Thus far, surprisingly little has leaked to the Web about Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) next-generation iPhones, likely to be called iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. In this article, I would like to offer up my predictions for what to expect from the next generation iPhone.
These predictions will be based on some of the leaks from credible sources (i.e. KGI Securities' Ming-Chi Kuo), an investigation of the kinds of technologies Apple's suppliers will have available for the iDevice maker to use, as well as an analysis of the competitive environment that Apple will face.
With that in mind, let's get to it.
New processor, more RAM for the larger device
As is customary for new Apple products, investors should expect Apple to deliver a new applications processor (known as the A10), which should, once again, deliver best-in-class CPU and graphics performance, as well as other functionality to support the rest of the iPhone's subsystems (such as the camera).
Beyond that, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, we should expect the 4.7-inch iPhone to pack two gigabytes of memory while the 5.5-inch model will come with three gigabytes of memory.
The iPhone 6s/6s Plus currently use LPDDR4 memory that runs at 3200 MT/s speeds; I think that there's a solid chance that the next generation iPhone will use faster LPDDR4 memory (perhaps modules rated for 4266 MT/s speeds) in order to better feed what is surely to be a more capable graphics engine on the A10 compared to the A9.
Faster cellular, potentially faster Wi-Fi
Comments from Apple-supplier Avago (NASDAQ:AVGO) suggest that RF content inside of Apple's next several iPhones will be growing significantly. As I wrote in an earlier article, I believe that these boosts in RF content will be to support greater cellular speeds, enabled by more advanced cellular baseband processors from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM).
Indeed, I believe that the iPhone 7 will use Qualcomm's X12 LTE modem, which should lead to a doubling of peak download speeds from what the iPhone 6s can deliver; peak upload speeds should triple.
Apple also significantly improved Wi-Fi speeds in its last two iPhone releases as it has been more aggressive in adopting newer connectivity combo chips from Broadcom (UNKNOWN:BRCM.DL). I expect that Broadcom (which is being acquired by Avago) will announce new connectivity chips in the February/March timeframe; if/when that happens, we should have a good idea of what kind of Wi-Fi performance increase to expect in the next generation iPhones.
Slimmer design with narrower bezels
KGI Securities' Ming-Chi Kuo said a while back that Apple's next generation iPhones will be between 6 millimeters and 6.5 millimeters thick, representing significant reductions from the 7.1 and 7.3 millimeter thicknesses of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, respectively.
I also believe that, as a result of enhanced in-cell display technologies, Apple will also slim down the bezels on the new devices. This should allow Apple to deliver similar screen real-estate to the current generation iPhones but in a smaller, easier-to-handle footprint.
Substantially enhanced display
Apple generally updates the displays on its iPhones every two years, so it is critical for the company to come out of the gate with a best-in-class display with its "numbered" iPhone releases.
With the iPhone 7, I believe Apple will deliver a number of significant improvements over the displays found in the iPhone 6/6s generation of devices.
Firstly, increases in display resolution are almost certain; in particular, the relatively low resolution of the iPhone 6/6s has been a point of criticism in reviews, particularly as other (and much cheaper) devices pack in higher resolution/pixels per inch displays.
To this end, I believe that the 4.7-inch phone will include a 1920-by-1080 display, improving sharpness from the 1334-by-750 display found on the iPhone 6/6s as pixel density would balloon from 326 pixels per inch to a very sharp 468 pixels per inch.
Additionally, I suspect that the 5.5-inch model will feature a display resolution of 2560-by-1440, driving pixel density up from 401 pixels per inch on the current model to a whopping 534 pixels per inch.
Beyond the improvements in resolution/pixel density, I am expecting significant improvements in black levels/contrast ratio (to tide Apple customers over until it moves to OLED displays which have "perfect" black levels) as well as color accuracy/quality.
Finally, I believe that Apple will introduce the same wide color gamut technology that's present in the 4K/5K iMac displays for richer colors.
Camera improvements, too
Apple moved from an 8 megapixel sensor to a 12 megapixel sensor with the iPhone 6s/6s Plus, delivering a big boost in image sharpness. I suspect with the next generation iPhones, Apple will stick with a 12 megapixel sensor and focus on improvements in image quality.
For example, a report from Business Insider ahead of the iPhone 6s/6s Plus launch said that the follow-on to the iPhone 6s/6s Plus would include a six element lens rather than a five element lens. This, an expert interviewed by Business Insider indicated, should allow the camera to absorb more light, leading to "clearer and sharper images."
In particular, the article indicated that a greater number of lens elements is needed in order to widen a camera's aperture (allowing for better low-light photos). I suspect that with the iPhone 7, a six element lens working in concert with a wider camera aperture, we'll see a big boost in the low-light capabilities of the device's rear camera.
Finally, I strongly suspect that Apple will finally add optical image stabilization to the iPhone 7, no longer reserving this feature for the higher-end "Plus" model.
A recent rumor suggested that Apple is toying with multiple iPhone 7 prototypes, each with a different set of features and technologies. Although I am inclined to dismiss most of the reported features mentioned, there was one mentioned that actually made a lot of sense: multi-3D Touch.
Given that there are a number of chip vendors that are working to bring 3D Touch to the masses, Apple may need a way to stay a step ahead here. Successfully implementing a multi-3D Touch scheme whereby the phone can detect pressure from multiple fingers simultaneously could be just the edge that Apple needs.
Such a phone would be a big upgrade from the iPhone 6
As the smartphone market matures, Apple needs to continue to increase the pace of innovation in its devices to keep people interested in upgrading to the latest models (and to try to continue to gain share against high-end Android devices)
The improvements that I described above won't be easy for Apple to implement, but should the company pull it off, the iPhone 7/7 Plus will make the iPhone 6/6 Plus (and older) devices seem downright old and outdated, potentially helping to catalyze a solid upgrade cycle.
In fact, these features should make even the current generation iPhone 6s/6s Plus look fairly dated, too. This would actually be good for Apple which likely wants to do everything it can to shorten iPhone upgrade cycles, especially as the smartphone market matures.