Apple's iPhone update in the autumn of 2018 could see three or even four new iPhones launch at the same time.
In this article we look at all the rumours concerning the successor to the iPhone X, and the expected larger iPhone X Plus: their release date, prices, design changes (such as the notch, which we think might shrink but isn't going away any time soon), tech specs and new features.
We also think Apple is likely to update the iPhone SE in the spring of 2018, and we have a separate article addressing those rumours here: iPhone SE 2 news. And for advice related to the current lineup, you may prefer to read our iPhone buying guide and roundup of the best iPhone deals.
What will the new iPhones be called?
Here are some of the possibilities:
- iPhone 9 and iPhone 9 Plus
- iPhone 11 and 11 Plus (aka iPhone XI and XI Plus)
- iPhone Xs and Xs Plus
- iPhone X Plus (to join the existing iPhone X)
- Or just plain iPhone and iPhone Plus
There are enough potential names for the new 2018 iPhone that we could probably write a whole article just about that! Tell us what you think in the poll below.
Release date for the new iPhones
We expect the successor(s) to the iPhones 8, 8 Plus 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 every September.
In 2017 the company didn't launch all of its new iPhones at the same time: the iPhone X arrived one month after the 8 and 8 Plus. Whether this was intentional isn't completely clear. But we don't expect there will be a staggered launch for the new iPhones in autumn 2018.
KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo doesn't think Apple will miss the September launch date in 2018, and believes Apple's focus this year will be to ensure all the new models are ready to meet the same shipping date. "Achieving stable shipments and on-time shipping" will be the company's aim, he said in a research note back in October 2017.
How many new iPhones will Apple launch?
Initial reports indicated that three new iPhones would be announced in autumn 2018; further reports in Jan 2018 suggested it could be as many as four.
First up, in Nov 2017 Ming-Chi Kuo predicted that three new models would launch in autumn 2018, and that these would have the same all-screen design with the now-familiar notch. In January he followed up with more details of each model. As illustrated below, that's:
- 5.8in OLED: iPhone 11 or XI, with largely same design as iPhone X
- 6.5in OLED: iPhone X Plus or XI Plus
- 6.1in LCD: a cheaper alternative - starting at around $700 - with the notch design of the X but slightly larger bezels. It will feature Face ID but not 3D Touch and won't have twin camera lenses on the rear. Kuo later predicted that this model could sell 100 million units
In Dec 2017, Nikkei, citing "a source privy to the company's product designs", said we should expect two new OLED models, in 6.3in and 5.8in sizes, and an LCD phone measuring 6.1in. That's:
- 6.3in OLED
- 5.8in OLED
- 6.1in LCD
But according to DigiTimes Research senior analyst Luke Lin in Jan 2018, there will be four new iPhones:
- 5.7- to 5.8in LCD
- 6.0- to 6.1in LCD
- 6.0- to 6.1in OLED
- 6.4- to 6.5in OLED
A surprising rumour, which started doing the rounds in Jan 2018, holds that Apple is looking to end production of the iPhone X after only a year on the market. This appears to have been sparked by analyst Jun Zhang of Rosenblatt Securities making the (noticeably less controversial) prediction that the company "may be planning to cut iPhone X production for the June quarter by as much as 10 million units".
To us it seems more likely that Apple would simply be ramping down production of what would by then be less of a hyped product, and focusing instead on making the new phones for autumn 2018 - which as discussed above could encompass the launch of three (or four) separate form factors.
If it's diversifying its product portfolio that much, Apple may withdraw more current products from sale than usual, which could mean the end of the iPhone X. But for the company to sell a smartphone for only a year (rather than keeping it on sale when the successor arrives, and dropping the price) would be both unusual and surprising.
iPhone 2018 prices
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 an 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).
Design changes in the new iPhones
Here's everything we've heard about the 2018 iPhone's design so far:
In 2018 we expect all of Apple's new iPhones to take on the all-screen iPhone X design. This would mean 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. By the way, that may all change in 2019 - South Korea's ET News has predicted that Apple is "looking into the combination of a face recognition module with a camera module" which could result in the notch being shrunk down.
Barclays analysts Andrew Gardiner, Hiral Patel, Joseph Wolf and Blayne Curtis agree that the notch is likely to get smaller, but think it's likely to happen sooner than that: in a research note released on Valentine's Day 2018 they predicted this would affect the 2018 launches as well.
But the notch disappearing entirely? Not likely. In February 2018, Apple doubled down on the concept, updating its App Store submission guidelines to insist that from April 2018, all apps must support the iPhone X's Super Retina display. That means "respecting safe areas, supporting adaptive layouts", and absolutely accommodating the notch.
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".
As outlined above, there are a number of reports suggesting a variety of sizes for the new iPhone models.
There could be three or four 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.
Nikkei, as mentioned in the section 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.
A report from Commercial Times on 23 January 2018 (via Macrumours) suggests that even if the successor to the iPhone X has a bigger screen it may actually be physically smaller than that device. This could be possible if Apple uses Japan Display's "Full Active" LCD technology which allows for a 0.5mm bezel - smaller than the bezel on the current iPhone X, according to the report.
As mentioned above, a January 2018 report from DigiTimes suggested that the four new iPhones could come with screens in the following sizes: an LCD measuring 5.7- to 5.8in, two phones measuring 6.0- to 6.1in (one an LCD, the other an OLED) and an OLED screen measuring 6.4- to 6.5in.
Screen resolution/pixel density
Earning the new branding Super Retina HD, the iPhone X had the highest resolution (2436 x 1125) and pixel density (459 pixels per inch, or ppi) of any iPhone so far, and after that major upgrade we don't expect Apple to go any higher than 458ppi in 2018. But there have been some rumours.
It has been noticed on Twitter that eMagin, an OLED microdisplay maker that Apple (along with LG and Valve) invested in early in 2018, has the capability to make displays with a pixel density greater than 2,500ppi. Displays even close to that capability would be an extraordinary step forward for the iPhone range.
The reason we don't expect such a step is that eMagin makes microdisplays, and it's very difficult to recreate their capabilities on larger screens. eMagin's displays are designed for extremely close-up use - most obviously VR headsets - and it's therefore far more likely that this investment is significant in terms of Apple's VR ambitions.
OLED, LCD-TFT, or Micro LED screens
There is some debate over how many new iPhones will feature OLED screens and which will get LCD instead.
According to Kuo (in November 2017), two of the new 2018 iPhones will feature a OLED screen, like the 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 Kuo 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)."
However, on 26 January 2018 Digitimes Research senior analyst Luke Lin said that Apple is leaning towards releasing two LCD-based iPhones in 2018. One of these LCD models will be 5.7in to 5.8in, and the other from 6.0in to 6.1in.
Lin claims that Apple is considering a larger 6.4in to 6.5in OLED model to replace the iPhone X, reports MacRumors.
There are also 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 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 colour saturation.
New features & tech specs
The late-2017 iPhones added Face ID and wireless charging features. Here's what we're expecting in 2018.
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.
On 8 Feb 2018 Kuo's prediction was backed up by two reports from Apple's Asian supply chain, which each agree that Face ID is coming to all three new iPhones in 2018. The Korean-language site ETNews and the Investor each quote industry sources to support their assertions.
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.
In terms of batteries, it looks like we can expect improvements here in 2018.
According to KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (in a report referred to above), the new models with LCD screens (successors to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus) will have a 2850-2950 mAh battery. This should add up to 8% more capacity than the battery in the iPhone X. In these phones the battery will be rectangular.
And the models with the OLED screens (successors to the iPhone X, we'll call them the iPhone Xs and XS Plus, for the sake of argument) will offer an L-shaped, 3300-3400mAh battery. That is 25% more capacity than the iPhone X.
In other battery-related news, 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 logic board to save space.
According to KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the successor to the iPhone X could have 4GB RAM. The iPhone X has 3GB RAM.
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 capabilities 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 game-changer, 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 has 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."
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 cameras heading in the 2018 update.
Front-facing 'TrueDepth' 3D camera
According to KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (in October 2017) the iPhone X's 3D sensing capabilities are already at least one year ahead of Android smartphones so it's unlikely we will see an update to that technology in 2018.
However, in 2019 we may see improvements to the TrueDepth Camera on the front of the iPhone (as well as a TrueDepth camera on the back of the device, which we will discuss next).
As mentioned above, it seems unlikely that Face ID, or any of the TrueDepth technology, will make it to the iPhone's rear-facing camera in 2018. However, that doesn't mean that the camera on the rear of the iPhone won't get clever new features.
In November 2017, Bloomberg reported that 2018's iPhone 11/Xs/Xi 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.
Images & illustrations
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.
Ahead of an iPhone launch designers and illustrators around the world put their brains to the task of imagining radical new designs. The first renders appeared on iDrop News in October 2017:
Back 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. Still, we have a concept image for such a design here:
Concept illustration by Michael Shanks.