The best pocket camera
Breen: I think a point-and-shoot camera must have once frightened the iPhone development team as children. How else can you explain Apple’s desire to make the vast majority of these things obsolete? What with better resolution, more shooting options (including video), and the ability to tweak camera settings to a far greater degree in iOS 8, it’s getting more and more difficult to argue that carrying a separate easy-does-it camera makes sense. The iPhone 6 will undoubtedly bring camera improvements because that’s part and parcel of iPhone upgrades.
Caldwell: True, Chris. Apple has long used its top-of-the-line iPhone to push forth new camera features—both in its software and hardware. The iPhone 3GS offered tap-to-focus and SD video; the iPhone 4 made that video HD and added a front-facing camera; the 4s upped picture quality and gave its lens a wider aperture; the 5 tweaked low-light capabilities and gave us panorama shots; and the iPhone 5s brought slow-motion video and a better LED flash to the table.
All of that says to me that the next top-level iPhone will almost certainly have some sort of camera improvements. A better sensor is the obvious bet—Apple’s competitors have almost all risen above the 8-megapixel sensor in the iPhone 5s, and it wouldn’t be too much trouble to swap it out for a 10- or 12-megapixel component. I also expect to see iOS 8’s new Timelapse feature demonstrated during the iPhone announcement—like Slo-Mo before it, it’s a neat little software feature that could very easily demonstrate the power behind Apple’s next handset.
Return of the “c”?
Caldwell: Before 2013, Apple relied on its previous-year models to serve as the lower-cost entry point for the iPhone; then, last year, the company introduced the iPhone 5c. Internally the same as the 5 with a candy-colored plastic outer shell, the 5c caught a lot of flak from financial analysts for not meeting demand the way they might have hoped. But not only is it silly to base a product line’s future on analyst response, Apple’s own Tim Cook spoke very highly of the 5c during the company’s most recent financials call, describing the model as having “the highest growth during the quarter we just finished, of the three [iPhone] tiers.”
I wouldn’t buy a c-model myself, but I know plenty of friends who would. Last year’s iPhone in a colorful package makes a pretty good smartphone for most of the population—especially if it features Touch ID. But there’s also a financial argument to be made for just keeping the iPhone 5s around and not fitting its internals into an “iPhone 6c.”
Breen: Apple slaps an initial after the model number every other year—iPhone 4 then 4S, iPhone 5 and 5s and 5c. I expect this year’s model will be a straight 6 with the company possibly maintaining the older 5 models.
Your virtual wallet
Caldwell: The industry has been talking about the possibility of an iPhone digital wallet initiative since 2011, when Near Field Communication (NFC) began to make a splash in the smartphone world. Since then, we’ve seen Apple roll out Passbook, which can hold things like loyalty cards and airline passes, and heard no end of rumors about iBeacon’s potential in local store interactions.
I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see more of your wallet accessible via iOS 8 and a new iPhone: Apple’s been laying the groundwork with Passbook and by opening up Touch ID’s security measures to third-party apps, and the company already lets you store credit card information inside iCloud Keychain (you just have to memorize your security code). And for the last few years, I’ve been able to pay for items in many places around Boston thanks to third-party apps like LevelUp.
Moren: Don’t bet the farm on NFC. Rumors have had Apple adding the wireless technology to their iPhones for years, and it’s never panned out. The simple truth is that the infrastructure just isn’t there, and there are plenty of other ways to handle mobile payments, including things like Passbook. While mobile payments remains a volatile space—especially in the wake of events like the Target hack and other security vulnerabilities—it’s still a nascent one, as well. These days, people are pretty comfortable buying things through apps, but we still haven’t quite reached the pay-with-phone levels you’ll find in countries like Japan. I’d expect a play from Apple on this at some point, but perhaps not this year.
The bottom line
Obviously, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the next iPhone. Is it even called the iPhone 6? Might Apple decide to zig instead of zagging and go with some other moniker? The iPhone Blue? We're pretty comfortable saying there'll be a new iPhone this fall, with a faster processor and other advancements over last years. Beyond that? We'll wait until we actually see the thing (or things) to find out for sure.