Apple unveiled the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus in September last year, but we're already looking ahead to the next iPhone in 2017: the iPhone 7s (or possibly the iPhone 8, but we'll get to that).
In this article we sift through the clues and evidence pointing to Apple's iPhone 7s launch later this year, and predict the iPhone 7s release date, tech specs, design and new features.
When will the iPhone 7s be released?
The most likely date for the 7s announcement is September 2017... although there are whispers of delays, as we discuss in the next section.
Ever since the launch of the iPhone 4s, Apple has consistently updated its iPhones once a year, in autumn (with one exception: the smaller iPhone SE was launched in March 2016). It would be a pretty major departure if September came and went without some kind of iPhone announcement.
Here are our predictions of upcoming iPhone release dates over the next few years:
- Sep 2017: iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus, iPhone 8
- Mar 2018: iPhone SE 2
What if Apple can't or doesn't wish to hit the usual September launch date?
SlashGear's sources say that STMicroelectronics, reportedly the firm in line to make the 3D camera on the new iPhones, is struggling to hit production targets and has asked for more time.
"That would mesh with earlier rumours that Apple won't even start mass producing the iPhone 8 until September," says the site, "the very month the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus are scheduled to launch. Depending on the yield rate for the revolutionary iPhone, we probably don't expect to see it in the market until a month or two later."
Before the 3D component delay story broke, we'd been hearing the opposite: that Apple was gearing up to start production of the new iPhones earlier than normal. So said analysts at BlueFin Research Partners, quoted by Barron's Tech Trader Daily.
"The most intriguing data points that we have uncovered suggests that AAPL is ramping the next-generation iPhones earlier than historical norms," write John Donovan and Steve Mullane.
"Interestingly, our present reads suggest a 300 percent increase in iPhone 8/X builds in the June quarter, now sitting at 9M. As a result, overall June quarter builds have increased from 45M to 48M, with the sharp increase in iPhone 8 offset somewhat by modest declines in legacy models. In the past, builds of upcoming releases began in earnest early in the September quarter, so this is a departure from AAPL's normal build cadence."
The researchers play down any suggestions that this indicates an earlier launch date, however, so we are left to wonder why the company feels it needs longer to produce the iPhones. Are they going to be technically more demanding to manufacture, or is it a question of volume?
What will the new iPhone be called?
Apple habitually follows what is known as a 'tick-tock' release cycle with its iPhones. One year it will release a full-number upgrade, featuring a significant physical redesign (iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6); then the next year it will release an 'S' upgrade which has the same physical design as its predecessor but adds new features and spec boosts (iPhone 4s, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6s). For this reason many Apple fans choose to upgrade their phones once every two years.
Given that the iPhone 7 appeared in 2016, the obvious conclusion is that Apple will unveil an iPhone 7s (and accompanying iPhone 7s Plus) in autumn 2017.
But there have been increasingly widespread murmurs that it's about time for Apple to retire its tick-tock cycle, which deprecates the importance of its S releases and discourages regular updates. What's more, 2017 is the iPhone's 10th-anniversary year, and the iPhone 7 had a surprisingly similar physical design to the iPhone 6 and 6s (headphone port aside). For these reasons, quite a few of us suspect that Apple will go all-out with a blockbuster release, branded as the iPhone 8, next year.
Indeed, a little extra weight was added to the 'iPhone 8 in 2017' theory in early October 2016. Business Insider reports that an Apple employee in Israel who solders components spoke to them about the next iPhone and referred to it as the iPhone 8 "unprompted in our conversation".
Timothy Arcuri, an analyst at the research firm Cowen and Company, has sent out a client note predicting among other things that the late-2017 iPhone update will be branded as iPhone X - the letter X in this case evidently signifying the Roman numeral for 10, since the iPhone is celebrating its 10th birthday in 2017.
It's looking likely that if this were the case, it refers to the iPhone 8, a different product to the iPhone 7s.
It's rather leftfield, and we'll count it as unlikely until we hear evidence to back it up, but it's actually not the worst idea in the world: those relentlessly rising model numbers draw attention to quite how long Apple has been churning out iPhones, and make each one seem like merely the latest update in a long line of identikit devices. This would be a statement of intent, a declaration that this one is different.
We'll talk a bit about Timothy Arcuri's other predictions later in this article.
As we have mentioned, there are also rumours suggesting that there will be an 'iPhone Edition' (or iPhone 8) announced alongside the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus at this year's iPhone event in September, boasting a body made from new materials (prototypes include glass and ceramic) and possibly a Home button-less design. Not much else is known about what the high end iPhone Edition might offer, just that it'll be "very much behind" the release date of the standard iPhone 7s and 7s Plus.
Macworld poll: What will Apple call the next iPhone?
What physical changes can we expect in the iPhone 7s?
Logically, an S upgrade would imply a lack of a physical redesign, but Apple has kept largely the same chassis for three iPhones in a row now and we'd be shocked if the company doesn't pull some kind of major revamp out of the bag. This could be reserved for the iPhone 8, though.
Edge-to-edge screen, with no Home button?
Some while back Piper Jaffrey analyst Gene Munster suggested the iPhone 7 wouldn't have a Home button, reasoning that the new 3D Touch technology introduced with the iPhone 6s could largely take its place and allow Apple to use the space to make the screen bigger or the device smaller. (A corollary of Munster's theory is that the Touch ID fingerprint scanner would need to move - perhaps being built into the screen itself.)
Munster's speculation about the iPhone 7 didn't prove to be true - indeed, Munster has made a few famously misjudged predictions in the past, along with some decent calls - but may yet happen on the iPhone 7s.
Technology that could help with this development was announced by a biometric R&D company, Sonavation. Its tech would enable Apple to run the screen vertically edge-to-edge, with no cut-out for the Home button. The Home button could occupy the same position but appear only when needed, much like the software keyboard; and the technology for Touch ID would be bonded to the underside of the screen at the appropriate point.
Funnily enough, Apple filed a patent that seems relevant to this concept. Patent application number 20150036065, for "a fingerprint sensor... incorporated in a display stack in an electronic device", was filed in April 2014 and published recently. Here are some of the illustrations:
(The illustration in Fig. 1 above appears to show an iPhone that still has a Home button, and therefore doesn't increase the amount of screen area - what would be the point of that, you might wonder. But remember that this is to illustrate the concept itself, not to show what it would look like in practice or the way other elements of the product would change to adapt to it.)
What's more, Apple has been granted another patent that also refers to a fingerprint sensor that can work through a screen.
Patent 9,460,332 describes a "Capacitive fingerprint sensor including an electrostatic lens": more pertinently to this discussion, it states that "one or more other device components, such as a display stack and/or a touchscreen may be interposed between the contact surface of dielectric structure 202 and array 206 of capacitive sensing elements".
In January 2017 yet another patent was added to the pile of evidence that Apple is plotting the use of an edge-to-edge screen. Patent 9,543,364, granted on 10 January, refers to "Electronic devices having displays with openings", and appears to cover various means by which Apple would be able to hide cameras, sensors and controls behind the screen and still allow the user to access them, thanks to small (and in most cases tiny) holes in the screen.
This in turn means Apple can expand the screen outwards to cover the full face of the device, since it doesn't need to leave space around the edge for the various apertures and controls we've grown used to.
The holes could be filled in with a material that doesn't block radio signals, for instance, although in many cases they will be so small that the user wouldn't notice them.
Then, in February 2017, another patent appeared detailing another method of embedding a Touch ID sensor within the display of the iPhone - although this one is a little different. Rather than featuring ultrasonic- or electric field differences to scan your fingerprint, the latest patent suggests using infrared emitters and sensors placed along the RGB LEDs in an OLED display. Interestingly, the requirement of an OLED display suggests that the option may only be available on the high-end 2017 iPhone.
Touch ID on the rear
A late-March 2017 report from iDrop News claims that the fingerprint scanner of the upcoming iPhone 7s will be moved from the Home button on the front of the device to the rear. This lines up with the competition; Samsung's Galaxy S8 has a rear-facing fingerprint scanner, as does the LG G6, Google Pixel and Honor 8 Pro.
What about the rumours of an embedded Touch ID sensor within the display? According to the iDrop News source Apple has tested integrated Touch ID technology, but it's still in its infancy and hasn't been proven to be secure or dependable enough just yet.
We're taking this rumour with a pinch of salt: despite Android rivals boasting rear-facing fingerprint scanners, it strikes us as slightly odd. Besides, the site doesn't have much of a track record when it comes to Apple leaks.
A February 2017 report by Fast Company, which made headlines primarily for its prediction that an iPhone could top the thousand-dollar mark for the first time, also raised the possibility that the late-2017 iPhone might not have any physical buttons at all.
"Apple has been working to remove the physical Home button from the iPhone," says the site, basing its comments on a source with knowledge of Apple’s plans. "It would become a button to touch, not press. There's even a chance that the physical buttons on the sides of the iPhone may go away, our source says, replaced by touch-sensitive inlays in the metal."
Read Fast Company's full report for more juicy details - there's lots of good stuff.
Cowen and Company analyst Timothy Arcuri, who we quoted earlier, has also made some predictions about the screen to be included in what he predicted will be called the 'iPhone X'.
There will be three models, Arcuri says: 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch phones, to match the existing iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, and a new 5.8-inch iPhone - the biggest ever iPhone screen. This latter, clearly flagship model, will have an OLED screen and a "wraparound" design with the Touch ID fingerprint sensor integrated under the glass, with no separate Home button.
Incidentally, The Investor reports that Samsung will be making LED panels for the late-2017 iPhone. A new deal struck between Apple and subsidiary company Samsung Display is worth 5 trillion won, or about £3.5m, and involves the supply of 60 million units.
(Apple will need more than that - the company sold 78.29 million iPhones in Q1 2017 - and usually makes deals with multiple screen suppliers.)
Further weight has been added to the theory that one of the new iPhone models to be unveiled this autumn will have a bigger screen than ever before: a whopping 5.8 inches, if a report from Nikkei is to be believed.
"The upcoming iPhone, to be launched this fall, will come in three configurations - two with liquid crystal displays and one with a 5.8-inch organic light-emitting diode display," the site predicts. "By adding more large-screen options to the lineup to meet growing demand for BIG, Apple intends to raise the average iPhone price, which has already gone up by about 10% in the past three years to nearly $700."
There have been consistent rumours, stretching back years, that Apple is going to make an iPhone with a curved or flexible screen - although flexible might be a misleading word to use here. Very few people imagine that an iPhone in the near future will actually be able to 'flex' in any meaningful way (being folded in half to fit in a pocket, for example); most pundits just mean that it will have curved edges so that the screen continues a little way down the sides, like the Samsung S7 Edge.
Some relatively firm evidence was added to this theory in January 2017, when the screen maker Japan Display, which already works with Apple, confirmed [paywall article] that it is ready to start building flexible displays. (Again, this is understood to mean 'curved' rather than 'actively bendable by the user'.) While the company didn't mention Apple by name, it did say it is building the screens for hardware partners, and analysts are understandably putting two and two together.
This idea seems to be backed up by a recent report from Japanese website Nikkei Asian Review, which claims that the larger iPhone will feature a curved display, although it'll be "gentler than screens in Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge handsets". Why? The site claims that it's mainly due to making curved glass covers that match the screens. Despite the curved nature of the display, the source claims that it'll add no extra functionality to the phone.
This is backed up by a second Nikkei report which claims Apple has ordered a whopping 70 million 5.2in curved OLED display panels from Samsung to be used in the next-generation iPhone. The news comes via a supply chain source familiar with iPhone designs who also claims that Samsung is the sole supplier of Apple's OLED displays, and that the company is manufacturing up to 95 million in case the phone exceeds demand.
However, MacRumors' sources think otherwise: the site quotes analyst Wayne Lam as saying: "We anticipate Apple will adopt a flat implementation of OLED design on their special iPhone model, which is analogous to the current 2.5D glass design."
Glass front and back
9to5Mac cites a report, from the generally reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, that predicts - based on the popularity of the (scratch-prone) Jet Black iPhone 7 - that the next iPhone will have a glass front and back that mimic that device's glossy looks but are better able to resist scratch damage.
"If Apple does follow through with what KGI suggests," the site predicts, "an all-glass design could extend the glossy finish to all colours of the iPhone lineup depending on how Apple handles the design."
DigiTimes (a Chinese-language site which Apple Insider describes as a "hit-or-miss publication", with polite savagery), is predicting that the chassis of the iPhone 7s will be made of stainless steel and supplied by Jabil rather than favoured manufacturing partner Foxconn, citing the usual anonymous sources in the supply chain.
This would be a surprise, to be honest, given Apple's overwhelming recent preference for aluminium; the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s were designed with steel bands around a glass body, but it's been all aluminium for the iPhone line ever since. And we're given to understand that the engineering method will be different this time around: whereas the iPhone 4-gen handsets were milled, the iPhone 7 metalwork will be forged, a technique that creates stronger components.
Pundits are increasingly looking ahead to 2017 for a big iPhone launch. Making predictions about the upcoming performance of Apple stock, analysts at Credit Suisse forecast that the 10th-anniversary iPhone released in 2017 (which they predict will be called iPhone 8 in recognition of its major updates, incidentally) will feature "significant innovations" such as a full-glass OLED screen, new and upgraded haptic feedback features, wireless charging and numerous major specs improvements including the camera and processor.
Here are some more features we could see in the iPhone 7s.
Read next: Best 3D Touch shortcuts
After the dual-lens camera and associated Portrait Mode offered in the late-2016 iPhone generation (on the iPhone 7 Plus only, of course), many pundits believe Apple will again try to lead on a headline camera feature for the iPhone 7s, this time focusing on the front-facing camera.
Ever-quotable analyst Ming Chi Kuo predicts a "revolutionary" front camera in this year's iPhones, including an infrared component (transmitter and receiver) that "can sense the 3D space in front of it", in the words of 9to5Mac. Infrared signals are beamed from the phone, and then detected when they bounce back.
Having the ability to map out the 3D space in front of an iPhone has numerous possible applications but two are most obvious: 3D selfies, and games.
Kuo believes that Apple will upgrade to rear-facing 3D sensors in future if the front-facing version goes down well.
Apple's iPhone updates have an enormous effect on the company's bottom line, and accordingly numerous Wall Street analyst firms have dissected the state of augmented reality technology and the likely nature and impact of a mooted 3D camera/scanner appearing in the late-2017 iPhone.
Stephen Milunovich of UBS strikes an optimistic note, predicting that "investors could be surprised at how AR could reinvigorate the iPhone/iPad and possibly result in new products" and citing Apple's hardware expertise and large coherent user base as reasons why it can make AR work.
Morgan Stanley's researchers are less convinced, raising doubts over widespread consumer appeal (noting the rapid drop-off in interest seen even by Pokemon Go) and questioning whether smartphones will have sufficient processing power to deliver the concept satisfactorily. And KGI's famed Apple expert Ming Chi Kuo thinks that developing successful AR applications will enable Apple to redefine currently popular products such as the iPhone, boost low-takeup products such as the Apple Watch and move into new areas such as car tech.
For more detail on analysts' take on the mooted iPhone 3D scanner, we recommend Business Insider's comprehensive review of the material.
Wireless charging didn't arrive with the iPhone 7 as some had predicted (it has also been predicted for previous iPhone models stretching back some years), but was introduced to the Apple Watch in the form of inductive charging... and this is significant.
As iMore's Rene Ritchie points out, inductive charging hasn't been practical for the iPhone in previous years because the technology available at the time didn't work through an aluminium backplate - but the Apple Watch can offer wireless charging because it has a ceramic back.
In July 2015 Qualcomm announced a wireless charging breakthrough that does work through metal. This came too late for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but the technology may appear in the 7s generation.
Foxconn, a huge iPhone manufacturer, is reported to be testing wireless charging modules that will be included in some or all of the 2017 iPhones. (Apple likes to have at least one major feature that sets the Plus model apart, and so it would makes a certain sense to limit this to the large model only.) The questions at this point relate to yield rate and profitability: Foxconn is exploring the practicality of producing large batches of the component to a satisfactory standard.
In November 2016, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted in a report that Apple will indeed bring wireless charging capabilities to the autumn 2017 iPhone handsets, thanks to the all-glass design, but warned that the firm may bundle the wireless charger with more expensive models only. The firm envisions a wireless pad for charging the phones, somewhat like the inductive charger that comes with the various Apple Watch models.
Perhaps the iPhone 7s Plus will offer wireless charging out of the box, while iPhone 7s buyers will need to purchase the charging pad separately (in this scenario, obviously the phones would need to be chargeable via conventional means too); or it might be the lower storage capacity units that miss out on the bundled wireless charger. That's another accessory to put on your shopping list, then.
Business Insider offers a little more detail from Ming-Chi Kuo's report on wireless charging; one aspect it mentions - which appears to contradict earlier rumours that Foxconn was leading the way in this area - is that Pegatron will be the exclusive supplier of this component.
Despite the suggestion that wireless charging will come to all three models of the 2017 iPhone, a new report from Macotakara citing sources inside Apple's Asian operations claims otherwise. The site's source claims that wireless charging will only be made available on the most expensive iPhone 8, and you'll also need to buy an adaptor on top of the initial cost of the phone. However, while some may be initially shocked by the news that you'll have to buy the accessories separately, this is commonplace amongst Android smartphones that offer wireless charging capabilities.
If you thought that was bad, the latest counter rumour suggests that we could be waiting yet another year for Apple to introduce wireless charging on the iPhone. Anonymous 9to5Mac sources claim that while Apple is looking into wireless charging, the company might wait until 2018 to introduce it - although we're not so sure about that. With so many sources, including Ming-Chi Kuo who has an impeccable record when it comes to Apple leaks, suggesting that it will make an appearance on the 2017 iPhone, we're inclined to believe it.
While it seems that analyst and anonymous sources can't decide on whether wireless charging will appear on one- or three 2017 iPhones, what we do know for sure is that Apple is seriously considering the technology. Why? Apple recently joined the Wireless Power Consortium, the group behind the Qi wireless charging standard, to rub shoulders with the likes of Samsung, Lenovo and others, all of which offer wireless charging solutions for their smartphones.
According to a source cited by Business Insider (described only as "a person familiar with the matter"), Apple is currently working on a new augmented reality feature for the 2017 iPhone update.
"By adding AR technology into the iPhone's camera software, Apple wants consumers to be able to point the phone at a real-world object and have it be recognised," said the site. "Another early feature for Apple's AR integration into the camera app could be to recognise and manipulate people's faces."
This fits with earlier predictions raised in a far-ranging and fascinating Facebook post by Robert Scoble which discussed the way VR and augmented reality will figure in Apple's upcoming iPhones. "Really amazing VR/AR/mixed reality is coming... and coming by the end of 2017," Scoble writes. "Apple's entrance into this new world is like when IBM came into the personal computing world. It is that important."
He discusses the impact that a mixed-reality iPhone could have on the market, and predicts that users will "pop [the new iPhone] into a headset which has eye sensors on it, which enables the next iPhone to have a higher apparent frame rate and polygon count than a PC with a Nvidia 1080 card in it... The clear iPhone will put holograms on top of the real world like Microsoft HoloLens does.
"You'll look through the glass in mixed reality modes (think of a new kind of Pokemon game) either in the headset, or in your hand."
Read more: Apple VR and augmented reality rumours
AppleInsider is predicting that the late-2017 iPhone will feature second-gen 3D Touch with greater sensitivity and greater gesture versatility than the current version, thanks to changes in the underlying design.
According to a research note from the respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo seen by the site, the next iPhone will have 3D Touch based around thin film instead of flexible printed circuit boards. While this would improve the way the technology works, it would create design headaches; for one thing, thin film sensors don't incorporate the metal conductive plate that protects the current screen from deformation, so Apple would have to add a passive metal backplate or risk a repeat of the Bendgate scenario.
The development would also add to manufacturing costs, and with UK prices already up to account for the weakness of the pound, Apple hasn't got much room for manoeuvre if it wants to protect its profit margin.
Read next: Best 3D Touch shortcuts
Here are the prices of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, which are already higher than the previous generation were at launch after Apple's wide UK price increases. It's likely that the iPhone 7s will be priced at a similar point.
- iPhone 7 (32GB): £599
- iPhone 7 (128GB): £699
- iPhone 7 (256GB): £799
- iPhone 7 Plus (32GB): £719
- iPhone 7 Plus (128GB): £819
- iPhone 7 Plus (256GB): £919
But it's felt that there will be another price jump, even if only a small one. One theory holds that the next iPhone will break the thousand-dollar barrier in the US for the first time (this is according to Fast Company, citing a source "with knowledge of Apple's plans", and UBS analyst Steven Milunovich). A thousand-dollar US price tag would most likely translate to a UK price of £940 or so, although obviously that would be the top-end model.
For comparison, in the US the 128GB cellular-equipped edition of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro costs $1,029; in the UK this model costs £939.
The iPhone 7 Plus with 256GB of storage costs £919, or $969 in the US.
Leaked photos & illustrations
It's a little early to expect leaked photos from Apple's supply chain - we'd imagine the iPhone 7s is still in the design stages - we have seen our first concept illustrations. These are imaginative images created by talented artists and design illustrators with ideas about what they'd like to see in the next generation of Apple's smartphone.
Thadeu Brandao has come up with some lovely, minimalist concepts for the iPhone 7s:
Brandao described his thought process as "mixing the design of iPhone 4 and 7", and you'll note the lack of a headphone port once again, and the Home button integrated into the screen.
Brandao also worked on the following concept video posted by the YouTube channel ConceptsiPhone: