The highly anticipated iPhone 7 is due to hit shelves this summer or autumn, but what can we expect from Apple’s latest smartphone? Manufacturing Global investigates.
Few high-profile design changes: Having come up with an all-new aesthetic for the iPhone 6, Apple is unlikely to alter the look and feel of the handset for the next update too dramatically. Changes to the operating system and upgrades for individual components will take centre-stage, assuming Apple follows its usual pattern of product releases. That being said, Apple could well abandon the iPhone 6S, moving straight to the iPhone 7 which could see aesthetic changes sooner than expected.
New aluminium frame: While the design may stay the same, the iPhone 7 may be built from a new material. According to reports, Apple is planning to make use of the "Series 7000" aluminium alloy it developed for the Apple Watch on its smartphones.
Higher-resolution screen: When Apple launched the iPhone 4 in June 2010, it said the "Retina" screen provided the maximum resolution perceptible to the human eye. Nevertheless, it stepped up the screen resolution for the iPhone 6 Plus, boosting pixels per inch from 326 to 401 for its supersized smartphone and describing the new screen as a "Retina HD Display". New reports suggest that the smaller version of the iPhone 7 may get a screen that's slightly larger and significantly sharper still.
Samsung chips: This may come as no surprise, but the iPhone 7 may be all change under the skin too, if reports that Samsung will be making the iPhone 7 processors are true.
Dual-lens camera: In February rumours emerged that the camera could be in line for a substantial overhaul. In essence Apple may be developing some kind of dual lens camera, which would allow the smartphone to take DSLR quality images.
3d camera: Apple has recently snapped up an Israeli-based company called LinX, which specialises in high-tech camera sensors, which could have a dramatic effect on the camera capability of the iPhone 7. Having spent $20m acquiring the company, Apple is likely to be looking for ways to capitalise on the technology it now owns – but whether it makes it into the iPhone 7 may well depend on when that handset comes out. Are we about to see an iPhone with a 3d camera… watch this space!
Better image stabilisation: Apple often updates the spec of its cameras the year after introducing an all-new phone, and a patent filing suggests that the company is trying to work out how it can bring optical image stabilisation to a smartphone. The technology it describes in the patent application involves "an image sensor and a zoom lens assembly including a plurality of movable lens elements arranged to be moved independent of one another". The challenge will be miniaturising the system so that it would fit into the iPhone frame, but few would bet against some kind of boost the iPhone 6S's photographic prowess.
The demise of the iPhone 5C: When Apple introduced the multi-coloured iPhone 5C in 2014, it was seen as a bit to broaden the appeal of the phone beyond the premium market. However, sales figures for the 5C have been disappointing, while the high-end iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have been runaway successes. It therefore seems likely that Apple will kill off its sub-prime plastic handset - but keep on the aluminium-framed iPhone 5S to cater for customers who still want a four-inch smartphone. The birth of the iPhone 7 could signal the death of the iPhone 5C.
iPhone 7 price: There is no word yet on the likely cost of the next iPhone, but we can be sure that it will be at least as expensive as the existing model. That means an entry level price of £539 for a 16GB, 4.7-inch model, and £619 for the 5.5-inch plus model. However, prices may be even higher if Apple follows Samsung's lead. The latter has priced the Galaxy S6 Edge at £760, which may tempt Apple to push up its own prices and profit margins.
A built-in Sim card: This is already in use on the iPad, but is likely to be resisted by Apple's mobile network partners. Building a Sim card into the body of the iPhone 7 would allow engineers to save valuable space within the handset's chassis, allowing them to slim down the frame, make the battery bigger or add new components such as a second rear-facing camera lens. In theory it would also allow customers to switch more easily between mobile network providers, but in practice it's likely that the networks would restrict that facility.
More powerful processor: Reports suggest the iPhone 7 may have 2GB of Ram, twice what's available in the iPhone 6. It seemed like a credible claim given that Apple often upgrades processor chips the year after it releases an all-new iPhone design, and it has since been backed up by similar reports from other sources.
Waterproof casing and components: Another patent application filed by Apple shows that the company is working on ways to waterproof its devices, although it's not clear whether the technology will be ready in time to make a debut on the iPhone 7. According to the patent documents, Apple is not planning to rely on sealed phone casings, but will instead coat individual electric components within the iPhone with a water-repellent film.
Sapphire crystal display: Persistent rumours and reports suggested that the last iPhone would benefit from a sapphire crystal screen coating - and immensely strong glass-like substance that is highly scratch resistance - but in the end it never materialised. Reports suggest that Apple and its suppliers had trouble manufacturing sufficient quantities to equip the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but already the rumour mill is chattering about the prospect of a sapphire crystal iPhone 7.
Improved TouchID sensor: The company has big plans for Apple Pay, the payment system that it hopes will take the place of credit and debit cards for in-store transactions. According to analysts, the company is preparing "a better and and safer Apple Pay user experience by reducing reading errors" of its fingerprint scanner. That may also help to allay security fears as British banks give customers the option to sign in to their accounts using TouchID.
Pretty in pink: One aesthetic change we can expect is a new colour added to the iPhone 7 palette, according to the Wall Street Journal. The paper has spoken to a source who has confirmed that the next model will keep the same screen sizes as the current phone, but will be available in pink as well as black, white and gold. In formulating the particular shade of pink, Apple seems more likely to follow the lead of the rose gold Apple Watch rather than the candy-bright iPhone 5C
A trade-in scheme for non-iPhone users: iPhone owners are already able to trade in old phones for the latest models, and now Apple is planning to extend the offer to owners of smartphones made by other companies. Apple will soon introduce a new recycling and trade-in program that will accept non-Apple smartphones, notably including Android and BlackBerry devices, in exchange for gift cards to be used toward the purchase of new iPhones. The program is designed to encourage more people to make the switch to Apple, in the hope of developing long-term customers.