Each week, a wide range of Apple rumors make their way around the circles of Apple fans, tech-savvy bloggers, and industry watchers. The level of interest in and speculation over Apple’s every plan, move, and patent application is practically unparalleled in the tech world, and this week has been no exception. Read on for the seven most interesting rumors on Apple’s plans and products to hit the blogosphere this week.
1. Apple is likely fine-tuning parts for the iPhone 6s
Roger Fingas reports for Apple Insider that a series of parts allegedly intended for the iPhone 6s leaked this week, offering evidence that Apple is optimizing the internal components of the next iPhone while leaving its external appearance relatively unchanged.
One of the leaked parts is a flex cable that connects internal components, like the rear camera, LED flash, and power and volume controls to the logic board. The iPhone 6, by contrast, depends on two separate cables to achieve the same connections. Other parts indicate that the iPhone 6s, like the iPhone 6, will have a protruding exterior ring around the rear camera, even though that component has been, as Fingas puts it, “a minor point of criticism” for users who complain that it breaks with the flush design of iPhones past and prevents the iPhone 6 from resting completely flat on a table or desk. The leak also indicates that Apple is sticking with the same TouchID button design.
Both the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus are expected to be unveiled this fall, most likely in September. They’re expected to be upgraded with specifications like A9 processors and 2GB of RAM, plus new 5MP and 12MP front and rear cameras. Regarding the phones’ external appearance, recent rumors have indicated that Apple will move to a tougher 7000-series aluminum and add a rose gold tone option, but there’s scant evidence to confirm either claim.
2. Maybe there won’t be a new 4-inch iPhone 6c
Cowen and Company analyst Timothy Arcuri, who was one of the first to report on the possibility of a 4-inch “iPhone 6c,” revealed that he can no longer find any evidence that Apple will release such a device in 2015, according to Apple Insider’s Mikey Campbell.
Arcuri posits that Apple may have scrapped the idea so as not to cannibalize sales of the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models that it’s expected to launch this fall. Arcuri notes, “I think one of the reasons is because the iPhone 6 has sold so well. And they said, ‘Look, why would we want to cannibalize? If we came out with an iPhone 6C, we would essentially cannibalize a price-reduced iPhone 6.'” When he first reported on the possibility of a new four-inch iPhone last December, Arcuri said that Apple might market the device as an alternative to the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, winning back users who were upset by Apple’s move away from the four-inch form factor with the introduction of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
Reports, leaks, and industry rumors seemed to back up Arcuri’s initial report, but Campbell notes that many of those rumors have since “fizzled out.” He also notes that Arcuri has a mixed track record of Apple predictions, though his most recent research note aligns with predictions from the more-reliable Ming-chi Kuo, who says that Apple is unlikely to introduce a 4-inch iPhone this year.
3. Apple still seems determined to make a sapphire iPhone
Luke Dormehl reports for Cult of Mac that even though GT Advanced Technologies went bust, Apple isn’t giving up on what many think is now an abandoned dream. The company seems to be persisting in finding a way to manufacture sapphire glass displays for a future model of the iPhone.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application on a “System and Method for Laser Cutting Sapphire Using Multiple Gas Media” (PDF) this week. The application describes a new method of manufacturing sapphire displays, which entails irradiating the sapphire crystal and then using a laser and a “second gas medium” to slice it into the thin sheets needed for iPhone displays. As Dormehl notes, sapphire is both very hard and very brittle, and small defects in the surface or even the edge of a piece of sapphire glass can dramatically reduce the piece’s strength.
By laser-cutting the sapphire for displays, Apple would both save wear and tear on physical cutting tools and lower the number of defects made in the manufacturing process. That would improve the yield of the operation, which is necessary when making tens of millions of devices. Dormehl notes that while Apple could apply the technology to making smaller sapphire components, like camera covers and Apple Watch displays, the patent application specifically mentions “mobile phones” as an area of potential application, and all of its diagrams show iPhone-sized displays being cut.
4. The iPad mini 4 could mimic the iPad Air 2
Katie Marsal reports for Apple Insider that a new report from the Japanese publication “Macotakara” alleges that the iPad mini 4 will see many of the same upgrades with which Apple equipped the iPad Air 2 last year. Those upgrades would simply be compressed into the iPad mini’s much smaller footprint.
The publication said that “industry sources” describe the iPad mini 4 as a miniature version of the iPad Air 2, which would indicate that it will adopt many of the same specifications, such as a new 8MP iSight camera, the A8-series processor, and 802.11ac WiFi. The new model is also likely to see its thickness reduced from 7.5mm to match the iPad Air 2’s thickness of 6.1mm, and the report says that it’s also likely to gain the iPad Air 2’s laminated display with an antireflective coating.
As Marsal notes, the report seems to hedge rumors that Apple is planning to forgo updating the iPad Air this year, in favor of reducing pressure on the manufacturers who are tasked with producing both the rumored 12.9-inch “iPad Pro” and the new iPad mini 4. The report claims that the design footprint of the iPad Air 3 will remain unchanged from the iPad Air 2, which would raise the likelihood than an A9-powered version of the tablet will debut along with the iPad mini 4 and iPad Pro later this year.
5. Apple could offer an advanced stylus with the ‘iPad Pro’
Mikey Campbell reports for Apple Insider that an application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revealed that Apple is investigating an advanced stylus that could simulate the texture of onscreen graphics as it moves across the surface of a device like the rumored 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
Apple’s patent application for “Touch implement with haptic feedback for simulating surface texture” offers the details on a stylus that’s equipped with electronics that enable it to sense contact with a touchscreen, gather information about the texture that’s being displayed, and offer vibratory feedback that corresponds to the detected texture. The stylus could contain contact sensors to determine when it’s in contact with the touchscreen, or it could rely simply on capacitive sensors, pressure sensors, and cameras. Sensors like photodiodes could also detect depicted textures, like wood, paper, glass, and others. Alternatively, texture types could be communicated to the stylus via a Bluetooth or WiFi connection with the device in question.
Once the stylus has learned what texture is being displayed, the stylus would activate haptic feedback in keeping with the texture. Rougher textures would elicit more dramatic vibration than smoother textures. The patent application explains that the feedback would vary as the user moves the stylus over the surface and between different textures, and the system would adjust the feedback as the user changes writing pressure, angle, or orientation.
Campbell notes that rumors suggest that Apple is planning to unveil a large 12.9-inch iPad, which will likely be accompanied by a branded stylus. The new tablet is widely expected to make an appearance this year, and respected analyst Ming-chi Kuo posits that the initial release will be a simple model, with more advanced features being integrated into future generations of the device.
6. Apple Maps will definitely be getting smarter
As Roger Fingas reports for Apple Insider, Apple Maps vans are embarking on trips to collect street-level data in Europe and in the United States. The company revealed exactly where its vehicles will be, explaining to users that “Apple is driving vehicles around the world to collect data which will be used to improve Apple Maps. Some of this data will be published in future Apple Maps updates.” The vehicles will be in England, France, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, and the United States.
As Fingas notes, the exact purpose for the new data is unknown, beyond the fact that it will be used in future versions of Apple Maps. Some have speculated that Apple intends to introduce its own version of the popular Google Maps feature Street View, which offers 360-degree, eye-level previews of many locations. The data could, alternately, be used in a 3D flyover feature.
Apple Maps will receive a major update this fall, when iOS 9 is released. The update will bring features like en-route traffic avoidance and public transit directions. A street view-like feature isn’t likely to be included, as Fingas notes, unless “Apple is preparing a later surprise announcement and can build out image databases in a short amount of time.”
7. Apple could use a BMW as the basis for its own electric car
Jordan Kahn reports for 9to5Mac that Apple is in negotiations to use the BMW i3 as the basis for its own electric car, a project that it reportedly has hundreds of employees working on after the endeavor was approved by Apple chief executive Tim Cook earlier this year.
News of Apple’s electric car project first surfaced earlier this year, and rumors have continued to circulate as news breaks of key hires from both the automotive industry and among researchers working on autonomous vehicle technology. According to a report from German publication Manager Magazin, Cook and other Apple executives recently met with BMW in Leipzig to visit the i3 production line. Apple is reportedly interested in the carbon fiber body of the i3, which is a well-received electric car that gets about 80 miles on a charge.
Kahn notes that while an optional range extender can add a few gallons’ worth of range to the vehicle for longer trips, the i3 is “by no means a game changer like Tesla’s Model S which goes from 0-60 in as little as 2.8 seconds, has a range of up to 300 miles and seats up to 7 people.” Apple would likely need to complete some “serious legwork” to make the i3 into a disruptive force in the industry. Negotiations with BMW have reportedly been in progress since fall of 2014, but no agreement has yet been made.