Apple will launch the next iPhone in 2021. We don't yet know if the company will only release the "iPhone 13" series in the fall, or if the year's lineup will also include an "iPhone SE Plus" or even a foldable "iPhone Fold."
● New iPhones either once or twice during each year
● "iPhone 13" series in fall 2021
● Possible budget "iPhone SE Plus" earlier in 2021
● "iPhone Fold" is a long-shot possibility for 2021-2023
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Apple always has a "next iPhone" on deck, and the company's innovation reputation means it isn't long after one model launches that loyal fans start salivating for what's to come. Since 2011, Apple has launched its flagships in a September or October time slot, but the company has also twice released two budget iPhones earlier in the year. AppleInsider takes a look at several possibilities for what the next iPhone will bring in 2021.
What is the next iPhone?
While the "iPhone 13" should launch in the fall of 2021, that doesn't necessarily make it the next iPhone. Earlier in the year, Apple could expand its budget iPhone SE lineup with a larger-screen model. Additionally, though it's a long-shot possibility, the company's rumored foldable iPhone could be ready earlier than expected.
The iPhone is Apple's most important product line as well as its bestseller. We want to look ahead at what is next for the iPhone and how it is expected to evolve in the coming years. So, while some of these devices may not release until 2022 or later, we can learn from where Apple plans to go by looking at leaks, patent applications, and other rumors.
"iPhone SE Plus"
One possibility for the next iPhone is a larger iPhone SE handset. The 2020 model was essentially an iPhone 8 with a modern chipset, updated cameras, and a budget price. The "iPhone SE Plus" would likely sit alongside it as a modern update to the iPhone 8 Plus. A more remote possibility would be a full-screen budget iPhone.
Apple shifted its naming large devices from "plus" to "max" in recent generations, but the "iPhone SE Plus" will likely be designed after the iPhone 8 Plus, thus our chosen placeholder name. Apple rarely sees names leak ahead of time, but we feel confident in this placeholder, given its historical naming scheme.
Apple could target a different design, however, and go for a full-screen display with Touch ID. If this happens, Apple may use the name "iPhone SE Max," though unlikely.
Rumors and release date
As the Coronavirus pandemic ravaged the economy during early 2020, forcing many smartphone buyers into tighter budgets, the affordable iPhone SE reportedly became a larger-than-expected piece of Apple’s iPhone sales. In an April note to investors, renowned analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said the cheaper handset would be "critical" for 2Q20 iPhone shipments.
Kuo later said he believed that because of multiple economic and production factors, a plus-sized iPhone SE wouldn't launch until 2021. However, late in 2020, Kuo weighed in yet again, adding that he doesn't see Apple releasing the larger handset until the second half of 2021.
In late 2019, Kuo had predicted that the "iPhone SE Plus" would be a full-screen iPhone with Touch ID in its power button instead of Face ID. However, the iPhone 12 mini's eventual release calls that prediction into question, as the two handsets could have more overlap than Apple typically allows for different models.
A larger-sized budget iPhone with Touch ID could be an attractive option for iPhone owners who have held onto one of the 5.5-inch models Apple released from 2014 to 2017. It would combine a familiar design with better performance, improved photography, and pandemic-friendly budget pricing.
Design and Display
If it uses the iPhone 8 Plus design, the iPhone SE Plus would have a 5.5-inch Retina HD Display with a 1920 x 1080 resolution at 326-PPI pixel density. It would include a Touch ID Home Button and the same cameras found in the smaller budget iPhone.
In late 2019, Kuo had predicted a full-screen iPhone SE Plus with either a 5.5-inch or 6.1-inch display. While that's still a possibility, such a handset would overlap significantly with the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini. They have 6.1-inch and 5.4-inch displays, respectively. The rumored handset could potentially differentiate itself with a lower price in return for a lesser display and camera and Touch ID instead of Face ID.
The latest Apple Silicon for mobile devices is the A14 Bionic found in the iPhone 12 series and iPad Air. That would be the most likely chipset for the next iPhone. The 2020 iPhone SE uses the A13 Bionic, which was the newest Apple chipset when it launched.
The 2020 iPhone SE used a single-camera system that was comparable to that of the previous-generation iPhone XR.
No matter which design Apple chooses, we expect the company to stick with a single-camera system in the iPhone SE Plus. Perhaps it would borrow from the iPhone 11's primary camera, leaving out the latter's ultra-wide lens.
During the initial run of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, along with the three previous generations with that design, Apple sold the larger model for $100 more than the base model. Continuing that trend would place the iPhone SE Plus at $499, which is $100 over the current iPhone SE.
The next iPhone could be the "iPhone 13." Apple releases a new iPhone every fall, though the naming used is usually a mystery until it is announced.
"iPhone 13" is just a placeholder, and could be an unlikely name due to superstition surrounding the number 13. Apple could stick with its traditional naming scheme for one more year and call the next iPhone the "iPhone 12S."
Rumors have existed for years about a change in iPhone naming, so 2021 could be the year we see something new. Some have suggested Apple drop the number and refer to the models by year, like "2021 iPhone Pro." Other suggestions included restarting the numbering with a new naming system similar to iPad, like "iPhone Air" and "iPhone Pro."
Apple will likely stick with the iPhone 12 design paradigm. The next iPhone will have flat sides, a same-sized notch, and a sizable camera bump. Apple tends to use the same design for three to four years to reduce manufacturing complexity and improve quality yields.
Some small changes could occur, however, depending on the technology implemented. For instance, some rumors point to Touch ID and Face ID being used in tandem on the next iPhone. Touch ID was added to the iPad Air via the top button and could come to the iPhone's power button. Ming-Chi Kuo reports that Touch ID in the power button has no visible release window, so it is unknown if it will make it to the "iPhone 13."
Touch ID could also come to the display. Some rumors indicate that Apple is experimenting with Touch ID below the display, though this complicates construction and could be impacted by another expected new technology, LTPO.
The next iPhone could also include a new camera option. Rumors surrounding the camera include a change in the shape of the bump that would impact cases and accessories for upgraders.
Improvements to Face ID and its components could allow Apple to reduce the notch's size, even slightly, to give users more screen real estate for content.
Apple is looking to add Promotion to the iPhone lineup, and the use of LTPO in the next iPhone is key to allowing it. Low-temperature polycrystalline oxide backplanes (LTPO) are already used in the Apple Watch to enable variable refresh rates.
LTPO on iPhone will allow the device to ramp up to 120Hz only when necessary to preserve battery life. Jon Prosser says that Apple was considering Promotion for the iPhone 12 until production began— only abandoning it at the last minute due to too much power consumption.
The display will likely remain otherwise untouched for the next iPhone. It will use the same Super Retina XDR technology with a 2 million-to-1 contrast ratio.
Apple introduced Ceramic Shield with the iPhone 12 for added drop protection. It could be improved or changed for the next iPhone to allow better protection against shattering screens.
The camera system for the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, and iPhone 12 Pro didn't change much from the iPhone 11. The aperture for the wide and ultra-wide lenses improved across all models, which means better low light images.
The Pro models gained LiDAR for improved AR use and algorithmic photography, but little else changed. The iPhone 12 Pro Max saw more significant updates to its camera system with a 2.5x telephoto lens and improved stabilization.
The next iPhone could see some of the improvements from the iPhone 12 Pro Max trickle down to other models, leaving room for even better photography advancements in the larger model. Some rumors suggest a fourth camera could be added with a periscope lens design for significant optical zoom capabilities.
Apple will introduce the A15 in 2021 for use in the next iPhone. This processor will continue Apple's usual performance upgrade path with its custom chips.
Single-core processing will see a boost and remain an industry leader. Apple's work on M-series processors for the Mac will likely improve the A-series processors used in mobile devices.
Apple could begin using in-house modems in the next iPhone as well. This will be another significant industry shift as Apple abandons using Intel and Qualcomm in its devices altogether. Apple-made modems may also cause improved 5G reception and bring mmWave 5G to iPhones worldwide.
The MagSafe system was introduced in the iPhone 12 line. The next iPhone could improve on MagSafe by adding a data component to the system.
It is expected a future iPhone could eliminate all ports. Few rumors suggest the 2021 iPhone will do this, though MagSafe with data capabilities will be the final step needed to get rid of Lightning by 2022.
Ming-Chi Kuo further complicates the port-less rumor by stating that MagSafe is not mature enough to replace the Lightning port. He states that Apple will likely skip USB-C in favor of no port and MagSafe, but the technology is not ready to do so.
The "iPhone 13" will be priced the same as the iPhone 12 lineup. Apple rarely changes the price of the iPhone unless significant changes are made year-over-year. The 2021 lineup won't be different enough to warrant a price increase if rumors are true.
While the next iPhone won't be the "iPhone Fold," we can look ahead at what is possible. These technologies have been seen in devices made by Samsung, and while it could be a fad, Apple is patenting and testing folding phones as well.
The further out the product is from releasing, the more difficult to predict a name. Apple rarely, if ever, sees a product name leak before it is announced, so we will refer to it as "iPhone Fold" for simplicity's sake.
The folding device may not even be an iPhone. It could be an iPad, or a whole new product category introduced when the folding device is announced. Apple's competitors have introduced foldables to their portfolios and refer to them as "phones," so Apple will likely do the same.
The next iPhone will ultimately be thinner than the last, but with folding phones, thinness is more important than ever. When you fold a device closed, it becomes twice as thick, which could limit pocketability.
Apple is rumored to be working with Foxconn to build and test various folding device prototypes. Apple is looking to multiple suppliers for parts for the hinge, but Foxconn will likely be the assembler. The hinge will be the most important part of the foldable because it is the limiting factor for durability and usability.
Apple has several patents surrounding the potential foldable. Drawings submitted show folds in the center of the display, either horizontal or vertical depending on the final design.
Perhaps equally as important as the hinge, the display will need to be foldable too. Jon Prosser suggests Apple will use two separate displays similar to the Microsoft Surface Duo.
However, Apple's patents show displays that fold, so something more like the Samsung Galaxy Fold is possible. Apple may build something that looks like an iPhone when closed and opens into a small iPad-like device. This would require a display that can be folded, and OLED or micro-LED are likely candidates.
Being able to open and close the foldable while having access to biometrics at all times is essential. Apple could implement the iPad Air Touch ID sensor in the power button, so users could authenticate whether the device was open or closed.
Face ID could be used in tandem with Touch ID, but its placement will be more complicated. Face ID is currently placed alongside the selfie camera on iPad or iPhone, so the "iPhone Fold" could do the same.
The issue with this is where the "selfie" camera will be located when the device is open or closed. Depending on the design, the selfie camera may only be visible when the foldable is open, making Face ID only work when open.
This is only a concern if the closed foldable has an external display for notifications like some Android-based foldables have done. Users will need a way to authenticate when the device is closed, so the addition of Touch ID in the power button fixes this problem.
Apple uses A-series processors for its iPhone line, so the most obvious choice for the "iPhone Fold" would be the A15 or A16, depending on when it releases. Apple also has a more powerful variant of its A-series processors used for iPad Pro that could be considered.
The A12Z Bionic is the most recent iPad-specific processor, though Apple is expected to release an A14X sometime in 2021. These processors have more graphical processing capabilities and better multi-core performance than the baseline A-series chips.