As much as we lampoon some of the sillier rumors in this space, we do like taking a peek into the crystal ball of what might happen and picking out our favorites to bet on. As we all know, some of them come true, some of them never do, some may come true someday -- so they're like prayers, in a way -- and there is some fun in handicapping the likelihood of which camp a given rumor will fall. In recent years, the dead zone between the end of WWDC and the announcement of the new hotness(es) in the fall there comes a second "silly season" where analysts, pundits, and other assorted otherwise-unemployable types put out their guesses. This year, it is particularly contradictory.
To Thunderbolt Display or not to Thunderbolt Display, that is the question
Who are you going to believe -- the rumor mill that insists there is still a Thunderbolt Display on the way, or those lying mouthpieces over at Apple? The company came out in response to various speculation and officially ended the current (and dated, and overpriced, but still kinda awesome) Thunderbolt Display, and suggested that people who really want a newer version should just buy a third-party alternative. To us, this sounds very much like Apple getting out of the display business for good, despite the fact that it is actually a huge purchaser of displays for its notebook, mobile, and desktop machines.
, however, says that no, Apple is still working on a successor to the Thunderbolt Display. We are skeptical, though of course we'd love it if it were true. What with Thunderbolt 3 now using the USB-C port form factor, and Apple being very keen to put that into all of its machines over time, the thought of a new Thunderbolt Display is a lovely one, particularly if it were designed to mirror the look of the next generation of MacBooks and iMacs (which will also come -- someday. Keep hope alive!). The site says Apple will create a 5K TB Display with its own video card to handle the problem of 5K not currently being supported in the current Thunderbolt spec.
Rather than say they're wrong -- because we would love it if they weren't -- we'll meet them halfway and hope for a much more realistic 4K Thunderbolt Display. Such a device would be nice and thin because it doesn't have have its own video card (and would probably be much cheaper as a result), show off some of really-underrated work Apple has done on improving the quality of displays, maybe even used one of those new display technologies Sharp and other companies are always pushing, like IGZO or this new micro-LED thing (more on that later) or just plain old OLED. Coupled with TB3/USB-C and a rose gold option for those
people, and that's something Apple could put out cheaply, sell expensively, and make a killing on.
To headphone jack or not to headphone jack, that is the question
Place your bets, folks, place your bets! Will the "iPhone 7" have an analog headphone jack or not? Every week the opinion seems to swing back and forth, with one camp firmly convinced Apple will drop it as of this fall, and another camp saying no, the company will wait until next
fall, because predictions about what Apple will do more than a year from now have a strong track record of being right, right? Oh wait, no they don't actually, but these days there's no telling. Smartphone repair shop Rock Fix in Ganzhou, China has been posting pictures of alleged "iPhone 7" parts, and one of them shows the Lightning port assembly with the headphone jack still attached. Is it real, or just a part from the present iPhone?
There are arguments to be made pro and con about the notion of removing the headphone jack: our guess (and that's all it is, but at least we admit it) is that Apple will remove it -- though we only say that because this is Apple we're talking about, the most reductionist company in tech. Such a move would offer some genuine tangible benefits, after an awkward period of transition that enrages some users and annoys most others -- stop us if you can see our reasoning here. Apple has zero fear of doing stuff like this, and likes to look forward rather than back -- and the way forward is all-digital audio, of that there is no doubt at all.
If this paved the way for Apple to start selling music in the "high resolution" (hate that marketing term) formats, that might even appease the typically vociferous complainer types, who would then pivot to argue that DAC "pollutes the purity" of DDD-recorded 24-bit music. It certainly opens up a market for premium audiophile headphones that can do their own post-processing and a number of other options, so this is one of those things where if Apple doesn't do it first, the rest of the industry will, just much more slowly. Years from now we will wonder why we put up with the sort of low-quality analog headphones we typically use today.
Speaking of which, there are new photos of "Lightning Earpods" that "prove" or "confirm" that this is what Apple will be shipping with the jack-less iPhone 7. One of the photos shows the connector covered in duct tape, because that's totally legit
, while the other shows a pretty long "head unit" that is about double the length of a "normal" Lightning connector. The latter presumably has chips ahoy for DAC processing and other whizzy audio and audio things, though Apple already has all of that and more in the present Lightning cords (because Lightning-based headphones already exist) so color us a little skeptical on those too, but at least they did a nice job mocking them up.
To dual-camera or not to dual-camera, that is the question
Getting back to Rock Fix, it has also shown parts that indicate a 256GB storage option for at least one model of upcoming iPhone (hint: not the cheapest one!), and a possible dual-camera lens that rumors have been saying could go into the Plus version of the next iPhone (though it should also be noted that alleged leaks of back panels that show this option feature an enormous
"bulge" for it, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Pride parade), though again there is a vociferous camp that also has photos of an alleged backplate for the iPhone 7 that shows just a single (but larger) hole for the camera, also with a "bump" similar to the one in the present iPhones. It's a bad time to be a fan of a totally-flat iPhone back panel, apparently.
One thing is pretty much certain: some company is going to have a smartphone with a dual-lens camera, and if history is any guide, Apple won't be the first with it. The Android-based copycat phonemakers love little else more than beating Apple to market with a feature, even if it makes absolutely no sense nor helps improve their sales at all (how's that Touch ID rip-off working out for ya, Samsung?). Historically speaking, the first Android-based manufacturers to market with a new feature generally tend to screw it up pretty badly on the first go-round in their rush to beat Apple (Galaxy Gear 1, anyone?), but wait about three or five revisions and they end up with something pretty snazzy.
There are some sound reasons for this: dual lenses offer the ability for better focusing, may offer some level of genuine optical zoom (not much, but more than the present 0x optical zoom), possibly a 3D photo option, and just generally is something new you can do with smartphone cameras that might improve them. So that's totally happening, but we hope Apple's version (which we think is inevitable) will be more stylish than what we've seen thus far would indicate.
To physical home button or not to physical home button, that is the question
One of the reasons why some pundits whose names rhyme with "sing me slow" have been predicting stuff along the lines of "the iPhone 7 for 2016 will be meh, wait for the iPhone 8 -- no iPhone 7s will be made -- that arrives in 2017" is because the year 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the iPhone. Traditionally, Apple has always wowed people with anniversary-based special machines, like how much everyone loved the 20th Anniversary Mac, and of course that complete revamp of the Apple Watch for its first anniversary back in April. Oh wait.
Still, you can see the rationale for the potential exuberance, even given our above caveat about how much less accurate predictions seem to be the farther from now they are said to be happening -- ask Gene Munster about the Apple HDTV if you want a quick lesson on that. Yet again, there is a current debate about whether the "iPhone 7" (this fall's models) will have a physical home button or not. The Wall Street Journal
, which now just recycles rumor reports rather than confirming them the way it used to under the previous management, says the 2017 iPhone will have things like an edge-to-edge OLED screen that incorporates the Touch ID technology directly into the display, thus eliminating the physical home button.
The paper claims that Apple told its China-based manufacturing partners -- because they're so good
at keeping things secret -- that the company has a lot of changes planned for the 2017 iPhone rather than the forthcoming model because said changes, like curved screens, are taking longer to implement -- a creative variation on the "production problems" canard, we have to admit. Our friends at 9to5 Mac
say that "an anonymous tip" they received says that while there will be a sort of home button in the iPhone 7, it will be flush with the chassis and won't click (or need to be clicked) anymore -- and to prove it, they point to the fact that some Wall Street Analyst somewhere agrees with their initial report. Because "just some guy" writing in with a tip is enough to get a report written claiming it could be true at some sites, apparently.
There have been photos of such a thing, and Apple has always been keen to remove as many "moving" parts as possible -- witness the Force Touch Magic Trackpad 2 -- so it could happen, though we doubt users would consider it a selling point -- the dramatically faster Touch ID in the iPhone 6s could be seen as a harbinger, but users have reported that it is now so fast they accidentally do things like invoke Siri with the slightest finger pressure, so it seems like me might be trading one first-world problem for another first-world problem there. At least we'd still have haptic feedback.
This rumor ignores the inconvenient point that an iPhone currently can only be reset by physically holding down (for a certain period of time) the home button and the sleep/wake button, or that this is also how screenshots are done. Sure, Apple could come up with another method, but there's no clear option for that yet. Cowen and Company (who again are stock analysts) also say that the new iPhone color previously reported and debunked as "deep blue" is in fact "Space Black" (like the stainless-steel Apple Watch). We suppose the original source of this rumor was the same color-blind fellow who previously claimed that the rose gold iPhone was a "bright pink."
One last thing: our favorite rumor by far of late is one that claims that, while the "iPhone 7" is very likely to look very much (externally) like the iPhone 6s overall -- apart from the camera -- Apple is making some small changes to bits like the earpiece, ambient light sensor, and some other small parts that are just different enough
that your iPhone 6s cases won't fit. As Nelson from the Simpsons might say: ha ha!
And so it goes. Somebody revisit this page in four months (if the site is still resolving) and leave a comment on how right or wrong we were, okay? Thanks.
-- Charles Martin