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  • Getting Stuck on the 7th

    August 30th, 2016

    It didn’t come as much of a surprise. On Monday, Apple sent out those expected announcements to a number of media outlets, inviting them to “See you at the 7th” at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. The keynote begins on Wednesday, September 7th at 10:00 AM Pacific, the usual time for an Apple event. Since the advertised capacity of the auditorium is 7,000, one expects a huge crowd.

    It wasn’t so long ago when an Apple media event would be held in a far small venue.

    Now most of the speculation about the bill of materials is essentially a repetition of what we’ve read before. The iPhone 7 is expected to be the headliner. While there’s still some speculation that Apple might eschew the “7” branding, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Why else make a big deal about the number seven? It’s not just about the date.

    Ongoing speculation, though, doesn’t appear to point to a major upgrade. The case design is said to be quite similar to the iPhone 6s. But there are expected to be a number of changes, the most controversial of which points to the loss of the 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, the Lightning port will handle that task, but that’s nothing new since that port can already manage such connections. There are a few headphones out there, usually the more expensive models, that use the Lightning port.

    Apple is notorious for ditching legacy ports, and the headphone jack is the oldest, dating back to the 1950s and based on a technology first devised in the late 19th century. As with the loss of floppy drives on the iMac and, later, other Macs, there will be an outcry. If you have invested in quality headphones, you might have reason to worry, but published reports indicate that Apple will supply an adaptor.

    So if this rumor, which has existed for months, is true, that will reduce the pain of this change. A reason for removing the headphone jack, other than the outdated technology, is to allow for a slightly thinner form factor and waterproofing. At least you expect Apple to meet the requirements for a waterproof or water-resistant iPhone, if one is coming. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active, advertised as water-resistant, reportedly failed routine dunking tests conducted by Consumer Reports magazine.

    Other than allowing for some new headphone designs, however, ditching the headphone jack is mostly a non-issue. What does Apple bring to the table with the next generation iPhone?

    You can expect a beefier processor and motion coprocessor, bearing the A10 and M10 designations. The 4.7-inch iPhone 7 will reportedly include 2GB RAM, the same as its predecessor. The iPhone 7 Plus gets 3GB. Now flagship Android smartphones generally have more RAM, but it hasn’t been demonstrated that they perform any better than an iPhone. The same is true for their beefier processor specs.

    There’s also speculation about improved camera components, with a dual-lens setup for the iPhone 7 Plus. We’ll have to see. The iPhone phablet may also earn a Smart Connector port for a tiny external keyboard, but that would seem a curious choice. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard is already on the small side. I can’t see where it would make a whole lot of sense for a tinier input device, but it may create possibilities for other types of peripherals. I suppose there’s an outside chance that Apple will include Apple Pencil support.

    Expect a final demonstration and a release date for iOS 10, which is currently available to developers and public beta testers.

    I won’t say, “is that all there is?” because we just don’t know. The features above don’t come across as such a big deal, and you can expect Apple will have more, sufficient to allow them to tout the iPhone 7 as a major upgrade even if it doesn’t look altogether different.

    Indeed, the expectation of a modest upgrade — again not proven — has fueled speculation about future changes in display technology. So it’s possible Apple will use an OLED display for its 10th anniversary iPhone in 2017, which doesn’t really help if you’re thinking about buying the upcoming 2016 model. Apple is also said to be flirting with microLED, an advanced display scheme that doesn’t require backlighting. It would no doubt create the possibility of a design that uses less battery power, thus making a fairly large improvement if it arrives on a future iPhone.

    This possibility is not pie in the sky. In 2014, Apple bought LuxVue, a company that developed microLED technology, and, the following year, submitted a related patent application. The rumor sites suggest it’ll first appear in the Apple Watch before being used for larger displays. We’ll see.

    The real question is whether other products will be introduced, or held off for future events. A second generation Apple Watch might appear. But you probably won’t learn anything new about Macs, except, perhaps, for a progress report on when macOS Sierra might arrive. The betting is for some time in October, perhaps in time for a new generation MacBook Pro. The rumors mention a slightly slimmer and lighter form factor with an OLED touchscreen replacing the function keys.

    As we get closer to the event, the speculation might become more focused, and it’s always possible Apple will quietly drop hints to selected members of the press, some of whom are, without doubt, already using those new iPhones.



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