7 Apple Rumors: Will iPhones Soon Be More Affordable?

While we were all making plans for the year ahead in health goals, creative projects, and travel plans, Apple was busy planning the year ahead in product launches, development efforts, and software updates. Wondering what the company has in store for its future iPhones, its next iPad, or exciting new areas like augmented reality and virtual reality? Then catch up on the latest rumors and reports about what’s going on in Cupertino.

1. Apple could launch an iPad Air 3 alongside a 4-inch iPhone come March

Cheap tablets - Apple iPad Mini 4

Source: Apple

Mark Gurman reports for 9to5Mac that Apple is planning to introduce a new iPad at an event in mid-March. Gurman’s money is on a new model of the iPad Air, which he expects to be launched alongside a new 4-inch iPhone called the iPhone 5se, plus a series of new Apple Watch models. Apple is reportedly planning to hold the event during the week of March 14.

A spring launch for the iPad Air 3 would mark the first update to the middle iPad screen size since October 2014. An unconfirmed design schematic suggests that the device could feature a rear-facing LED flash for better photos in low-light situations, plus additional speaker grills to help the device match the audio quality of the iPad Pro. Apple has also reportedly been testing versions of the 9.7-inch iPad’s touchscreen that would be compatible with the Apple Pencil. Roger Fingas reports for Apple Insider that a questionable rumor has claimed that the iPad Air 3 could have a 4K display and 4GB of RAM.

The other two products expected at the March event are the new 4-inch iPhone and new Apple Watch bands. Apple Insider reports that production is already underway for a 4-inch iPhone. Little is known about the new iPhone, and just about every aspect of its design is the subject of controversy. For his part, Gurman expects the iPhone 5se to feature faster A9 and M9 chips, which would enable always-on Siri functionality. Gurman also expects the Apple Watch will be updated at the March event with new bands, but he thinks that the March update is unlikely to bring new hardware functionality.

2. The iPhone 7 Plus could feature a dual-camera system

Stephen Lam/ Getty Images

Stephen Lam/Getty Images

According to Benjamin Mayo at 9to5Mac, one of the most reliable Apple analysts, Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, is reporting that the iPhone 7 Plus will integrate a dual-camera system with the Linx camera technology that Apple acquired last year. One of the lenses will support optical image stabilization and a wide field of view, while the other is a telephoto lens with a narrower field of view. By using two distinct lenses, the system would be able to use the additional image data to create higher-quality photos. Kuo also posits that the iPhone 7 Plus could feature optical zoom with 2x to 3x magnification.

The report makes it clear that the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus won’t both feature the same camera, and the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 isn’t expected to integrate the new technology. But KGI also reports that the technology might not even be available on all models of the iPhone 7 Plus. Apple could make a distinction at the high end to create a premium model with the advanced camera system. It’s also possible that Apple is considering two different options for the iPhone 7 Plus, only one of which will make it to production.

3. Future iPhones could get smaller, better cameras

Stephen Lam/ Getty Images

Stephen Lam/Getty Images

On the topic of the camera systems intended for future iPhones, Mikey Campbell reports for Apple Insider that Apple was granted a patent for a spherical photosensor and lens array, which would provide high-resolution image capture in a very compact package. The patent combines next-generation sensor technology with complex optics to create a compact, high-performance camera that could be used in future iPhones or iPads.

Some embodiments of the invention use a photosensor that’s curved to receive incoming light, which is then refracted through specially-crafted lenses onto a concave surface. To correct for diffraction and other visual aberrations seen in miniature cameras, the lens system would use three lenses, two of which are convex, and a third that has opposing convex and concave surfaces situated between the first two lenses and the photosensor. The arrangement would create sharp, low-distortion images with a very compact camera system, which could help as Apple works toward ever-thinner iPhones.

4. New iPhones might start costing a little less

Greg Baker/AFP/ Getty Images

Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

Ben Lovejoy reports for 9to5Mac that Apple may need to reduce its margins to avoid the pitfalls of “peak iPhone,” a situation where the year-over-year growth of iPhone sales has increased as much as it possibly can — something that analysts have been claiming we’d reached for years. Though Apple’s current situation is more nuanced than most headlines would have you believe, it’s possible that Apple will need to “think the unthinkable when it comes to the huge margins it has been able to enjoy to date.”

Lovejoy reports that while iPhone sales may have temporarily peaked, it’s likely that growth will resume in a quarter or two as the economy picks up. “But this does not mean the company can afford to be complacent,” Lovejoy writes. “While factors like the Chinese economy and strong dollar rate are outside of Apple’s control, they represent the real world, and Apple needs to respond.”

Apple’s high margins mean that it currently earns most of the profit from the smartphone market. But there are Android phones, including pure-Android Nexus phones and solid mid-market Android phones, that cost a little less or a lot less than an iPhone. And while Apple has a strong ecosystem of interconnected products, Chromebooks, Google Apps, and Android Wear devices have significantly closed the gap. Lovejoy thinks that to protect its position, Apple will need to be more flexible with its profit margins, especially in growth markets.

5. Apple is clearly thinking about augmented or virtual reality

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

As Jeff Grubb reports for VentureBeat, it looks like Apple is getting serious about augmented reality and virtual reality. The company has hired virtual and augmented reality researcher Doug Bowman, who worked at Virginia Tech investigating human-computer interfaces for immersive, three-dimensional environments. The hire isn’t the first sign that Apple is moving into AR or VR, since the company has already acquired Metaio and PrimeSense.

Apple clearly doesn’t want to be left behind, and the move seems to confirm that Apple thinks that virtual reality and augmented reality have the potential to generate revenue. That would seem to validate investments in the area by companies like Alphabet, Facebook, Samsung, and Sony. It’s tempting to imagine the ways that Apple could revolutionize the nascent market for AR and VR devices by building on ideas first tested by others.

It’s unclear so far whether Apple will focus on augmented reality, virtual reality, or some combination of the two. But if the idea is that Apple will introduce a device that would bring an iPhone-like level of elegance of innovation to the area, it seems unlikely that Apple will launch something anytime soon.

6. You may get some new reasons to start using Apple Pay

ApplePay

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

According to Mikey Campbell at Apple Insider, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster expects Apple to add new features like peer-to-peer payments and in-browser integration. Data from the investment firm shows Apple Pay adoption hovering somewhere between 10% and 20%, but Munster thinks that the number will rise in 2016 as Apple adds new features to the payment service.

A report last November claimed that Apple has already discussed a potential peer-to-peer payments rollout with banks like J.P. Morgan Chase, Capital One, Wells Fargo, and U.S. Bancorp. Munster thinks that 2016 is the year when peer-to-peer functionality will arrive, and posits that the feature could play an important role in increasing usage and awareness of Apple Pay. Apple hasn’t yet made an official move toward the feature, which is a market controlled by established services from PayPal and Square. But if Apple does add peer-to-peer payments to Apple Pay, the feature will have instant access to a massive install base that could catalyze wider adoption.

7. Apple could start offering subscription content in its News app

News app in iOS 9

Source: Apple

Jessica Toonkel and Julia Love report for Reuters that Apple is working on making subscription content available through its News app. The changes would give publishers who currently use paywalls a new way to control who sees their content, and would differentiate Apple News from competing platforms, like Facebook’s Instant Articles offering for news content.

By making paid content available in its News app, Apple would give publishers a way to maintain relationships with users and even attract new subscribers. Currently, subscriber-only publications that work with Apple News can either share their articles for free or just share excerpts of articles, and direct their readers to log on to their websites for more. It’s not clear yet how Apple would authenticate your subscription to a given publication, or if it would take a cut of your payment if you sign up as a result of reading an article or an excerpt in its app.

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