The conventional wisdom has it that Apple will continue to follow a tick-tock refresh scheme with the iPhone. What this means is that, one year, there will be a fairly significant case redesign, plus the usual run of internal hardware enhancements. The following year, it’s essentially the same case with revised innards. But even if the internal expansion of the odd-year model is more significant than the one featuring external changes, the former is assumed to be a minor update.
So the iPhone 4s, considered a trivial update, had antenna changes that reduced the so-called “AntennaGate” effect of holding the handset in a certain way, and Siri was introduced. Both were significant, except, of course, to the critics.
If Apple keeps the rhythm, the next iPhone refresh will present the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus with a fairly extensive case redesign. Predictably there will be a better camera, with some predicting that the larger model will get a dual lens but the smaller version won’t. Either way, there will no longer be a bump at the rear for the camera lens. In that respect, it should be more durable, if that’s what’s going to happen.
Other changes would include an A10 processor and other hardware enhancements. There may even be some variation of the Smart Connector that debuted on the iPad Pro, according to one rumor, though it seems a curious choice. It’s not that you are going to add a tiny keyboard in a case. More likely, Apple might introduce a version of True Tone, which would amount to Night Shift on steroids in the way it would manage color. I’d just like to see a brighter image in sunlight.
One rumored change is the alleged plan to remove the earphone jack. It’s been a given in any mobile Apple gadget from the days of the first iPod. Instead, the Lightning port would handle the earphones, unless you’re using Bluetooth. The logic behind this decision is murky, that Apple could install a larger battery in the same space, or possibly make the unit thinner.
While Apple is not averse to dropping connection ports — and the 2015 MacBook and the original 1998 iMac are notable examples — this choice doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Why the need for a change? Perhaps Apple will include standard Bluetooth ear buds, but dumping that port would mean that anyone using their own wired earphones would have to buy an special adaptor. And what happens when the unit is being charged? Do you buy a dongle that handles the earphone and charging? Does Apply supply one? I’m not sure about this.
Supply chain leaks on the new iPhone are inevitable. There have already been unofficial mockups that might be bogus. That’s nothing new, but as we get closer to the launch of the next iPhone, the rumors will become more focused and will surely be more accurate. In recent years, the basics of a new Apple product are often fairly well known ahead of the media event. I suspect Apple feeds some of it with background briefings for one or more selected journalists, but it’s hard to control supply chain links when so many people are privy to the plans for a new Apple product.
The real question, however, is all about the new features. Aside from a better camera, the iPhone 6s family featured 3D Touch, a souped up version of Force Touch and some other stuff. None of it would be considered a must-have, and that might be a reason that, after the initial sales flurry, it slowed down somewhat. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. Most of the major features are already accounted for, and the enhancements are less significant. The same is true for the operating systems, but it doesn’t mean Apple isn’t innovating, or that the new features are easy to do.
But if your existing iPhone, or whatever smartphone you have, is working well for you, the incentive to buy something new is less compelling. I cannot imagine buying a new iPhone because of somewhat faster performance, a better camera and 3D Touch. When the iPhone 7, or whatever it’s called, comes out, if I can acquire one without changing my monthly payment with AT&T, I’d probably upgrade. Otherwise, I’d have to consider the state of my finances and my needs and expectations at the time, not to mention the condition of my current iPhone. Since I keep it in a protective case, though, I’m not too concerned.
That may be the dilemma confronted by existing iPhone users, and potential switchers from other platforms. What will the new models do that the current handsets cannot do? Are those new capabilities worth getting? Remember, too, that the usual two-year wireless contracts are fading rapidly. So once you pay off your current mobile handset, you will see your monthly payment drop. That might be a more compelling alternative than keeping the same monthly price, or paying a bit more for the latest and greatest.
Decisions. Decisions. But it’s also true that Apple’s competition isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel either. If upgraders are reluctant, Apple would have to continue to look towards attracting new customers. Certainly the arrival of the iPhone SE was a good incentive for folks who prefer smaller smartphones. That might generate a decent number of sales. But what else can Apple do to move more product other than replacing the smartphone with something altogether new? And when will that happen?