For Lucy Edwards, a blind British journalist and broadcaster, maintaining social distance in public during the height of the pandemic was challenging. So she tried people detection, a feature in the Magnifier iPhone app she uses iPhone 12 Proand 13 Fora lidar sensor that detects when others are nearby.
“I’m going to have to get used to it, but I’m really excited to be back in control,” Edwards said in a 2020 BBC video documenting her experience.
Lidaror light detection and measurement, is just one example of how the technology inside iPhone has evolved over the past 15 years. When the first iPhone launched on June 29, 2007, it had a 3.5-inch display that would be considered minuscule by today’s standards and a single 2-megapixel camera. Now the most sophisticated Apple phones are equipped with triple rear cameras which are advanced enough shoot moviessensors that help people like Edwards navigate the world and powerful chips with billions of transistors.
The iPhone it has often served as a catalyst for the technologies introduced within, whether it’s the digital assistant Siri, mobile payments or wireless charging, and has helped drive the evolution of how we live our mobile lives. But in the future, the most important part of the iPhone may be everything around it. This is according to analysts who have followed the general trends of the mobile industry and Apple’s strategy.
In the short term, we’re likely to see incremental improvements like better cameras and giant displays. But over the next decade, the iPhone could evolve into a hub for smart glasses and other devices. AirPods, Apple Watch and CarPlay-enabled vehicles could be just the beginning. Core elements of the iPhone, such as its display and charging systems, are expected to receive a significant boost.
“The next challenge for the smartphone is to figure out what it’s going to connect to next,” said Runar Bjørhovde, an analyst at market research firm Canalys. “Because the smartphone hasn’t necessarily reached its potential yet, but as a standalone device I think the smartphone is getting closer and closer to the edge.”
Your iPhone at the center of everything
There’s a lot of speculation about what’s next for the smartphone. The clear consensus seems to be smart glasses with companies like Target, Snap and Google all working on their own version of high-tech glasses.
Apple is no exception; Reports from Bloomberg suggest that the iPhone maker could launch a mixed reality headset that supports augmented and virtual reality technologies this year or next. A pair of AR smart glasses could arrive later this decade, according to a report.
What does this have to do with the iPhone? Maybe everything. Although Apple headphones expected to function as a standalone device, the apps and services it runs would likely come from the iPhone.
Think of the Apple Watch. It doesn’t need an iPhone nearby to work, but a big part of its appeal involves the ability to sync closely with an Apple phone. Many Apple Watch notifications are also associated with accounts and apps that have been set up on the iPhone.
Whether it’s a smart headset, Apple WatchAirPods or HomeKit-enabled devices, analysts expect the phone to remain at the center.
“The phone will be the anchor,” said Gene Munster, managing partner of technology investment firm Loup Ventures and a longtime Apple analyst.
But it’s not just about connecting to new personal tech devices. Apple is gradually turning the iPhone into a viable wallet replacement, weaving even tighter into the non-digital aspects of our lives.
Apple has made great strides in this area over the past year by introducing new features such as digital ID for Apple Wallet and Tap to pay which turns the iPhone into a contactless payment terminal for merchants without additional hardware. Apple also just announced Apple Pay laterwhich allows Apple Pay users to split a purchase into four equal installments paid over six weeks.
“There’s clearly a lot of momentum within financial services with Apple, and I think we’ll see more progress there,” said Nick Maynard, head of research at Juniper Research.
Better lidar, more advanced AI for better spatial awareness
Making educated guesses about the general direction of Apple iPhone it is certainly easier than determining the specific changes that might come. But analysts have some ideas based on the seeds Apple has planted in current iPhones.
Lidar will likely continue to be important as society moves deeper into augmented reality. Apple added lidar to the iPhone 12 Pro in 2020 to boost AR apps, enable new camera tricks, and facilitate accessibility features like the ones above People detection. The technology measures distance by determining how long it takes light to bounce off an object and bounce back.
However, the iPhone’s current lidar sensors may not be sophisticated enough to deliver on Apple’s augmented reality ambitions to come true, Munster said.
“Specifically, the mapping of the real world needs to be more accurate,” said Munster, whose firm conducts research on topics such as augmented reality, autonomous vehicles and virtual reality. “And until that happens, AR won’t really happen.
Lidar improves the iPhone’s depth-sensing capabilities, but it’s still up to the phone’s processor to make sense of all that data. Apple has leaned on artificial intelligence — one of Silicon Valley’s favorite buzzwords in recent years — to give the iPhone and other products more context about users and their surroundings.
Again, you can look to the Apple Watch to see this approach in action. Apple’s smartwatch uses artificial intelligence and data collected from its sensors for tasks like tracking your sleep and noting when you wash your hands.
Hanish Bhatia, principal analyst at Counterpoint Research, provided a hypothetical example of how AI improvements could one day be seen in upcoming iPhones. He envisions a future in which an Apple smartphone can track a person’s habits to understand whether the phone’s primary user or a family member might be using the device.
“The way you use your phone, at what angle your smartphone is tilted … Do you push with a certain pressure, or do you just tap it with your fingernails or something?” he said as an example. “These are all different types of behavior that are very unique to the user.”
Bhatia’s example is speculative and does not reflect Apple’s actual plans. But with advances in AI and technologies like lidar and ultra wideband With the iPhone being more spatially aware, it’s easy to imagine a similar scenario.
Displays and charging technology could get a big change
Perhaps one of the biggest questions surrounding Apple’s future smartphone plans is whether the company will ever create a foldable iPhone. Samsung, Apple’s biggest rival in the mobile space, has already launched several generations of phones with flexible designs. Motorola, Huawei, and Microsoft followed suit, and Google is it is said to be working on a bendable Pixel. According to The International Data Corporation, shipments of foldable smartphones increased by 264.3% in 2021 compared to 2020.
But experts like Munster and Maynard are skeptical that Apple will take a similar approach. Although the tech giant does filed patents for mobile devices with flexible displays, these records don’t always indicate Apple’s plans. Sales of foldable phones are growing, but shipments still pale in comparison to regular smartphones. (Research firm IDC estimates 7.1 million foldable phones shipped in 2021, compared to 362.4 million phones shipped in the fourth quarter of last year alone). And then there’s the question whether folding devices bring something truly new or meaningful for the smartphone experience.
There are also challenges to creating an actual glass screen that is foldable, Munster says. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip has a glass screen, but that glass is also combined with a “special material” to “achieve consistent hardness.” CNET reported in 2020.
“The missing piece in my view is how [Apple] would actually do it,” Munster said.
iPhone charging is probably caused by the upgrade as well. Between USB-C, Lightning, and MagSafe, it’s no exaggeration to say that Apple’s charging options are complicated. Maynard believes pressure from the European Union and US senators could mean that a move to USB-C could be in the iPhone’s future.
However, more dramatic changes could also be planned. Rumors about completely portless iPhone have been flying, and Maynard doesn’t think it’s entirely out of the question.
“I suspect that if any vendor was going to bring a fully portless system to market, it would probably be Apple,” Maynard said, referring to Apple’s decision. in 2016, remove the headphone jack on the iPhone.
Wireless charging has been a focus for Apple in recent years, which further supports the portless iPhone case. Apple’s relatively new MagSafe chargers are available, and many CarPlay-enabled vehicles also support wireless connectivity. Apple has also patented wireless charging systems that would be built right into MacBooks, allowing Apple laptops to charge iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads. iPad Pro’s Smart Connector also provides a quick and easy way to connect accessories to your Apple tablet without a port.
“The number of systems that really 100% have to have cable is shrinking,” Maynard said.
Otherwise, analysts expect to see routine camera upgrades in the near term. Munster says there’s room for improvement in the iPhone’s front-facing camera, while Bhatia expects Apple to continue using display size and Camera a quality that sets regular iPhones apart from their iPhone Pro counterparts.
It’s impossible to know what will happen to the iPhone without Apple’s input. But experts seem to be sure of one thing: Apple is laying the groundwork for the future of the iPhone today. Current iPhone features, such as Apple’s lidar-based accessibility tools to help people like Edwards, could provide clues about what lies ahead.
“Everything we can see they’ve done in the last couple of years is a good indication of what’s to come,” Bjørhovde said. “Because a lot of what I think they’re doing is setting up for the systems they want to integrate the iPhone into in the next few years.”