Report: Apple is planning a major iPhone overhaul for the fall
One 4.7-inch phone, one 5.5-inch phone, and something totally new.
Apple is said to be planning not one, not two, but three new iPhones for release this fall, if “people familiar with the matter” speaking to Bloomberg are to be believed.
Two of those models will use the same 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch IPS screens that we’re already used to, though Bloomberg doesn’t say whether the designs will look much different from the current iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. But this year Apple is also said to be preparing a third higher-end model with a dramatically different approach, a slim-bezeled design with curved glass and an OLED screen that takes up most of the front of the device. If true, it’s something that doesn’t sound all that different from what Samsung is doing with the Galaxy S8.
According to the report, all three phones would be revealed at the same time, but the redesigned model wouldn’t actually ship until later.
Other than this basic information, the report is heavy on guesses about what Apple could do with the redesigned iPhone while offering little concrete information on what it will do, which isn’t totally surprising five months out from its September-ish reveal (the iPhone is currently the only one of Apple’s products still updated on a predictable yearly cadence). Apple could ship a dual-lens camera system with the lenses aligned vertically instead of horizontally; the design could include a camera bump; the design could use a dual-lens front camera; Apple might integrate the TouchID sensor into the display glass instead of using a separate button; the phone could use curved glass on the front and back with a thin iPhone 4-style metal band around the edges; it could also use glass on the front that curved to meet a metal back, much like the current designs.
Also, none of that could be true. Apple has tested all of these things, according to the report, but it’s not clear which ideas the company actually plans to use.
There are just a couple of points on which the report does not equivocate: the phones will ship with iOS 11, which will include some design changes; and all three phones will use processors manufactured on a 10nm process rather than the current 16nm TSMC process used for the Apple A10. Both Samsung and TSMC are working on 10nm manufacturing processes that ought to be ready by the time new iPhones are shipping, so Apple could use either manufacturer (Samsung made the A7 and many chips prior to that; TSMC makes the A10) or both (as with the A8 and A9, though the latter chip caused some controversy at the time).
A shift in strategy
A three-iPhone strategy would be a major departure from the two-phone strategy that has served Apple so well since the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus came out in late 2014. Those phones sold so well throughout 2015 that iPhone sales actually fell year-over-year for the first time in 2016, since the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus couldn’t match that performance. Even still, having a medium-sized phone and a big phone has been good for Apple’s sales, and it’s the only iPhone design that Apple has used (with minor external tweaks) for three hardware generations.
And while the “three iPhone” strategy has been reported before by less reliable analysts and rumor sites, it does seem like an odd way for Apple to mix up its strategy. Yes, after three years of the same basic iPhone 6-era design, pundits are hoping for something that looks new, and it probably would help drive upgrades from people using 6 and 6Ses. But why release two upgraded 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch phones and then depress their sales by simultaneously announcing another, better iPhone that won’t be available for weeks? At a bare minimum, I’d expect pre-orders to go up at the same time and for the new phone to be available at least in limited quantities shortly thereafter.
It’s also possible that the new 4.7 and 5.5-inch phones are designed to occupy Apple’s middle iPhone tier, currently occupied by the iPhone 6S. Normally the iPhone 7 would just be bumped down upon the release of a new phone, but Apple has been known to release new phones to its middle tier (the iPhone 5C, a very modestly refreshed version of the iPhone 5) and its low tier (the iPhone SE, which put most of the iPhone 6S’ parts into a 5S-style case). The redesigned iPhone could then sit comfortably atop the lineup, rather than creating some new fourth ultra-high-end tier that would disrupt the “good-better-best” system Apple has used for iPhones for most of a decade.