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Why Apple Inc. Won't Wait Until the iPhone 7s to Bring a Massive Camera Improvement

By Ashraf Eassa – Feb 3, 2016 at 8:30PM

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Don't expect historical trends to continue into the future for the iDevice maker's most important product category.

Recent reports in the press suggest that Apple (AAPL -2.62%) is planning to bring some fairly substantial camera improvements to its next-generation iPhones, particularly the Plus model, which is rumored to use a multilens camera design.

A number of readers of various Apple-related news sites have pointed out that Apple traditionally saves its big camera improvements for its "s" iPhone models, suggesting that a big boost in camera capability won't come until the iPhone 7s.

In this article, I'll explain why I don't expect this historical trend to continue.

iPhone 6s/6s Plus didn't bring significant camera improvements
Many were disappointed by the fairly minimal improvements that Apple brought to the table with the iPhone 6s/6s Plus. Apple included higher-resolution sensors in these devices compared to the prior-generation models, but aside from that the consensus seems to be that image quality didn't actually improve much from the iPhone 6/6 Plus.

I'm not sure why Apple decided to basically phone it in with the iPhone 6s' camera, but Apple would be shooting itself in the foot if it didn't bring a major leap in camera performance/quality with the iPhone 7/7 Plus.

Indeed, the competition is only getting more aggressive and Apple needs to provide customers with as many reasons as possible to upgrade in the face of what is shaping up to be the first-ever year-over-year slump in iPhone sales.

Historical trends need not apply
As I wrote about in an earlier article, Apple has significantly boosted its research and development spending over the last couple of years. Although I suspect that some of this incremental spending is going toward non-iPhone related ventures, Apple is no doubt substantially increasing its investments in the iPhone in a bid to try to get/stay ahead of the competition.

Indeed, in the early part of iPhone's life, Apple likely couldn't afford what it's able to spend now, meaning that it had to be somewhat slavish to a predictable set of improvements in the "s" and "new number" iPhone launches. But with much greater ability to spend on technology development, the patterns that held true in the past will probably not hold going forward.

Expect big camera leaps with both the 7...and the 7s
I am confident at this point that the iPhone 7 will bring a substantial leap in camera quality from the iPhone 6s. There are still a number of ways in which Apple's cameras lag even flagship Android devices today and I suspect that this delta will widen with the introduction of new Android flagships in the coming months.

However, I suspect that Apple is working diligently to close that gap, if not outright take the lead, with the iPhone 7.

I suspect that with the iPhone 7s, Apple will once again deliver a big improvement in camera technology. There is still a very long way to go before the iPhone camera will be able to come anywhere close to modern DSLRs in terms of image quality, but the closer that Apple can get, the more attractive future iPhones will be to buyers who value the quality of the images produced by their phones (which, I'd guess, is a lot).

Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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