The missing home button on the iPhone X provides another potential clue for the future of iPhone design: a continuing war on buttons.
“Apple is still on a quest to get rid of as many buttons are they can,” Snell said. He speculates that the iPhone’s side buttons could become completely virtual like the home button. The removal of the home button, of course, came with the introduction of FaceID. It’s unclear what technology would supplant the side buttons. The company has previously experimented with putting volume controls on headphones.Functionality like volume control could eventually be outsourced to the AirPods or even motion detection. It’s unclear what technology would supplant the side buttons.
But there are other potential benefits. “The fewer buttons or ports on the outside of the device, the more freedom the company has to alter the tech on the inside,” Snell said. For instance, the removal of the headphone jack in the iPhone 7 created room for a larger battery.
The reports that Apple is working on a curved screen with gesture control suggests the future of the iPhone might not require touch-based components. “That’s where they’re heading, to sell the consumer a screen they can hold,” Rolston said. But he added that thinking in terms of incremental changes may miss a larger point: As wearables and home devices become more important to the way we use our phones, the design of the phone itself may become less critical. “It will matter less to continue to innovate on the phone itself,” Rolston said.
With a company as secretive as Apple, it’s hard to tell how close to market the technology needed to make something like an all-screen device is. Patents filed by the company, dozens of which will never make it to market, hardly guarantee any future design plans.
“They’ll make changes to things we consider must-haves today when the technology advances beyond it,” Munster said.
What consumers are likely to see in 2018 is a small bump in screen size. A report from Ming-Chi Kuo, a highly respected Apple analyst at KGI Securities, indicates that 2018 will probably bring three new phones, a 5.8 OLED model of the iPhone X, a plus-sized iPhone X with a 6.5-inch OLED screen and 6.1 inch LCD model. It’s reported that like the current iPhone X, these phones will feature the “fullscreen,” minimal notch design with the TrueDepth Camera system.
Apple’s next major event, the WWDC, is set for June, but speculation about the next iPhone model release pegs September, though it is unlikely a major evolution in the device will be unveiled.
But even small changes in design could be good news for investors.
“In a year where you see these kinds of improvements, like a bigger screen, you’re more likely to see closer to an 8 percent growth rate,” Munster said. That means Apple’s stock performance, like the design innovation, will be incremental. “The financial impact is that this will inch up the growth rate, but it won’t be a jump.”
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