The Apple iPhone 6S
Photograph by Chesnot — Getty Images
By Don Reisinger
June 23, 2016

Recent rumors about Apple’s next iPhone upgrade, presumed to be the iPhone 7, suggest that it will be a minor upgrade over the existing iPhone 6s. But current iPhone owners might still be forced to buy all-new accessories for the upcoming handset.

The latest rumor comes from Japan-based Apple-tracking site Mac Otakara, which cited sources who said that Apple plans to move the ambient light sensor, which adapts the screen’s brightness to the surrounding environment’s light, in the iPhone 7 to the right side of its ear hole instead of the left side where it is now. In addition, the company plans to expand the size of the iPhone 7’s ear hole compared to the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6, according to the report, which was earlier reported by 9to5Mac.

Beyond that, Mac Otakara’s sources seem to confirm the many reports that have come before it that claim the iPhone 7 will only be a modest upgrade with a few design enhancements compared to the iPhone 6s when it’s expected to be unveiled this fall. However, even modest upgrades can mean extra cost for people who have already bought accessories for their iPhone 6s or iPhone 6.

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One of the nice things about the jump to an “S” Apple (AAPL) iPhone model is that new accessories aren’t typically required. The designs are, in most cases, nearly identical to their previous iterations, allowing (in most instances) those who own the earlier models to simply swap cases, which can cost anywhere from a few dollars for cheap versions to far more for high-end options, and screen protectors, which can also set customers back a somewhat-expensive sum, depending on the version they choose, without any problem. When Apple switches to a completely new design, however, customers typically need a new case, screen protector, and other accessories. The cost of ownership, in other words, increases beyond the cost of the iPhone itself.

Since Apple wasn’t expected to dramatically update the iPhone 7’s design, some had previously hoped they could use the same accessories they already employ in the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s.

If the rumors are true that Apple is making small changes to the placement of its ear hole and ambient light sensor, however, the hope for reusing old accessories is lost. A screen protector that works with the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s, for example, won’t come with a gap that would match the size of the iPhone 7’s ear hole and could potentially distort the sound. And if the iPhone 7 is slightly thinner than previous models, as earlier reports suggest, it won’t fit snugly into existing cases.

Of course, iPhone owners are all too familiar with needing to upgrade accessories to accommodate changes Apple makes to its products. But if the iPhone 7 includes a minor change in design over the iPhone 6s, some may be unhappy to discover that a just few small tweaks are enough to make their existing accessories useless.

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And there’s one other issue. If Apple plans to deliver a major iPhone update next year with an all-new design, the accessories customers buy this year will again be obsolete.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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