Though only out for 6 weeks, the iPhone 7′s familiar look has Apple watchers already chasing down every tidbit they can find about next year’s iPhone 8. And while not every rumor can be confirmed, it is true that given Apple’s lead times for components most decisions about what will be inside have already been made. Similarly, with production of the new iPhone likely to commence before next summer, there is also much we can know about what’s even possible to include in next year’s model. Given all that, it’s possible to sort the early rumors into three broad categories: things probable enough to call fact, things plausible enough to call fantasy, and things so absurd they are nothing but fiction.
Aside from the absolutes Apple will produce iPhones in at least two sizes, the new iPhone will have its annual CPU upgrade it’s safe at this point to say that OLED displays are coming to the iPhone. Long a mainstay of Samsung’s Galaxy line, OLEDs are capable of better contrast than LCDs while improving power consumption. Several years ago Apple resisted a switch to OLED because the color fidelity wasn’t yet there; improvements have solved that problem.
But the main reason Apple has still not adopted OLED which the experts at Display Mate anointed as the best smartphone screens – is that there has not been enough capacity in the world to satisfy what iPhone would devour. Thanks to LG and Samsung, that’s about to change. A report in Business Korea, detailed the massive investments the two companies have made in expanding their OLED capacity, $11.6 billion between them.
To date only Samsung has been a major volume producer of the displays but has absorbed most of the supply for its own phones. The expansion of just one of Samsung’s production lines will quintuple its output to 170 million screens large enough for the Plus models of the iPhone. Those additional screens would satisfy most of Apple’s demand for all iPhone 8 models and make Samsung the overwhelming frontrunner to produce Apple’s OLED, any residual differences between the companies notwithstanding.
With LG’s expansion, Apple should be able to shop multiple suppliers as soon as next year. In the meantime the company is looking to have more choice in the future. Sharp’s CEO was surely not speaking for Apple when he confirmed the iPhone 8 would use OLED. But the one thing he does know is that Apple has been involved in a multi-year effort to ensure that its voracious demand for screens is met. That includes technically and financially assisting not just Sharp, but also Japan Display (another Apple screen supplier), to ramp up OLED manufacturing.
It seems possible that even if Samsung gets all the orders for iPhone 8, someone else will end up supplying OLEDs to an upgraded iPhone SE in the not-terribly-distant future.
Fantasy (but our hopes are real)
One tantalizing detail about Apple’s plans came from Nikkei Asian Review, which says wireless charging is at last reaching iPhone. Most solutions to date, including the one chosen by Samsung, use the Qi charging standard which works decently though requires fairly precise position of the device on charging pads. Whether Apple will advance the state of the art is unclear. But given that Apple’s iPhone chargers remain slow and still rely on cables (which Apple has recently gone to war against) wireless charging is a very good bet.
The iPad Pro doesn’t offer a truly wireless solution but its Smart Connector comes close, with a data connection as well as power. The Moto Z Droid offers an intriguing possible use of a similar connector on a future iPhone. The Droid isn’t a particularly large seller, but its removable, magnetic battery packs offer the cleanest solution yet seen to additional power when needed without compromising the phone’s portability. There were rumors that 2016 would see an iPhone Pro with a Smart Connector; perhaps 2017 will be the time.
Another area of speculation for next year’s phone centers around materials. The iPhone 4 design became iconic in part because both front and back were encased in glass. While that did lead to both sides shattering at times, the strength of glass has improved since as has manufacturing of both curved glass and curved screens to fit behind it. The Galaxy S7 Edge demonstrates both of them to good effect even if the functionality of the curved screen is limited.
Android-phone maker Xiaomi, sometimes called the Apple of China, recently demonstrated a phone in a ceramic shell with almost no bezel surrounding the screen. Ceramic isn’t entirely new to Apple as it’s the casing material for the new high-end Apple Watch Edition. But skeptics still doubt it is possible to ramp up ceramic capacity enough for all iPhone 8 models. This has led to speculation that Apple will produce a third iPhone 8, perhaps in between the 4.7 and 5.5-inch models, with a 5-inch size. Given the presence of the SE model, which currently has nearly state-of-the-art parts inside, there are already three iPhone screen types. Bet against four.
That said, the idea of all-glass designs is coalescing around the same time the tantalizing possibility of ceramic emerges certainly suggests that the pure metal shells of recent years are due for retirement.
This round of iPhone rumors really took off when Silicon Valley watcher Robert Scoble posted a fantastical story about a new, “clear” iPhone. While I don’t doubt his sincerity in believing whatever rumor he heard about a transparent phone with “battery and antennas to be hidden around the edges of the screen,” it’s not happening. Take a look at the iPhone 7 interior seen here and you’ll get an idea how full it is.
The design by Veniamin Geskin does show an intriguing design element which is definitely on Apple’s radar if not reality. The TouchID fingerprint sensor might disappear behind the screen, allowing for a smaller “chin” on the iPhone. Apple has filed patents related to this already and the removal of the physical Home button in iPhone 7 with virtual button presses mimicked by Apple’s Taptic Engine presages this trend.
Fiction (it’s just not possible)
But even if the Home button goes, the transparent iPhone remains an impossibility for now. Even with faster, wireless charging there is no battery breakthrough that would make for acceptable life along with a largely transparent phone. Scoble, who currently works with a virtual reality company, is very excited about the potential future of both VR and its close cousin augmented reality.
It’s not at all impossible that Apple has something baking in that realm as CEO Tim Cook has talked up the technology. But some sort of futuristic, see-through Franken-phone that mounts in a head-mounted display is not it. Instead take a longer look at Geskin’s YouTube video below. It’s not the iPhone 8, but it’s an exciting look that might not be too far off the mark.