X sequel will cost $899 while a Plus version will cost $999 — that's according to ValueWalk's translation of the Economic Daily News article.
In a subsequent Mac Rumors post, Kuo shared additional details surrounding the rumored 6.1-inch model, including pricing and specifications. He says this variation will be the least expensive of the three new devices, and will incorporate an LCD display instead of an OLED one as found on the others. He also says this iPhone will only utilize a single lens for the rear camera, an aluminum body in place of glass, and lack 3D Touch. Under the hood, the 6.1-inch model could omit the iPhone X's stacked logic board and uniquely-shaped battery for more conventional designs. Kuo estimates this device will cost between $700 and $800, which would make it far less expensive than the $999 iPhone X, but still potentially pricier than the iPhone 8.
A subsequent report from Kuo, published at MacRumors, suggests the 6.1-inch model will come in two versions, with the more expensive one ($650-$750) offering dual-SIM capabilities. The single SIM iPhone would cost between $550 to $650, acting as Apple's low-cost option.
One other tidbit about that LCD-based iPhone from Kuo: it may not have 3D Touch capabilities. Instead, that feature — in which a firm press on the iPhone's screen brings up additional options and shortcuts for apps — would only appear on models with OLED panels. That's not an unprecedented decision, as the iPhone SE doesn't offer 3D Touch. Omitting the feature from the 6.1-inch phone might help Apple keep costs down, though it also might make it harder to convince app makers to add 3D Touch features to their software if it's disappearing from more iPhones.
What Features Can We Expect in the Next iPhone?
Assuming analysts are right and that three new iPhones are coming in the fall, what kind of features will we find on the new phones? Here’s an overview.
The Same Design Concept: Apple’s slate of 2017 iPhones were decidedly different. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus offered a traditional iPhone design, and the iPhone X has the company’s next-generation look and feel.
According to a report from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, however, Apple is planning to ditch the old-school design in 2018 and will instead opt for an iPhone X-like design across all its handsets next year. That means the controversial notch will be coming to all the handsets. (As noted above, the 6.1-inch model is expected to use LCD and not OLED for its screen.)
Three Cameras for the iPhone?: Apple added dual lenses to the back of the iPhone with 2016’s iPhone 7 Plus. According to a report in Taiwan’s Economic Daily News, Apple may add a third lens to the iPhone. The report says that such a phone may not appear this year, with Apple adding the feature in 2019.
Details are sparse on how the triple lens setup would work, other than it would allow the iPhone to feature a 3X optical zoom instead of the 2X zoom featured on current dual-lens iPhones. To get a sense of how triple rear lenses might work, look no further than the P20 Pro from Huawei, which includes that feature. In our testing, the P20 Pro outperformed the iPhone X, excelling in low-light settings and using AI-powered image processing to produce stellar photos.
The Fate of Touch ID: Apple’s Face ID will certainly be a part of the 2018 iPhone line, but Touch ID might make a comeback, too.
In a note to investors in September, Kuo said that Apple is still working on a Touch ID fingerprint sensor that could be baked into its smartphone display. The feature, which Apple couldn’t get to work this year, would allow you to decide whether you want to use Face ID or Touch ID to authenticate yourself, make purchases, and access software.
However, Kuo seems to be hedging, saying that if users really like what they find in Face ID, Apple will ditch its Touch ID plans.
A More Powerful Processor: Longtime Apple supplier Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) is believed to have gotten the contract to build the processor inside the next line of iPhones. According to a report in BGR, that chip will be known as the A12 and will deliver substantially more power than the A11 Fusion Chip you can find in the iPhone X and iPhone 8 line. It's unclear, however, whether all iPhone models this year will come with the same processor.
Faster LTE Connectivity: Apple has apparently already told its manufacturing partners that it wants to take advantage of improved LTE chips. The move, which was earlier reported on by MacRumors, would mean that your 2018 iPhone would be capable (on paper, at least) of delivering faster connectivity over wireless networks. But exactly how fast is unknown at this point.
LTE connectivity has been an area where the iPhone hasn’t exactly shone: Wireless testing firms have concluded that the performance of LTE modems in the same type iPhone can vary depending on which carrier model you get. And the new Galaxy S9 outperformed the iPhone X in 4G speed testing that we conducted.
Bring On the Augmented Reality: Apple has made it clear that it’s committed to augmented reality, and there are now reports that the company will double down on the technology in the coming years.Bloomberg reports that Apple plans to deliver new laser sensors in a future iPhone X that will be capable of mapping the 3D environment around a person and using that information to inform augmented reality applications.
However, that same report also targets that feature for 2019 iPhones. The 2018 version will get small improvements to its sensors in a step toward a bigger and better augmented reality experience.
What About the iPhone SE?
It seems that we won't see a successor to the iPhone SE anytime soon. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a pretty solid track record, suggested in a research note that Apple doesn't have the capacity to release one right now.
"With three new models in the pipeline for the second half of 2018, we believe Apple may have used up its development resources," he wrote. "Also, we think the firm will do all it can to avoid repeating the mistake of a shipment delay for the three new models. As such, we believe Apple is unlikely to have enough spare resources to develop a new iPhone model for launch in 2Q18."
However, if you want to hold out hope Consomac noticed some regulatory filings from the Eurasian Economic Commission that note several new iOS 11-based iPhones are about to hit the market. Typically, those filings show up a month before a product's release, and the Eurasian Economic Commission has previously tipped Apple watchers off to the Air Pods, iPhone 7 and the latest iPad.
Should a new iPhone SE show up, Apple would likely bump up the processor to an A10 Fusion or A11 Bionic CPU. It would likely improve the camera, too. Some reports suggested the phone could adopt wireless charging, and a leaked image posted to a Chinese social media site and published by 9to5Mac shows an iPhone SE with a glass back and a headphone jack. (That image contradicts earlier reports a new SE would follow the lead of other iPhones and get rid of the headphone jack.)
Credit: 9to5MacHowever, news of an imminent iPhone SE 2 debut may be premature. Japanese site Macotakara reports that Apple hasn't settled on a final design for the phone yet. If true, that would push the SE 2's debut back to the fall, if it happens at all. It's also possible that the device in Macotakara's report could be the aforementioned 6.1-inch iPhone.
Apple could also deliver a low-cost, refreshed iPhone 8 that would functionally serve the same market as a new iPhone SE. That's according to a report from Rosenblatt Securities by way of Apple Insider, which predicts Cupertino might re-release those devices in an assortment of bright colors, rather than the typical shades of black, white and gold. Many analysts have drawn comparisons between this strategy and the thinking behind the iPhone 5c, which similarly repackaged the iPhone 5's internals in a cheaper-to-produce colorful plastic body aimed at younger buyers. This could also be another way for Apple to differentiate its LCD-powered models with the more premium OLED iPhones.
Looking Ahead to Future iPhones
Apple is developing technology that could make the iPhone a drastically different device in 2020 than it is today. The company is working on MicroLED displays, which are expected to arrive on the Apple Watch and an unannounced but widely rumored augmented reality headset. That technology, which makes brighter, thinner displays possible, could eventually come to the iPhone. Apple is working on curved displays, perhaps related to the MicroLED development, which would curve inward from the top of the device to the bottom, unlike Samsung's curved displays, which round out at the sides.
According to Bloomberg, Apple is also working on incorporating touchless gestures into a future iPhone, which would allow people to interact with their phones without tapping the display.
More to Come
We're still months away from seeing the next-generation iPhones in the flesh, but pace of reports is quickening as 2018 continues to unfold. We’ll regularly update this article with any information that emerges as to what Apple has planned for its future smartphones.
See Also : 15 Essential iPhone X Tips