The iPhone XS and its larger XS Max sibling are stunning, state-of-the-art smartphones, but the tech industry is never satisfied. Scant months after the XS launch, we are already looking ahead to Apple's smartphone plans for 2019.
In this article we look ahead to the next flagship iPhone, discussing and predicting the new XS's release date, design, new features, tech specs and price. In separate articles we look at the 2019 iPhone XR update, and at rumours of a 5G iPhone.
We expect the follow-up to the iPhone XS 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 one or more new handsets every autumn for the past eight years. (The only break in that sequence was the iPhone SE launch in March 2016, but next spring would be too early to expect the next iPhone XS. An iPhone SE 2, on the other hand...)
Here's the pricing 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.
While we're talking about beauty... The first concept illustration for the 2019 iPhone has already come out, and we think it looks pretty bizarre. It features a triple-lens camera on the rear of the handset, arranged in a 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 image was posted by prolific leaker OnLeaks, who emphasised in a subsequent tweet that it was "a freakingly 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 '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.
Apparently analog IC venders say that by adopting USB Type C on the iPhone, Apple will accelerate the adoption of the new interface across the industry.
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.
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.
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. Sapphire screens 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 onscreen 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.