Although the latest iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models have only been available for about three months, Apple fans are already wondering about what software and hardware upgrades the Cupertino-based company will implement in next year’s iPhone models. Of course, due to Apple’s penchant for extreme secrecy regarding its upcoming products, most industry watchers can only speculate about the company’s plans for its most valuable product line. Even the most basic information – such as the alphanumeric model designation for the next-generation iPhone – is still unknown at this point. Some observers believe that Apple will use the “6S” moniker for its next iPhone models, while others believe the company will drop the incremental “S” designation and unveil the iPhone 7 (and presumably the iPhone 7 Plus, as well).
So while it’s impossible to know for sure what surprises the next-generation iPhone model will include, the rumors from the company’s overseas supply chain and other insider leaks occasionally provide us with some tantalizing hints. Other clues about Apple’s future iPhone plans can sometimes be gleaned from the company’s many patent applications. Based on information gathered from these admittedly irregular sources, here are five significant upgrades that we believe might show up in next year’s iPhone models.
1. Increased storage capacity
Unlike many Android-powered smartphones, Apple’s iPhone models do not allow users to boost the storage capacity with memory cards. In other words, the storage capacity of the iPhone model that you purchase is the capacity that you are stuck with until you upgrade to a new device. This would not be a problem if Apple provided a reasonable amount of storage in its entry-level iPhone models. Unfortunately, the 16GB of storage provided in the basic iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models is not exactly generous.
While users can always upgrade to the 64GB or 128GB models for an additional $100 or $200, it seems a bit ridiculous to release even an entry-level device with only 16GB of storage, especially when considering the growing size of most apps and the iOS operating system. In fact, issues with not having enough space to upgrade 16GB capacity iPhones to the latest iOS 8 operating system were widespread enough that multiple tutorials and discussion threads have been created just to help users overcome this problem.
So why does Apple continue to offer a 16GB iPhone? According to Apple-focused analyst Neil Cybart at Above Avalon, the retention of the entry-level 16GB model is a clever marketing strategy that helps spur more users to upgrade to higher capacity (and higher margin) models. Cybart estimated that Apple will save $3 billion in profit in 2015 by keeping the storage capacity of the entry-level model so low. Well-known Apple blogger John Gruber called Apple’s elimination of the 32GB capacity tier and the retention of the 16GB tier “the single-most disappointing aspect of the new phones.”
Since the popularity of Apple’s iPhone is largely due to the superior user experience that it provides, we predict that Apple will drop the ludicrously low 16GB storage capacity tier in the next generation of iPhone models and upgrade the entry-level models to 32GB or even 64GB. While the 16GB models may currently make sense for Apple from a short-term money-making perspective, the lack of storage space could negatively impact the company in the long run if it degrades the user experience enough to send frustrated customers to another platform.
2. More RAM
Storage capacity isn’t the only specification where Apple’s iPhone lags behind many of its smartphone competitors. According to the Apple product teardowns performed by the researchers at repair firm iFixit, the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus each have 1GB of RAM. In contrast, most comparable Android-based devices have twice as much RAM. For example, according to GSMArena, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 has 2GB of RAM.
While it’s not always a direct correlation, the amount of RAM, or Random Access Memory, tends to determine how well a device can perform multitasking functions. On the other hand, Apple’s iPhone likely makes more efficient use of its RAM than many Android devices since its operating system was specifically designed for its hardware.
Either way, Apple’s upcoming iPhone models may offer twice the RAM that the current models have. According to a rumor in a Taiwanese news report cited by Apple Toolbox, Apple’s next-generation iPhone models may come equipped with 2GB of RAM.
3. Improved touch ID
Some of Apple’s most memorable iPhone models are the ones that introduced revolutionary new technologies, such as the voice-activated personal assistant Siri in the iPhone 4S and the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S. While it’s unknown if Apple will debut a revolutionary new technology in next year’s model, there are indications that the company may be implementing an important upgrade to its existing Touch ID system. According to a recently published patent first highlighted by AppleInsider, Apple has invented a new Touch ID system that will only unlock when a valid fingerprint is used in combination with specific input motions, such as rotational or linear movements.
So why is the addition of input motions to the Touch ID system such an important advancement? Although biometric authentication systems offer users a convenient and secure method for locking a device, the use of fingerprints as a passcode also raises some problematic legal issues. As noted by attorney Marcia Hoffmann at Wired, the government cannot compel a person to divulge their memory-based passwords due to Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.
However, a person’s fingerprint does not have the same Fifth Amendment protections as a memorized passcode, since biometric information is not considered testimonial. A Touch ID system that combines a fingerprint sensor along with a memorized sequence of movements could close this Fifth Amendment “loophole,” while keeping the convenience of use that has made Touch ID so popular. An improved Touch ID system could also help Apple maintain its lead in biometric authentication technology as more smartphone makers unveil their own devices with fingerprint readers. For these reasons, it’s quite possible that next year’s iPhone models will include an improved Touch ID system.
4. Major camera upgrade
Apple’s latest iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus cameras have a reputation for quality despite retaining the 8-megapixel sensor that the company first introduced in the iPhone 4S model. Rather than boosting its camera pixel count like many other smartphone makers, Apple has opted to implement incremental upgrades such as an improved autofocus system and the introduction of an optical image stabilization system for the iPhone 6 Plus.
However, according to an insider source cited by Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber, the next-generation iPhone may feature a vastly improved rear-facing camera. “The specific thing I heard is that next year’s camera might be the biggest camera jump ever,” said Gruber according to a transcript provided by BGR. “I don’t even know what sense this makes, but I’ve heard that it’s some kind of weird two-lens system where the back camera uses two lenses and it somehow takes it up into DSLR quality imagery.”
Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera systems produce high-quality images and are the preferred type of cameras for professional photographers. Although it’s unclear how Apple would achieve DSLR-quality images from a smartphone camera, this rumor suggests that next year’s iPhone models could also include a highly advanced camera technology.
5. A9 processor
Apple has consistently upgraded the processor used in its iPhone models with each new generation, so it is probably safe to assume that next year’s iPhone model(s) will include a more advanced chip. Since the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus featured the A8 chip, it is widely assumed that the next-generation iPhone models will be equipped with the A9 chip. However, there are still plenty of unanswered questions about where this chip will be sourced from and what its capabilities will be.
Although Apple has long relied on rival Samsung to provide its A-series chips, researchers at Chipworks via iFixit discovered that some of the A8 chips used in the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus were made by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). According to IHS data cited by Re/code, TSMC is supplying approximately 60% of the A8 chips for Apple’s current iPhone models.
Earlier this month, DigiTimes cited unnamed supply chain sources that claimed U.S.-based chipmaker Globalfoundries may become a major producer of Apple’s next-generation A9 processors using an advanced 14-nanometer fabrication process. However, other sources cited by ZDNet predicted that the A9 chip will be manufactured primarily by Samsung. Either way, Apple customers can expect a major improvement in the next-generation iPhone’s processor. According to ZDNet, chips made with the 14-nanometer fabrication process use 35% less electricity, have 20% more processing power, and use 15% less space than 20-nanometer A8 chips.
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