In about a month's time, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will likely unveil its next generation iPhone lineup, commonly referred to as the iPhone 7s, iPhone 7s Plus, and iPhone 8 for the premium OLED display-packing variant.
Though these phones all promise to be amazing pieces of technology -- and yes, if you're planning on buying the iPhone 8 on launch day, we're going to be competing for what's rumored to be limited initial quantities of the device -- the following year's iPhone models -- which I'll refer to as "iPhone 9" -- could bring big improvements along with several key feature vectors.
Here are three killer features I expect from Apple's iPhone 9.
Wi-Fi connectivity is a critical part of the smartphone user experience, and Apple's iPhones usually have great Wi-Fi subsystems. Per NotebookCheck.net's review of the iPhone 7 Plus, the phone delivered transfer rates described as "quite high compared to most Android rivals." The current iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus smartphones support dual-stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi, with the chips provided by mobile Wi-Fi giant Broadcom (NASDAQ:AVGO).
On Aug. 15, Broadcom announced that it's sampling new chips based on the new 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard. Among those new chips was a chip called the BCM4375 aimed at the smartphone market, which supports dual-stream 802.11ax connectivity. In a nutshell, these new chips should enable dramatically faster Wi-Fi capabilities than the 802.11c chips that currently power the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
It's too early for Apple to incorporate the BCM4375 into this year's iPhone models. Broadcom is merely sampling them today, and there's usually a six-to-12-month period between when a component samples and when it's deployed in a commercially available product.
However, I think that Apple will adopt the BCM4375 in the 2018 iPhone smartphones, which should mean dramatically improved Wi-Fi performance compared to this year's models.
Another area where Apple is likely to deliver a big improvement in the 2018 iPhone models over this year's models is in cellular connectivity. Since Apple wants to dual-source cellular modems from market-leader Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), as well as challenger Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Apple must restrict the cellular capabilities of its Qualcomm-based smartphones to what Intel's current best modems are capable of.
The XMM 7480 modem from Intel that Apple is likely to use in this year's iPhone models supports up to 600 megabits-per-second downlink speeds and 150 megabits-per-second uplink speeds. In other words, Intel will catch up this year with the capabilities that are present in the Qualcomm chips currently shipping inside of the iPhone 7-series phones, but are throttled back to normalize performance with the current XMM 7360-based iPhone 7-series phones.
Next year, though, Intel is expected to introduce a new modem called the XMM 7560 that supports downlink speeds "exceeding 1Gbps" and uplink speeds of "up to 225Mbps" -- both substantial improvements over the capabilities that'll be present in this year's iPhone models. At the very least, Apple will be able to advertise a more than 67% improvement in downlink speeds and a 50% improvement in uplink speeds over cellular in the 2018 iPhone models compared to this year's models.
Custom graphics processor
Earlier this year, longtime Apple supplier Imagination Technologies (NASDAQOTH: IGNMF) announced that Apple no longer planned to incorporate its graphics intellectual properties into future Apple A-series applications processors. Apple went on to explain in a statement that it's dumping Imagination's technology in favor of in-house technology because it needs "unique and differentiating [intellectual property] for our products." Based on the timeline that Imagination has given vis-a-vis when it expects Apple to stop paying it royalty fees, it's clear that the Apple A12 Fusion processor, which should debut inside of the 2018 iPhone models, will have a custom-designed Apple graphics processor.
I expect Apple to deliver something truly incredible with its own internal graphics processor, particularly given that Imagination's graphics technology has been, and continues to be, quite good. Expect Apple's 2018 iPhone models to have industry-leading graphics-processing capabilities.