The products and ideas that Apple has in the works are a subject of perennial speculation, even mere weeks after Apple unveiled an assortment of new devices. Looking to catch up on the latest rumors and reports about what’s going on in Cupertino? Read on to learn about five of the most interesting rumors about Apple’s products and plans to surface this week.
1. The iPhone 7 could look very different than the iPhone 6s
While the iPhone 6s, as an S model, looks largely the same as the iPhone 6, the major refresh brought with next year’s supposed iPhone 7 is likely to look different from the phones released this year and last year. As Tiernan Ray reports for Barron’s, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has detailed his expectations for the iPhone 7, a future iPhone that Apple is already expected to launch about a year from now. Munster thinks that the iPhone 7 will look significantly different from the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s, particularly when it comes to the presence (or absence) of the home button.
Munster thinks that Apple might do away with the home button, or perhaps move the Touch ID sensor to the side of the phone, and use the additional space to make the screen bigger or even make the device smaller. (Some smartphone makers have added larger screens to their phones without increasing the devices’ overall footprint by minimizing the bezels, which may be another option for Apple.) Munster believes that “a home-buttonless iPhone has a 50% chance for the iPhone 7.”
It’s not the first time that a disappearing home button has been the subject of an iPhone rumor, and Apple has even filed a patent application detailing how the Touch ID fingerprint sensor could be embedded into the touchscreen. Munster thinks that another area of focus for Apple will be the battery life of its next iPhone, and he hasn’t given up the idea of a sapphire display. “Since Apple now uses sapphire on the Apple Watch, it could make sense for them to adapt it to the phone. We note that Apple is using the stronger aluminum from the Apple Watch Sport for the iPhone 6s case.”
2. The iPhone 7 could feature an Intel chip
Mark Sullivan reports for VentureBeat that Intel has about 1,000 employees working to outfit a 2016 iPhone model with its 7360 LTE modem chip. Intel could end up providing both the modem and the fabrication for a new system on a chip for the iPhone Apple will release next year, presumably the iPhone 7. Sullivan’s sources say that Intel is “pulling out the stops” to supply the modems for at least some of the iPhones that Apple will manufacture in 2016.
Apple could dual-source the LTE modems from both Intel and Qualcomm. Currently, Qualcomm’s 9X45 chip is integrated into all iPhone modems. A source said that Intel needs so many people on the project because of the complexity of the project and its importance to Intel’s future in the mobile market. Intel failed to establish itself in the mobile chip market early on and has been behind Qualcomm ever since. Reportedly, Apple hasn’t officially committed to Intel as its supplier for the modem chip, but a deal is expected to happen if Intel continues to hit the project’s milestones.
Apple reportedly plans to create a system on a chip that includes both the iPhone’s processor and the LTE modem chip, since the system on a chip design could improve speed and battery management. Apple would design the chip and license the LTE intellectual property from Intel, which would also fabricate the chip using its 14-nanometer process. Intel is also developing a 10-nanometer process that could be ready for high-volume fabrication in as little as two years.
3. Future iPhones could be less breakable when dropped
Mikey Campbell reports for Apple Insider that Cupertino may have found a way to protect future iPhones from the costly display damage that’s often inflicted by accidental drops. As detailed by a new patent application, Apple has invented a system that automatically extends retractable tabs above an iPhone’s screen when the phone senses that it’s being dropped. That would create a buffer between the delicate glass and the ground, and could prevent the display from getting broken.
The protectors could curve over the screen, collapse, or otherwise absorb impact forces, and Apple says that flexible or rigid plastics, polymers, thin metals, or other composites would be suitable materials. Motors or actuators would power the tab movement, and the motors or actuators would be attached to a rack-and-pinion drive. A variety of components would actually sense the drop, and most of them are already installed in iOS devices. Accelerometers, gyroscopes, and altitude sensors are all suited to the task, or a camera could detect a fall with specialized motion capture software.
After a drop is sensed, the device would extend the screen protectors. When motion has stopped, the mechanism would retract the screen protectors. Campbell notes that while Apple has shown an interest in fall protection technology in the past, it has yet to integrate any of its patented designs into its hardware.
4. iOS devices could gain environmental sensors
Mikey Campbell reports for Apple Insider that Apple was granted the rights to embedded sensor technology that could eventually lead the way to iOS devices that are capable of informing users of changes in temperature and humidity. The patent explains a method for integrating a variety of different environmental sensors, such as those measuring temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and other variables, into a single sensor package.
Many of the proposed sensors would require access to a free flow of air to operate effectively, so the device’s chassis would need to feature openings to provide ventilation. Apple suggests that the best way to implement such a setup would be to package the environmental sensors on the same rigid circuit board as a sound component, like a microphone or speaker. A standalone enclosure within the device’s housing could expose the environmental sensors to the necessary outside air without risking damage to the internal circuitry of the device, and Apple already protects the acoustic components of its devices with mesh or thin acoustic membranes.
Campbell notes that while other tech companies have experimented with embedded thermometers, UV meters, and other environmental sensors, Apple only recently added barometric pressure sensors to the iPhone 6. But given the fact that the Apple Watch targets tech fans with active lifestyles, a more comprehensive suite of sensors could make sense.
5. Siri may be more distracting to drivers than Google Now
AAA released a study on the level of mental distraction associated with making a call, changing music, or sending a text message using voice commands with digital assistants like Siri, Google Now, and Cortana. The research found that these hands-free technologies can mentally distract drivers, even if their eyes are on the road and their hands on the steering wheel, and that mental distraction can last as long as 27 seconds after completing the task.
Interestingly for Apple, AAA’s research claims that Siri is more distracting to drivers than Google Now. Siri earned a mental distraction rating of 3.4, compared to Google Now’s rating of 3.0. Both fell into the “high distraction” zone, as did Microsoft’s Cortana, which earned a higher rating of 3.8. Using the smartphones to send texts significantly increased the level of distraction. AAA explains, “While sending voice-activated texts, Google Now rated as a category 3.3 distraction, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana rated as category 3.7 and category 4.1 distractions.”
Previous AAA research established that a category 1 mental distraction is about equivalent to listening to the radio or to an audio book. A category 2 distraction is about the same as talking on the phone, and category 3 is equivalent to sending voice-activated texts on a perfect, error-free system. Category 4 is equivalent to updating social media while driving, and category 5 is about equal to taking a challenging, scientific test designed to overload the driver’s attention. While the study used smartphones docked in a car to test out the platforms, the research didn’t mention whether or not it considered Apple’s Carplay platform, though it’s unlikely that it did considering the limited availability of the system.