What will 2014 hold for Apple? With the new year approaching, Macworld makes its predictions for Apple's next round of product launches, beginning with the iPhone. 2013 was the year of the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s - will 2014 bring the iPhone 6?
Apple in 2013: The year of two iPhones
2013 was a major year for the iPhone. The introduction of two new devices was a first for Apple, and the resulting record-breaking sales of nine million units in the opening weekend proved that the desire for iOS devices is as strong as it’s ever been. The iPhone 5c brought a welcome touch of colour to the traditionally black and white iPhone range, while the iPhone 5s added important, premium technological touches in the shape of the M7 motion coprocessor, 64-bit architecture, and the TouchID fingerprint sensor. The big question now is: how does Apple follow this up?
Traditionally the iPhone is redesigned every two years, with the following year bringing an S model that upgrades the internals. This pattern has been consistent for several generations - with the 3GS following the 3G, and the 4S succeeding the 4 - but altered slightly this year with the two new models. In many ways the 5c is very similar in spec to the iPhone 5, with only the casing, upgraded Facetime camera, slightly larger battery, and extended 4G support differentiating the units.
The cause for this sideways step could be that Apple usually offers the previous year’s model as its lower cost option. Manufacturing the iPhone 5 was difficult due to the precision machining needed to make the body, but the 5s should be less of a challenge thanks to the polycarbonate structure. It also gave Apple the chance to respond to the Samsung advertising campaign that portrayed iPhones as uncool devices that only your mum or dad would use.
Whatever the reasoning, Apple is now in the position to have the 5s as the mid-tier device in 2014, with the 5c - most likely humbled to 8GB of internal storage - dropping down to the free option on contract when the new model arrives.
Apple in 2014: What will the next iPhone look like?
As you can imagine, speculation has been intense ever since the initial iPhone 5 was announced about how Apple approaches the new model. It will be very interesting, with the mobile market maturing quickly and rival manufacturers building very high-quality alternatives to the once all-powerful iPhone.
One of the most popular thoughts is that Apple will increase the screen size on the new handset. The iPhone 5 did see an increase to 4in from the diminutive 3.5in of the iPhone 4s, but this is still the smallest screen of any premium smartphone on the market. It's a difficult one to call, as Apple has consistently promoted the iPhone as a one-handed device, even making a TV ad called Thumb which highlighted the fact. Looking at the wider mobile industry, though, the iPhone does seem a little cramped now, especially when placed next to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 which is probably the iPhone’s most direct competitor and sports a massive 5in screen.
It’s by no means certain that the size will increase, though, as this quote from Apple CEO Tim Cook at a recent investors call illustrates.
"Some customers value large screen size," said Cook, "others value other factors such as resolution, colour quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, compatibility with apps and many things. Our competitors had made some significant trade-offs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger display iPhone while these trade-offs exist."
This doesn't mean that a bigger iPhone won't happen, but it does suggest that it will wait until Apple have solved the challenges outlined by Cook. Another issue to consider is that changing the size of the screen would be problematic for developers. The more differing screen layouts you have in an eco-system, the more iterations of apps developers have to build. This variety of operating systems and display sizes has been a problem Android has faced, and would be an uncomfortable fit for the exacting nature of Apple. Difficulties aside, we think it's inevitable that Apple will need to release a larger handset, exactly how large is another matter.
A larger iPhone?
One interesting theory we’ve seen is that Apple will continue to make the iPhone in its current size, but also introduce a larger unit that will be more in line with phablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and HTC One Max. It’s something of an outlier, but we can’t help feeling that a lot of people would find the productivity possibilities worth the extra encumberance. It could also follow the iPad's lead and be called the iPhone Air.
Curved glass screens are also beginning to appear, and this is an area that traditionally Apple have had interest in, albeit in the construction of its stores and headquarters rather than products. At the moment the curved displays that we’ve seen have felt more like gimmicks than serious products, but if that could transition into flexible screens then the use case would be far more obvious.
Tougher, more scratch-resistant displays, would be an immediate benefit to smartphone users, and a recent investment by Apple could see this become a reality. Techcrunch reported that the company has invested $578 million in the building of a factory that will produce sapphire crystals. Apple already uses the material on its fingerprint sensor and camera cover, but could this investment signal that it will soon be fitting the iPhone with a ultra-tough surface? Production is at an early stage now, but this is definitely an area to watch in the coming months.
Internally the A7 chip and M7 coprocessor are a powerful combination, which could see them survive through to the next-generation iPhone. We'd be surprised, though, if Apple didn’t boost their performance or even engineer quad-core upgrades by the time September comes around in 2014. The camera would probably receive a similar incremental bump to bring it closer to the more standard 12 megapixels that other units will have by then.
Reading the various forums on tech sites gives the distinct impression that customers would like a bigger, but not huge, screen, the waterproof nature of the new Sony products, and longer battery life. Thankfully we don’t have too long to wait before we find out which of these features make it into the new Apple flagship product.