6 Apple Rumors: From Liquidmetal Buttons to a Giant iPhone

There’s been plenty of speculation about what Apple’s going to be doing later this month, especially since its first hearing regarding its case against the FBI is scheduled for March 22. Perhaps even more exciting is that the company is planning to hold a press event on March 21, when it’s expected to unveil a new iPhone and a new iPad. Read on to catch up on the latest rumors about those products, and others that are currently in the works in Cupertino.

1. Apple will unveil a new iPhone in a little over a week

Iphone, apple store

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Dawn Chmielewski reports for Re/Code that Apple has made it official that its spring product event will be held on March 21 on the company’s Cupertino campus. Invitations to the event don’t offer any details about the devices that Apple is expected to unveil — including the new 4-inch iPhone SE, a 9.7-inch iPad (possibly an iPad Pro), new Apple Watch bands, and software updates — but they do feature the tagline “Let us loop you in.”

Buster Hein reports for Cult of Mac that the new four-inch iPhone will most likely be called the iPhone SE, though it’s also been referred to as the iPhone 6c and the iPhone 5se. The phone is expected to look much like the iPhone 5s, but with curved edges like the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s. Leaked case designs indicate that the power button will be at the top, with the mute switch and volume knobs on the side. The phone will use a 4-inch Retina display, the same A9 processor used in the iPhone 6s, the M9 coprocessor, and 1GB of RAM.

The base model is expected to feature just 16GB of RAM, a tier that’s long frustrated users, and Apple will likely also offer a 64GB model. The iPhone SE will likely use the same camera sensor found in the iPhone 6 instead of the slightly-better sensor used in the iPhone 6s. The phone isn’t expected to support 3D Touch, though it will feature an NFC chip and the TouchID sensor.

2. The next iPad may feature quad speakers and a Smart Connector


Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Luke Dormehl reports for Cult of Mac that photos of an alleged “iPad Air 3” case appear to confirm that Apple’s next iPad will be a scaled-down version of the iPad Pro. The case seems to indicate that the smaller version of the iPad Pro will feature the same quad speaker setup as the larger version, along with the triple dot Smart Connector that the iPad Pro uses to connect to the Smart Keyboard.

The leaked photo doesn’t necessarily confirm anything, or add anything new to rumors that had already surfaced, but it does make the report that Apple will introduce a small iPad Pro instead of a new iPad Air a little more plausible. Dormehl notes that another recent report has suggested that the new iPad will include the A9X processor, and perhaps support for the Apple Pencil. The new iPad is rumored to be launched alongside the iPhone SE on March 21, so we won’t need to wait long to hear about the details firsthand.

3. Apple could upgrade the home button on future iPhones


Source: Apple.com

Apple Insider reports that according to a recent patent, future iPhones could get a simplified home button that would be both longer-lasting and less complex. The patent, titled “bulk amorphous alloy pressure sensor,” explores methods of replacing the materials currently used in Apple’s dome switches with new Liquidmetal-like options. Apple argues that Liquidmetal is a better choice because of its enhanced elasticity — which means that it’s better at repeatedly deforming and bouncing back to its initial state than titanium or stainless steel.

Apple could take advantage of Liquidmetal’s benefits by making the home button pressure-sensitive. When you press down on the dome switch that backs the current home button, the top of the dome contacts a small piece of metal to complete an electrical circuit. The patent describes a method of treating the home button more like a strain gauge than a button, determining the deflection of the Liquidmetal dome by measuring the change in resistance. That approach would make the button simpler, and allow for more flexibility.

Apple Insider notes that this is the second time in just two months that Apple has added something like Force Touch to the home button, and Ben Lovejoy points out at 9to5Mac that the patent could solve the mystery of Apple’s plans for the liquidmetal alloy, which it made an exclusive deal to use back in 2010.

4. The iPhone 7 will likely abandon the 3.5mm headphone jack

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Neil Hughes reports for Apple Insider that third-party case manufacturers are already producing products that assume Apple’s iPhone 7 will ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack. The publication notes that some cases appear designed to accommodate a dual-speaker setup at the bottom of the phone, with two identically-sized cutouts that would accommodate the dual-speaker design that’s been rumored to take the place of the headphone jack.

The rest of the case appears as expected, with the speaker cutouts to the left and right of the opening for the Lightning port. The case places the ring/silent switch and volume controls on the left side, with the lock button on the right side. When viewed form the back, the camera cutout is on the upper left side, and it appears to feature a slightly larger opening than typical, which might signal that the new iPhone will feature a larger rear lens or a dual-lens setup. Photos of a case designed for the iPhone SE are also making rounds online, and indicate that the upcoming 4-inch iPhone will retain the headphone jack on the bottom of the phone.

5. Apple may be working on an even bigger iPhone


Source: Apple.com

Sam Oliver reports for Apple Insider that according to Taiwanese analysts, Apple could be working on a 5.8-inch OLED iPhone to be released in 2017 or 2018. While many iPhone rumors should be taken with a grain of salt, this one seems especially unlikely. Oliver notes that while it’s a “virtual certainty” that Apple will eventually migrate to power-saving OLED screens, the idea that it will push the iPhone into phablet territory is far less likely. “This kind of move would give Apple iOS devices at no few than 7 different physical screen dimensions — 4, 4.7, 5.5, 5.8, 7.9, 9.7, and 12.9 inches,” Oliver notes.

A 5.8-inch iPhone wouldn’t be that much larger than the current 5.5-inch iPhone 6s Plus. That’s inconsistent with Apple’s current choices of screen sizes, which leave considerable distance between, for instance, the 4.7-inch iPhone 6s and the 4-inch iPhone 5s. Each model in Apple’s lineup is clearly differentiated from the others. The iPhone launched in 2007 with a 3.5-inch display, and eventually grew to a 4-inch screen with the iPhone 5. Apple added 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models with the launch of the iPhone 6. And while Apple hasn’t updated its 4-inch iPhone since the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, that’s expected to change with its March 21 event.

6. Future Apple Watches could detect medical emergencies

Apple Watch

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Ben Lovejoy reports for 9to5Mac that according to a recent patent application, the Apple Watch could detect medical emergencies like a heart attack and call 911. While it doesn’t specifically name the Apple Watch or the iPhone, the patent filing explains that the setup could detect a range of emergencies and take appropriate action depending on the severity of the event. Those responses would range from sending an email to a family member to calling 911 in urgent cases.

The document outlines some of the events that the Apple Watch could detect, including “a car crash, a bike accident, a medical emergency such as a heart attack or an aneurysm, separation of a child from the child’s caregiver, a dementia patient becoming lost, an avalanche, a fall, a mugging, a fire, and/or any other event for which a user may require medical, police, family, fire rescue, and/or other kind of assistance.” While there’s a risk of false alarms, the patent does describe ways they can be prevented, such as by asking the user for a response or by using geographic information.

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