When the iPhone 6 debuts Tuesday, it will join a crowded field of brand new mobile devices. But Apple has more than new hardware up its sleeve.
The New York Times, Recode, the Wall Street Journal and other outlets have published numerous—and occasionally contradictory—reports predicting giant new iPhones, Apple smartwatches, tap-to-pay shopping features, and other features. In short, Apple’s big show tomorrow could kick off the most significant changes to its mobile lineup since the company launched the now billion-dollar App Store.
Let’s run through some of the major changes we can expect tomorrow.
Jumbo iPhone 6 Models
For starters, Apple is now expected to launch larger iPhones—much larger iPhones—in two different sizes, with a new exterior design, internal hardware and other changes. Expect the following:
See also: Apple’s 4-Inch iPhone May Be Doomed
- Two new models, one with a 4.7-inch screen, another with a phablet-worthy 5.5-inch display. There’s little indication the company will keep the iPhone 5S or its 4-inch size in any capacity, and good reasons to think it won’t
- Rounder and thinner aluminum iPhone bodies
- Support for Near Field Communication (NFC), a close proximity wireless standard that would let users pay for items by tapping their iPhones on an NFC-ready terminal. Such payments haven’t yet taken off, but Apple has reportedly struck deals with credit-card companies and banks to drum up support
- A new version of the iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 8. Among other details, it will offer a one-hand mode for the larger devices and integrate more closely with Mac OS X Yosemite, HealthKit health systems and Apple’s HomeKit smart-home platform
Among the iffier rumors are suggestions that the new devices will feature super-durable sapphire crystal screens, 128GB storage options, beefier cameras capable of photos up to 13 megapixels with optical image stabilization and faster processors (possibly a 64-bit A8 chip).
If Apple sticks to its product launch pattern—and that’s a big “if,” considering the different tack it’s taking for everything else—look for new iPhones to ship in a month or so, with pre-orders starting as early as this week or next.
iWatch-ing And Waiting
Design chief Jony Ive apparently finds Apple’s new wrist gizmo to be droolworthy. Tomorrow, we’ll find out if the public does as well. The iWatch (which could also be the “iTime” or something else entirely) will reportedly debut in two models, with:
- Two undisclosed sizes (men’s and women’s models? A rectangular version and a circular design?)
- NFC for mobile payments—presumably allowing payments by bumping your wrist on a terminal
- Curved, maybe even flexible, screen
- OLED display, coated in sapphire glass
- Notifications on the wrist, plus certain smartphone functions, like displaying maps
- More than 10 sensors to enable health and fitness tracking
- Integration with Apple’s HomeKit and HealthKit technologies, to control smart home devices and tie into the company’s health data monitoring system.
Less certain: wireless charging, battery life and price. Wireless charging, with its competing standards, has yet to become commonplace. And some reports have raised the prospect of disappointing battery life. Battery capacity will be a major consideration for the iWatch, as no one wants to shell out hundreds of dollars for a fancy wrist gadget that dies partway through the day.
Apple has reportedly explored iWatch pricing in the wallet-gouging $400 range. For comparison, major smartwatch competitors currently go for between $150 and $250. But if your knee-jerk reaction is to proclaim that the company is nuts and that people won’t go for that expense, just remember that the first iPhone initially sold for $600 (for 8GB) and $500 (for 4GB), and still inspired lines around the block at stores. (Lines already started forming last week at Apple’s flagship New York City store.)
Maybe people got Jony Ive’s memo. For while Apple has always been a design-obsessed tech brand, the company now seems to be shifting its focus more to lifestyle than technology. It’s just hired designer Marc Newson, who joins a distinguished list of similar tastemakers including music heavyweights Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, and fashion execs Paul Deneve and Ben Shaffer, from Yves Saint Laurent and Nike, respectively.
Apart from design considerations, there’s a decent chance the iWatch will sport voice features, á la Android Wear’s Google Now functions. The iPhone and iPad already offer Siri, and the press invitation for the Tuesday event seems to hint at voice capabilities, with its “Wish We Could Say More” teaser.
Software Matters: iOS 8
Apple introduced iOS 8 last June at its Worldwide Developer Conference. The new software works with Mac OS X Yosemite more closely, handing off activities between the desktop and mobile devices. iOS 8 will also connect to Apple’s HomeKit and HealthKit platforms, so iPhones and iWatches will both be able to monitor and control smart-home devices and to track the wearer’s vital signs and other health data.
Before Berlin’s IFA show, things had been somewhat quiet on the HomeKit product launch front. But the show last week introduced a few more devices that will tie into Apple’s vision of a unified smart home that’s controllable from your pocket, wrist and laptop, thanks to iOS 8.
iOS 8 offers more than 4,000 new APIs (see our API explainer) for apps to play with. Developers are also getting Swift, a new programming language that, the company says, should make it simpler to build apps.
Launching a new coding language is no small feat, however, so some app makers might hit some bumps when they create software with it—like still having to use chunks of the old language, Objective-C. Now after a few months with it, initial interest seems to be dying down.
As for users, they may not notice a whole lot of what’s going on under the hood, because superficially, iOS 8 looks a lot like iOS 7. But they might notice if some developers don’t use tools like Auto Layout, which dynamically resizes screens. Not all of them do, which will explain why one of your favorite apps might show up with massive black borders on those expected roomier iPhone displays.
For developers and users both, possibly the most exciting things about iOS 8 are the custom keyboards and the app extensions. For the first time, password managers like LastPass can save or fill in your passwords and logins into other apps, camera apps can borrow each other’s photo filters, and you might be able to send files to Dropbox, Google Drive or other storage services directly on the phone or tablet.
Other unconfirmed rumors indicate that Apple might be exploring its own new hardware HomeKit product, though it’s less clear if it will divulge any further plans on Tuesday.
The company is also supposedly planning to offer a new iPad with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, like its iPhone brethren. And since Apple’s playing around with sizing anyway, it might just expand its tablet’s screen real estate to a mega, maxi 12.9-inch iPad.
Apple TV leaks haven’t been very forthcoming, though the two-year-old set-top box model could use some sprucing up. There’s speculation that may involve the App Store (finally) coming to the unit, so users can download apps instead of waiting for Apple to spoonfeed them. Siri might also make an appearance on the box. Voice capabilities appear to be all the rage, judging by Android TV and the Amazon Fire TV, and after all, the company did hint at voice functions in its press event invitations.
From where we sit, the most uncertain thing about Apple’s plans is how it will manage to squeeze all these announcements and demos into a single event, without taking up the whole afternoon. So if you’re planning on tuning into Apple’s live stream tomorrow (at 10 a.m. PDT)—or even better, joining us here on ReadWrite as we cover the announcements—be sure to settle in and make yourself comfortable. It’s going to be quite a show.