There's roughly six months until the 2019 iPhone launch, and the rumour mill is running wild. In this article we look ahead to the next flagship iPhone, discussing and predicting the new device's release date, design, new features, tech specs and price.
It's emerged that Apple has filed a patent for a foldable iPhone that heats itself to avoid damaging the screen, while yet more sources point to a triple-lens camera in a square design. And patent activity points to health features that could smell out low blood sugar.
In separate articles we look at the 2019 iPhone XR update, and rumours of a 5G iPhone. And if you'd prefer advice related to the current range, have a look at our iPhone buying guide and roundup of the best iPhone deals.
We expect three new iPhones (with three different screen sizes) to be announced in September 2019. The onsale date will be a few weeks later.
Apple is a creature of habit when it comes to iPhone launches, and has released new handsets every autumn for the past eight years. (The only exception was the iPhone SE in spring 2016, but the newly announced 25 March event would be too early to expect the next iPhone XS. An iPhone SE 2, on the other hand...)
We also don't expect any iPhone news at WWDC 2019 on 3 June, even though the iPhone 3G and 3GS were unveiled at WWDC events. Apple hasn't talked about phones in the summer since 2009.
Here are the prices for the iPhone XS:
- iPhone XS (64GB): £999/$999
- iPhone XS (256GB): £1,149/$1,149
- iPhone XS (512GB): £1,349/$1,349
After the hefty price rises of the past couple of years we're hopeful that Apple will try to stabilise things this time around, and get the iPhone 2019 out at a similar starting price. But we will add that the company is more likely to achieve this in the US than in the UK; Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union in 2019, and political uncertainty may lead to a loss of confidence in the pound, and consequent price rises for UK customers buying imported goods.
In this section we look at some of the new design changes coming to iPhone design, whether for utility, protection or sheer cosmetic beauty.
Twin-lens rear cameras are looking increasingly old-fashioned - by the end of 2019 we expect most new Android handsets to have three lenses on the back - and a widely repeated rumour holds that Apple is going to step up its game in this area.
The earliest image of this was posted by prolific leaker OnLeaks, and shows the three lenses and the flash arranged in an irregular square. He emphasised in a subsequent tweet, however, that it was "a freakingly [sic] early leak and thus, things may change until official launch". He further added, when comments expressed dislike of the design, that "it will look much smaller" in real life.
The respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has backed up the triple-lens theory in an investor note released in Feb 2019. Digitimes, meanwhile, reports that Largan Precision, which makes iPhone camera lenses, "remains optimistic about adoption of 3-lens or more modules for flagship smartphone models and will continue expanding its production capacity".
We look at the specs and features of the triple camera in the features section.
The Android phone market is fascinated with folding devices right now - we've already reviewed the Royole FlexPai, while MWC saw the launch of the Huawei Mate X and Samsung Galaxy Fold - but this hasn't reached the iPhone range just yet. That could be about to change, if patent activity is anything to go by.
Apple has filed a patent for a phone with a flexible, hinged display in a clamshell design. "When the housing portions in a device are rotated relative to each other, the flexible device may bend," the abstract reads.
The patent was filed in Oct 2018, and published on Valentine's Day 2019, but is a continuation of a whole series of patents dating back as far as 2011.
For more clues, see this Apple patent published on 28 Feb 2019 (but filed on 13 Dec 2017), which addresses the potential problem of a display sustaining damage when folded.
"To facilitate bending about the bend axis without damage when the display is cold," the description reads, "a portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis may be selectively heated."
It adds that a latching mechanism would be added "that prevents opening and closing of the electronic device when the temperature of the portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis is below a predetermined temperature".
For more on this subject, read about article discussing foldable iPhone rumours.
The 'notch' on the X-series iPhones' displays has provoked mixed emotions. Some find it distracting; others appreciate that Apple has used every available millimetre of potential screen space - even going beyond the camera and facial recognition sensors - and some even argue that it is an iconic and recognisable piece of design comparable to the Home button on the original iPhone.
All parties will be interested to hear that rumours suggest the notch could get smaller in 2019, or disappear altogether.
Back in Jan 2018 South Korea's ET News reported that Apple is "looking into combination of a face recognition module with a camera module", a move which would allow the company to shrink the notch - if it wants to. Then in Mar 2018 the same site claimed Apple had found a way to get rid of the notch completely, citing remarks made by a "representative".
Removing the notch may be made possible by a patent related to displays with microscopic openings in between pixels where sensors can be located. The sensors would thus be embedded in the display itself, according to Digital Trends.
Over the years the iPhone has become more and more water-resistant, but this will always be made more difficult by the existence of the charging port. This is particularly so if you want to use an iPhone underwater while an accessory is connected.
To deal with all this, Apple could be planning to change the design of the Lightning port, according to The Verge in a March 2018 article. A patent awarded to Apple describes a port with a liquid-tight seal, triggered by software on the phone.
The charging port would be made from a deformable material that would expand once connected to create a seal. A generator and pistons would execute this process and the iPhone could vibrate to let the user know it was happening.
USB Type C
A report from DigiTimes in June 2018 suggests that Apple is considering switching its iPhones to USB-C from 2019, although we're not convinced.
According to analog IC venders, by adopting USB Type C on the iPhone, Apple will accelerate the adoption of the new interface across the industry. Where the company itself benefits from this is anyone's guess.
The company has adopted USB-C on its 2018 iPad Pros, which makes this step a tiny bit more likely - but USB-C is specifically used on the iPads so that creative professionals can more easily connect digital cameras and transfer high-quality images. This is not something frequently demanded by iPhone users, and we'd say this one remains a long shot - backed up by Mac Otakara's belief that Lightning will remain for reasons of cost, and analyst Ming-Chi Kuo's similar prediction in a Feb 2019 report.
Leaked photos and illustrations
As we approach an iPhone update, leaked images start to emerge from Apple's supply chain - smuggled photos of components, prototype models and even, eventually, the finished devices. And before we get to that point, unofficial concept illustrations, based on leaked information or just the imagination of the artist, will be posted online.
In this section we will post the most interesting and plausible images of the new iPhones.
One of the hottest rumours concerns a triple-lens camera on the rear of the new iPhone(s). But how will this be designed? The first concept illustration for this came out in January, and showed the camera in an uneven square.
Back from September 2019, I bring you the very 1st and very early glimpse at which I guess #Apple will unveil as #iPhoneXI!!! Yes, time has already come to meet the new #iPhone through gorgeous 5K renders made on behalf of new coming Partner @digitindia -> https://t.co/b6SxFUS2tx pic.twitter.com/97jrlTHQ5G— Steve H.McFly (@OnLeaks) January 6, 2019
The square concept was backed up in Mar 2019 by Macotakara's sources among the Chinese supply chain, and by a supposedly leaked component of the chassis:
However, there remain fans of an alternative theory:
This render from January 2019, based on leaked information by Steve Hemmerstoffer and posted by Compareraja, puts the rear triple camera at the centre of the chassis - a major departure from all previous iPhone designs (although plenty of Android phones look like this).
"The camera unit comprises of three sensors + a circle flash around the centre camera lens + mic below the centre camera," explains the site.
The screen is an iPhone's centrepiece and crowning glory: the medium via which you interact with your phone and your phone tells you about the world. Here's where we see the iPhone screen heading in the next generation of handsets.
After the addition of three entirely new screen sizes over the past two years (the 5.8in of the X and XS, the 6.1 of the XR, and the 6.5in of the XS Max), we expect Apple to settle down in 2019. Our prediction is that the 2019 range will fit into those same three sizes.
And it's not just us saying this. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo made the same prediction in his Feb 2019 report.
The iPhone X, XS and XS Max, unlike all other iPhones (which are based on LCD), have OLED screens. In most respects OLED is great: it offers deeper blacks than LCD, brighter whites, overall better colour reproduction and even superior power efficiency. But it's more expensive to make, and there are worries about screen burn-in.
According to a report from the South Korean Electronic Times in May 2018, Apple plans to switch entirely to OLED from 2019. This was taken so seriously that various display companies who have worked with Apple in the past saw substantial dips in their share value (if they are committed to LCD) or rises (if they work with OLED).
iPhone screens are already far tougher than your average piece of glass (they're made of a proprietary material called Gorilla Glass), but they do sometimes crack or even shatter when dropped. Screens made of Sapphire glass would be more resistant still, and Apple is already using sapphire in the display of the Apple Watch: it's possible that the company is now ready to import this material into its smartphone line-up.
Rumoured plans to rely on an Apple-backed sapphire plant in Arizona (which had the capacity to manufacture 200 million 5in iPhone displays per year) fell through. But more recent reports suggest that long-term Apple supplier Foxconn is gearing up to build its own sapphire plant in Taiwan at a cost of $2.6bn.
Mind you, Apple hasn't given up on Corning's Gorilla Glass - not by a long shot. In May 2017 it announced that $200m of its recently announced Advanced Manufacturing Fund would be invested in Corning, in order to "support Corning's R&D, capital equipment needs and state-of-the-art glass processing".
Wendell P Weeks, Corning's chairman, said: "This investment will ensure our plant in Harrodsburg remains a global centre of excellence for glass technology."
Specs and new features
Let's head inside the new iPhone and check out its specs and new features.
This is perhaps the biggest bombshell from the Feb 2019 Kuo report. Bilateral charging refers to the ability of a device to both charge and be charged, and is something we saw for the first time among iOS devices in the 2018 iPad Pros, which are designed to charge iPhones from their own, larger batteries.
(Obviously this feature has been around for years and years if you include laptops.)
Ming-Chi Kuo didn't go into great depth about the bilateral charging he foresees in the 2019 iPhones, but one of the more obvious applications would be AirPods. It's easy to imagine a use case in which a new wireless-charging AirPods case (something strongly expected to launch alongside the AirPods 2 and AirPower) could sit on the back of an iPhone and draw charge from it.
A wired application of the technology is also possible using current AirPods tech.
The analyst also said we should expect the new iPhones for 2019 to have a larger battery capacity, which would help to make this feature a practical benefit.
We discussed this from an aesthetic point of view in the design section, but the prospective triple-lens camera is clearly more important from a features perspective.
An Economic Daily News report sourced from the Asian supply chain predicts that in the second half of 2019, Apple will release an iPhone with three rear-facing camera lenses. It adds that the most powerful of these will be rated at 12Mp, which is the same as on the 2018 models.
EDN cites increasing competition (the obvious comparison point is the triple-lensed Huawei P20 Pro, which tops out at 40Mp) and the need to stand out in a crowded marketplace for the move, which in practical terms should offer improved low-light performance and high-powered zoom but may be more valuable for its wow factor.
This was backed up by a brief and relatively throwaway comment at the start of May 2018, in which analyst Jeff Pu of Yuanta Securities Investment Consulting Co (discussing the financial prospects for lens companies) predicted that Apple will release an iPhone with triple camera lens in the second half of 2019.
This is based on patent activity, so take it with a pinch of salt - patents are often filed speculatively, or even to confuse rivals. But it looks like Apple is exploring technology that would let an iPhone (or an Apple Watch) 'smell' the odours that would indicate a person is suffering from low blood sugar.
The patent application, Systems and Methods for Environment Sensing, focuses largely on the ability to detect hazardous gases and pollution. But there are more intimate health implications too, with the background description mentioning the ability to "measure compounds in human sweat and alert the user about his sugar levels".
Apple's Face ID face-recognition tech will remain in the 2019 iPhones; we don't expect Apple to find a way to embed a fingerprint scanner in the display just yet. But analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (in his Feb 2019 report) reckons the Face ID scanner will be upgraded with a more powerful 'flood illuminator'.
The iPhone has always had its 'own' processors, in the sense that Apple has unique proprietary A9, A10 and A11 chips that you won't find in other manufacturers' phones. But these have historically been made for the company by TSMC.
A consistent rumour has held that Apple will soon take back the reins of this side of iPhone design, and firm evidence of this plan came in the form of a secret (or formerly secret) research base in St Albans, where engineers are working on the iPhone chips of the future.
"To mark its commitment to beefing up its chip-making division in the UK, Apple invited students from 20 schools into its London headquarters to meet the engineers working at the St. Albans UK Silicon Design Centre," reported Metro.