Recently, chipmaker Intel came out and admitted it could no longer keep up with Moore's Law anymore, and would move to what it called a "tick-tock-tock"
cycle, in which a new chip family will now receive a third full generation of development and refinement before being replaced. Likewise, the rumor mill -- led by Ming-Chi Quo -- believe Apple will do the same thing, creating what amounts to a third iPhone 6, because Intel ... wait, Intel has very little to do with the iPhone. So the rationale makes no sense ... but when has that ever stopped a rumor?
It is, of course, plausible that Apple may feel the need to stretch out iPhone development coincidentally of Intel's decision on processors. Both products are fairly major, and likely have their most "revolutionary" or "magical" days behind them -- though if there's one thing we know about Apple, it's that it can still surprise you sometimes. A new "part leak" of an alleged shell casing
seems to show that the "iPhone 7" (as we presume it will be called) will look largely like the iPhone 6 and 6s, with some tweaks, as we've noted before.
Its what's inside that counts
Some analysts (ahem) have predicted that this outward similarity will hurt iPhone 7 sales, since it won't have enough obvious differentiation from from the 6s, while others say that there will be enough hardware and software innovation "under the hood" to still drive buyers to the latest model. The new "casing," seen on Chinese site Weibo, suggests once again that the antennas will be rearranged, that at least the regular iPhone 7 model will have a single camera (which looks to again protrude slightly from the chassis).
Apple is already having a "tough compare" year with sales of the iPhone 6s -- not that it's not doing spectacularly well, but just that the novelty of the larger screen sizes drove a higher-than-normal frenzy for the iPhone 6 last year, meaning sales this year are down by comparison with the 6, though not with the corresponding 5s. Thus, Apple could really use something that people upgrade from the 5s, the 6, and the 6 Plus to the iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus -- so far, however, we haven't seen any particular thing that would do that.
While analysts sing laments about Apple's future, and some of the usual suspects are even predicting that this
will finally be the year where Android will finally make people care about it
(they buy it, of course, but it doesn't fascinate them like Apple), rumors suggest there will still be some compelling new features in the 2016 iPhone models. For example, there's a long-standing rumor (and mockups!) that suggest that the Plus version of the iPhone 7 could offer dual cameras.
There will (of course) be a faster processor, better graphics, similar or maybe better battery life, with only the slightest (0.1mm) increase in thickness (maybe), and iOS 10 (or whatever they call it), so there will be lots of features overall. Among the software rumors are reports of big changes and enhancements for both Maps
; on that front, we expect this year's Worldwide Developer Conference to be a pretty big deal this year. All that said, we should point out that these "case leaks" often turn out to be fake, or examples of Chinese knock-off imitation iPhones (like the ones Xiaomi is notorious for making), so it is hard to say how legit this could be, even if the overall concepts turn out to be accurate.
New rumors this week suggest that even more enhancements under the chassis may be included. A Japanese website
claims that the iPhone 7 will include a more sophisticated taptic engine, that would allow for "more complex" feedback responses. This could augment the existing 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s, but details are scarce. However, if this report turns out to be true, one could imagine that this would clear the way for the long-requested on-screen (rather than physical) home button, which opens up yet more possibilities.
In addition to also being able to control things like volume and mute on screen through certain types of gestures, it would also make possible an earlier rumor that the screen display size on at least the Plus model was going to be even larger without changing the overall size of the device. Eliminating a physical button would also require incorporating the Touch ID function directly into the screen, so possibly we'll just get the better haptic feedback this time around, and the wizardy world of on-screen buttons will have to wait for the iPhone 8 (regular readers will know that the current wisdom is that we'll go directly to the iPhone 8 -- no iPhone 7s intermediate model this time around, they say
Quick, we need a distraction
As we often say around here, there are at least two very distinct Apple audiences, which we'll simplify into "the old Mac guard" and "the mobile-cloud next generation." Drawn very broadly, many "veteran" users are Mac-centric, even if they use and love iPhones; they grumble at the lack of a "real" keyboard and user-replaceable parts, ignoring that much less than 10 percent of Mac users have ever -- in the entire history of the company, across every model -- replaced any physical component of the actual computer, even so much as RAM. The PC world's "buy, use, replace" mentality still rules home computer user buying patterns.
So, Apple sometimes finds itself between a (very much self-created) rock and a hard place when it replaces hardware. For Macs in particular, long-time Mac faithful bemoan nearly everything, from the increasing thinness or dropping of large moving parts that were the source of most failures (like the optical drive) to the flatness of the OS theme. The latest rumors about the forthcoming MacBook Pro refresh have arrived, and oh boy -- if even half of this is true, the old guard and the vanguard are going to have some words.
New photos of an alleged new MacBook Pro
appear to show both the previously-rumored "OLED touch bar" replacing the function keys (we can't see how that helps with weight or thinness, but okay sure), a reduction of ports to just four USB-C type gaps (mostly likely the new USB-C 3.1/Thunderbolt 3 combo port), a relocated (but still present!) analog headphone jack and moved (back to the top where they belong) speakers, but ... you'd better sit down ... no MagSafe port. That's right. Take a moment. We'll be here.
While not a "confirmation," the one thing (USB-C ports) kind of leads to the other (no MagSafe). The USB-C 3.1 ports would be capable of charging the device, so there's really no need for a separate charging point. Nothing against the MagSafe; other than the tendency of the "neck" of the cords to fray, the technology was (and still is) sheer genius, exactly the kind of thing only Apple comes up with. We will all be sorry to see it go. As we've mentioned, on the MacBook the lack of MagSafe makes more sense: the device is too light not to just be dragged along when the cord is pulled. On a MacBook Pro, however ... well, this loss will really be felt.
Oddly, the "leaked" images don't show any dramatic change in overall size -- directly contradicting predictions from Ming-Chi Kuo (who, it should be noted, was the first to report on the idea of an OLED bar to replace the function keys, so we'll see how he does on that one). Ming-Chi believes the next-gen MacBook Pro will be dramatically thinner and lighter than the present ones (weighing more than the two-pound MacBook, but more than the 4.5-pound current MacBook Pro -- you know, like the three-pound MacBook Air).
We expect torch-wielding villagers to storm Cupertino if the no-MagSafe thing turns out to be true, attempting to beat Apple executives to within an inch of their lives with bunches of frayed power cords from across the generations. Ming-Chi added insult to injury with his predictions, saying not only would the next MBP not have function keys (funny how he totally missed the "no other ports" and "no MagSafe" things, though), but that it would be delayed -- we might hear about it in June at WWDC, but we won't be able to buy one until the December quarter -- if he's correct.
Rumor 'confirmations' are oxymorons
One of the things that drive us mental when reporting on rumors is the often-stated claim that a given rumor has been "confirmed." When you see this phrase used, and the product/app/service has not yet been formally announced, what it means (on most sites) is "remember that rumor we reported on a few weeks/months back? Someone else also reported it just now! It must therefore be true!" Of course it could
be true, but that's not confirmation -- that's an echo chamber.
See above for an example. There's yet another mock-up of an iPhone 7 case that shows it looking like the 6s, but slightly different. This is about the third or fourth one we've seen that all have (barring the camera cut-out) roughly the same design. Does that "confirm" that the iPhone 7 will look like that? Nope. Does the Nikkei claim of a new taptic engine for the iPhone 7 "corraborate" earlier rumors that Apple is joining Intel on the tick-tock-tock dance floor?
Again, no. It just makes you think that whatever is being discussed is more likely, due solely to repetition (as with other areas of life). It might still turn out to be true, mind you, but this isn't proof. Until your tinfoil-wearing friend (we all have one) comes along and suggests that Apple is leaking these rumors deliberately
because the iPhone 7 will in fact be a totally secret and radical redesign, and you have to admit that makes more sense than what's happening now. Hey, what happened to those rumors claiming the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack, or of an iPhone Smart Connector? Or the Apple Watch 2? Not "confirmed" enough yet, I guess, but there's still months to go.
There was a rumor (reported in this very space just over a week ago
) that the iPhone 7 might finally (finally
) herald the end of the too-small 16GB storage tier, and instead the lineup would change to 32GB as the too-small minimum, followed by a leap to 128GB and then (at last!) 256GB for the top tier for each model. The earlier rumor said that 256GB would only be available with the iPhone 7 Plus, but that makes little sense -- you can shoot 4K video on an existing iPhone 6s, and that takes up a lot of space, so there's already a crushing need for both the 7 and the 7 Plus to kick it up a notch to 256GB storage as an option.
Apple has always defended the 16GB storage tier by saying that modern buyers rely heavily on cloud services -- including Apple's iCloud -- and thus don't store as much stuff locally as older computer users. This may well be true -- we've seen it first-hand -- but most data plans are still stingy with their buckets and cost a bunch (particularly when traveling), so we're not fully convinced that everyone's fine with mostly cloud-based storage and retrieval of everything. Music, yes. Personal photos? Not as much. Oh, and those 4K videos? Good luck waiting for them to stream down instantly.
people don't need 256GB (or 128GB for that matter) of storage, just like most
people don't need 6GB of cellular data a month (actually, the average across all users in the US still hovers below 1GB per month). So we could see Apple going for the crap/better/best strategy again for storage tiers on the iPhone 7, just with doubled numbers. What we'd really like to see is some extra free cloud storage space for new iPhone buyers -- like matching the space on their iPhone. That, we think, would inspire some fence-sitting potential upgraders, and maybe even a few more Android switchers.
The latest "confirmation" of the expanded-local-storage idea comes from "research conducted in China" by an iHS Technology analyst. On a scale of one to 10, if 10 is "absolutely for sure" and one is "total 'shopped fakey-ness," then we'd rate this possibility a solid six or seven. The 32GB being so much smaller than the next tier will continue to drive analysts and customers crazy, which totally sounds like Apple, so we'll put that down as "likely."
-- Charles Martin