The Apple iPhone 6S
Photograph by Chesnot — Getty Images
By Don Reisinger
June 22, 2016

If you’ve been paying attention to the murmurs surrounding Apple’s next iPhone, you might’ve discovered something: expectations for this year’s handset are low.

That was made abundantly clear in the latest report from the Wall Street Journal, which cited sources who said that Apple’s iPhone 7, expected to launch later this year, will come with only minor upgrades compared to its current iPhone 6s. In fact, Apple will likely enhance the internal components in the device and offer only minor design upgrades, the Journal‘s sources say.

The biggest change? Apple is planning to ditch the headphone jack, requiring users to either employ Bluetooth headphones or use an adapter that would apparently connect to the device’s Lightning port.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

The Journal’s report follows a slew of earlier rumors, supply chain checks, and analyst predictions that have sounded awfully similar. Indeed, for months, we’ve been hearing that the two-year-lifecycle Apple (AAPL) has relied upon for years with its iPhones is dead and it’s instead focused on delivering major changes every three years from here on out.

Those reports have been followed by claims that next year’s iPhone will represent a major upgrade, featuring an all-glass enclosure, a better (and perhaps curved) screen, and much more. Even the Journal‘s sources, who are the latest to chime in on Apple’s plans, say that’s the case. They say that Apple’s design guru Jony Ive is pushing for an all-glass iPhone with an entirely new design to launch next year.

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The mounting reports lead to one, simple question: Will the 2017 iPhone—and not the iPhone 7—be the device we’ve longed for?

I’ve owned an iPhone since its launch in 2007 and I’ve watched Apple weave its way through the smartphone market with major updates every other year. Each time those major updates come, I do my best to get the handset on launch day. After all, who doesn’t want a major upgrade with a new, compelling design, and high-end components? The iPhone 6 I’m using now was a major upgrade over my iPhone 5, and my iPhone 5 was a major upgrade over my iPhone 6.

Since last year was an interim launch, or the “S” year, as Apple likes to call it, I was hoping for something big from Apple in 2016. After all, if history is to be our guide, the iPhone 6s should be replaced by an iPhone 7 featuring major updates.

But Apple is changing the name of the game.

Exactly why Apple is reportedly changing its tack is hard to understand. Some say that the supply chain simply can’t churn out enough supply to accommodate the heavy demand for Apple’s products. Others say Apple just needs a bit more time to bring to bear its massively improved designs.

Truth be told, it’s hard to tell what’s true. We’ve heard reports that Apple has signed multibillion dollar contracts with display companies, including Samsung Display, to offer organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens for a 2017 iPhone launch. Those same reports claimed Apple was hoping to use OLED in its iPhone sooner (it’s only ever used liquid crystal displays in its iPhones), but the companies producing them couldn’t match its quantity needs. We’ve also been told that innovation within the smartphone component market isn’t moving as quickly as Apple might like, forcing it to slow its lifecycle. Then there are always those who simply believe Apple is losing its mojo.

I find it hard to believe Apple has lost its mojo, and I can understand why the company might be changing how it updates iPhones. After all, next year will be the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone. Regardless of whether it’s having trouble getting the components it wants, wouldn’t it be odd if Apple delivered the iPhone 7s, a slight update over this year’s iPhone 7, to commemorate an anniversary? Apple needs to make a splash next year, and if that means offering a few minor upgrades this year, so be it.

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Of course, analysts aren’t so thrilled with the idea. In fact, some have said that iPhone unit sales growth will slow this year due to a minor upgrade. Over the long term, however, they’re far more bullish, saying the runway looks long for Apple to increase iPhone sales as it gets ready for a big launch next year.

So, what does all of this mean for me and millions of other iPhone buyers?

I suppose I’m left with a problem. My iPhone 6 is quickly aging, and I had every intention of buying an iPhone 7 this year. But all signs are now pointing to a major upgrade coming next year. For the first time ever, I, like many others, might buy a new iPhone two years in a row. It’s not ideal, of course, but I’m caught in a place where I don’t want to keep my iPhone 6 for another year and next year’s iPhone sounds too appealing to overlook.

Luckily (or perhaps intentionally?), Apple and its carrier partners have made yearly upgrades much easier than they were in the past when we needed to wait for our contracts to allow an update. Apple, for instance, offers its iPhone Upgrade program, which allows customers to pay a monthly fee for its devices and get a new smartphone each year. Carriers offer similar plans.

It appears then that I’ll be joining the ranks of annual iPhone upgraders and paying my monthly fee for that right. Like it or not, I’m caught up in Apple’s world, and even if this year’s iPhone is a disappointment and some may ignore it until next year’s smartphone launches, I’ll be upgrading.

That said, this is Apple we’re talking about. Although the rumors seem to be pointing to one conclusion, the company is notoriously secretive and could throw us a curve ball with a major upgrade this year. The possibility is looking less likely, but stranger things have happened in Cupertino.

So, I’ll wait and see what Apple announces later this year, but know in the back of my mind that if it’s a disappointment, something better is just around the corner.

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