There was a time when WWDC belonged to the iPhone. From the S cycle to the Retina display, FaceTime, and the App Store, some of the earliest iPhone breakthroughs were unveiled at Apple’s annual developer’s conference, with long stretches of keynote time devoted to specs and speed instead of software.
These days there’s a better chance of an Android app making an appearance on the big stage than a new iPhone. But even as WWDC has consciously shifted away from splashy hardware releases, the iPhone is still very much the star of the show. The iOS portion of the presentation is both the longest and the most significant, not just because it spotlights major changes and feature upgrades, but also in how it sets the tone and direction Apple’s next round of products will take.
And of course, at the end of that roadmap is the next iPhone. This year’s timing is a little trickier than most, with most reliable rumor sources are predicting another minor refresh before the next big redesign. But if you dig a little into the iOS 10 preview, you can find some pretty big clues as to what’s in the pipeline.
1. The home-button is short-lived
The biggest impediment to a radical change to the iPhone is our dependence on the home button. Aside from shaving off a few millimeters in any direction, there’s isn’t too much Apple can do in the way of design innovation; as long as it stays below the screen, future iPhones aren’t going to deviate from the current size and shape.
But iOS 10 looks to be moving beyond the home button. All throughout the system you’ll find shortcuts designed to eliminate the need to actually open apps and, consequently, continuously press the button to return to the home screen. And with features like raise to wake and rich notifications on the lock screen, our button presses should be dramatically reduced in iOS 10.
There are already rumors floating around that Apple is looking to embed Touch ID into the screen, and last year’s introduction of 3D Touch seemed to hint that Apple is considering ife beyond the button. But iOS 10 offers up the strongest evidence yet that the next big iPhone revamp will be missing its most iconic feature.
2. OLED is the future
Anyone who owns an Apple Watch knows the beauty of OLED screens. With the deepest possible blacks (thanks to its advanced backlight-less technology that keeps black pixels off rather than simply turning them opaque), OLED screens can save both eye strain and battery life simply by dimming the colors of the interface.
Apple didn’t specifically highlight the existence a dark mode during its WWDC demo, but some beta testers have dug deep into the code to find versions of Messages and Settings with black backgrounds, strongly suggesting that Apple is working on a system-wide dark mode for iOS. It’s something that would look good on any iPhone, but with an OLED display, dark mode would be stunning.
3. Apple Pencil support is coming
The stylus has come a long way since Steve Jobs openly mocked it during the iPhone’s introductory keynote. Apple Pencil is much more than a tapping stick. Lag-free and packed with pressure sensors, it’s the perfect companion to the iPad Pro, allowing writers and illustrators to use their tablets in amazing new ways.
But iOS 10 offers some hope that Apple’s newest input device won’t just be limited to the iPad Pro. Among the numerous enhancements to the Messages app are two features that would benefit greatly from Apple Pencil. First, Apple Watch’s unappreciated Digital Touch feature will make its way to the iPhone, where it will be much easy to draw and share fun little pictures with your friends. And Apple is also touting the ability scribble notes in your own handwriting, and have the recipient “see it animate, just as ink flows on paper.”
Of course, we could easily do these things with our fingers, but these features seem to suggest that Apple is looking to expand Pencil’s reach to the iPhone. It likely won’t be a main selling point, but being able to quickly switch from the iPad to the iPhone without putting down your Pencil would be a nice fringe benefit.
4. The dual-lens camera will rock
If it’s true that this year’s iPhone will break the pattern and offer few physical changes from the S model it will replace, one thing is certain: The camera will be greatly improved. The most reliable rumors peg the iPhone Plus as getting not one but two cameras, letting users capture sharper, more detailed photos, especially in low-light situations.
And now you’ll be able to edit them right on your phone. iOS 10 paves the way for raw support, finally allowing iPhone users to work with full-resolution images right on their phone. And with Photos’ new Memories feature, the images you snap on the new iPhone will be automatically grouped into albums ready for viewing on your Apple TV.
5. It’ll be locked down
Apple made headlines earlier this year when it refused a federal government request to help unlock a terrorist’s iPhone, and as expected, it’s doubling down on privacy and security in iOS 10. The protection of personal data was a running theme through this year’s keynote, punctuated by the announcement that it will begin using differential privacy to bolster things like QuickType and Spotlight, promising the data it analyzes will be anonymous and private.
While differential privacy will obviously be a feature that benefits all iPhone users, its a clear signal that Apple is working on making the iPhone’s locks even stronger. There have already been rumors that Apple is working to make the next iPhone virtually impenetrable, and the protections in iOS 10 are further proof of its commitment to security and encryption. As Craig Federighi said near the end of the presentation, “All of this great work in iOS 10 would be meaningless to us is it came at the expense of your privacy,” and it’s easy to imagine Phil Schiller saying something quite similar after he unveils the next iPhone.
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Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.