But after eight monumental revisions, Apple is at something of a crossroads. Releasing an entirely new product every year is exhausting (even with the same outward design), and Apple is starting to run out of ways to make the redesigned model significantly different than the prior one. Each whole-number model of iPhone has brought a major screen change—Retina with the iPhone 4, and size with the 5 and 6—but the iPhone 7 is almost certain to keep the same 4.7- and 5.5-inch displays. A Galaxy-esque incremental increase to, say, 4.9 or 5.7 inches, just isn’t Apple’s style.
Sure, the iPhone 6/6s’s screen is 38 percent larger than the iPhone 5, but we’re not convinced that the size will increase more. Credit: Macworld UK
The next most likely change is the elimination of the Home button, a move that Apple has already taken transitional steps to accommodate. But beyond that, the changes are all going to be iterative—thinner, lighter, better battery life, wireless charging—and it’s going to be that much harder for the iPhone 8 or 9 to make such a splash commensurate with its name.
Changing the locks
The annual iPhone cycle may have been the result of carrier contracts, but it’s a perfect fit for everyone involved. Unlike any other product in Apple’s catalogue—including the iPad, which saw the Air unceremoniously skipped over for an update this year—Apple is beholden to releasing a new iPhone every year, and the “tick-tock” cycle, as John Gruber so aptly describes it, perfectly fits. It guarantees that once your two-year contract is up you’ll be able to get an iPhone in a brand-new enclosure, whether you’re on a tick year or a tock one.
But the subsidized lock-in model is on the precipice of blowing up, and with it could come a change to the way iPhones are released. Without such stringent 24-month upgrade cycles, Apple needn’t feel the same pressure to unveil disparate models each year—the spirit of the “s” will certainly stay, but I think we’re only one or two versions away from “the new iPhone” or even (gasp!) the new Apple Phone.
Apple has already toyed with the idea of breaking away from the numbering nomenclature with the iPad. When the was third-generation was released, it was simply “the new iPad,” rather than the iPad 3 (and the same was true of its successor). Similarly, the iPad mini 2 was actually the iPad mini with Retina display (though it was belatedly branded with a 2 alongside the iPad mini 3 a year later).
It’s hard to imagine Apple being so cavalier with the naming of a new iPhone model (though we’re still trying to figure out what the 5c was all about), so once it decides to make a change to its naming convention, it’s going to be permanent. But the dissolution of the 24-month contract opens up all sorts of possibilities, starting with the elimination of the “s” model.
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