2016: Year of the Next Big and Small Things
Last year, I did a detailed round-up of Apple rumors for 2015. I had so much fun writing that post that I wanted to do it again this year, especially with all the exciting things (possibly) in the pipe. Here, then, is your 2016 Apple rumors round-up as of right now… Warning: there’s some really cool stuff in here that may cause you to drool uncontrollably. Got your napkins ready? Good, let’s get started!
headphone jack killed by Lightning Strike
I thought I break the worst news first. According to a report from late 2015, Apple may be preparing to ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack in the upcoming iPhone 7 (and possibly other products). Instead, it could use the Lightning connector for audio output, or go with the 2.5mm audio device standard. Here's an interesting look at the possibilities.
The reason is the same one that drives so many of Apple’s decisions: thinking thin. The iPhone 6s is just over 6mm thick, which is less than twice the thickness of a standard headphone jack. To make a phone thinner than the 6s, Apple will want to use the thinnest components it can. The Lightning port is far thinner than the old headphone jack, so eliminating the 3.5mm fatty will let the iPhone 7 be all the slimmer.
No Home for a Home Button
This rumor has been around for a while, but it's back again this year. Apple may be planning on releasing the iPhone 7 with no Home button, a scary move for many of us. As I've written about previously, though, if done correctly, no Home button might not be bad at all.
Why, though? The simple fact is that everything nowadays is focused on the screen, as evidenced by Apple's constantly reducing the size of the bezels on its devices. If the entire Home button and the empty space around it could be replaced by more screen, you could suddenly have a much larger viewing/touch area on an iPhone without having to make the phone physically larger. Plus, no moving button means no need to make a phone thick enough to support the movement, allowing the iPhone 7 to be thinner--or for the extra space to be used for other components, such as extra battery. This is similar to how Apple made its thinnest-ever macBook in 2015 in part by replacing the mechanical trackpad with a Force Touch version that doesn't need to move up and down to be clicked.
Return of the Small Screen
Ever since the iPhone 6 introduced the larger screen, some users have been asking Apple to make a variant with the four-inch screen, and overall form factor, of the iPhone 5 and 5s series. The power of the latest technology, but in a shell much smaller than today’s large-screen models, is the dream.
Accordingly, rumors have swirled about an iPhone "6c", which would be exactly that. So far, though, no such phone has materialized, though the iPod Touch was updated in 2015 to provide much of Apple’s modern mobile tech in exactly the size people want. Still, that's not a full iPhone, and it doesn't include the very latest internals.
Apple may be ready, at long last, to answer all these wishes. If reports are correct, we will see a smaller, but modern, iPhone "6c" sometime before WWDC 2016 (in June). In fact, one rumor claims we could see the new phone as early as February. That said, another rumor claims the device will be the iPhone 7c, and come out in September alongside the iPhone 7, while a third claims an April launch. Whatever the name and launch date, the smaller phone will likely not include the 3D Touch or 12MP camera from the 6s phones, but it will be cheaper and give fans of smaller screens a good option. In fact, it might even have the same ram and processor as the 6s, and cost almost as much.
I hope this rumor pans out this year, because those who prefer the smaller form factor were left with only the 5c or 5s as their options in 2015. Both are good phones, but the 5c lacks Touch ID, and neither it nor the 5s include Apple Pay support.
Apple may be looking to go all-out with the iPhone 7's design. Removing the home button and headphone jack, sure, but a whole new material? Well, we've already gotten rid of two iconic features, so why not? On the bright side, the 7 could be waterproof!
As some rumors are starting to claim, the iPhone 7 could be made of something other than aluminum, and be waterproof. If true, this would make the iPhone more esthetically pleasing, by hiding the visually jarring antenna lines on the back. Having better looks will be even more important than ever, since the whole phone could be waterproof without the aid of a case. Add the tougher glass Apple seems to come up with every year, and you once again have less reasons to hide your shiny, beautiful phone inside a case.
Plus-Sizing Battery and Storage
There are claims that the iPhone 7 Plus could have a far larger battery, and a 256GB storage option. Imagine a phone with the battery to run for two days without charging, and the storage to hold twice as much as the entry-level 2015 MacBook Air. If it's also waterproof and includes other improvements listed here, it would easily be the best iPhone yet--vanishing audio jacks aside.
Apple TV… Again?
In fall 2015, Apple released a massive update to the Apple TV. There was a better processor, app store, Siri, touch- and motion-enabled remote, game controller support, and much more. If reports are correct, Apple isn't done tinkering with its set-top box just yet; production of the fifth generation Apple TV could begin as early as spring 2016, ending with a product release sometime during the year. Speculation on the exact date ranges from April to October.
As to new features, there isn't much to go on. Unspecified improvements and a faster processor are all we have so far, but a better CPU does make sense. The 2015 Apple TV includes an A8 chip, the same one used in the iPhone 6 line. This makes it a year out of date, since the Apple TV in which it is used came out at the same time as the iPhone 6s series, which included the much faster A9 processor. Given the focus on gaming and other graphics-intensive applications in the TV, and its reliance on wall power rather than a battery, it seems like Apple would want to pack as much horsepower into that box as they possibly could. Besides, the fourth-generation box lacks 4K video support, and many people think Apple will want to rectify that as soon as possible.
Apple Watch, Apple Watch
As its newest product category, the Apple Watch will undoubtedly be updated. Apple can't afford to let the first generation continue to be its only wearable device, and it will, I expect, make major updates in the second generation now that the first batch has had time to provide Apple with tons of user feedback and observations. As to what, specifically, we'll see… I don't know.
The only Apple Watch 2 rumors seem rather flimsy to me, but the expected launch window-- announcement event in March, shipping by April-- makes sense. Apple would want to get the new Watch out there well ahead of the iPhone 7 unveiling in September, giving consumers time to buy the one and then feel they can buy the other later in the year. Besides, the first Apple Watch was announced around the same time in 2015, and Apple could be positioning early spring as their Apple Watch update time, just as they've done for iPhones in the fall.
The features of the new Watch which I think make the most sense, based on reports and reviews I've read of the first generation, are:
- better processor, for eliminating the lag that users so often report in watchOS
- cellular radio, for GPS tracking, Apple Pay, and other data-centric features while no iPhone is nearby (mostly for joggers and the like)
- larger battery, for getting through a full day of use, especially now that native apps can run on the Watch and take more power
Whatever Apple does, it will be an improvement over the 2015 Apple Watch. It will also be the Watch I aim to purchase, if I can manage it, so I really hope Apple does something great. There's also the possibility of smart watch bands, as a way of expanding the Apple Watch's capabilities without users needing to buy a whole new unit. It should be an exciting year for Apple's wearable product line, we just don't have much in the way of details, or even solid rumors, at this point.
The Future of the MacBook Line Could Be… Airless?
In late 2015, reports started circulating that Apple was getting ready to refresh the MacBook Air with a thinner design and, possibly, a 15-inch option. An opinion piece from 9to5Mac.com pointed out that a similar rumor came out last year, but the product in question was actually the 2015 Retina MacBook.
The fate of the portable Mac line-up is a big question mark at this point. Currently, there is the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Retina MacBook, not to mention the similarly sized iPad Pro with its optional hardware keyboard attachment. The Retina MacBook has a 12-inch screen, the Air an 11- or 13-inch that isn't Retina, and the Pro a 13- or 15-inch which is Retina. The rumor is that the Air will gain a 15-inch option and drop the 11-inch model altogether, but no word on if the Air will go retina or if the Retina MacBook and Pro will remain the retina options along with the iPad Pro.
Confused? That’s exactly my point. As someone looking for a Mac, you no longer have the simple options you used to, and more Air models will make things worse. If you want an iPad, you simply pick the Mini, mid-sized Air 2, or Pro, based solely on the screen size you want, just like choosing which size you want for your iPhone. Finding the right Mac, though, has become extremely confusing, and I really hope Apple makes 2016 the year of clarification.
In my eyes, Apple should do the following:
- Upgrade the Retina Macbook and make it comparable in price with the Air, while adding one or two more USB C ports
- drop the Air line altogether
- add a 14- or 15-inch variant of the Retina MacBook
- do a bit of iOS device renaming at the same time: call the iPad Air 2 just the iPad
Then, you would have two product lines: iPad Mini, iPad, and iPad Pro; MacBook, and MacBook Pro. Apple could keep the iPad Air name, rename the Retina MacBook to the Air, and drop the existing Airs, and it would come to the same thing. Whatever they do, though, the choices are getting rather confusing and the names don’t match. Besides, which Mac is more worthy of the name 'Air': the existing Air, or the lighter, thinner model? Unifying things to keep it simple would fit Apple’s normal strategy and make it easier on consumers.
Extra Air for the iPad
In 2015, the iPad Mini was updated, and the iPad Pro was introduced for the first time. Unusually, the iPad Air 2 received no love at all (to be fair, though, it was already an incredibly powerful, capable machine). In 2016, Apple is likely going to unveil the iPad Air 3 at its March event. Currently, there are no rumors of an update to the Mini or Pro, which makes sense.
As to specific features, no one knows yet. It's a safe bet that the Air 3 will have a faster processor and, possibly, more ram. It's also fairly certain that it will not have 3D Touch. Will the processor be the same one that's in the Pro? Will the cameras be the same ones found in the iPhone 6s series? Will the screen improve? We have no leads on any answers yet, and those answers will be interesting to find out. With the iPad Pro now in the mix, Apple has to juggle three subcategories, and no one knows what will happen. Will it keep the Mini and Air less powerful, to drive sales to the Pro? Or, will it make each as good as it can, giving users the best possible experience no matter which iPad size they choose? No one knows, but we'll have at least some of the answer as early as March, so stay tuned.
Apple has long been committed to accessibility, as most disabled users will know. In 2016, though, there's a chance the company will start highlighting accessibility products in its physical stores. What these products are, and how this whole process will unfold, is not known. It could be something as basic as demo units with VoiceOver and Zoom enabled, or iOS-ready hearing aids, or something way out of left field.
In my wildest dreams, Apple makes a braille display itself. It can easily afford to sell this device at a far, far lower price than any other company, thus vastly increasing the availability of braille while hitting the braille display market like a tidal wave. Good or bad, if it shakes things up and gets braille to a wider audience, I'm all for it. Is that likely? No, probably not, but it's sure nice to chase some of these rumors to cool conclusions like this, isn't it?
Higher Quality Music? Stream On!
Apple Music is Apple's answer to Pandora, Spotify, and other music streaming services. It launched in the summer of 2015 and was met with pretty good reviews, iTunes library troubles aside. This year, though, rumor has it that Apple may offer high quality streams. If true, this will really only impact those who appreciate great sound over good sound. If you can listen to any MP3 and enjoy it, this won't affect you much. If you hate MP3s and only deal in high-quality, full recording formats, you'll love this upgrade.
The interesting thing to note, no matter which side you fall on, is that this report fuels speculation of the vanishing headphone jack. The article linked above says that the audio improvement will be so good, 3.5mm headphone jacks can't reproduce the quality. Lightning headphones, though, could. The thinking is that Apple may use this as one more reason to drop the old jack and prefer Lightning audio instead. Of course, this could be nothing more than a way of selling more Lightning headphones, and the standard jack won't go anywhere at all. As with everything in this article, we know nothing for sure and will have to wait and see.
That's All, So Far
As of right now--two days since 2016 started--that's all we have for plausible rumors. I'll update this piece throughout the year, so check back around each major Apple event.
Let me know what you're hoping does or doesn't happen. Personally, I'm all for an improved Apple Watch, clarified MacBook line-up with improved Retina MacBooks, and a new iPhone that still has a headphone jack. Whatever happens, it will be an exciting year in Apple Land. The Watch and iPad Pro will both mature, the iPhone is due for a major re-design, and the new MacBook will, hopefully, start coming into its own. Not to mention improvements to existing products like other Macs or the iPad Air and Mini. I can't wait to see what happens!