For a company famed for its tight-lipped secrecy, Apple’s flagship products have a surprisingly strong track record for leaking essentially in their entirety. The Wall Street Journal has a long-standing history of pre-event leaks, 9to5Mac is remarkably well-sourced, and everyone from suppliers to Best Buy employees provide a steady stream of just-plausible-enough rumors leaking out over the months running up to the launch of a new device. From the iPhone 5S to the iPad Air, few Apple devices have been a true surprise in the last few years.
It all means that, even weeks or months before Tim Cook takes it out of his pocket or an envelope or makes it appear out of thin air, we might already have a pretty good idea of what the next iPhone is going to look like. Rumors are flying fast and furious, but there are some that are both so substantiated and so consistent that they’re harder than ever to discredit. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Of course, nothing is certain until it’s certain, and Apple does tend to keep at least a few things hidden. But here’s the most likely and interesting of what the rumor mill is telling us about the next iPhone.
There’s probably more than one "next iPhone." Rumors have it that there will be two new models as Apple responds to the massive demand for bigger phones. The exact size has been heavily debated, but most sources have come to believe that one upcoming iPhone will have a 4.7-inch screen, the other a 5.5. Supposedly leaked cases (most of which look more like mockups than the real thing) show a model that looks a lot like the latest iPod touch or the iPad Air.
The handsets depicted would be thinner than ever (as little as 6 millimeters thick), with a rounded look rather than the squared sides on the 5S. One particularly popular photo shows gold, silver, and space gray models, each with an aluminum back broken up only by two horizontal stripes for the antennas instead of glass on the top and bottom.
Apple’s new sapphire production processes could mean the new iPhones could have new types of displays in addition to new lenses and buttons. At least one reputable source says they’ll have curved displays, too, but that’s debated all over.
Apple’s history says the 5S will remain on sale, and there’s no indication so far that Apple’s even replacing it with an updated, device of the same size. It’s possible both new models will be larger, and anyone looking for a 4-inch iPhone will still be buying the 5S. No word yet on what will happen to the colorful 5C, though it seems the likeliest candidate for Apple’s free option.
It might be more expensive. At least one analyst says that Apple is currently negotiating to raise the base price of the iPhone to $299 with a two-year contract. Apparently carriers have thus far said no, but in a market where many people feel like innovation has slowed down, Apple could have the hit of the year in store — and that may give it the leverage it needs to charge whatever it wants.
At least one could come early. Apple’s huge developer conference, WWDC, is less than a month away. For years, that was the stage for Apple to announce its latest iPhone, and many are wondering if this year will be a return to form. Here, the rumors and speculation are torn: some analysts and suppliers say WWDC is the reveal date for the new iPhone, others have posited it will be in August instead. Some say Apple is dealing with production issues on the larger model, which could push its release back as far as early 2015. But either way, it looks likely that we’ll be seeing at least one new iPhone a little bit earlier than we thought.
It’s probably called the iPhone 6. That’s not exactly a controversial guess, and Apple does have some history in naming differently sized products the same thing, as with the MacBook Air. But it’s not impossible that Apple will repeat what it did with the iPad, eschewing the number scheme for names like Air and Mini. It’s hardly going to call either of the largest iPhones ever "the iPhone Mini," but even though iPhone 6 is the only name being discussed don’t be surprised to hear Tim Cook call it something new.
It might have an amazing new camera. It’s the feature everyone talks most about, and Apple’s always put huge resources behind improving its cameras. Its latest move was to hire Ari Partinen, the Nokia engineer behind the Lumia cameras — though he’s too new to the company to make huge changes just yet.
More pressingly, Apple’s filed a patent for a particular kind of image stabilization in a smartphone; it will reportedly increase the size of the pixels in its 8-megapixel sensor; and apparently there’s a "Super Resolution Mode" in the next version of the camera app. Of course, cameras are where virtually every manufacturer over-brands and under-delivers, so this could be an aggressive name for a simple new feature, but the prevailing wisdom seems to be that Apple is working on something remarkable for the next iPhone.
It will do even more with your fingerprint. Apple has almost 800 million iTunes accounts and hundreds of millions of credit cards on file, and all signs point to a larger option for users to buy things on their phone. It would take on PayPal and Google Wallet, and could launch alongside the new iPhone. TouchID would be Apple's smoking gun — paying for everything online with your fingerprint is both secure and simple, and a "Pay with iTunes" of sorts could be a huge revenue driver for Apple.
It will come with a new version of iOS. iOS 8 is almost certain to be announced at WWDC, and appears likely to come with a number of new features along with a continued refinement of the new design introduced with iOS 7. Healthbook is the flagship new feature, using the many sensors purported to be in the new device — which could measure everything from pressure to humidity — to tell you how many steps you took or even (apparently) your blood-oxygen levels. Siri stands to gain some new tricks, including the Shazam-aided ability to tell you what song is playing. And Apple Maps might finally be getting public transport information, as it continues its slow road out of its terrible beginnings.
We might see a few new apps in iOS 8, too. A text editor and a Preview app for viewing documents and images have both been leaked in apparently early iterations, and both make sense for the platform. iTunes Radio might be broken out as a separate app, too, to better promote Apple’s streaming music service.
It might work with a smartwatch. Healthbook is a natural way for iOS to collect data from the ever-rumored iWatch, which many have speculated is going to be a primarily health-focused device anyway. And some leaked screenshots have shown a "Watch Utility" app, though there’s almost no chance that the leaked name or app icon are final.
The iWatch has become thought of more and more as a companion to the iPhone, rather than a single standalone device. It seems logical that Apple would announce the two at the same time, though given how long "the Apple smartwatch" has been the unicorn of consumer electronics, it’s still far from a safe bet.
Rumors about larger iPhones have been flowing for months, speculation about an Apple smartwatch for even longer. But they’ve recently hit a fever pitch that tends to only occur right before rumors become reality. All signs point to big new things from Apple in the next few months. Tim Cook promised Apple is "closer than ever" to a new product category, and if he’s ready to launch both two new iPhones and a new smartwatch, Apple’s product lineup might soon look very different than it does today.
At this point, nothing’s certain. Apple tests many products it never releases, and there’s often a very fine line between a leak and a guess. But for years, all the information you needed to find out what Apple has been up to has been available, as long as you knew where to look. This year, as ever, there are plenty of question marks left, but Apple’s next big moves are coming rapidly into focus.
Jake Kastrenakes contributed to this report.