I've been making predictions and wish lists in my head—and to friends—for years, about what Apple should or will release in their next big software and hardware updates. Before this year I didn't have a blog, and therefore, assessing the accuracy of my predictions was subject to the accuracy and bias of my memory. In my own mind, I'm sure my predictions and wish lists seemed more accurate than they actually turned out to be. I have a feeling that I remember the ones I got right a lot more than the ones I didn't. Apple's announcements have an intoxicating way of making you get excited about the things they announced, but not disappointed in the things they didn't, at least for me. So, this year I'm going to take a stab at predicting what Apple is going to announce between WWDC in June and the usual—at least the last couple of years—iPhone event in September. I'm making these predictions now, just in case they announce hardware at WWDC, and I miss the opportunity later. Plus, what's the fun in guessing hardware once all the supply chain leaks start happening in the weeks leading up to the iPhone event?
Are we going to get a bigger iPhone this year? I think that's pretty certain at this point. Are we going to get two different sizes this year? I'm not so sure. The rumours have been building that there is both a 4.7" and a 5.5" iPhone coming out this year. I think it would be great if they came out with both, but I'm not counting on it. Here's what I think we're going to get, based on all the rumours, and what I think Apple would reasonably do.
The iPhone 6 will be a newly designed, thinner iPhone that will look a lot like the iPad Air in its hardware design.
It think it will have a 4.7" screen, including a higher pixel density than the current 4" iPhone 5S. I don't have the time or desire to actually do all the math to figure out what that density might be and what resolution would be required to achieve that density, but I just don't see Apple going to a lower pixel density. They could keep the exact same resolution, stretched to 4.7", resulting in a lower pixel density, but I don't think so. The iPhone has had a pixel density of 326 PPI since the iPhone 4. This is when they coined the term "Retina Display". I just can't imagine Apple ever shipping a phone with a lower PPI than that. Maybe I'm wrong. Retina is a marketing term, not a scientific term, so they can technically do whatever they want with it. Maybe they'll say a bigger screen means you'll use it further from your face (like an iPad), therefore greater distance equals lower PPI required to make individual pixels indistinguishable to the human eye. I don't think so. The top Android handsets have been going way over the top with pixel density, and although I don't expect Apple to go that far (> 432 PPI, like the Galaxy S5), I do expect them to end up somewhere between 326 and 400 PPI. Okay, I lied, let's do a little math. A 1420 x 800 display at 4.7 inches would result in a PPI of about 347. I'm pulling that out of thin air, but that's the neighbourhood in which I expect the iPhone 6 display to be.
I really don't know what to expect on this front, and I don't know enough about cameras, so I'm going to be really obvious and non-specific. The camera will get better (see!). The megapixels may not change. An 8 MP shooter can still improve over the iPhone 5S camera without getting more pixels. I'm thinking bigger pixels, better low light performance and some kind of image stabilization—maybe optical, maybe electronic. However, I think optical image stabilization would require a bulge in the back of a thinner phone, so don't count on that.
Seriously, I just think the camera will be better and will continue to lead the smartphone industry in camera quality.
As I stated, I think it will look a lot like the iPad Air and iPad mini. I think the edges will be more rounded and the volume buttons to be elongated vs. the circular buttons on the iPhone 5S. Expect it to be thinner, as well. If it does look like the iPad Air, it will be a beautiful phone.
There have also been a lot of rumours about Apple replacing their current Gorilla Glass displays with sapphire. I'm not so sure that will happen this year. Certainly, they're using sapphire on the new Touch ID home buttons and on the camera lens cover, but a whole screen sounds like a big jump this year. I just think that all the new devices that will get Touch ID—all iPads and iPhones released this year—will require a significant enough increase in the sapphire requirements from their new Arizona plant, that whole screens would be too much this soon.
A major hardware wish list item for me is Liquidmetal. Apple has had an agreement with Liquidmetal Technologies since 2010, but hasn't really done much with it yet. The little SIM ejector tool that comes with every new iPhone is made of Liquidmetal alloy. I've heard that some Vertu phones used to be made of Liquidmetal and that they were extremely durable. You could drop them on tile or cement without barely making a mark on them. Apple's current aluminum iPhones look amazing, but aluminum is very prone to scratches and dents. Since I don't like using a case, Liquidmetal improving the durability and scratch-resistance of the iPhone is very appealing to me.
Again, I'm going to be pretty obvious and non-specific. Expect an A8 system on a chip that will continue the incremental improvements in speed and power efficiency over its predecessors. It will, of course, be another 64-bit SoC. Aside from that, a bigger phone may allow for a bigger battery, but that will depend on how much thinner it gets. I also expect the annual rumour of NFC coming to the iPhone to prove untrue again this year. On my wish list is for Apple to double the storage tiers to 32GB, 64GB and 128GB, but I don't have a lot of faith that they'll do that.
Here is what I think the iPhone lineup will look like this year:
The iPhone 6 will come in two sizes. There will be both a 4.7" and another year of the current 4". I have a hard time believing that Apple will abandon the 4" size entirely in year one of making the bigger size. They make two sizes for each of the iPad, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iMac. It makes sense that they would make two sizes of iPhone, too. The thing I'm not sure about, is pricing—actually, I'm not sure about any of this stuff. Will they charge extra for the bigger iPhone 6? They do with all their other products, so I guess it makes sense.
The iPhone 5C will be replaced by an iPhone 6C, which will basically just be an iPhone 5S in a plastic case, much like the iPhone 5C is an iPhone 5 in a plastic case. I also think it's possible that the only 4" iPhone that they'll keep will be the 6C, but I'm thinking that if that happens it won't be until 2015. I think that they will want two "high end" aluminum phones this year until they have a better sense of what the sales breakdown is between the 4.7" and 4" sizes.
4.7" iPhone 6 - 16GB - $699 USD
4" iPhone 6 - 16GB - $649 (same as current iPhone 5S)
4" iPhone 6C - 16GB - $549
The iPhone 4S definitely goes away (goodbye 30-pin connector), and it's possible that the iPhone 5 comes back as the "free on contract" phone. It's not without precedent. Apple just brought back the iPad 4 after a several-month hiatus.
There are lots of things that I'd like to see here, but I'm not going to go into extreme detail. Federico Viticci just did a great job with his wish list over at MacStories. A few of his wishes that I think are a given: UI refinements all over the place, and more Touch ID. iOS 7 was a rush job, so there are a bunch of things that Apple will take the opportunity to clean up, I'm sure. iOS 7.1 was a long-awaited, relatively large update that fixed a lot of issues, but there are more that still need to get cleaned up. Expect lots of tweaking.
Touch ID has all kinds of possibilities besides just unlocking your phone and completing iTunes purchases. I expect that they'll be expanding on its uses. That could mean expanding into mobile payments—possibly with Passbook—since Apple already has hundreds of millions of credit cards on file. It just seems to make sense. That doesn't mean it will be in iOS 8, but I have a feeling it's inevitable.
This is an area that I think Apple really needs to improve on. Android has Intents and Windows Phone has Contracts. They both allow much greater inter-app communication than iOS. Apple's sandboxing policies really limit a lot of what you can do in iOS in this area. I won't try to explain it, because Federico does a much better job than I would. I suggest reading his piece as well.
One of the things that I enjoyed most on Android was how it handles notifications. I really enjoy Android's use of the status bar for notification icons, and I also like the fact that many Android phones include an LED indicator light to tell you that you've missed something (an email, text message, voicemail, etc.) without having to wake your phone. There are also apps on Android that let you configure the colour of the LED light for different types of notifications. Let's be clear. I never expect the iPhone to get an LED light. It's not Apple's style. I think they could do it right and make it fit with the design of an iPhone, but I don't expect to see it happen...ever.
I really do wish they'd make better use of the status bar for notifications. Having to swipe down from the top of the screen just to see Notification Center takes too much effort, rather than just a few icons in the status bar. The status bar is currently wasted space. The name of the carrier could absolutely go away, and be replaced by a few icons for mail, iMessages, missed calls, and things like that. The status bar could even have a settings menu where you could customize what you want to see in it. Currently, the only thing I think you can change is whether your battery indicator shows a percentage. Everything else is standard and non-configurable. This is even more of an issue on the iPad, particularly in landscape mode. There is a ton of wasted real estate. I think a new, larger iPhone would have more pixels across the status bar that could be better utilized for these types of purposes. Notification Center itself is okay, and I'm sure it will be tweaked and improved, but I'd like to see other improvements like these as it relates to notifications. If an app isn't on your home screen, and you have a notification from it, you can't see the badge on the app icon and you won't have a reminder that you've missed something unless you swipe down for Notification Center. For me, this is a problem of out of sight, out of mind. I'm constantly finding notifications hours later because I was too busy at the time to deal with it and then I forgot. If there were icons in the status bar, this wouldn't be nearly as big of a problem. There would be a nice little reminder for you at the top of your screen. You could still open Notification Center for more detail and to clear notifications, but it would be much harder to forget.
Keyboard Improvements or Custom Keyboards
With the exception of the aesthetic changes made in iOS 7 and the very confusing change made to the shift key in iOS 7.1, the iOS keyboard has remained mostly the same since the original iPhone. Sure, they added emoji and other small improvements, but it's basically the same experience as it was in iPhone OS 1. That keyboard was an absolute leap forward for software keyboards, but it has stagnated since then. To be clear, I'm not saying the keyboard is broken, but for many years there have been way more keyboard options on Android—some good, some bad. Swype and SwiftKey are excellent examples of what can be done to improve text input on a mobile device. In fact, Swype is from Nuance, the same company that Apple has used to power Siri's voice recognition. And SwiftKey released an iOS note taking app last year that makes use of their predictive keyboard within that app only.
I think that a bigger iPhone—specifically, wider—makes changes to the keyboard and the possibility of swipe typing a reasonable possibility in iOS 8. Apple's history of partnering with Nuance, might also be a positive indicator that something could be worked out between the two companies. I don't think that you'll get custom keyboards on the iPhone and I really don't expect you to be able to download keyboards from the App Store. I also don't think you'll see or hear any mention of Swype or Nuance anywhere in any keynotes or iOS documentation, but it's possible that they could do something in the background to improve the iOS keyboard and integrate Swype technology.
As I mentioned yesterday, Apple has been rumoured to be working on a new app called Healthbook. Mark Gurman over at 9to5 Mac, whose record has been nearly flawless when it comes to Apple rumours over the past year or so, had an in-depth article on what appears to be a major upcoming iOS 8 feature called Healthbook. I won't go into detail. Give his article a read, if you haven't already.
iOS 8 Roundup
UI refinements and other tweaks? All over the place.
Expansion of Touch ID uses? Yes. Using it for a mobile payment platform? Not yet.
Inter-app communication API? I sure hope so. I'm going to say 60/40 in favour of yes.
Notifications in the status bar? Sadly, no. Notification Center improvements: Yep.
Keyboard changes and improvements? I'm somewhat hopeful on this one, but only 50/50.
Healthbook? Based on Gurman's record of late, yes. But, maybe not at WWDC.
Other stuff? More Siri and iCloud improvements, iTunes Radio expansion, and better Apple Maps are all expected.
The rumours of an iWatch have been building for a long time and until recently, I really thought that Apple would announce a smartwatch or fitness band of some kind at WWDC. It made sense to me that WWDC would be the right place to announce it, especially if they expected developer support, but a recent report from John Paczkowski at Re/Code seems to have poured cold water on those expectations. After some more thought, I think any foray into wearables by Apple will be announced at a separate event. Apple seems to hold separate events for new categories. They also seem to announce new categories much further in advance—think original iPhone and iPad. Iterations like new iPhones, iPads, Macs and iPods are usually announced when they are imminently available for sale. New models of iPhones and iPads are usually available within 10-14 days after an event. iPods and Macs are often available the same day.
I see this as going one of two ways:
1) Apple announces Healthbook at WWDC, but only discusses support for existing third party apps and devices. They then hold a separate event later in 2014 to unveil the iWatch or other wearable device.
2) They don't announce Healthbook at WWDC at all, and instead announce it later in the year when they unveil their new wearable device.
I'm leaning more towards the latter. With no events in the first five months of the year, it's entirely possible that Apple will hold three more events after WWDC. They could hold a health and wearables event, iPhone event and iPad event. The health and wearables event could even happen between WWDC and the traditional September iPhone event. WWDC is in the first week of June and the iPhone event has happened in the middle of September the past couple of years. That's more than a three month window between when iOS 8 is announced and when it will ship with the iPhone. That's plenty of time to have another event and still ship Healthbook with iOS 8 at the end of September.
This is another category that I was hoping Apple would address at WWDC, but John Paczkowski's report over at Re/Code said this one also isn't happening quite yet. I'm really not sure what to make of this one. The rumours have been going on for years now, so I'm not holding my breath for anything. I think Apple will eventually announce something, but I don't think they can do everything in the second half of 2014, so the Apple TV is could be the odd man out, for now. Apple will announce and ship something when it's ready and meets their high expectations. Not sooner.
It's going to be a very busy back half of the year for Apple. Over the next six months I think we're going to get a new size of iPhone, iOS 8, something in the health and wearables category, and maybe even the next generation of the Apple TV, which looks like it's no longer a "hobby". I also think that through Apple's next round of iPhone and iPad announcements, all iOS devices in their lineup will finally be Retina and have the Lightning connector. It's going to be an exciting time to see what gets announced, and I'll be sure to revisit my predictions to see how I did.