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iPhone: What will the next 10 years bring?


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Image: CNET

The iPhone has come a long way since it was unveiled to the world a decade ago.

The screen resolution has increased to the point where the individual pixels are no longer discernible to the eye. The processor and graphics chip have increased in performance to the point where they are now 120 and 240 times faster than the original iPhone, respectively. We’ve also watched other features such as battery life and the camera improve dramatically over the decade.

Oh, and we’ve also seen the iPhone get thinner and lighter, the screen get bigger, the 30-pin port replaced with the Lightning port, and the headphone jack get taken off to Silicon Heaven.

But just as some things have changed, others have stayed the same. To the casual observer, an iPhone from 2007 looks much the same as an iPhone from 2017, retaining the familiarity of the Home button, the volume buttons, and the power button.

But that’s all in the past. What does the future hold for the iPhone? Will there even be an iPhone in 2027?

Let’s address that last point first. As much as tech can change over a decade, I can’t see the iPhone being pushed into the history books over the coming ten years by wearable technologies such as VR/AR goggles or smartglasses, much the same way that the iPhone hasn’t pushed the PC to extinction.

Apple may have a VR/AR solution by 2027, or it may have jumped on the smartglasses bandwagon by then, but I still fully expect the iPhone to still be at the heart of that tech ecosystem.

OK, with that out of the way, let’s consider what that iPhone of the future might look like.

The simple answer is that it will look pretty much like the current iPhone. I expect it to have a display on the front, a few buttons — I don’t think that the Home button is going anywhere given that it’s key to how the iPhone works — and to be roughly “iPhone shaped.”

The shape is closely tied to the concept of the iPhone, and it’s clear from the past decade that Apple doesn’t feel the need to mess with it much. No turning it into a bangle you can snap on your wrist or making it transparent so you can see the road as you text-and-walk.

But ten years will also bring considerable change to the tech that powers the iPhone.

On the CPU and GPU front, we can expect to see the performance increases continue to the point where the silicon in the 2027 iPhone will make the A10 in the iPhone 7 look like the CPU inside the first-generation iPhone.

This additional processing power will allow Apple to dramatically improve other aspects of the iPhone. For example, the dual camera arrangement on the iPhone 7 Plus, combined with technologies such as Live Photo, clearly point to 3D photography.

3D photography sounds like something that will eat up a huge amount of space, but it won’t matter, because by 2027 one terabyte of storage will almost certainly be standard when it comes to storage.

We can also expect the display to evolve into a thinner, flexible, higher density, more power efficient OLED or even something more futuristic (by 2017 standards) such as graphene displays, which may in turn lead to 3D displays, hologram cells, or some combination of color display and one suited for text — such as eInk — to give users the best of all worlds.

Advances in technologies such as Gorilla Glass and growing crystals of sapphire big enough to cover the display should bring an end to shattered displays.

But all that processor power and high-resolution displays need power, and the lithium-ion technology that Apple has relied on so far might not be enough for the next decade. This could mean batteries that make use of technologies such as lithium-air which offer longer lifespans than lithium ion, or supercapacitors which can be recharged in seconds as opposed to hours.

Then there’s recharging to consider. While the iPhone will definitely have wireless charging by 2027, it’s possible that the battery will see regular top-ups thanks to solar panels built into the display, or motion charging.

And with charging moving to wireless technology, combined with improvements to Bluetooth, will make that Lightning port look more and more old-fashioned.

Yes, I’m predicting that by 2027 Apple will have eliminated the Lightning port from the iPhone.

I’m also expecting Apple to beef up the security of the iPhone, possibly adding features such as face, iris, or even heartbeat biometrics. The sensors built into the iPhone could also allow the device to detect if the owner is involved in a car accident or is a victim of a physical assault, and not only inform the emergency services but collect evidence from the scene using the cameras, microphones, and other sensors.

Given Apple’s focus on health and fitness, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a pulse monitor, blood pressure monitor, or blood glucose meter added as standard to the iPhone, as these features would be hugely beneficial to owners and their health.

The more Apple can make the iPhone a vital part of people’s everyday lives, the longer arc it has as a product.

An aspect of the 2027 iPhone that we can’t ignore is the price tag. Will pricing remain roughly as it is now, or will we see the budget SE equivalent get cheaper and the Plus version become even more premium as Apple attempts to balance out revenue and profits against sales and market growth?

I’d wager that, just as with the past decade, the next decade won’t bring any dramatic price swings.

Just because I’m going to get asked about them, here is a quick list of things that I don’t see happening by 2027:

  • Bendable/folding iPhone – No
  • Transparent iPhone – No (and why?)
  • Display on the back – No
  • Interchangeable camera lenses – Too clumsy
  • Modular design – NO!
  • An iPhone that doubles as a bangle that you wear around your wrist – NO!!!

Apple’s profits are tied to the success or failure of the iPhone, so unless something drastic happens, it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. But where the next decade takes Apple’s flagship product will undoubtedly keep the whole of the tech industry on its toes.

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