The iPhone 6 – or whatever Apple’s next-generation handset will be called – is arguably the most important iPhone release since Steve Jobs unveiled the very first Apple smartphone in 2007.
With a plunging share price, declining smartphone market share, and – perhaps crucially – a sense that the iPhone has lost its lustre, much hangs on Apple’s next smartphone move.
Here, we’ve rounded up what we expect to see from Apple’s next-generation iPhone, based on quotes from Apple executives, known industry developments and past experience. We’ll keep this article updated as more details emerge.
While the Android handset manufacturers seem almost obsessed with making flagship smartphones with increasingly bigger screens, Apple remains more conservative. Having made a big deal of the fact that the iPhone 5 – with its taller 16:9 aspect ratio – was designed specifically to fit comfortably in the hand, it would be hypocritical for Apple to suddenly produce a handset as equally gargantuan as the HTC One or Galaxy S4.
Indeed, CEO Tim Cook recently reaffirmed Apple’s commitment to slender handset design. "My view continues to be that iPhone 5 has the absolute best display in the industry," Cook said. "Our competitors have made trade-offs to ship a larger display. We will not ship a larger display iPhone while these trade-offs exist."
The iPhone 5 was the first iPhone to jump from the 3.5in diagonal to 4in, and having only just introduced a new aspect ratio, we believe it’s highly unlikely that Apple will give app developers another headache by introducing yet another aspect ratio or screen resolution – especially given Apple’s record of attacking Android for splintering the market with different screen sizes. Adding more pixels, when the eye can’t even distinguish the pixels on the current display, would seem equally pointless.
Supposedly leaked photos of a next-gen iPhone showed a handset with a rounded, flexible screen, but we’d be astonished if these proved to be accurate. Regular actions such as swiping could be hampered by a curved screen, and the so-called prototype devices omitted the Home button.
Apple’s processordesign is increasingly cloaked in secrecy. The A6 processor inside the iPhone 5 was the first to be custom designed by Apple itself, rather than a CPU design licensed from ARM, although it was still based on ARM technology and manufactured by Samsung.
It’s likely the Apple A7 processor will be a 20nm part based on the Cortex-A15, and therefore take advantage of the big.LITTLE architecture that allows low-power processor cores to pick up menial jobs, such as playing music while the phone’s on standby, while leaving the muscle to the more power-hungry cores. It’s unlikely to have a dramatic impact on battery life, but every fraction of a Watt counts in the smartphone business.
Reports have claimed that Samsung will lose the manufacturing contract, in favour of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).
We were disappointed to see the iPhone 5 stick at 16GB for base storage – an increasingly paltry amount now that games and other apps regularly exceed 1GB. All the indications are that Apple will finally raise the bar with the next-gen iPhone.
Apple quietly added a 128GB option to the iPad earlier this year, although it adds an eye-watering £240 premium to the cost of the base 16GB iPad. However, it would be relatively painless for Apple to suck up the marginal extra cost of raising the base storage to 32GB, while maintaining the existing price of the 16GB, helping to reaffirm the iPhone’s status as a premium handset.
There is, however, more chance of Steve Jobs being reincarnated than a microSD slot appearing on the iPhone 6.
Following the departure of Scott Forstall, Jonathan Ive has been tasked with designing iOS 7, codenamed Innsbruck. The design philosophy appears to be chuck out the chintz: no more panelled wooden bookcases in iBooks, no more radio dials in the Podcast app… basically an end to skeuomorphism in all its desperately outdated forms.
Reports claim that iOS 7 will deliver a much flatter look that (whisper it) has echoes of Microsoft’s design philosophy for Windows 8: fewer shadows and highlights, with a cleaner overall look.
Apple is also reportedly addressing one of iOS’s current biggest failures: making notifications and messages more obvious. The current system of a drop-down notifications menu and numbered app icons has been left looking outdated by Android and its various manufacturer overlays, and Windows Phone’s Live Tiles.
Apple needs something to push it back ahead of the pack, and one such standout feature could be a fingerprint reader. Apple last year acquired a firm called AuthenTec, which manufactures fingerprint sensors that use a patent-protected sub-surface technology. Apple has reportedly been searching for a screen coating material that doesn’t interfere with such sensors, giving rise to speculation that an embedded fingerprint reader could appear in the next-gen handset.
If true, it could be a game-changer for user authentication and online purchases: no more tapping in complex passcodes to unlock the phone or purchase apps; two-factor authentication for online purchases; and a simple means of identifying phone thieves (the phone could be automatically locked if an unauthorised user swipes the screen, for example).
As ever, we won't know precisely when Apple’s launching the next iPhone until the invites for the launch event are sent out.
The longest gap between iPhone releases was 16 months, in between the release of the iPhone 4 in June 2010 and the iPhone 4S in October 2011. For all other releases, the gap was between 11-13 months. Given that the iPhone 5 was released in September 2012, it seems prudent to suggest that we’ll see the next-generation either this autumn, or at the very beginning of 2014.
A major overhaul of iOS and persistent rumours of problems with Apple’s supply chain make a 2014 launch date more plausible, especially as Apple often enjoys taking the thunder from companies exhibiting at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
However, a sharp decline in Apple’s share price and the ever fiercer competition from handsets such as the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Nokia’s rapidly improving Lumia range may make Tim Cook reluctant to miss out on lucrative Christmas sales.
Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June will provide a readymade opportunity to unveil new products, although we’d be surprised if those include a new iPhone.
Many analysts and commentators have called on Apple to produce a cheaper version of the iPhone. However, Apple’s recent results suggest that might be a dangerous strategy. The company’s profits fell for the first time in a decade, despite rising revenues. Why? The release of the cheaper iPad mini dented profit margins, a trend that Apple may not wish to repeat with the iPhone.