When will the iPhone 7s be launched in the UK, and how different will it be from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus? And what tech specs and new features should we expect from Apple's new iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus handsets for 2017?
Welcome to our iPhone 7s rumour roundup, in which we gather and analyse the latest clues and speculation about the iPhone 7s release date, tech specs, new features and more. If you've come here in search of information about the current iPhone range, allow us to direct you to our iPhone 7 review, iPhone 7 Plus review, iPhone buying guide 2016/2017 and best iPhone deals UK.
Apple unveiled the new iPhone 7, alongside its bigger sibling the iPhone 7 Plus, during a special event on 7 September last year. But we're already looking ahead to the next iPhone in 2017. 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.
We'll update this article whenever new information emerges, so check back regularly for the latest iPhone 7s rumours.
Updated, 20 January 2017, with predictions that the late-2017 iPhone update will be rebranded as the 'iPhone X'; on 16 Jan, with an Apple patent for 'displays with openings' that hints at an edge-to-edge screen; on 10 Jan, with predictions of a stainless steel chassis; on 8 Dec, with reports of a new red colour option for the iPhone 7s; on 4 Dec, to add further detail to reports that the iPhone 7s will feature wireless charging, as well as claims (from Donald Trump) that Donald Trump is pressuring Tim Cook to build iPhones in the US; and on 17 Nov, to report on a source's claim that Apple is integrating augmented reality into its next iPhone
iPhone 7s release date rumours UK: Release date
The iPhone 7 was announced on 7 September, and pre-orders began on 9 September; it went on sale on 16 September. (Read our list of the Best cheap iPhone 7 deals.) Which gives us some pretty strong hints about when to expect the iPhone 7s.
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), so we're expecting the iPhone 7s to appear some time in September 2017.
Here are our predictions of upcoming iPhone release dates over the next few years:
- Mar 2017: iPhone SE 2
- Sept 2017: iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus
- Mar 2018: iPhone SE 3
- Sept 2018: iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
Mind you, it's possible that Apple might bring the iPhone 8 forward... as we discuss in the next section.
As part of his recent presidential campaign, Donald Trump complained about Apple's offshore manufacturing operations, and boasted that he would make the company build its iPhones in the US (and employ a bunch of Americans in the process). Now, as president-elect, he's trying to make his promises a reality.
Speaking to the New York Times, Trump described a call he had with Tim Cook about the issue, and appeared to think he had been extremely persuasive.
"I got a call from Tim Cook at Apple, and I said, 'Tim, you know one of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States, where instead of going to China, and going to Vietnam, and going to the places that you go to, you're making your product right here.' He said, 'I understand that.'"
Read next: Where are Apple products made?
Apple has its reasons for building its smartphones in Asia, where labour costs are lower (and the relevant skills are more plentiful, according to Cook). But Trump thinks he can sweeten the deal with tax cuts and changes to regulations.
"I said: 'I think we'll create the incentives for you, and I think you're going to do it. We're going for a very large tax cut for corporations, which you'll be happy about.'"
What Trump does not claim is that Cook actually agreed to any of this, even in principle. And Tim Cook doesn't strike us as someone who could easily be cowed into taking a course of action that isn't in the best interests of Apple and its shareholders.
Other Apple products made in the US
The idea of US manufacture isn't totally alien to Apple, although it is unusual and restricted to far lower-volume products than the iPhone. It has made a lot out of its US Mac Pro assembly, but this is a niche product - a flagship niche product, to be sure, but one that is made in comparatively low numbers.
In January 2017 - a couple of weeks ahead of Trump's inauguration - Apple applied to expand the use of a manufacturing facility it owns in Arizona. (The plant was going to be used for sapphire screens, but that fell through.) It was understood, rather boringly, that Apple would be building data server cabinets for its own internal use, but the company has since stated that it will merely be receiving, configuring and distributing servers from this hub rather than building any products.
Any increase in the company's US manufacturing footprint, no matter how seemingly unrelated to the iPhone, will add to speculation that Donald Trump's very public pressure is beginning to have an effect. (The President Elect is quite canny at taking credit for things that are unrelated to - and sometimes precede - the actions he claims to have caused them, as the US automotive industry is currently discovering.)
iPhone 7s release date rumours UK: Name
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 - X in this case evidently signifying the Roman numeral for 10, since the iPhone is celebrating its 10th birthday in 2017.
We'll talk a bit about Timothy Arcuri's other predictions later in this article.
Macworld Poll: What will Apple call the next iPhone?
iPhone 7s release date rumours UK: Design
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.
iPhone 7s design: 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 recently 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.
Last year 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.
iPhone 7s design: Larger screen
Cowen and Company analyst Timothy Arcuri, who we quoted earlier, has also made some predictions about the screen to be included in 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.
iPhone 7s 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.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are available in five colour options: silver, gold, Rose Gold (pink), (matt) black and Jet Black. The iPhone 7s will probably be available in the same colours, but it's believed that there will be a sixth red option as well.
The (generally pretty reliable) Japanese-language site Macotakara has posted a report that cites a source in the Taiwanese supply chain and says it is highly probably red will be added to the colour line-up.
(A slight complication here is that Apple has historically made red products as part of the Product Red HIV/AIDS charity, rather than as a cosmetic preference. Macotakara doesn't comment on whether this will be tied in with that charity.)
Mockup illustration courtesy of Macotakara
Before the launch of the iPhone 7 there were rumours about a Deep Blue colour option, but we've not heard much about that since then.
iPhone 7s release date rumours UK: New features
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.
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.
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
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