An variety of new Apple products, from Apple Music to iOS 9 to a new generation of iPhones, are right around the corner. So speculation about what’s going on in Cupertino is everywhere, and the rumors and reports about Apple’s plans for its future devices are more interesting than ever. Here are five of the biggest Apple rumors that made the rounds this week.
1. Apple could make an iPhone without a home button
Word has it that Apple is working on a radical redesign of the iPhone that would see it ditching the home button — but we won’t within the next two years, according to Neil Hughes at Apple Insider. A source who Hughes says has a successful history of sharing Apple’s future product plans indicated that Apple is planning to remove the home button, making future iPhones smaller and lighter. Apple doesn’t plan to get rid of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, so it will have to develop new technology that could read your fingerprint, such as on the touchscreen itself.
A report from sources in Taiwan’s integrated circuit industry indicates that Apple is in the process of developing touch and display driver integration (TDDI) single-chip solutions, which reportedly include fingerprint sensors. Apple Insider’s source reaffirmed that information but suggested that removing the iPhone’s physical home button represents a technical challenge for Apple. Mitchel Broussard reported for MacRumors that TDDI is a new development in the industry, as Synapctics introduced the first such solution earlier this year.
In the past, Apple has filed multiple patent applications describing ways of moving fingerprint recognition to the display of an iOS device. Luke Dormehl at Cult of Mac pointed to a newly-filed application, titled “Fingerprint Biometric Sensor Including Drive Signal Level Updating,” which describes processing circuitry that could acquire fingerprint data via “sensing pixels” within a touchscreen. Dormehl notes that the screen described in the application would like be an LCD screen, like those used in current iPhones, but the application doesn’t rule out OLED displays like the ones Apple is reportedly considering for future iPhones.
It’s unclear exactly how Apple would address the absence of a home button, which is critical for a number of functions beyond the use of TouchID, like returning to the home screen, waking up the display, or accessing the app switcher. New input methods, such as ForceTouch, could potentially replace the home button. Alternatively, Apple could add a virtual home button, or use gestures and multi-touch.
2. Apple’s future iPhones could have flexible OLED displays
As we mentioned above, Apple is reportedly planning an iPhone with a flexible OLED display — but you likely won’t see one for another few years, according to Luke Dormehl at Cult of Mac. According to a report originating in South Korea, Apple is “very likely” to release its first iPhone with a flexible display in 2018, and the company’s display suppliers are currently “working on it.” The idea that Apple could introduce an OLED phone to compete with models from Samsung and LG isn’t unrealistic; the company has even begun using OLED displays on the Apple Watch.
Apple has filed a number of patent applications describing curved or foldable iPhones, and Dormehl notes that a patent published in January described a flexible iPhone that could be deformed or folded without sustaining damage to the internal components. Brad Reed at BGR pointed to one patent filing in which Apple illustrates a device with a curved display, no bezels, and no side buttons anywhere on the case. Apple writes that the curved display would be made of flexible material that can present “an illusion of depth perception” capable of “mimicking a 3D experience.”
Current reports indicate that Apple’s primary interest in using OLED displays relates to the perceived “weak points” of LCD screens, such as their color saturation, accuracy, and brightness. Chris Smith reports for BGR that flexible OLED displays would enable Apple to completely change the look and feel of future iPhones — particularly if it also removes the home button, as it reportedly intends to do. A move to flexible OLED displays would not only potentially enable Apple to make curved iPhones, but would likely make phones more able to bend under pressure and less likely to sustain accidental damage.
3. Apple could be considering a modular MacBook
While it may not be the most credible of rumors, speculation surfaced this week that Apple is planning to introduce modular, upgradable MacBooks, via Larry Darrell at Bidness. Darrell notes that Apple drew some criticism when it began soldering the SSD drives into its MacBooks in 2012, which made repairs and replacements by consumers much more difficult. So despite the lack of a rumor or tip from Apple’s supply chain, Darrell thinks it seems “plausible” for Apple to “push for upgradeable MacBook Pros in the near future, in order to accommodate its high and low end users.” He explains:
It makes perfect sense in the long run for consumers and Apple itself to be able to purchase and sell modules or components of a MacBook, as opposed to buying one every year. Apple could very well sell a new MacBook model with optimizations to aesthetics and battery life, but also offer users the chance to upgrade existing MacBooks to customize them out of the box. While this might very well be against the design principles that Apple is used to on its phones, it could very well work for its consumer-grade laptop offerings to the point that it distinguishes Apple from its competition.
While the introduction of an upgradable MacBook seems unlikely — given the amount of revenue that Apple would potentially miss out on by enabling users to swap out components instead of simply buying a new computer — Darrell notes that offering users the ability to upgrade a MacBook’s processor, RAM, or other components could convince “a large chunk of the PC market to consider it as an alternate platform with upgradeable performance.” He thinks that there is a “very real possibility that modular hardware becomes a key feature of hardware products in the near future, where design becomes a much more relevant factor for consumers, a battle that Apple is will poised to fight with its products.”
4. The iPhone’s antenna lines could disappear for good
If you own an iPhone 5, and iPhone 5, or an iPhone 6, you’re probably familiar with the two strips of plastic that run across the back of your phone. These bands are for the phone’s antenna, and if Apple didn’t coat them with plastic, radio waves wouldn’t be able to get through the phone’s exterior. But Apple has been experimenting with ways to get rid of them to improve the design of its iPhones, and Lisa Eadicicco reports for Business Insider that the company is planning to develop a new material to accomplish that.
In a new patent application, titled “non-capacitive or radio frequency-transparent materials with anodized metal appearance,” Apple described a new composite metal material that looks and feels like anodized metal but still enables wireless signals to pass through. The material could give the iPhone a uniform metallic look without tampering with its performance. The application also mentions potential applications for the trackpad on a Mac or even the touchscreen on an iOS device.
Sebastian Anthony reports for Ars Technica that the patent neatly outlines the predicament faced not only by Apple, but by many other device manufacturers. The application explains that “Many computing devices have outer housings and coverings that include metallic surfaces giving the devices an aesthetically pleasing and durable look and feel. However, metal is not RF-transparent and is usually highly capacitive. As a result, Anthony notes, there are portions of the device, such as touchpads and antenna housings, that have to be made of plastic, glass, or another “suitable” material — which typically doesn’t look like the anodized metal chassis.
5. The next iPhone may borrow the SiP from Apple Watch
According to a report originating in China, the next generation of the iPhone may borrow an important component that Apple introduced with the Apple Watch. So far, according to Chris Smith at BGR, we’ve already heard extensive reports that the Force Touch feature and the new display component it requires will come to the next iPhone, expected to be called the iPhone 6s. But another Apple Watch feature, called the System-in-Package (SiP) module, is also rumored to be coming to the iPhone 6s.
The internal S1 SiP contains most of the Apple Watch’s important components, including a custom ARM processor, its RAM, storage, NFC radio controller, WiFI and Bluetooth module, touchscreen controllers, and other components. The SiP is completely encapsulated in resin, which is intended to protect the components from accidental damage, including damage caused by water.
Smith notes that with the SiP, Apple managed to pack smartphone-grade chips inside the small casing of the Apple Watch. Bringing the SiP design to future iPhones could enable Apple to increase the battery size of those devices if it’s able to successfully miniaturize the iPhone’s internal components. Or, as Tyler Lee reports for Ubergizmo, it could enable Apple to create an even thinner iPhone. Lee notes that earlier this year, Apple revealed that the Retina MacBook’s motherboard is about the size of an iPhone, significantly smaller than expected. Shrinking the motherboard down enabled Apple to increase the battery capacity of the laptop.