The next iPhone: Apple giveth, and Apple taketh away
Rendering of the rumored "iPhone 7 Plus" by Martin Hajek.
Historically, Apple has introduced a major redesign of the iPhone every two years, with a milder "S" update in between. However, this year is something special: The Wall Street Journal and other sources expect the next iPhones (unofficially known as the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus) to play it safe. While there will reportedly be more substantial outward changes than you saw in the iPhone 6s, the Cupertino crew isn't poised to reinvent the wheel either. It would largely share the same aesthetic that you've seen since 2014's iPhone 6, complete with that curved but mostly featureless aluminum frame. The cleaner antenna lines and possible new colors (rumors have swirled of dark black and blue options) may be the only conspicuous ways to show that you have a new phone.
That's not to say that the changes would be purely cosmetic -- far from it. The standard-size iPhone is expected to get a larger camera that will offer improved light sensitivity while the larger Plus variant may tout dual cameras that offer better focusing and low-light photography, much like what you find on the Huawei P9. There's also talk of a Force Touch-style home button, a speedier A10 chip, an increased 32GB of baseline storage (with a 256GB option) and even possible dual-SIM support for countries like China and India. One rumor has claims we'll see higher-resolution displays, but the jury's still out on that report.
There's one big thing you probably won't get this year, though: a headphone jack. As with the Moto Z and LeEco's latest phones, you'll have to either plug into the data port (in this case, the Lightning port) or go wireless to listen to your tunes. This doesn't mean that your favorite wired headphones will instantly become obsolete, mind you. Some leaks have suggested that Apple may offer a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter to accommodate the legions of headphones on the market today. There's no guarantee that this connector will come in the box, but you'll probably have some kind of fallback if you're not quite ready to embrace Bluetooth.
There's one last, looming question about this iPhone: When will it arrive? An AT&T retail leak hints that the carrier may be bracing itself for an in-store launch on September 23rd, but that's an unusually long wait for Apple. It typically prefers a release on the second Friday following the event, which would be the 16th. Well-known leaker Evan Blass has heard that the retail launch is slated for the 16th, so it seems like the more probable date.
The first Apple Watch refresh
Unless you count new bands and case colors as hardware upgrades, the Apple Watch has gone untouched since it arrived almost a year and a half ago, in April 2015. That makes it ripe for an upgrade... and many suspect that it'll get its first big revision at the September event. From a logical standpoint, that makes sense. WatchOS 3 has been in testing all through the summer, existing supplies are running low, and Apple likes to showcase major platform revisions with new hardware. Besides, rumors originally had the new wristwear showing up in March. If it wasn't quite ready then, it may well be ready now.
So what will you get if it does show up? Much like the iPhone 3G, this second model may be more about addressing the first model's glaring issues than a complete revolution. Early rumors of a camera have died, and cellular data isn't expected to make the cut due to battery-life concerns. Instead, the big deal may be GPS: You could get accurate navigation and run tracking without relying on your iPhone.
After that, it may be a matter of refinements. KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is often on the ball about Apple plans, believes that the next Apple Watch will have a barometer for altitude tracking, stronger water resistance, a larger-capacity battery and a faster processor. That last part is particularly important. While WatchOS 3 will speed up many tasks all by itself, a CPU upgrade could further reduce those annoying wait times that plague the Apple Watch today.
The real mystery is when you'll see the second-generation smartwatch. There haven't been any credible leaks, and there's no extensive history to rely on. The six-week gap between the March 2015 Apple Watch introduction and launch day isn't typical for the company. If the hardware is ready to go, though, we could imagine it arriving side-by-side with new iPhones in mid-September.
Software upgrade release dates: iOS 10 and more
Software usually plays as big a role in Apple's September events, and this year is likely no exception. Given that Apple always ties new iPhone hardware to new iOS releases in the fall, we'd expect to see a date for the iOS 10 upgrade at the event. The firm tends to ship those updates at least days before the new iPhones arrive.
As for other software? That's harder to determine. WatchOS 3 seems like a shoo-in for a release date announcement (it's been in developer testing as long as iOS), especially if there's a new Apple Watch unveiled at the same time. A tvOS software update is less certain when there's no word of a matching Apple TV hardware upgrade, although it could happen when Apple TV software updates have sometimes arrived alongside new versions of iOS. And a macOS Sierra launch? Well, that's up in the air. Although Apple delivered El Capitan in late September last year, there's no certainty that Sierra will be ready in a similar timeframe. It may have to wait until there's new Mac hardware. On that note...
Wild cards: new Macs and iPads
Conceptual rendering of a MacBook Pro with an OLED touch strip.
If you ask devotees about what Apple needs to upgrade next, many of them will shout "Macs." It's for good reason, too. Outside of the 12-inch MacBook and iMac, the majority of the Mac lineup hasn't been updated in more than a year. Some of this is due to Intel's slowing refresh cycle and diminishing performance returns, but it's still true that Apple's computer line could stand an overhaul.
But will it get that overhaul in September? It doesn't seem likely. A recent Bloomberg leak claims that a MacBook Pro with a fingerprint reader, an OLED control strip and USB-C is in the works for the fall but won't show up on September 7th. And mum's the word on other Mac revamps outside of vague hints of a MacBook Air refresh. Apple did recently stop selling the Thunderbolt Display and is rumored to be building a stand-alone 5K screen that would go well with new Macs, but the mill has been silent on its fate in recent weeks.
You might see new iPads. The iPad Air 2 is nearly two years old, and AppleInsider tipsters have hinted that at least the 12.9-inch iPad Pro may get an upgrade. Like the Mac, though, there's nothing strongly suggesting that replacements for either will show up in September. Any updates might end up waiting until a separate October event, if not next year. Just keep an open mind -- few would have expected the iPad Pro to be introduced alongside the new iPhone last year, and Apple may be content to introduce modestly improved tablets in September rather than save them for later.
Images: Martin Hajek (iPhone render); Reuters / Andrew Kelly (Apple Watch); Martin Hajek (MacBook Pro)