For the first time in three years, Apple is prepping a brand new design for the 2017 iPhone upgrade cycle. And based on early leaks and rumors, the new design is going to bring some sizzle back to the smartphone just in time for its 10th anniversary edition.
iPhone sales dipped last year for the first time since the iconic product went on sale in 2007. Some blamed smartphone market saturation, but Apple also failed to deliver its usual every-other-year overhaul of the iPhone’s exterior design. The 2016 iPhone 7 had many internal improvements, but on the outside not much changed beyond the controversial removal of the headphone jack.
That won’t be the case in 2017, according to numerous sources led by the usually-reliable KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Apple won’t comment on any of the rumors, though CEO Tim Cook released a short statement commemorating the 10th anniversary and promising “the best is yet to come.”
The most noticeable rumored change this year will be on the front screen, where Apple is expected to eliminate entirely the framing bezels and even the physical home button. The new iPhone screen will run from edge to edge and top to bottom, according to the rumor mill. The home button will become a virtual, on screen button (similar to the effect current users can achieve if they turn on “AssistiveTouch” in the iPhone’s accessibility settings). That will allow Apple to either maintain its current 4.7 and 5.5-inch screen sizes while shrinking the overall size of the phones, according to some sources, or possibly allow slightly larger screens of 5 and 5.8-inches in the same current footprint sizes. The ultimate decision may rest on how many OLED screens can be manufactured as producers are straining to meet rapidly increasing demand.
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The screen itself may also use a newer technology called organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, which takes advantage of the electroluminescence in some organic materials. By replacing the silicon layer in a traditional LED with an organic polymer, an OLED screen can be more flexible and brighter while consuming less power.
Apple has improved the iPhone’s LED screen somewhat in recent years by increasing the range of colors it can show, making photos appear more lifelike for example. But the iPhone’s screen resolution of 750 pixels by 1,334 pixels has not changed in the past three models.
Meanwhile, competitors like Samsung have been adding more pixels and using OLED to create sharper on-screen images, a far more noticeable improvement than Apple’s color range improvement. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 phone released last year, for example, had a 5.1-inch OLED screen with a resolution of 2560 pixels by 1440 pixels.
Apple is also rumored to be returning to an all-glass enclosure, dumping the aluminum back that arrived in 2012 with the iPhone 5. But the phone won’t be the too-easily-shattered disaster of the iPhone 4s era because Apple (AAPL) supplier Corning (GLW) has been hard at work in its materials labs. If Apple opts for Corning’s latest–Gorilla Glass 5–even a butter-fingered iPhone user could drop a phone from shoulder height onto a concrete floor without shattering the screen at least four out of five times, Corning says. Or maybe Gorilla Glass 6 will be ready by September to protect the iPhone from five out of five spills.
For more about the rumored virtual home button, watch:
Another big improvement could be arriving in the form of new battery charging technology. Last year’s iPhone got rid of the headphone jack, prompting many Apple fans to dump their corded headphones for wireless models, including Apple’s new AirPods. That potentially left the power cord as the only cable still needed–and that’s the rumored target of Apple’s wireless charging feature coming this year.
Some startups have been touting an advanced form of wireless charging that can send power to a device anywhere in the same room over the air. But at least so far, the most credible rumors about this year’s iPhone suggest a simpler wireless charging solution already seen in some competitors’ phones. Known as inductive charging, the technique charges a phone without any connecting cables, but the device must be in contact with a charging mat or stand. Apple is also working on true over-the-air wireless charging, Bloomberg reported last year.
Maybe it will be ready in time for the 11th anniversary edition.