iPhone Rumor Roundup:  Not an S Year?

iPhone Rumor Roundup: Not an S Year?

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's the iPhone show!

It's late August, which means that the rumor mill for the next iPhone is running at full speed!  We're just a few short weeks from tuning into a livestream featuring Tim and the gang, where a few things reliably happen:

  • Charts showing Apple's sales and revenue, which outstrip most developed countries, remind us of what a powerhouse this company is.
  • A silly, self-deprecating sketch gives way to a feel-good video about using technology to help people do important things.
  • An update on ....Apple Music?!!! C'mon guys, now you're just stalling.

Then comes the grand reveal.  A short history of the iPhone, maybe rattling off some reminders of how great the last one was and how well it did.  And then we get a picture, a name, a demo of the new features, a price....and no one is surprised.

KerfCase Bubinga Wood iPhone Case for iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8
What will the new iPhone look like? More importantly, what will our case for it look like?

Rumors Old and New

In my last blog post on the newest crop of iPhones, I gave a snapshot of what the professional Apple rumormongers were thinking the next class of iPhone would look like, and now, 6 weeks later, let's see what's changed, and what's stayed the same.

The truth is, in terms of hard evidence, we're largely in the same place.  All reliable sources are expecting three iPhone models to be announced next month: two with the same form factor as the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and one to be targeted at a higher price bracket, with a gigantic wraparound OLED display that subsumes the home button.  

I speculated that the bottom two models would be called the 7s and 7s Plus, following a naming convention that dates to 2010, and the top one would carry a special name, but certainly not the iPhone 8, because that would be incredibly confusing.  Let's revisit that line of thought.

Daring Fireball

John Gruber is a lifelong Apple fan, who has turned his fascination with the company into a successful career with the very excellent blog Daring Fireball.  His musings on the inner workings of the tech behemoth are widely read inside and outside of Apple, and his educated guesses on the thought processes behind the part leaks give us meatier reads and more food for thought than a simple render of what the phone will look like.  

Gruber is largely unconcerned with individual details, but instead uses them to ask more probing questions: why would Apple focus on this feature?   What does the removal of this button say about where the company is headed?  

During Apple announcements, Gruber is more interested by how Apple sells the new features than what the features themselves are; the details are mostly spoiled, so the real question is how does Apple weave their new toys into their story?

iPhone 7s, iPhone 8, iPhone Pro?
This glass-backed iPhone model is throwing a monkey wrench in the theory that this is going to be just another S year.

I was very interested to see Gruber link to a post from 9to5Mac (on my birthday!) showing something unexpected: there's a leaked part for the "7s" models that shows a glass back for them!  This indicates a few things:

1. Wireless charging (or at least, charging that does not require you to plug a cable into a port) may be coming to all new iPhones this year, since glass is a material that allows this technology to work.  We'll have to make sure that it works through wood too.

2. There may not be an iPhone 7s this year.

Again, the rule behind the tick-tock cycle from Apple (4, 4S, 5, 5s, 6, 6s, 7) is on the even years we get a new iPhone form factor, and on the odd years we get a virtually unchanged form factor with better internals.  There are exceptions; every S year has sported a new color since the 5s, and the Touch ID home button and different shades of Space Gray allow expert viewers to tell the difference between phone releases.  But changing out half of the phone's surface area for a different material would be a dramatic departure from the norm, and Gruber asks (in an article I can't link to directly for some reason) if that would be enough to warrant a new name:

"The S models have had minor cosmetic differences from the preceding year’s non-S iPhones, but these phones are sporting entire new designs.

I also think that the “7S” name would contribute to the notion that Apple’s “S” phones are only modest updates, when the truth is that the S phones tend to get the bigger technical improvements. I suspect Apple will use one of these sets of names:

  • iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8 Pro; or
  • iPhone, iPhone Plus, iPhone Pro

Either of these naming schemes would make all three new iPhones sound new."

8, 10, or nothing?

The New iPad
Is Apple trying to bring back this extremely confusing naming convention?

In this context, "iPhone 8" would make sense.  They would simply skip the S year and deliver the next form factor earlier than expected.  The line was already blurred with last year's iPhone 7 anyway: rather than a radical form factor difference, there was mainly an adjustment to the camera and the removal of a headphone jack, but otherwise the shape of the chassis was virtually the same.  As case makers, we were grateful for this.

Microsoft went from Windows 8 to Windows 10, for various reasons related to software version numbers.  They went from XBOX 360 to XBOX One, so maybe they just don't know how to count.  Given it's the tenth anniversary of the iPhone this year, it's always possible that Apple will call it the iPhone 10, or the iPhone X.

Which leads to a more interesting idea.  What if Apple were to drop the model number altogether?  After all, we get yearly updates on MacBooks, and we refer to their individual models by year, rather than calling them the MacBook 3, or the MacBook 8X.

Apple flirted with this idea in 2012, when their followup to the iPad 2 (that was known as the iPad 3 by fans before release) was released as "The New iPad".  This name did not age well, and subsequent models were called "iPad with Retina Display" (better), "iPad Air" (simple, elegant, no numbers.  You did it Apple!), and "iPad Air 2" (whoops).  This year's followup to the Air 2 is called "iPad", so the time might be right to move this naming convention to the iPhone.

The iPhone of the future?
As fun as it is to imagine what iPhones will look like 10 years from now, it's very possible that they'll look a lot like they do now.

I think this would signal a mature product.  The first iPhone, even without many of the features we take for granted today like an App Store and the ability to record video, was a revolution in personal computing, and each subsequent release pushed the envelope farther than before.  The past 10 years have been a frenzy of innovation, all centered around our new always-connected pocket computers.  But it seems like Jony Ive and his team have settled on an ideal form factor, and the low-hanging fruit of useful harvest features has all been plucked.  The iPhone has grown up, so maybe in the future it doesn't need to be the iPhone 12, or the iPhone 25, or the iPhone 67.  It just needs to be the newest iPhone.

The Big Day

Regardless of what's announced, and what it's called, and when the announcement is, we'll be watching excitedly and live tweeting our thoughts from @kerfcase.  We will also immediately be taking pre orders for cases for the new iPhones, so if you know you'll be buying one you can get your spot in line.  Let me know what your thoughts are on the latest from Cupertino at phil@kercase.com, and I'll see you at the keynote!

Phil Giammattei likes to wear lots of different hats.  Formerly employed at Apple, Google and Oracle, he loves applying his technical knowledge to making the best possible custom wood phone cases.  In addition to writing the Kerf Blog, Phil’s duties at KerfCase include customer service, sales, production, shipping and fulfillment, and anywhere else he can be helpful.  Reach out to say hi and find out what choice cuts we have in stock!