2016 will bring plenty of new products, updated apps, and other new releases for Apple fans to look forward to. But as always, you don’t have to wait for Apple’s official announcements to find out what’s going on in Cupertino. Read on to catch up on the most exciting rumors about Apple’s plans to surface this week.
1. Apple could make a Siri-equipped speaker
Thomas Ricker reports for The Verge that people love their voice-activated Amazon Echo speakers, which integrate with devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, and Insteon, and, as announced at CES, can also interface with Ford vehicles, Vivint security and automation systems, and Invoxia speakers. Ricker notes that the only big name missing from Echo’s compatibility list is HomeKit, Apple’s smart home platform.
HomeKit users can already use Siri in much the same way that Echo owners can ask Alexa to turn off the lights or lock the doors. But relying on Siri requires purchasing an expensive iPhone for each family member, while the Echo is significantly less expensive and better-equipped to listen for voice commands from anywhere in a room. Ricker thinks that “it wouldn’t be too hard for Apple to outfox Amazon with a Siri-based take on Echo,” a product it could add to its lineup this fall, particularly if the iPhone 7 really does ditch the headphone jack, as it’s rumored to do.
As Ricker explains, it makes more sense for Apple to leverage its Beats acquisition to build a “Siri information box” that taps into HomeKit-enabled smart devices, controls the Apple TV, and plays Apple Music than to give up the market to Amazon’s Echo and Google’s OnHub (once Google flips the switch and turns the router into a smart home controller).
2. A new set of Bluetooth earphones could launch with the iPhone 7
Mark Gurman reports for 9to5Mac that Apple is prototyping a new set of Bluetooth earphones, using the resources it gained with the 2014 acquisition of Beats Electronics. The accessory, which are said to be completely wireless, without a cable to connect the left and right ear pieces, could launch alongside the iPhone 7. The earphones would also likely incorporate a noise cancelling microphone system.
The headphones would likely be a premium alternative to a new version of Apple’s EarPods, and are expected to be sold separately from the iPhone. The iPhone 7 isn’t expected to include a standard headphone jack, and would instead require headphones to connect via the Lightning connector or wirelessly via Bluetooth. The headphones are likely to come with a carrying case that doubles as a rechargeable battery. While the earphones are expected to be released in the fall, the case is still in development and could be delayed by battery life concerns.
3. Future iPhones could gain better speakers
Ben Lovejoy reports for 9to5Mac that Apple’s plans to switch up the audio capabilities of future iPhones could go a lot farther than just ditching the 3.5mm headphone socket. A densely-worded patent recently awarded to Apple describes a method of getting higher-quality and higher-volume audio from speakers built into slimmer devices.
Apple clearly states the problem, with the document explaining that “there is a need for improved approaches to provide high-quality audio sound output and/or pickup from portable electronic devices as they get smaller and thinner.” It’s a little less clear on what its solution actually entails, but Lovejoy thinks that the company is investigating a method of enabling more of the internal space of the device to act as an audio chamber, rather than relying solely on using the volume of air that can be pushed through the speakers themselves.
The invention would turn other components of the iPhone into parts of the speaker, enabling a greater volume of air to be pushed through and increasing the volume that can be achieved with the internal speakers. The same technique could be used to improve the performance of the microphone.
4. Apple could release an entire range of 4-inch iPhones
Luke Dormehl reports for Cult of Mac that most analysts think that Apple is going to release a 4-inch iPhone in the near future. But sources are in disagreement over what Apple is going to call that phone. Most reports have referred to it as the iPhone 6c. But a new, admittedly questionable, report out of China says that this is going to be a brand-new range of iPhones, called the iPhone 5e.
The report claims that the “e” would stand for “enhanced,” and unlike previous reports about a new 4-inch model, contends that the phone will feature a stripped-down A8 processor and 1GB of RAM, though it would support Apple Pay. The report acknowledges that such specifications would make the iPhone 5e a glorified iPod Touch, suitable primarily for users in developing markets.
Apple is likely getting more serious about its presence in markets like China and India. But it seems unlikely that it would seek to take on cheap Android phones with a low-cost iPhone, even to appeal to customers in developing markets. As Ben Lovejoy reports for 9to5Mac, KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo — who is a much more credible source than the source of the current report — said in November that Apple’s 4-inch iPhone will feature an A9 chip and 2GB of RAM, and perhaps a metal case instead of the plastic shell of the iPhone 5c.
5. Apple could (but likely won’t) help you switch from iOS to Android
As Ina Fried reports for Re/Code, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper caused quite a stir when it reported that Apple was developing a tool to help iPhone users more easily move their contacts, photos, and music to an Android smartphone. The report indicated that Apple would do so under pressure from European wireless providers.
But Apple denied the report, telling Re/Code, “There is no truth to this rumor. We are entirely focused on switching users from Android to iPhone, and that is going great.” Apple’s first Android app was aimed at making it easier for Android users to switch to iPhones. Fried notes, however, that “what Apple wants and what regulators could someday force it to do is another matter.”
European regulators have forced to include an adaptor that enables the iPhone to be charged with a micro-USB cable. Amanda Connolly reports for The Next Web that if Apple is facing pressure from telecom organizations or an investigation by the European Commission, that could be a good reason to build a tool to help users switch platforms, though there’s no evidence as yet that either scenario is taking place.
6. The Apple Watch 2 will likely start production soon
Benjamin Mayo reports for 9to5Mac that a report from a Chinese technology site claims that Quanta will begin initial production of the Apple Watch 2 late in January. The timeline seems consistent with the expectation that the next-generation Apple Watch will launch about a year after the first Apple Watch. Parts and components leaks for the Apple Watch 2 have yet to appear, though there are rumors that the second-generation Apple Watch will feature a thinner design.
Luke Dormehl reports for Cult of Mac that it’s unsurprising that Apple would stick with Quanta to produce the next version of the Apple Watch, even though it was speculated that it might use the services of Inventec, Wistron, or Foxconn Electronics. While the Apple Watch 2 is expected to retain the same size, shape, and resolution as the first version, the new model is rumored to feature a larger battery, an added FaceTime camera, and more independence from the iPhone. More high-end models that cost more than $1,000 are also reportedly in development.
7. Apple could introduce an Apple Watch upgrade program
Zac Hall reports for 9to5Mac that the Apple Watch has the potential to make significant progress over the next few years, and Apple could implement an Apple Watch upgrade program to encourage current Apple Watch owners to buy the latest model each year. The company has created the infrastructure for a similar program with the iPhone Upgrade Program it introduced last September.
You could finance or lease a new Apple Watch each year, trade in the model you’ve used for a year, and get credit to use toward a new model. Apple would benefit not only by selling more Apple Watches, but by establishing a market for affordable, refurbished Apple Watches. Hall notes that the iPhone Upgrade Program is modeled on programs that major wireless carriers established first, but Apple could even remove the financing aspect for the Apple Watch to make it a trade-in offer while still encouraging regular upgrades.
8. A new Apple Watch band could be on its way
Ben Lovejoy reports for 9to5Mac that a recent patent application details an Apple Watch band that transforms into a case, a stand, or a Mac accessory. In the standard configuration, the band would be held closed in much the same way as the Milanese Loop. But you could roll the band to form an upright stand to place on your desk or bedside table, or wrap the band around the watch itself to form a protective case to use when you’re packing the watch for travel, or use the band to attach it magnetically to other devices like the MacBook, the iMac, or even your refrigerator.
9. A Time Warner deal could accelerate Apple’s streaming service
Claire Atkinson and Josh Kosman report for The New York Post that Apple is playing close attention to what’s going on with Time Warner, which has recently come under pressure to either sell itself or spin off its assets. Apple is reportedly interested in Time Warner’s assets and their ability to ease the launch of its streaming television service.
Apple has struggled to pull together the skinny bundle of programming it hopes to assemble, and a deal with Time Warner could give Apple most of what it needs to launch the service: CNN news, Turner Sports, popular shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Sesame Street” from HBO, and Warner Brothers movies and television shows. Eddy Cue has been watching the proceedings at Time Warner, and Apple partnered with Time Warner subsidiary HBO in May to launch HBO Now on Apple TV. Apple could end up acquiring the entire company, though it’s also possible that Time Warner could spin off parts of its business. Another tech company that’s reportedly interested in a deal is AT&T, which owns DirecTV.