Apple has only just launched the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus - and the iPhone X isn't even available yet - but we're already looking ahead to the 2018 updates. In this article we round up the early rumours about the new iPhones expected to launch in autumn next year, whether they're called iPhone 9, iPhone 11, or just plain iPhone.
One thing we strongly suspect is that future iPhones will have unprecedentedly large screens. Reports point to 5.85in and 6.46in displays on the iPhone 11. They will also have higher-resolution cameras.
Apple releases new iPhones each autumn, and we expect the iPhone 11 (or whatever the company calls its next major smartphone update) to be unveiled in September 2018.
If the iPhone X launch is anything to go by, it's possible that the actual launch may be delayed until a month or two later - but it's unlikely that Apple will attempt a redesign that is so radical (and challenging, in terms of manufacturing) two years in a row.
In this section we look at some of the new design changes we expect to come to the iPhone.
Ahead of an iPhone launch designers and illustrators around the world put their brains to the task of imagining radical new designs. (Of course, it's one thing to decide how a device should look and quite another to actually execute that as a practical object; so don't assume these are likely to bear any great resemblance to the real thing. These are for interest more than for predictive value.)
In this section we'll post the best artists' renders as they appear. When we get closer to the launch we should start seeing product leaks, and those really will give us a sense of Apple's plans, but it's too early for that just yet.
The first renders in are by iDrop News:
Concept illustration by Michael Shanks.
In May 2014, Apple was granted a patent for "Electronic devices with sidewall displays", which could lead to future iPhones with displays around the sides and edges as well as on the front. The patent suggests that the sidewall displays could be an extension of the main touchscreen, and they could have interactive or touch-sensitive portions.
Apple suggests that sidewall screen space could be used to display app icons, or for slide-to-unlock functionality, music player controls, messaging readout, caller ID, system controls and more.
We think the problem with a screen that wraps around a smartphone is that it is impossible to put a cover on the phone without taking away functionality - and without a cover the phone would be easily broken.
The late-2017 iPhones added Face ID and wireless charging features. Here's what we're expecting in 2018.
Face ID on all models... but in-screen Touch ID still possible
The well-known analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has published a report in which he predicts that Apple will expand its new Face ID facial recognition tech to all new iPhones released in autumn 2018 because in-screen Touch ID fingerprint scanning remains a technological challenge - but adds that the latter is still a possibility.
Kuo warns that Apple's plans are likely to depend on how favourably Face ID is received when the iPhone X launches in November. If users find it difficult, annoying or unreliable in use, the company will plough more resources into solving the under-screen fingerprint scanner problem.
The wireless charging you get with the iPhone 8 is the kind, commonplace with today's technology's standards, where you still have to physically place the device on a charging mat. It's convenient, but not exactly a gamechanger, since the two elements have to be in contact.
Bloomberg, however, reckons Apple is working on longer-range wireless charging, potentially charging at a distance of about 1 metre using near-field magnetic resonance. And some cryptic comments from the CEO of a charging company suggest Apple may be planning something even more ambitious.
Steve Rizzone, CEO of Energous, spoke to The Verge before CES 2017 and dropped some major hints about an exclusive "key strategic partnership" that the company signed a couple of years back and which has delayed the launch of its wireless charging tech... which has a range of 15 feet.
"That 'key' partner is suspected to be Apple," observes The Verge, "and Energous - though declining to state its partner's name - is certainly happy to fuel the speculation. Rizzone says the partnership is with 'one of the largest consumer electronic companies in the world. I cannot tell you who it is, but I can virtual guarantee that you have products from this company on your person, sitting on your desk, or at home.'"
Energous isn't the only company working on long-range wireless charging. In February 2017 it was reported that Disney Research have come up with a new method for wirelessly transmitting power throughout a room: users would be able to charge electronic devices anywhere in that room, much as they connect to WiFi with current technology.
"In this work, we've demonstrated room-scale wireless power," said associate lab director Alanson Sample, "but there's no reason we couldn't scale this down to the size of a toy chest or up to the size of a warehouse."
Korea Economic Daily claims that Apple has chosen LG Chem as the exclusive supplier for batteries that will be featured in the next-generation iPhone, due out in 2018. Citing an unnamed source, the report claims that LG has invested "hundreds of billions" in battery manufacturing facilities and that it'll be ready to begin full-scale production in early 2018, just in time for the 'iPhone 11'.
That's not all, either; the report also claims that Apple's next-generation iPhone will adopt a 'bent' battery module shaped like the letter 'L'. If true, it's the first time that Apple has stepped away from the rectangular lithium-ion batteries featured on every iPhone thus far. It's said that the optimised shape of the battery maximises internal space and also boosts charging speeds, two features that the iPhone desperately needs.
One persistent rumour holds that Apple will take the battery tech it developed for the original 12-inch MacBook (and retained for the 2016 version) - whereby contoured, layered battery units are stacked inside the chassis in order to take up every possible inch of space - and use these to squeeze more battery capacity inside the fixed or even reduced volume that will be available in future iPhones.
Apple could even, thanks to the new technology, make more radical changes to the overall design of the iPhone, because its engineers would no longer to base their work on a fixed battery shape. Although the smartphone is such a mature market now that it would take a brave manufacturer to change its essential form - a bit like a mad microwave designer inventing one that's spherical.
Apple Pencil compatibility
iPhone fans have been requesting this for a while, and although the case for stylus input on iPhone is less clear-cut than on iPad, there are definitely situations where it would be helpful. And the bigger the screens get, the more useful a stylus would be - which makes the iPhone X, and even more so the rumoured iPhone X Plus, strong candidates for Apple Pencil compatibility.
One source, sadly, predicts that we're a little further away than that. Speaking to the Korea Herald, the anonymous industry sources claimed Apple is already working on a smartphone that comes with a "digital pen" - not necessarily the Apple Pencil - and this will be launched in 2019.
Here's where we see the iPhone screen heading in the next few years.
Sources suggest that Apple's 2018 iPhone updates will include two new screen sizes - the biggest it's offered yet.
The Bell (via The Investor), quoting anonymous industry sources, claimed in May 2017 that Apple and Samsung had signed a deal for the supply of OLED panels in iPhones next year, and that these would be supplied in 5.28in and 6.46in sizes. That's a significant increase on the 4.7in and 5.5in screen sizes in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus respectively. (The iPhone X has a 5.8in screen.)
But in August 2017 a new report claimed the 5.28in model had been canned, and that we will be getting iPhone handsets with 5.85in and 6.46in OLED panels: so that both new models will be larger than the currently largest iPhone screen.
What we don't how from these reports is how Apple plans to incorporate larger screens in its iPhones - but obviously it will have to make the chassis bigger, or the bezels smaller, or a mixture of the two. We know which we'd prefer.
Concept images by Martin Hajek
Apple is understood to be exploring the possibility of integrating the Touch ID fingerprint scanner into the display of a smartphone or tablet. In fact, Apple filed a patent describing a Touch ID display back in January 2013.
This technology means that you could place your finger on the display to scan it, instead of the Home Button. We're not sure if this technology was an original variation to the Home Button scanner found on the iPhone 5S, or if it'll be combined with the Haptics & Tactile technology to remove the Home Button on a future iPhone and replace it with a virtual on-screen button.
The patent describes a touchscreen display with a fingerprint-sensing layer that could be used to introduce advanced multi-user support.
For example, Apple could use the fingerprint sensing display to only allow particular users to open certain apps. This could be useful for those with children who like to explore the iPad, for example.
Additionally, Apple could take the display even further. It could be used in conjunction with a piano app, for example, to teach users the correct finger placement for the instrument.
Here's where we see the iPhone camera heading in the 2018 update.
In June 2016, Apple filed a patent to prevent people from recording at concerts through an infrared signal. This is to address the complaints made by artists that fans are uploading bad quality videos of their performances, quality control being the issue here.
The patent has been met with some critics; with some saying it invades their privacy. Others have seen it as a good move for artists and those who want a non-smartphone environment. This can also be used in an educational way, with an infrared signal used to give more details about a certain object, such as a plant.
It's still not clear how the technology will really be utilised, but it's clear that Apple is thinking about it.
Apple seems to be keen to improve the camera capabilities of its iOS devices, and one patent published by USPTO in May 2014 suggests we could soon see iPhones that are able to capture "Super-resolution" photos thanks to optical image stabilisation, which is already a feature of the iPhone 6 Plus.
The patent describes a system that takes a series of photographs at slightly different angles and stitches them together to create a 'super resolution' photograph.
Apple doesn't suggest a device would capture every photo this way. Instead, the user would have the option to turn super-resolution mode on, much like HDR and Panorama modes.
Several rumours suggest that Apple plans to introduce a feature like this with an iPhone in the near future, with reports pointing to a 'DSLR-quality' capability that would represent the biggest camera jump in iPhone upgrade history.
DigiTimes has reported that Apple is already booking in production for iPhone cameras above 12Mp in resolution. This is at a new factory built by lens maker Largan Precision in Taiwan.
Apple is also investigating the possibility of making interchangeable iPhone camera lenses.
In January 2014, the company was issued two patents that describe methods of attaching camera modules to devices such as the iPhone and iPad.
The first patent, titled "Back panel for a portable electronic device with different camera lens options", describes a portable electronic device that has a removable case that would allow camera attachments such as wide-angle or fisheye lenses.
The second patent, titled "Magnetic add-on lenses with alignment ridge," offers an alternative method of attaching new camera lenses to the iPhone using magnets.
It's already possible to use detachable iPhone camera lenses, of course, but at present those are exterior accessories made by third parties. You can read about our pick of the best iPhone camera lens accessories here: Best iPhone camera lenses.
It's too early to know precisely what specs to expect from the 2018 iPhone, but one thing is sure: chip builder and longtime Apple partner Imagination won't be designing the GPUs for iPhones much longer. Apple will be doing this itself.
The company, whose designs have been used in every iPhone so far, issued a statement in early April 2017 revealing that Apple would be winding down its use of Imagination IPs (intellectual properties) and "will no longer use the Group's IP in its new products in 15 months to two years". In other words, the late-2018 iPhones may be the first generation without these components.
It added that "Apple has asserted that it has been working on a separate, independent graphics design in order to control its products" - although, significantly, the statement further argues that Apple will struggle to create a GPU design that is not derivative of or dependent on the work Imagination has done on previous iPhones, and that it expects IP royalty payments to continue beyond the point at which the two companies stop working together.
A lawsuit could be in the pipeline...
One of the landmarks in iPhone history was the inclusion of 3G in its second-generation model; with the launch of the iPhone 5 Apple fans got 4G as well. Now it seems that 5G could be on its way, if testing works out.
Apple has submitted an application, obtained by Business Insider, to test "cellular link performance in direct path and multi-path environments between base station transmitters and receivers" using the 28GHz and 39GHz bands, approved for 5G, and 'millimetre wave' wireless technology.
"These assessments will provide engineering data relevant to the operation of devices on wireless carriers’ future 5G networks," the application adds.
5G will deliver faster cellular internet connections, but the details remain fuzzy: currently, there are no standards for 5G, although many companies are working towards agreeing on technology and specifications. You can read more about the latest 5G developments and announcements here: What is 5G?