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Glass-based iPhone redesign coming in 2017, Apple partner Catcher reaffirms

Edge-to-edge iPhone display concept by Martin Hajek.

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Amidst rumors of an all-new glass-backed look for the iPhone in 2017, the chief executive of Catcher, the company that builds metal casings for the iPhone lineup, added fuel to the fire on Thursday with new comments about next year's model.

Speaking at his company's annual shareholder meeting, Catcher Chairman and Chief Executive Allen Horng said Apple plans to unveil an iPhone with a glass casing and a metal frame, according to Nikkei. He said the metal frame for the glass-exterior phone will require "advanced processing technology," and that it won't be cheap to manufacture.

Horng said he's been led to believe that only "one model" will adopt the glass casing next year, though he did not express certainty on that. With a year and a half until Apple is expected to launch its 2017 iPhone refresh, it's likely that supply chain scuttlebutt remains in limbo.

Word of an all-glass-exterior iPhone first surfaced from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, who indicated in March that next year's model could represent a major revamp for the product design. It's expected that Apple will also implement an OLED panel in the redesigned iPhone, ditching the LCD panels the company has used since the first-generation model 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. And 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.

Edge-to-edge iPhone display concept by Martin Hajek.

Daring Fireball's John Gruber also weighed in earlier this month claiming that the 2017 iPhone will be a radical redesign, featuring the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, FaceTime camera and speaker all embedded into the OLED display. His sources apparently indicated that Apple is working on an edge-to-edge display that will ditch the bezels —  as well as the "chin" and "forehead" — found on all iPhone models to date.

Kuo originally claimed that the OLED display and glass body could be limited to just the larger "Plus" variant of next year's iPhone model. That would align with Horng's comments on Thursday, suggesting that only one high-end model could get a fresh look. But it would also go against Apple's recent product strategies, where it does not differentiate appearance greatly between different size models, whether in MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, or even the Apple Watch.

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 from the rumor mill point to Apple introducing a new iPhone design next year. Apple's "iPhone 7" is expected to be introduced this September, and leaked parts and details show a device with a nearly identical form factor to the iPhone 6s.