Apple wasn’t the first company to introduce smartphones, but it was the first to release a handset device that convinced the masses to ditch their flip phones. Over the years, Cupertino’s ”best, not first" philosophy also has extended to new mobile technologies. Apple isn’t always the first, but when it does get involved, it plays to its strengths -- delivering products that resonate with its loyal customers and attracting new converts to the brand. From there, the rest of the industry often finds itself playing catch-up.
Change is coming.
Despite selling 1.2 billion smartphones over the past decade, Apple hasn’t exactly been an innovator in recent years when it comes to iPhone. The company’s flagship device, which usually gets a design refresh in even-numbered years, has remained virtually unchanged since the iPhone 6/6 Plus arrived in 2014.
Change finally is in the air. With the 2017 iPhone cycle, Apple is poised to release at least one new handset that looks significantly different than its most recent models. The so-called “iPhone 8” arrives a decade after the original iPhone took over the world. To commemorate this milestone, the new handset is expected to include features not yet seen on other mobile devices -- even Apple's own.
It's likely, however, the smartphone also will include a few clever nods to the past, borrowing design cues from previous devices. One of the most popular iPhones in history, the iPhone 4, is making a comeback of sorts via the iPhone 8. That earlier model (and its immediate successor, the iPhone 4s) featured a glass front and back. The iPhone 8 also will use glass in place of the metal on the back of current-generation models. Stainless-steel edges reported on the iPhone 8 are another wink to the iPhone 4 series.
Related: A Decade of iPhone Evolution
New features and functions.
The iPhone 8 will differ markedly from other mobile devices in a few key areas. It will be the first handset to introduce 3-D facial recognition for unlocking and making payments. Thanks to newly designed infrared sensors, the facial-recognition tech will work even in the dark. The iPhone 8’s smart camera, meanwhile, will be the first in the industry to offer augmented-reality features for users and developers alike. This ties nicely into Apple’s recently introduced ARKit API, which allows third-party developers to build augmented-reality apps.
Apple’s next flagship device also will become one of the first smartphones to include a virtual home button, similar to ones found on the recently introduced Samsung Galaxy S8 and first-generation Essential Phone. Unlike the virtual home buttons on those handsets, however, the iPhone 8's version likely will extend beyond basic controls. That’s why some are calling this not a home button but rather a “function area” or “home indicator.”
All these upgrades could combine to make the iPhone 8 the first smartphone with a price tag surpassing $1,000 in the United States. Though some Apple fans might complain about this news, most will probably look right past it and make a purchase anyway. Don’t be surprised if other smartphone providers quickly follow to release their own pricey smartphones.
Old or borrowed tech.
The 3-D facial recognition and other new technologies will get plenty of press once Apple officially announces the iPhone 8. Ultimately, though, the company will rely on proven technologies to push the iPhone 8 into the winner’s circle.
Chief among these will be the use of an OLED display -- the first for an Apple handset. OLED, or Organic Light-Emitting Diode, replaces the liquid crystal displays (LCD) found on older iPhone models. With OLED, iPhone 8 users can expect better color reproductions and deeper blacks and whites. Samsung handsets long have used OLED displays. That makes good sense, since the South Korean giant is the world's largest producer of the material. Incorporating OLED enables Apple to offer thinner bezels on the iPhone 8. Nearly the entire front of the device is expected to be made up of just the screen.
Inductive charging is another common Android-based feature now coming to iPhone. The late, great Palm first introduced the technology in 2009. Cupertino already embraced inductive charging for the Apple Watch, which it launched in 2015. "Tap to wake" rounds out the new-to-Apple function list. Users can wake their devices just by tapping on the glass.
The bottom line.
The Apple iPhone 8 should include a nice mix of new and maturing technologies. The phone not only represents the future of Apple but also gives the market an idea where smartphones will be headed in the coming months and years.