Apple launched the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X in September and November 2017, but we're already looking ahead to the 2018 iPhone 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, iPhone XI, iPhone X Plus or just plain iPhone.
iPhone 2018 release date
We expect the successor to the iPhones 8 and X to be unveiled in September 2018. This would be exactly a year after the iPhone 8 launched, and is in line with Apple's usual habit of launching a new flagship iPhone in September.
However, in 2017 the company didn't launch all of its new iPhones at the same time. The launch of the iPhone X came one month after the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Whether this was due to delays or intentional isn't completely clear. Apple may have benefitted from pent up demand for the iPhone X, and it may have sold more iPhone 8 handsets than it would have if the iPhone X had been available sooner. More likely Apple struggled with component availability and manufacturing issues.
We don't expect that there will be a staggered launch for the new iPhone in 2018, though. (Other than a new iPhone SE 2, which we expect to see in the spring of 2018).
KGI Securities' analyst Ming-Chi Kuo doesn't think Apple will miss the September launch date in 2018. Kuo believes Apple's focus in 2018 will be to ensure that all the new models are ready to meet the same shipping date. "Achieving stable shipments and on-time shipping," he said in a research note to clients.
What new iPhones will Apple launch in 2018?
We don't know for sure how many new iPhones Apple will be launching in 2018, but our suspicion is that three will be announced in the autumn. (The iPhone SE 2 may appear in spring.)
Nikkei, citing "a source privy to the company's product designs", says we should expect two new OLED models, in 6.3in and 5.8in sizes, and an LCD phone measuring 6.1in.
KGI Securities' Ming-Chi Kuo also expects that three new models will launch in the autumn, and that these will have the same all-screen design with the now familiar notch, as illustrated here.
The iPhone X was positioned by Apple as a premium iPhone with a premium price - starting at £999/$999, while the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus were priced at £699/$699 and £799/$799 accordingly.
Apparently in 2018 you will be able to get an iPhone X-style handset for less - if a (Chinese-language) Economic Daily article from October 2017 is to be believed.
According to that site, more than one successor to the iPhone X is in the works - along with the top-tier iPhone X successor, there will be more budget friendly model to attract new customers.
This 'budget' iPhone X-style iPhone is codenamed Hangzhou, while the more expensive version is codenamed Lisboa, according to Economic Daily.
The claims of Economic Daily seem to be backed up by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo who also claims that Apple will introduce a cheaper iPhone that will feature many of the same features as the iPhone X including a bezel-less display. In order to keep costs down this unit will feature a LCD-TFT screen and fewer pixels. (More on this handset below).
This cheaper handset will cost between $649 and $749, according to Kuo. (We'd expect that to translate to £649-£749, which could be a discount of £50 on the price of the iPhone 8 currently).
In 2018 we expect all of Apple's flagship iPhones to take on the all-screen iPhone X design. This could mean that the successors to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, as well as the successor to the iPhone X, will have a bezel-free design, Face ID camera, and no Home button.
We also expect the new models to feature the same notch motif at the top of the display, incorporating the FaceTime camera and facial recognition sensors. That may all change in 2019 - South Korea's ET News has predicted that Apple is "looking into combination of a face recognition module with a camera module" which could result in the notch being shrunk down.
Here's everything we've heard about the 2018 iPhone's design so far:
Metal or glass back?
According to Nikkei, Apple is going to continue hedging its bets when it comes to materials. There will be two OLED phones in autumn 2018, the site claims, but there will also be single LCD phone - and this will probably have a metal back. It follows that this device probably won't be able to offer wireless charging.
What they could offer is a splash of colour. Nikkei adds that it "will be available in several colours".
Sources suggest that Apple's 2018 iPhone updates will include as many as three new screen sizes - including the biggest screen on an iPhone 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 5.28in and 6.46in sized OLED panels for the 2018 iPhones. The 6.46in display would be an increase on the 5.5in screen on the 8 Plus and the 5.8in screen on the iPhone X, leading to speculation that this would be destined for an iPhone X Plus.
As for the 5.28in screen, a report in August 2017 claimed the 5.28in model had been canned in favour of a 5.85in screen - which sounds a lot like the current iPhone X, albeit slightly larger.
Then in November 2017, Ming-Chi Kuo predicted that there will be three new iPhone models. A 6.5in, 6.1in and a 5.8in model, as mentioned above.
According to Kuo, two of the 2018 iPhones will feature a OLED screen, like the current iPhone X, but one will have an LCD-TFT display, and therefore a lower price. The resolution of that model will be lower, too.
However, the model to get the 'budget' features will have a 6.1in screen, rather than the smaller 5.8in model he is also predicting.
Kuo said: "Two new OLED models target high-end market; new TFT-LCD model aims at low-end & midrange markets: We believe the major hardware difference in the two new OLED models is size, in a bid to satisfy various needs of the high-end market. The new TFT-LCD model will differ significantly from the OLED models in hardware and design specs (for instance, the PPI will be lower). The primary selling points of the TFT-LCD model may be the innovative user experience of an integrated full-screen design and 3D sensing with a lower price tag (we expect it will likely be US$649-749)."
Nikkei, as mentioned above, is more conservative in its estimate, predicting that the largest model to launch in autumn 2018 will have a 6.3in screen - still a whopper, though.
Micro LED screens
There are reports appearing that suggest Apple is looking into using Micro LED screens.
These could initially appear on the Apple Watch, as was the case with OLED, but could eventually be used for the iPhone.
Apple's interest in the technology is clear from its acquisition of LuxVue (a company specialising in the field) back in 2014.
Micro-LEDs offer low power consumption, high brightness, ultra-high definition, high colour saturation, faster response rate, longer lifetimes and higher efficiency.
While OLEDs offer many of these features, micro-LEDs offer higher brightness and color saturation.
The Apple Watch could gain this technology in 2018, and the iPhone a year or so later.
iPhone 2018 features
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
KGI 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. If users find it difficult, annoying or unreliable in use, the company will plough more resources into solving the under-screen fingerprint scanner problem.
Apple might have settled on Face ID with the iPhone X, but the company has explored 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.
The patent describes how you could place your finger on the display to scan it, instead of the Home Button. It 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.
Gigabit LTE/LTE Advanced
It might feel like its no time at all since 4G was introduced but the next big thing is Gigabit LTE, which is in itself a stopgap on the way to 5G. It seems likely that the 2018 flagship iPhone will feature this technology.
Gigabit LTE promises download speeds of up to 1000 megabits per second. Gigabit LTE-ready smartphones will also benefit from being able to get a data connection miles away from a tower, and they will be able to get connected even when they are surrounded by other devices jostling for the same airspace, say at a busy train station.
Some phones are already capable of supporting the new technology, including the Galaxy Note 8. The iPhone X however, does not support Gigabit LTE.
Gigabit LTE is only available at EE test sites at London's Tech City and in Cardiff. But in 2018 that will change as EE rolls out Gigabit LTE around the country. Then those phones that are ready to support it will be able to take advantage of the faster upload and download speeds, the iPhone X won't.
However, when it launches 5G, which promises speeds in excess of 1Gb/s (or even 10Gb/s), will require a completely different modem chip to be used inside smartphones, so even Gigabit LTE ready phones will miss out. More on 5G below...
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?
Perhaps Apple is intending to wait for 5G rather than adding LTE Advanced capabilties to the iPhone? If it is there may be a long wait: the first public 5G networks aren't expected to roll out in the UK until 2020, although some preliminary implementations may arrive in 2019. It's unlikely that 5G will become widespread until 2022 though.
The wireless charging you get with the iPhones 8 and X 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'. 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.
Apple currently utilises two batteries in an L formation inside the iPhone X, as you can see in this image from iFixIt's teardown of the iPhone.
Alternatively, 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.
The iPhone X already uses a double layered logicboard to save space.
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 in November 2017, anonymous industry sources claimed Apple is working on a smartphone that comes with a "digital pen" - not necessarily the Apple Pencil - and this will be launched in 2019. This idea does seem to be at odds with Steve Jobs claims that the best stylus is the finger.
Here's where we see the iPhone camera heading in the 2018 update.
It seems unlikely that Face ID, or any of the TrueDepth technology, will ever make it to the iPhone's rear-facing camera. However, that doesn't mean that the camera on the rear of the iPhone won't get clever new features.
Bloomberg reports that 2018's iPhone 11 will have a 3D scanner on its rear sensor array, citing "people familiar with the plan". This is in addition to - and distinct from - the existing TrueDepth scanner on the front, which is used for Face ID, Animoji and similar features, and which "relies on a structured-light technique that projects a pattern of 30,000 laser dots onto a user's face and measures the distortion".
Instead, the new system would use "a time-of-flight approach that calculates the time it takes for a laser to bounce off surrounding objects", the site claims.
It's believed that this new scanner will be used primarily for augmented reality (AR) applications: building a 3D model of the surrounding environment, and then delivering information and functionality related to this model. Apple has already gone big on AR, with the launch of ARKit at WWDC 2017.
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.
2018 iPhone design changes
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.