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Apple Inc.'s Upcoming 6.1-Inch iPhone Might Not Support This Big Feature

By Ashraf Eassa - Dec 8, 2017 at 8:35AM

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Apple promoted this feature heavily for its 2017 iPhone lineup, but the lowest-cost model in its 2018 iPhone lineup may not have it.

When Apple (AAPL 1.62%) announced the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X smartphones earlier this year, one of the features that the company highlighted during its product launch keynote was the addition of wireless charging

"And now with iPhone 8, with its glass back, we're enabling the freedom of wireless charging," Apple's senior VP of worldwide marketing said during the company's September product launch keynote. 

Apple's iPhone in a mosaic pattern.

Image source: Apple.

The implication of this statement is that the reason Apple couldn't introduce wireless charging in previous generations of iPhones was that the phones were made of all-aluminum bodies.

It's a little puzzling, then, that Nikkei Asian Review, a news source that's generally quite reliable, says that Apple's upcoming 6.1-inch iPhone, which is expected to replace this year's iPhone 8/8 Plus in terms of product positioning, will have a metal back. 

That, of course, would likely mean that the new 6.1-inch iPhone wouldn't support wireless charging. 

Does that make sense? 

It'd be tough

I suspect that Apple is genuinely considering giving the 6.1-inch iPhone an aluminum back instead of a glass back. Aluminum-backed devices are more durable (glass shatters easily) and they're probably cheaper to manufacture (this is why budget phones tend to have metal backs while higher-end devices are moving toward glass and, in some cases, ceramic backs). 

So, for a device that's intended to have a relatively low cost structure (since it'll be selling for a relatively low price), it's not hard to see why using an aluminum back would be an attractive choice. 

However, the trade-offs include a possibly less attractive-looking device, and the loss of wireless-charging capability.

A conspicuous loss, and some alternatives

I think Apple would have a problem on its hands if it tried to position this 6.1-inch iPhone as a successor to the iPhone 8, because a feature that had just arrived in the prior generation would be stripped away. 

The device would, of course, have other selling points, like a reported full-face display, upgraded cellular capabilities, and a TrueDepth camera that could offset the loss, but I think the loss of wireless charging would still leave a bad taste in prospective customers' mouths. 

Apple's iPhone 8 Plus (left), and iPhone 8 (right).

Image source: Apple.

If this report is true, I see a couple of options. First, the back of the phone might not be all aluminum -- it could potentially have a portion of the back of the device that isn't metal to allow for the inductive charging process to happen. 

This could be akin to the glass strips at the top and the bottom of the iPhone 5/5s/SE design that serve as windows for wireless signals to pass through. 

That said, I don't know how aesthetically pleasing such a design would ultimately be, especially if that window had to be rather large to allow for the inductive charging process to work. 

Alternatively, Apple could simply use wireless charging as a way to upsell consumers on the higher-end iPhone X-successor as well as its rumored larger counterpart. 

In other words, Apple could essentially tell its customers that if they think wireless charging is so valuable, they might as well buy a phone that's better in other respects, too, to get the feature. 

Apple would have to craft its marketing message quite carefully if it is to pull off such a stunt without angering its customer base, something that I think will be quite difficult for the company to avoid doing in this case.

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