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Apple expected to ditch aluminum, release glass-backed iPhone with OLED display in 2017

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Apple reportedly plans to shake up the materials used for the iPhone in 2017, abandoning the aluminum casing it has used for years and returning to the glass chassis championed with the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities issued a note to investors on Sunday, a copy of which was obtained by AppleInsider, revealing that Apple is apparently planning to differentiate the iPhone from competitors with a new design. Specifically, he said many of Apple's competitors now sell smartphones with aluminum casings, and he expects next year's iPhone to adopt a glass back to stand out from the competition.

In addition, Apple is also expected to adopt an AMOLED display for the 2017 iPhone. Apple already uses OLED technology in the wearable Apple Watch, but its iPhone lineup has relied on LCD technology since it first launched in 2007.

According to Kuo, although glass is slightly heavier than aluminum for a smartphone casing, the adoption of an AMOLED display will compensate for the added weight.

Kuo said that while 100 percent of iPhones are currently made with aluminum bodies, he expects that number will fall to 40 percent or less following the launch of the 2017 iPhone.

Though Apple has stuck to a "tick-tock" strategy with the iPhone for years, redesigning its handset every two years and then refining it with an "s" upgrade, all signs point to Apple introducing a new iPhone design this year and again next year. Apple's "iPhone 7" is expected to be introduced this September.

For those worried about a glass-backed iPhone failing drop tests, Kuo noted Apple already has plenty of experience with glass thanks to the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s. He doesn't share those concerns, and thinks that a glass iPhone will prove just as durable as the aluminum models.

He previously indicated that Apple plans to launch a revamped iPhone with a curved glass case and 5.8-inch AMOLED display next year. He expects it to employ curved panels on both the front and back of the device, and use AMOLED technology to realize the new design.

Kuo believes that switching to a glass back on the 2017 iPhone will give a "feeling of freshness" to consumers, allowing Apple's handset to stand out from the competition. The KGI analyst is bearish on iPhone sales in the near term, having predicted earlier this month that total iPhone shipments will fall below 200 million in 2016.

That pessimistic outlook for the remainder of the iPhone 6s product cycle is apparently shared by suppliers, who suggested this week that Apple is planning to continue reduced iPhone production through the June quarter. The company already indicated in January that it expects to see its first-ever year-over-year decline in iPhone shipments in the just-concluded March quarter. Apple will report the results of that quarter on April 25.

Kuo has a proven track record in predicting Apple's future product plans. Most recently, he was first to peg the $400 to $500 pricing range and all of the hardware specifications for Apple's newly launched iPhone SE.