The next iPhone, which might be the iPhone 8 or perhaps the iPhone 7s, may well be the best selling iPhone ever, according to a number of analyst reports, particularly Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, who mobile market reports are widely read.
Kuo is predicting the existence of what analysts are calling a “super cycle” of sales, which means that most Apple users don’t replace their phones every year, but rather they replace them every three years or so.
The super cycle idea isn’t new, nor is it restricted to Apple. But it effectively describes the buying behavior of customers in large populations. The last high point in the super cycle came with the introduction of the iPhone 6, which broke Apple sales records. Since then, iPhone sales have been less dramatic.
However, for the super cycle to actually happen, Apple has to bring to market a device that offers dramatic improvements over its predecessors. The iPhone 6 did this with its larger screen. Whatever follows the iPhone 7 will have to offer features or functionality that are a significant improvement.
This may not be that high a bar to clear. While the iPhone 7 is a nice smartphone, its major improvements include being water resistant, which is something that its competition was already doing.
The other notable change was the elimination of the headphone jack, which was unlikely to boost sales. The iPhone had the usual incremental changes in speed and usability, but nothing that was going to make people who already had an iPhone suddenly demand the new one.
This means that for sales to increase dramatically, the next iPhone some significant improvements that excite buyers while remaining quintessentially an iPhone. The changes that are floating around the rumor-sphere include an all-glass case, an edge to edge screen, wireless charging and perhaps a curved OLED (Organic LED) display.
All of features would be significant enhancements for the iPhone, and not particular innovative or difficult to build into the next generation model. In fact, all of those innovative features are already in use by other phone makers. Samsung currently offers an edge to edge display, wireless charging and OLED displays in its phones, for example.
Meanwhile, Apple itself had a nearly all-glass case in the past. So that’s not really new. But the use of OLED technology would also allow Apple to produce iPhones with curved screens or perhaps even a flexible screen, which could be a boon for folks who like to keep their phones in their back pockets.
The problem with getting any sort of definitive answer to what Apple is planning in confounded by the fact that Apple itself isn’t sure. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Apple is testing 10 different prototypes of the next iPhone, including some with curved screens.
This testing of potential phone designs with varying prototypes is standard practice at Apple. Before the iPhone 7 was released, Apple reportedly dumped one phone design that was in the late stages of development, apparently because its supply chain couldn’t deliver whatever component was required in the volume that Apple needed.
While nobody including Apple knows for sure what the next iPhone will bring, it’s clear that Apple needs to come up with something more than just another incremental improvement. Apple iPhones are already losing ground to what the Samsung juggernaut is offering, ranging from software that knows where you’re looking to a water to steam cooling system for the phones Qualcomm 820 processor.
Apple doesn’t need to copy every feature that competitors offer, but it needs to keep up with the state of the art. For example, Apple’s competitors have been offering wireless charging for a couple of years, but the only Apple device that offers it is the Apple Watch.
This year, Apple is where it needs to be in regards to the multi-year sales cycles, or super cycles, but it needs a product that’s sufficiently innovative that it will give the super cycle something to grab on to. People who still have an iPhone 6 aren’t going to replace it unless a new model is attractive enough to spend more than $700 for a new iPhone. The incremental improvements have given a few people a reason to upgrade, but not everyone.
So what will be the feature that Apple brings to the table that makes everyone want to drop their iPhone 6 devices for the new one? I wish I could accurately predict the answer, but I can’t. But I can say that it has to be something that’s at least equal to some of the best that’s being offered elsewhere.
Even better would be for Apple to offer a feature that nobody has, but unfortunately, Apple hasn’t been in the technology forefront for a while. Perhaps it can lead again, but at least it needs to keep up with what everyone else is offering and maybe even show some glimmers of leadership.