KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo sent a note out to clients claiming that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will introduce not one but two variants of its next-generation Plus iPhone, which will likely be called the iPhone 7 Plus. The highest-end variant is said to come with a new dual-lens camera setup, which should allow for dramatically improved image quality and potentially even some interesting features like optical zoom.
Although Kuo's track record is quite good, which means that this report is likely accurate, it gained significant credibility over the last couple of weeks. Here's why.
Reason No. 1: Sony just told us that dual-lens cameras are coming
As many websites have observed, Apple camera sensor supplier Sony (NYSE:SNE) had some interesting commentary around the timing of the adoption of dual-lens cameras.
"For next year, our so-called dual lens -- dual camera -- platform will be launched by, we believe, from major smartphone players," said Kenichiro Yoshida, Sony's chief financial officer.
Yoshida went on to say that "the real start, the takeoff of smartphone [sic] with dual lens camera will be in the year of 2017."
Given that Apple will likely launch the iPhone 7 Plus in the fall of 2016 and that it will be shipping this as its flagship for the bulk of calendar 2017, this is a pretty big clue that Apple will indeed adopt a dual-lens camera for at least some of its iPhone 7 models.
Reason No. 2: Independent verification of this report from others
Once Kuo spilled the beans on Apple's plans, IT news website DIGITIMES chimed in with a report that corroborated and added further color to Kuo's comments.
In particular, DIGITIMES says that a number of camera lens vendors, including Largan Technology (which reportedly provides Apple with lenses for more than 60% of its iDevice cameras), as well as Japan- and China-based vendors, "have sent dual-lens camera samples to Apple for testing."
Although DIGITIMES' track record is sometimes hit or miss, the site does tend to have a good read on what's going on in the Asia smartphone component supply chain. If Apple is, in fact, planning to adopt this technology, the supply chain will naturally be busy getting ready to meet Apple's orders -- something that is very hard to hide.
The one thing that isn't clear at this point is...
At this point, I am convinced that we will see an iPhone with a dual-lens camera launch in the fall. However, what I'm not convinced of is that Apple will have two distinct variants of the iPhone 7 Plus differentiated solely on the camera side of things.
Instead, I see Apple doing one of two things. The first is that the company will endow all of the iPhone 7 Plus models with the dual camera. I see this as possible, but given that Kuo expects supply constraints on the new dual-lens cameras, it may simply not be feasible.
The second is that Apple won't actually call the dual lens iPhone an iPhone 7 Plus. According to one rumor, the phone will be called the iPhone 7 Plus Dual -- a clunky name to be sure, but it would clearly indicate a "higher-tier" line.
Such a higher-end phone would clearly be differentiated by the camera, but I can't help but wonder if Apple wouldn't take the opportunity to add some other "exclusive" features to make it that much harder for customers with cash to burn to resist. Some features such as a 256 gigabyte storage option, a higher-resolution/quality display, or even a higher-clocked processor could be used to sweeten the deal.
In a nutshell, I do believe Apple wants to find as many ways as possible to upsell users to higher-end iPhones, so I'm inclined to believe that there will be two tiers of iPhone Plus for customers to choose from.