It never takes long. Following the launch of a new iPhone, we always start hearing rumors about what might be next in fairly short order. This time it’s the iPhone 8, even though if we follow Apple’s design cadence, this next phone will actually be the iPhone 7s — unless, of course, Apple actually changes up its product names in recognition of the iPhone’s upcoming tenth anniversary (the iPhone turns 10 on June 29, 2007).
According to analysts from Barclay’s Research (via MacRumors), the next-generation iPhone will feature a bezel-less screen and larger displays — up to 5.8-inch for the iPhone 7s/8 Plus variant, and 5 inches for the standard model. Currently, Apple offers 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch devices, along with the smaller, budget-oriented iPhone SE. Apple will shrink its bezel sizes to increase display size modestly without meaningfully increasing the phone’s actual size. Exactly how much “meaningfully” is is open to debate. I personally find the iPhone 6 / 6s / 7 disagreeably larger than the previous iPhone 5s, despite the fact that the gap is relatively small.
The current argument is that only the larger iPhone will actually use an OLED display, while the smaller devices would stick to conventional LCDs. This kind of approach may make sense for Apple, which could continue to offer three different product platforms — a small device for users who prefer them or have smaller hands, a mid-size screen that’s still edging towards a larger display, and a premium model with all the attendant 10th Anniversary branding. Historically, Apple hasn’t gone in for anniversary products, at least not under Jobs, but there was the (in)famous 20th Anniversary Macintosh, introduced in March, 1997:
Designed by Johny Ive, the TAM offered a 250MHz PowerPC 603e, 32MB of RAM, a 12.1-inch active matrix LCD (640×480 or 800×600), a 2GB ATA HDD, and a vertically mounted SuperDrive. Those aren’t bad specs for 1997 hardware, but this is a machine that debuted at $7,500, which some of you may recognize as slightly more money than the average PC cost circa 1997. The TAM sold so badly that Apple had to cut the price to $1,995 by March 1998. When customers complained, Apple gave them a free PowerBook to compensate, thus making this the only disaster in which Apple gave away thousands of dollars in free hardware to compensate people for selling them a lemon. Hey, the pre-Jobs-return period wasn’t all bad.
The chances that Apple creates an equivalent boondoggle today are slim. Apple won’t take such a disastrous path forward for the iPhone 8, but the spotlight is going to be on the company to demonstrate some serious improvements or benefits to its hardware. Apple, meanwhile, may see the event as a chance to regain some sales momentum. When the first large Apple phones were released two years ago, they triggered huge sales thanks to pent-up demand for larger phones on iOS. Now that people use devices significantly longer than they used to, Apple may be hoping to capture some significant upgrade momentum as older iPhones in the 6 and 6s families hit two and three years old. A tenth anniversary sales leap thanks to a large OLED screen upgrade would only be a temporary improvement, but Wall Street doesn’t tend to look much beyond quarterly reports anyway.
There are rumors that Apple will remove the Home button altogether for the iPhone 8, but it’s not clear if this will actually happen. Apple may have gotten rid of the physical button, but the concept of a Home button region has been constant on iDevices since day one, even though Android devices haven’t used front-face buttons for years. If Apple intends to hit its 10-year anniversary intro it’ll need to roll the iPhone 7s/8 out more quickly than its previous devices, and we’ve already seen how well that approach worked for Samsung this year.