7 Apple Rumors: From the iPhone 7 to a Secret VR Team

With a much-rumored press event and possibly a brand-new iPhone on the horizon, the first few months of 2016 are shaping up to be an exciting period for the ever-active Apple rumor mill. From a new 4-inch iPhone that could appear in March to the iPhone 7 we’re expecting this September, catch up on this week’s most exciting rumors about what Apple’s planning for its future iOS devices.

1. Apple seems to be planning its next event for March 15

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Mark Gurman reports for 9to5Mac that Apple is planning a March 15 unveiling for the iPhone 5se, the iPad Air 3, and Apple Watch updates. The publication had previously reported that Apple was targeting the week of March 14 for the event, and while Gurman thinks that Apple has chosen March 15, he does note that the date could still change, or the event could be scrapped for an online announcement.

While the four-inch iPhone — and the “iPhone 5se” name that Gurman expects Apple to use for it — still remains a topic of contention, Gurman thinks that the device will include an A9 chip, an improved camera system, support for Live Photos, NFC capability for Apple Pay, all within an exterior body that mimics the iPhone 5s (hence the terrible name). The iPhone 5se will reportedly be priced the same as the iPhone 5s, starting at $450 for a 16GB model.

Gurman also expects the March event to mark the launch of the iPad Air 3, which would be the first significant upgrade that Apple has made to the 9.7-inch iPad line since the debut of the iPad Air 2 in October 2014. The iPad Air 3 is expected to have some of the features of the iPad Pro, like enhanced speakers and the Smart Connector, which could mean that a smaller variant of the Smart Keyboard is also on its way. It’s also possible that Apple could add a rear LED flash.

The spring refresh of the Apple Watch line isn’t expected to bring significant hardware updates, and is instead rumored to bring new bands and software. The new bands are expected to include new colors for the Sport bands, new Hermes bands, a space black version of the Milanese Loop, and a new band line featuring a different material, perhaps a line of NATO-style nylon bands.

2. The iPhone 7’s camera could sit flush on the back of the phone

S. Alemdar/Getty Images

S. Alemdar/Getty Images

Eric Slivka reports for MacRumors that the back of the iPhone 7 could look much more attractive than the current iPhone 6s. Specifically, the design could eliminate the camera system that protrudes from the rear casing, and get rid of the antenna bands that interrupt the smooth design and stretch across the back of the phone. (The antenna bands at the sides of the phone and and around the top and bottom edges of the phone are expected to remain.) Both features disappointed users of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s.

Slivka reports that so far, it seems that the iPhone 7 will feature an external design that’s otherwise quite similar to that of the current iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s. It’s reportedly a thinner camera module that will enable the camera to sit flush with the back casing of the phone. Recent rumors have indicated that Apple is considering a dual-lens camera for the iPhone 7 Plus — more on that on the next page — but the smaller iPhone 7 is expected to use a traditional camera system.

MacRumors’ source was unable to confirm whether the iPhone 7 will be thinner than the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6s, but any reductions to the device’s thickness would probably be very slight. And as Slivka notes, many users, in particular those who use their iPhones without cases, would likely find that a flush rear camera would be a significant improvement, even if the phone’s dimensions and other external features remain the same.

3. Apple may use a dual-lens camera for the iPhone 7 Plus

John Gress/Getty Images

John Gress/Getty Images

Rumor has it not only that the iPhone 7’s camera is going to sit flush against the rear of the phone, but that the iPhone 7 Plus could get a significantly upgraded camera. Tim Hardwick reports for MacRumors that Apple is reportedly testing dual-lens camera systems for inclusion in the iPhone 7 Plus. Largan Technology, which currently supplies more than 60% of Apple’s iPhone cameras, as well as other lens makers have reportedly sent dual-lens camera samples to Apple for testing.

The report follows a recent assertion by KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that Apple is developing two 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus models, one with a standard rear-facing camera and the other with a dual-lens design. The model that uses a dual-lens camera would likely take advantage of the imaging algorithms that Apple gained last year through its acquisition of Israeli camera technology firm LinX Imaging.

Juli Clover reports for MacRumors that Sony has confirmed that its dual-lens camera will be featured in devices from “major smartphone players” in 2016. Sony is known to manufacture many of the sensors used in Apple iOS devices, and its camera technology is also used in some Apple devices. If Apple does incorporate dual lens technology — from Sony or from another supplier — into the iPhone 7 Plus, dual-lens cameras will likely become a more popular option among other smartphones on the market.

4. Future iPhones could detect hovering gestures

Stephen Lam/ Getty Images

Stephen Lam/ Getty Images

Mikey Campbell reports for Apple Insider that Apple has been granted a patent that describes a touchscreen that uses inline proximity sensors detect gestures that are completed above the display. The patent describes a method by which photodiodes, or other proximity-sensing hardware, work with traditional multitouch displays to shift the user interaction area into the space above the screen. Campbell notes that in some ways, the invention is similar in scope to 3D Touch, which was a significant step forward as a new mode of user interaction (even if it hasn’t yet led to as many compelling new apps and use cases as we may have hoped).

The patent proposes enabling users to push virtual buttons, trigger functions without touching a display, and even toggling the power to specific hardware components. The technology could be used on iPhones, iPads, and even MacBooks. And Romain Dillet reports for TechCrunch that it would also make sense for Apple to determine how to use the technology with the Apple Pencil, which would open the door to new ways of completing tasks on the iPad.

5. Future iOS devices could get long-distance wireless charging

Ken Ishii/Getty Images

Ken Ishii/Getty Images

Tim Culpan reports for Bloomberg that Apple is developing wireless charging technology that could appear in iPhones to be released as soon as 2017. The technology would reportedly enable iOS devices to be powered from further away than what the charging mats used for current smartphones allow, which would mean that you wouldn’t have to trade being tethered to an outlet for having to leave your phone on a mat to charge it.

Apple is reportedly working to overcome technical barriers, like the loss of power over distance. The efficiency of the power transfer drops as the distance between the transmitter and receiver increases. The report follows a series of related patent filings, which deal with inventions like using the iMac as a hub for wireless recharging or making phone casings that would enable radio waves to pass through.

As TechCrunch’s Jon Russell points out, the best wireless charging solutions that are currently on the market don’t require a direct power connection, but do require that the device maintain contact with a mat or a charger. A solution that doesn’t require the phone to stay on such a device would set the iPhone and iPad apart from the competition, particularly if the headphone jack is dropped in favor of an all-purpose Lightning Connector, which would then be left open for a headphone connection even when you’re wirelessly charging your phone.

6. Apple reportedly has a secret virtual reality team

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As Jordan Novet reports for VentureBeat, Apple has acquired a startup called Flyby Media, which has developed technology for mapping spaces using smartphones. The tech would be useful for tracking head-mounted displays for virtual reality or augmented reality systems, an area where we have increasing evidence of Apple’s interest. Cupertino may be looking to catch up with the companies that have VR products on the market or in the works now, including Samsung with Gear VR, Facebook with Oculus Rift, HTC with Vive, Microsoft with HoloLens, and Google with Cardboard.

The acquisition aligns with speculation about the state of Apple’s virtual reality efforts, with Nick Statt reporting for The Verge that Apple has hundreds of people working on the technology. The team was reportedly assembled through acquisitions and through the poaching of virtual reality and augmented reality experts from other tech companies. Apple has reportedly been building prototype virtual reality headsets for several months, though it’s unclear whether Apple’s headset would encase an iPhone or be a standalone device.

Of course, while most people think that virtual reality is a pretty interesting space, Eric Johnson reports for Re/Code that he thinks Apple should hold off on entering the VR market. In his estimation, it would be premature for Apple to enter the VR market now since it’s unclear so far how many people want VR devices and exactly what form the winning devices should take. In the case of the iPhone, for instance, consumer awareness of other cellphones helped Apple, while people’s unfamiliarity with smartwatches didn’t ease the Apple Watch’s entry into the market.

7. Apple may be considering producing its own TV shows

Stephen Lam/ Getty Images

Stephen Lam/ Getty Images

Ronald Grover reports for The Street that Apple is looking to develop original TV shows for iTunes and for its as-yet-unannounced streaming service. Apple is currently struggling to assemble the “skinny bundle” that it reportedly wants for its streaming service, so it’s trying a new strategy by talking to TV producers and Hollywood studios about producing original TV shows.

The idea seems to be to announce the original content alongside the streaming service, for which Apple now seems to be targeting a launch in September, alongside the iPhone 7. Apple’s conversations with Hollywood executives are reportedly being led by Eddy Cue. But original content isn’t the only strategy that Apple is pursuing in order to get content that would draw users to its platform.

As Joe Rossignol reports for MacRumors, it was recently reported that Apple is interested in acquiring Time Warner assets, which include CNN, HBO, TBS, TNT, NBA TV, Cartoon Network, the Warner Bros. movies division, and more. Acquiring such assets could give Apple’s streaming service a valuable head start in what’s becoming an increasingly competitive market for users’ attention.

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