When Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the new iPhone 7 yesterday, he called it “the best iPhone we have ever created.”
Hyperbole aside, that seems like a fairly reasonable claim. Faster, lighter-weight, more water-resistant, with a much better camera (two cameras, actually, on the iPhone 7 Plus), better software, fewer antenna lines, and a cool sleek black finish, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus do offer some functional and aesthetic improvements over their predecessors.
Even if you’re one of the many people vocally dismayed by Apple’s decision to remove the standard headphone jack in favor of new Lightning connector headphones or expensive wireless “AirPods” ($159!), the iPhone 7 and its bigger sibling should satisfy those looking for sleek, reliable new smartphones anytime in the next year.
But the iPhone 7 is notable for another reason: it will probably be the last of its kind.
The first rumors about the next iPhone —the one presumably coming out a year from now, in the fall of 2017— began surfacing months ago. They paint a picture of a device that will be radically different than any iPhone we’ve seen so far, and much more like the wafer-thin glass slivers seen in recent sci-fi movies and comic books.
Supposedly, the next iPhone will have an “edge-to-edge” screen, one that doesn’t have bezels — the flat strips on the top and bottom of the screen, where the earpiece and home button are found now. Instead, these and other components would presumably be built into the screen itself, making the device appear to be “all screen,” when viewed from the top down, giving it the effect of being a kind of infinity pool of your apps and information.
According to reports, this new iPhone will also be even thinner than the already ultra-thin (0.28 inch/7.1 mm) iPhone 7.
How much thinner Apple can make it with current or near-future technology is an open question. But with rare exceptions, Apple’s been on a quest to make all of its mobile devices thinner with every successive generation.
And presumably, the goal is to make a phone so thin and light that dropping it would be, in the words of one Apple fan, like dropping a credit card. In effect, if Apple can make a phone so light and thin it floats to the ground rather than crashes, it will also make the phone more durable. It’s unclear if the company will get there with the next iPhone after the 7, but it’s obviously getting closer with each release.
A better camera, a faster processor, and software upgrades are all givens at this point. And Apple will almost certainly introduce other marquee hardware and software features with its next iPhone that have yet to be leaked, rumored, or otherwise reported on.
But even if the thinness and edge-to-edge screen design are the only big physical changes, I expect Apple’s next iPhone will look and feel distinctly different from all previous iPhone models — and all other smartphones to date.
The public pressure is further on Apple to do something spectacular with the iPhone next year, as 2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of the device’s introduction (January 2007). It would be uncharacteristically reserved of a company that routinely deals in superlatives to let that milestone go unacknowledged in a big way.
Furthermore, the 10th anniversary and a radical new phone is probably the best time for Apple to drop the numerics following each new iPhone generation name.
The company has already done this with the Macbook and iPad (to some extent), but the iPhone naming structure has been arbitrary for a while. The iPhone 7 is actually the 10th flagship release since the original iPhone in 2007. Celebrating the device’s 10th anniversary next year with the “iPhone 8”, which is actually the 11th version of the flagship phone, would just be needlessly confusing. I would not be surprised if the 2017 iPhone is just called “the new iPhone.”
So, while you’re grumbling about the removal of the headphone jack and reading stories about how Apple and this latest iPhone are boring and expected to sell relatively poorly, I’ll offer instead a toast to the iPhone 7.
The iPhone 7 may mark the culmination of all of Apple’s tweaks to the original iPhone, the most idealized version of what that original device set out to do, and the end of one hugely influential era in gadget design. If the rumors are true, the next iPhone will be a major departure and the beginning of a new era in smartphone design.
Now, who’s ready for next year?