iPhone 6 preview: What to expect

Apple's next-generation smartphone remains one of the hottest and most highly anticipated products of the year. In between the slow drip of leaks and rumors, here's what we think we know.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
iPhone 6 mock-up render
Image: Martin Hajek

Make no mistake: Apple's next iPhone could determine the near future of the company itself.

At more than half the company's first quarter revenue, Apple is more focused on keeping the iPhone refreshed than any other device it has in its roster. Thankfully during one of its quietest fiscal quarters, the company was still able to vastly surpass Wall Street expectations, and year-over-year results, by millions of devices.

Keeping the public interested in the iPhone remains a major challenge. What Apple has up its sleeve for the fall remains much of a mystery. However, there have been substantial leaks that could leave audiences pleasantly surprised.

All eyes are on the premium model, what we believe to be called the iPhone 6. Following prior naming patterns — each major version has its own number and iterations are alphanumerical — things took a turn when the lower-cost iPhone 5c was announced. Thus far it has been widely considered a flop. Whether or not Apple will continue the model remains unknown.

Here's what we think we know about the iPhone 6, to date:

A brand new, larger, thinner design? 

Many leaks have pointed to a brand new metal chassis and shell, perhaps taking a leaf from the iPhone 3G's book, in that it may land with slightly rounded corners and a thinner overall depth.

The outside bezel remains a mystery, but some have pointed to a thinner edge between the shell and the display.

It's also expected to land in a larger 4.7-inch display, which would keep video aspect ratio perfect, but also add another row of icons.

Recent Apple v. Samsung documentation showed the company was pushing for a larger device to compete with the "phablet" range of devices, notably from its main Korean smartphone maker rival. Another rumor points to the possibility of an even larger 5.5-inch model, but mainstream reports have widely dismissed the idea. 

Increased screen resolution?

In his latest reports, 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman — a reliable source of pre-release Apple news — suggests a new sharper 1704x960 resolution display is in the works.

This particular resolution means developers would have no additional work to make their apps run on a larger screen. This would give a resolution density of between 356-416 pixels per inch, significantly higher than the 300 pixels per inch limitation of the human retina. 

The size is important because this reduces the fragmentation of display and resolution screen sizes that has previously angered Apple developers.

A stronger sapphire-crystal screen? 

A new sapphire screen would make the iPhone 6 screen significantly stronger and scratch resistant.

The scratch-proof crystal technology is already embedded in the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5s, designed as such to prevent it from deteriorating.

Reports pointed to Apple ramping up sapphire crystal manufacturing in recent months, which could create as many as 200 million 5-inch iPhone 5 displays. Exactly where that leaves Corning's Gorilla Glass — presumably now a former Apple supplier — remains unclear.

Canonical, the maker of the Ubuntu operating system, which recently dipped into smartphone development, said Apple had bought up three years' worth of sapphire screens — allegedly for the iPhone 6.

Faster 802.11ac networking?

Wall Street and industry analysts, including Cowen analyst Timothy Arcuri have pointed to the iPhone supporting the latest 802.11ac wireless networking standard, which reaches speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second. It falls in line with Apple's efforts to bring the next-generation networking technology to its other devices, including AirPort routers and storage units.

A higher-resolution camera?

The iPhone 5s' 8-megapixel snapper was a marginal improvement on previous versions. 

But in the past year a number of high-resolution camera-phones have been released — not least the Nokia 1020 — led by Ari Pertinen, who was recently poached by Apple.

While the iPhone's software is significantly ahead of its rivals, it has room for improvement. Apple's next smartphone is said to be landing with electronic image stabilization, following the deal with InvenSense, which would reduce image blurriness.

Aside from the software, a 13-megapixel camera may be landing with the next-generation phone.

Sony has reportedly been in talks with Apple to develop camera technology for the phone. Some have reported that Apple's camera pixel size will increase marginally, allowing more light in for better quality pictures.

Also, with the rise of the selfies and a jump in FaceTime users, it wouldn't be surprising to see a better front-facing camera, either.

Improved A8 processor, environmental sensors?

In line with previous releases, major iPhone versions typically land with the next-generation A-processors. Up next for the iPhone 6 may be the addition of the A8 chip, which lands with 64-bit technology as its A7 chip predecessor — dubbed the world's first 64-bit smartphone chip.

What else we will see remains a mystery. However, it could be that the M7 coprocessor, which collects sensor data from integrated accelerometers and gyroscopes, will receive some improvements.

It's possible that this could lead the way to other sensors being added to the device, such as "environmental" sensors, according to one Chinese analyst. These could measure humidity and temperature, which could feed back into the elusive "Healthbook" app. 

Image via 9to5Mac

iOS 8 software

Aside from the design and the physical enhancements to the new phone, the crucial element widely overlooked is what the software, expected to be iOS 8, will look like, what it will feature, and how it will run.

Healthbook: One of the major breakthroughs reportedly on deck for the new software is a health-oriented app. It's part of a major push by the Cupertino, Calif.-based company to get into health and fitness tracking. It's reportedly set to include bloodwork and blood pressure metrics, as well as heart-rate monitoring — metrics that have yet to be added to any smartphone — and other activity, including nutrition intake. Apple has already made some strategic hires in the medical field to fill roles in this division. How this fits into a highly anticipated smartwatch, and whether we'll see an "iWatch" this year, remains unclear.

Song recognition: Siri, the intelligence voice-activated assistant, may soon gain some new tricks by being able to recognize the artist and track of a song. It's expected that Apple will partner with music identification app maker Shazam to further help the company's iTunes sales. You'll recognize a song, and then buy it directly from your phone.

Touch ID improvements: It's also expected that the fingerprint software will improve significantly, after receiving additional features and updates in the latest iOS 7.1.1 update. The biometric technology may open up to other in-built Apple apps, such as iTunes and authorized mobile payments partners.

Multitasking for iPad: To rival the Microsoft Surface's "snapping" functionality, Apple may be bringing side-by-side views to the iPad, if previously reliable reporting is to be believed. This would, essentially, allow users to snap two apps on the same screen to allow true multitasking capabilities — such as watching a video and making notes in a text file. This may mean developers are given improved inter-app communication, so that apps could share content far more easily.

Release date 

Typically, Apple releases its smartphones in September, normally three months after its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in early June, where it shows off the device's software and mobile platform. 

Recent reports have pointed to the iPhone landing a month earlier than the company's typical release schedule, according to Reuters.

Exactly how much it costs remains a mystery. According to Apple's fiscal second quarter earnings, profits were up from $9.5 billion to $10.2 billion, pegging in a margin of 39.3 percent. With a reported increased cost of iPhone 5s development, it is possible Apple may raise the cost of the iPhone 6 by as much as $100. Will consumers still go for it?

Apple has not in living memory raised the price of hardware — it typically lowers them or they remain the same. 

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