iPhones mean big business for Apple. Smartphone sales account for more than 60 percent of the company’s revenue, so you can imagine that Apple has plenty of incentive to make sure its iPhones are capturing our attention.
Apple’s 2017 iPhone lineup figures to change next year. (Credit: Tom’s Guide)Last year’s update, which saw the introduction of the iPhone X alongside more conservative updates with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, certainly drew the interest of smartphone shoppers. But what does Apple do for an encore? With the anticipated fall updates to the iPhone lineup a few months away, rumors of the changes to Apple’s next phones are really picking up steam. There’s also the matter of what Apple has planned for the iPhone SE, its 4-inch phone that hasn’t seen a major update since its 2016 release.
Here’s a closer look at what we’ve heard so far about the 2018 updates for the iPhone X and other devices including the iPhone SE. We’ll also look ahead to what Apple reportedly has planned for 2019.
Updated July 12
- Thin Bezels on the 6.1-inch iPhone: The 6.1-inch model may turn out to be the entry-level iPhone of the three versions reportedly coming out this fall, but it still could have an extended LCD screen with thin bezels, according to a new report.
- eSIM Coming: Apple has reportedly partnered with STMicro to supply its 2018 iPhones with eSIM technology, according to Barron’s. STMicro already supplies eSIM to LTE-enabled models of the Apple Watch 3.
What is the release date for the new iPhones?
Apple typically holds off on major iPhone updates until September, and there’s no reason to believe it will deviate from that pattern. But there’s been no specific announcements for a release date, and most rumors point to a fall release for the new phones.
MORE: How to Use the iPhone X – A Guide to New (or Improved) Features
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. But with June’s Worldwide Developers Conference now in the rear view mirror, that seems increasingly unlikely. (We did hear a lot about iOS 12 at WWDC, including new Memoji features that figure to be available to future versions of the iPhone X.) It seems as if earlier reports that Apple would put all its efforts into this fall’s releases are panning out.
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.
Until then, though, here’s a list of potential names, we’ve been hearing about:
- iPhone X2: A little unwieldy, but it gets the point across that this is a successor to last year’s phone.
- iPhone X, iPhone X Plus, iPhone X SE: This fits in with the Three iPhone rumor detailed below, especially if Apple goes with an all iPhone X-style design.
- iPhone X and iPhone 9: Apple keeps the current naming conventions to differentiate its high-end X lineup from more affordable options (for Apple, anyhow).
- iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Plus and iPhone 9: This naming convention comes from analysts at BlueFin Research, who argue in a report obtained by Baron’s that Apple will drop both the iPhone X and iPhone SE from its lineup. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will remain as options alongside the three new phones, these analysts say.
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. However, Taiwan’s Economic Daily News claims that all three phones will carry the iPhone X branding.
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. DigiTimes reports that the 6.1-inch iPhone could have bottom bezels of only 2 to 2.5mm, which would be thinner than the current iPhone X’s. Initially, Kuo estimated this device would cost between $700 and $800, but subsequent reports have the price ranging between $550 to $699. BGR posted a leaked render allegedly showing off the 6.1-inch model: it looks a lot like the iPhone X, but with a single camera on the back.Credit: BGR
A leaked video from Shai Mizrachi that was posted by 9to5Mac gives us an idea of what to expect from at least two of the new models. The video purports to show both a 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus and a 6.1-inch phone (called the iPhone 9 in this leak, though it’s unclear if Apple will use that name).
iPhone X Plus and iPhone 9 Dummies (Credit: Shai Mizrachi via 9to5Mac)
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.)
eSIM Support: An emerging technology expected to replace physical SIM cards, eSIM is basically an internal replacement for the little pieces of plastic that enable service on the devices we have today. The primary benefit to eSIM boards is that they can be reprogrammed over the air, allowing customers to switch networks at will. A report from Barron’s claims Apple may be working with a company known as STMicro to bring eSIM to its line of 2018 iPhones. STMicro already supplies the Apple Watch 3 with eSIM components, so it’s not a reach to suggest they would do the same for Cupertino’s next handsets. Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were the first publicly-available phones to utilize eSIM technology.
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. Bloomberg reports that mass production of the A12 is underway. It’s a 7-nanometer chip instead of 10 nanometers for the A11, which allows for more design flexibility.
In terms of performance, leaked Geekbench 4 results show only modest gains over the A11 processor in the current iPhone X. But the new chip will outperform Android phones powered by the Snapdragon 845 processor and packed with twice as much RAM.
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. Already, we know that Apple has included ARKit 2.0 as part of its iOS 12 efforts.
New Colors: This rumored change once again comes from Ming-Chi Kuo, who contends that the 6.5- and 5.8-inch iPhones will be available in black, white and gold. The 6.1-inch model will feature more colors — grey, white, blue, red and orange.
MORE: Best AR Apps for iOS (So Far)
How much will the new iPhones cost?
If you’re dismayed by the upward creep of smartphone pricing, there’s some good news about this fall’s iPhones. It’s widely expected that the most expensive model, the iPhone X Plus, will debut at the same price as 2017’s $999 iPhone X. The new 5.8-inch model replacing the current iPhone X would then feature an $899 price tag.
There’s no consensus on what a 6.1-inch iPhone would cost, especially in light of it reportedly featuring fewer high-end specs than its counterparts. Initial rumors suggested a price tag between $700 and $800, but some reports suggest the cost could be as low as $550, especially if Apple positions this phone as the entry-level successor to the iPhone SE.
What About the iPhone SE?
It’s possible 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. And that BlueFin Research report also claims that Apple is going to stop producing the iPhone SE, making the 6.1-inch iPhone (quite possibly called the iPhone 9) its entry-level offering.
MORE: An iPhone SE 2 Is Long Overdue: Here’s What I Want
If you want to hold out hope, though, 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. Of course, that report indicated the new phones would appear in May, and that month has come and gone. A new report in Forbes cites iPhone case maker Olixar’s accessory announcements as proof that the iPhone SE 2 won’t arrive this year, but since Olixar was taking pre-orders for a new iPhone SE case not that long ago, maybe it’s not the best source for Apple’s phone plans.
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.
What About Future iPhones?
If you want to look beyond this fall, rumors about the 2019 iPhones (and beyond) are already begin to bubble to the surface.
Start with the display. By 2019, enough OLED panels should be available for Apple to use OLED for all of its iPhones, at least according to Bloomberg. Currently, the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and SE still use LCD screens, and Apple looks like it’s going to release another LCD-based phone this fall (and in heavy volume, if you think back to that Wall Street Journal story).
Speaking of numbers, the number of rear cameras on the iPhone could increase to three in 2019. That’s according to separate reports in Taiwan’s Economic Daily News, which first reported on the possibility back in April and now quotes an analyst who has reached the same conclusion. 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.
A Forbes contributor obtained a schematic showing what is purported to be this year’s iPhone X Plus. That schematic shows what appears to be three lenses, but could also be two lenses and a sensor for the flash. The image also indicates that this year’s iPhones will look the same as last year’s, but with slightly smaller notches.
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. A patent spotted by IBT sheds some light on that: Apple may be working on a way to give the iPhone squeezable sides. Such a feature sounds a lot like what we’ve already seen in phones like the Pixel 2 and HTC U12+.
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.
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