One of the features of Apple's (AAPL 1.50%) iPhones that people seem to really care about is the camera. For many -- if not most -- people, their smartphone cameras are their only/primary cameras, so it makes sense that it's a feature that gets a lot of attention from both consumers and Apple alike.
Back in April, it was widely reported that Apple had purchased a start-up called LinX for $20 million. LinX worked on the development of "multi-aperture" cameras -- essentially using multiple smaller sensors rather than one larger sensor to boost image quality.
There's little doubt in my mind that Apple plans to bring this technology to a future iPhone, and I think that we'll see it sooner rather than later. The question, though, is whether we'll see it on the iPhone 7 or if we'll have to wait for the follow on device -- presumably known as the iPhone 7s -- to see it.
An iPhone 7s debut is more likely -- here's why
With the difficulties that Apple seems to be facing in driving demand for its latest iPhone 6s/6s Plus phones, as evidenced by reports of iPhone 6s/6s Plus component order cuts, Apple will certainly be under substantial pressure to bring increasingly interesting and innovative technologies to the marketplace.
At the same time, though, novel technologies can be quite difficult to implement, particularly in a way that's cost effective. That's why advancements in the technology that rolls out to end users tends to be fairly gradual.
I believe that Apple will be able to wring out one more significant generational improvement in its camera with a traditional single-sensor implementation. Indeed, there are still several low-hanging fruit that Apple can exploit to deliver significant image-quality enhancements without needing to go to a multi-sensor implementation.
For example, Apple could move to a wider camera aperture (the iPhone 6s/6s Plus feature an f/2.2 aperture while competing smartphones have already moved on to f/2.0, f/1.9, and even f/1.8) to enable better low-light photos. Business Insider also reported last year that Apple is looking to move from a five-element lens to a six-element lens, which should further boost image quality (particularly in low-light conditions).
I could also see Apple utilizing a newly designed sensor to deliver even better image quality.
A radical camera improvement, coupled with an OLED display could make for a killer iPhone 7s
One of the problems that I think is plaguing the iPhone 6s/6s Plus is the fact that, aside from 3D Touch, it had no "killer" feature compared to the iPhone 6/6 Plus.
I believe that there's a solid chance that iPhone 7 brings enough changes/improvements over the iPhone 6/6s generation of phones to ignite a solid upgrade cycle. However, Apple will once again face a challenge with the iPhone 7s to try to bring something truly compelling and unique to the table, especially if it carries over the same industrial design that it used with the 7.
This new camera technology, coupled with a newer, much more advanced image signal processor baked into the A11 chip, could be a big part of that value proposition. Additionally, Cowen and Co. analyst Timothy Arcuri recently said (via Barron's) that Apple is working on a "proprietary" OLED display technology that it could ask Samsung to build for it for "fall '17."
If Apple moves to a substantially better camera, introduces an OLED-based display, and all of the other typical internal upgrade "goodies" that come with 's' cycle upgrades, the company could be in a strong position to grow during the iPhone 7s cycle off of what could be a very nice iPhone 7 cycle.