When you hear about a new Apple phone all hell breaks loose. The rumor mills, the patent updates and the confidential sources from the factory supply chains in far east. It never stops! The saga continues till Apple formally releases the product or provides official feature details.
iPhone 7 is no different. Over the past 12 months, we have heard many different speculations around this exciting product. In this article, we will try to provide you with a comprehensive summary of what has been said so far about iPhone 7 in terms of specs, features, consumer aspirations and potential release dates.
More importantly, we want to hear from you about the features that you would ideally like to see in the new iPhone 7.
How thin is thin enough?
Perhaps people’s taste in glamorous models has translated to their preferences for new phone specifications. How thin can the iPhone 7 be? The iphone 6 plus stands at (6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28 in), essentially .28 inches thin. Samsung’s Galaxy 8 specs released in July 2015 suggested a phone that was 0.23 inches thin.
Some people have even complained that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s are too difficult to grip because they are too thin, but the iPhone 7 could be even thinner. Part of the reason may be the recent rumours which claim Apple will ditch the 3.5mm audio jack so they can make the new device slimmer.
That has left many people feeling annoyed that they’ll have to use special Lightning or Bluetooth headphones, but Apple has historically been the first to ditch obsolete technologies and adopt something better.
While the headphone socket could make the iPhone 7 thinner, it’s unlikely to be the key reason: after all, the iPod Touch is thinner still but retains the 3.5mm socket. Rather, freeing up internal space and making room for a larger battery and other internal components seems a more compelling reason.
A Waterproof iPhone?
Another rumour that’s been doing the rounds lately is that the iPhone 7 will be waterproof – or at least, more water-resistant than today’s model. In fact, the iPhone 6s is more water-resistant than previous iPhones thanks to new gaskets and seals, but Apple never advertised this fact. If the rumours of Apple abandoning the headphone socket is true, that will certainly help to make the iPhone better able to withstand getting wet.
In the past, Apple has also filed for several patents related to waterproofing, specifically in terms of including tiny channels and pathways inside the phone to drain liquids or prevent vital components getting wet. A recent rumour also suggested that the iPhone 7 could even play a special audio tone that would expel water from the innards, and that the iPhone would wait to do so until it detected that it was in a noisy environment.
While some of these waterproofing techniques seem rather far-fetched, it’s quite possible that the iPhone 7 will be much more water-resistant than any previous model.
Removal of the Home Button?
The home button has been an iPhone mainstay right back to the original model. But with 3D Touch, is the Home Button even needed? After all, Apple could adopt many other methods to allow users to return to the home screen: such as a 3D Touch action on a specific part of the screen.
The challenge though, besides the fact that many people actually like the Home Button, it that it also acts as the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Could the sensor be integrated into the screen itself? Many people have speculated about doing so, however it would raise user interface questions such as how does the iPhone indicate to the user where the finger should be placed?
Many people will be hoping that Apple doesn’t move the fingerprint sensor to the back of the device (as on various Android phones), which seems like a rather awkward location for a fingerprint sensor and certainly not as convenient to the user.
New Case Materials?
After the “bendgate” fiasco, Apple adopted a much harder aluminium alloy for the iPhone 6s/6s Plus – in fact, the same metal used in the Apple Watch Sport. This “7000 series” aluminium is said to be aircraft-grade and has helped make the iPhone 6s extremely tough and durable, albeit a fraction of a millimetre thicker to accommodate the new material.
With a new iPhone chassis design on the cards in 2016, will Apple switch to yet another material or stick with the tried-and-trusted 7000 series aluminium?
Several rumours have claimed the iPhone 7 could be curved and adopt some kind of flexible material instead of aluminium. Our money however is that the same case metal (or an even harder one) will be used in the new model.
One thing that does seem likely however, is the elimination of the (some would say) unsightly antennae bands across the rear of the iPhone. Even though most people keep their phone in a case, the bands do stand out somewhat, allowing for radio signals to pass through the metal. Apple may have found a special composite material this time around, paving the way for a more uniform, visually appealing rear of the iPhone 7.
One of the longstanding rumours about each successive generation of iPhone is how Apple could use “LiquidMetal” – a super-strong and durable alloy, a metal that has only been used (as far as we know) to date in the iPhone SIM ejector tool.
As sure as night follows day, Apple will use a new A10 custom CPU for the iPhone 7. Based on the impressive performance of the A9 CPU (and the A9x variant found in the iPad Pro), the new CPU will likely blow away the competition yet again, despite having fewer cores and less memory than some competing devices.
Testament to Apple’s chip design prowess, the ARM-based A10 will surely make the iPhone 7 the most powerful mobile device for a long time to come. Aside from the main CPU however, the graphics chip (from Imagination Technologies, in which Apple owns a stake) will also make another leap forward. There were several “ray tracing” demos shown off by Imagination at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, meaning that iPhone 7 graphics could feature much more realistic shadows and lighting effects than ever before.
The iPhone has long used TFT-LCD display technology from the likes of Sharp and LG Display. While competitors have jumped on the OLED display bandwagon, Apple has held out for some time, probably due to the perceived negative aspects of OLED – for example that its colour isn’t as accurate as LCD-type screens, and that degradation can occur over time (e.g. the blue colours can become less vibrant).
Apple is likely waiting to ensure those deficiencies in OLED are solved before adopting the technology in the iPhone, so it’s a long shot for the 2016 model. However, Apple has recently taken over a factory in Taiwan that is said to be a research centre for OLED and micro-LED. Apple also acquired micro-LED display maker LuxVue Technology back in 2014, and reports online have stated the company had a “breakthrough” in display technology.
Besides possibly moving to an alternative, more battery-efficient display technology in the next few years, some believe that Apple will need to increase the screen resolution to keep up with the ever-increasing sizes of the competition. There’s even a 4K resolution smartphone on the market, and more will launch in 2016. The iPhone 6/6s Plus already has a full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) display but the smaller iPhone 6 and 6s have 1,334 x 750 pixels. That still feels like a very high quality screen and it’s almost impossible to distinguish individual pixels, but the resolution may eventually be bumped up as long as battery life doesn’t suffer as a result.
In 2016 however, we feel that Apple is very unlikely to change the resolution and pixel density of new iPhones just yet. Just don’t mention those old sapphire screen rumours!
When we say wireless charging, what we actually mean of course is a kind of proximity-based charging like that on the Apple Watch, rather than true over-the-air charging (which has in fact been demonstrated in research labs to charge lightbulbs). While plugging in a Lightning cable to charge your iPhone isn’t exactly difficult, it would be a nice addition to the iPhone 7 to have some kind of charging mat, or compatibility with common NFC-based charging standards like Qi.
For some people, being able to just place the iPhone flat on a desk and charge automatically without having to connect a cable would be a nice improvement, and after the iPhone 6 onwards included NFC, it’s possible that this year we’ll finally see the feature in the iPhone 7.
iPhone 7 Camera
Apple tends to improve the iPhone camera every year, either through new features or by using better hardware. In 2015 for instance, the iPhone 6s came with a higher resolution 12 megapixel rear sensor. The iPhone 7 isn’t likely to increase the megapixel count any further, but at one point there was a rumour suggesting the company would move to a dual-lens setup, either to create higher quality images or for 3D pictures.
One thing that many people would like to see however, is the removal of the camera bump in the back of the case, so it sits flush with the rear of the phone. With ever-thinner phones being released, it’s not yet certain how likely that is, but we should still expect a variety of camera-related improvements this year.
The iPhone 7 rumour mill never stops, and there are no doubt many rumours that we’ve missed off the list. Also, we haven’t even covered iOS 10, but at this point there aren’t many clues as to what the tenth version of Apple’s mobile operating system will include – for more on that, we’ll have to wait until the Worldwide Developers’ Conference in June this year.
The iPhone 7 will in fact be the tenth iPhone. A decade of iPhones! Surely, Apple will pull something really special out of the bag this year to celebrate the fact (and hopefully also bump the base storage from 16 GB to 32 GB). Whatever the iPhone 7 has in store for us, as ever we won’t really know the details until September…
Roland Banks has been passionate about Apple for more than a decade. He started his career at British Telecom’s research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world’s first mobile video services.
Roland moved to Asia 4 years ago, where he writes about his passion for all things Apple.