The dust has barely settled from the much-hyped launch of the iPhone 14, but there’s already been quite a lot of chatter around Apple’s next flagship devices — which are expected to be launched next year.
This isn’t really a surprise, because Apple develops future products and has an extensive road map for its portfolio.
Early reports suggest that the iPhone 14 line-up, specifically the Pro model, is a hit among consumers.
Queues at the Apple stores in the UAE were long and some customers bought several devices that left others empty-handed. Delivery times have also been pushed back and resellers are now offering units at inflated prices.
Moving away from the present and peering into the future, Apple’s next flagship device line-up, presumably to be called the iPhone 15, is expected to be launched in September 2023.
Here’s what we know so far — although these remain very early rumours.
Design: all iPhone 15 models to use the pill and hole combo
The iPhone X in 2017 (when the highly polarising notch was introduced) and the iPhone 12 a couple of years ago (a return to the iconic geometric design last seen in the iPhone 5) had some of the most significant changes in iPhone design.
This year, the notch was eventually replaced with pill and hole cutouts, although only in the iPhone 14 Pro models. This powers the Dynamic Island feature, which allows users to access several functions in one display.
Next year, Apple is leaning towards using this feature across the entire iPhone 15 line-up, said Ross Young, chief executive of Display Supply Chain Consultants, a market intelligence firm.
It appears that Apple is using the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max to test how Dynamic Island is received, and what it can do to further improve it.
While rumours of an in-screen fingerprint scanner are also doing the rounds, there are no more details on this for now.
Camera upgrade: a periscope zoom lens
This had already been floated by Ming-Chi Kuo, known for leaking highly reliable, Apple-related news, in December last year.
A periscope lens is, without being too technical, a set-up that allows greater amounts of optical zoom. This uses the actual hardware to magnify an image in better quality (as opposed to digital zoom, which relies on software).
A handful of smartphone manufacturers have already introduced this technology in their devices, including Samsung Electronics, Huawei Technologies and Oppo.
Mr Kuo had previously predicted that the periscope lens would come in the iPhone 14 — but, obviously, that didn’t happen, so it is a feature that could make a presence on the device’s next iteration.
He also said more than a year ago that the 2023 iPhones would come with a hole-less, edge-to-edge design, although there are no updates on these at this point.
Lightning port to be replaced by USB-C
Apple has used its proprietary lightning port and connector since the iPhone 5 a decade ago. Talk of Apple switching it for USB-C has been around for some years and, when the company integrated it into the 2018 iPad Pro, speculation accelerated.
However, it’s been five years since the iPad’s switch and the iPhone still uses lightning to this day. Apple is known to be very protective of its proprietary technologies, which are important in ensuring it has control over its ecosystem’s security.
That iPads are now using USB-C is a clear signal that Apple is willing to make a total switch. But it could presumably be holding off on the change as it works out to how to handle lightning-related stock and manufacturing.
Several sources have reportedly confirmed to Mr Kuo and Bloomberg technology reporter Mark Gurman, who has a long history of accurate reporting on Apple’s product plans, that the switch to USB-C for iPhones is not a matter of if, but when.
Mr Kuo said other Apple products — including the AirPods, MagSafe accessories and Magic Mouse — could switch to USB-C too.
Add the fact that new EU regulations on standardising electronics devices input are putting pressure on device makers, and Apple’s jump to USB-C would be inevitable.
Also remember: Apple has its own take on the USB-C with its Thunderbolt technology used in Macs. Hence we can presume that the company is working on making its USB-C stand out from others, just like it does with other existing technologies.
Upgrade to 3nm chips
The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max use Apple’s new A16 Bionic chip, which is built on a 4-nanometre process. Not too long ago, smartphone manufacturers used 10nm processors in their devices, but they figured out that they can go smaller while going bigger on performance and efficiency.
In the semiconductor industry, nanometre refers not to the actual size of a chip but to the distance between the transistors in it; the smaller the number, the more transistors that can be fit in. This makes chips more powerful and efficient, but they can be more expensive to produce.
Apple is prepared to go a step “lower” next year, as it is poised to use a 3nm chip from one of its key suppliers, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC), on the iPhone 15, sources told Nikkei Asia.
However, much like this year, the upgrade will be limited to the high-end iPhone 15 units — expected again to be the Pro and Pro Max, with some rumours also floating about an “Ultra” device, the report said.
The shift to smaller chips has already begun in the industry. Samsung, the world’s biggest mobile phone maker and Apple’s chief rival in the smartphone market, announced in June that it had started manufacturing its own 3nm processors.
In the process, Samsung beat TSMC to the draw in making 3nm chips. The latter had previously announced that it would start manufacturing 3nm processors in the second half of 2022, with Apple as its first customer.
The South Korean company said that 3nm chips, compared with 5nm ones, can achieve up to 23 per cent improved performance and 45 per cent less power usage. That last bit is related to one of the potentially biggest performance updates to the next iPhones.
Reducing power consumption
With Apple slated to use TSMC’s 3nm chips, the iPhone 15 Pro models are poised to be more power-efficient, as per numbers provided by the semiconductor manufacturer.
TSMC’s 3nm technology will offer “up to 70 per cent logic density gain, up to 15 per cent speed improvement at the same power and up to 30 per cent power reduction at the same speed as compared with N5 [5nm] technology”, its website says.
Whether the challenges in the supply chain industry — which has hit the production capabilities of Apple and its peers — will persist in the next year remains unknown. TSMC, however, said that volume production of the new chip is scheduled for the second half of 2022.
Updated: September 23, 2022, 6:12 AM