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What's next for Apple in 2016: New product rumor roundup

Even though Apple's first major hardware launches for 2016 are probably still months away, rumors of the company's roadmap are already widespread, including some potential shakeups for products like the iPhone.

iPhone 7 & 7 Plus

Apple is of course working on its next-generation flagship iPhones, presumably to be called the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. One rumor is that the devices will be fully waterproof, building on the partial water protection of the iPhone 6s. Apple may also switch away from a fully-metallic chassis, possibly integrating the cellular antenna in the process.

The new models may be so thin that Apple is considering removing the 3.5mm headphone jack, which would limit people to using Bluetooth or Lightning connections for headphones and speakers.

Both the 7 and 7 Plus are expected to use even faster "A10" processors, but the 7 Plus could potentially sport 3 gigabytes of RAM — one extra — offering more than just a bigger screen size as an incentive to buy.

Perhaps the most radical claim is that Apple wants to ship the devices ahead of its usual September launch window. It's not clear how much earlier that might be, and September is still a possible date.

iPhone 6c

Apple is thought to be working on a 4-inch "budget" iPhone commonly dubbed the iPhone 6c, keeping that form factor alive for people who think even a 4.7-inch iPhone is too big. The product is expected to resemble the iPhone 5s in many respects — including its cameras and colors — but feature upgrades like an A9 processor, 2 gigabytes of RAM, Apple Pay, and a larger 1,642mAh battery.

It could arrive as soon as April, which would be consistent with rumors of a March press event where Apple will also highlight the second-generation Apple Watch.

Apple Watch 2

Speaking of which, news of Apple's next wearable has been oddly hushed. Beyond a March reveal, most rumors have suggested only minor improvements like a bigger battery and greater outdoor visibility. A more questionable claim suggested that the device could support "smart bands" much like the Pebble Time, improving functionality without having to buy an entirely new watch.

As for a release date, rumors have been even more vague, pointing to it shipping sometime in the first half of the year.

iPad Air 3

Surprisingly missing from the fall 2015 lineup, Apple is nevertheless thought to be developing a 9.7-inch iPad Air 3 that could ship as soon as March. It should share much in common with the Air 2, and it's not clear what — if anything — the tablet will adopt from the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which has things like Apple Pencil and Smart Connector support, an A9X processor, and a USB 3.0-capable Lightning port.

One feature it's not expected to have is 3D Touch, since Apple's supply chain is allegedly having enough trouble producing compatible screens for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

MacBook Air

Next June's Worldwide Developers Conference could see Apple deliver a true revamp of the MacBook Air line, which saw only minor enhancements in 2015. This might include scrapping the 11-inch model in favor of a 15-inch one, and as usual making the lineup as thin, light, and fast as it can. Many people have been hoping for a Retina display upgrade, but no word on that has emerged one way or another.

iOS, OS X, watchOS & tvOS

Very little has emerged about Apple's planned software updates. All four operating systems will likely get major upgrades in the fall, though iOS will presumably need to be updated earlier if new iPhones arrive before then. Any planned changes should be teased at June's WWDC.

Mac hardware

The iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro should all see upgrades to Intel's latest processors, and in other areas where needed, such as support for standards like USB-C — currently only on the 12-inch Retina MacBook.

One mystery is whether Apple will deign to update the Mac mini or the Mac Pro. Both machines were neglected in 2015, and the latter hasn't been updated since the first cylindrical model shipped two years ago.

Other hardware

There are plenty of other products Apple could potentially update. The Thunderbolt Display, for instance, continues to lack Retina resolution. The AirPort Express is missing 802.11ac, even though Apple's other Wi-Fi routers — the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule — have had the tech for a while.

Apple will likely update the iPad mini and iPad Pro with faster processors come the fall, but not even the earliest of rumors has emerged about specifics.

The Apple TV could theoretically be upgraded with support for 4K video, giving it better odds against hardware from Roku and Amazon. Apple hasn't stuck to an annual update cycle for the set-top however, and the company would presumably want 4K content on the iTunes Store first.