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What to expect from Apple's iPhone event on September 12th

Definitely new phones, maybe an Apple Watch and Apple TV, and possibly one more thing.
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Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Another September, another iPhone event, right? Well, not exactly. Apple celebrated the iPhone's 10th anniversary earlier this year, and all of the rumors have pointed to a radically new and potentially very expensive smartphone to celebrate that milestone. It's all but certain we'll see this new phone, but that's hardly all that we expect Apple to reveal next Tuesday, at the first event in the company's brand-new headquarters. We could see two additional iPhones, Apple Watch updates, an upgraded Apple TV, details on the forthcoming HomePod speaker and possibly more. Apple often likes to surprise us, after all. Here's what we think Tim Cook and company will bring to the table on Tuesday.

iPhone X

For years, Apple was on a "tick-tock" iPhone upgrade cycle. One year would bring a new design, while the following year would introduce under-the-hood upgrades to otherwise identical hardware. That changed last year, as the iPhone 7 was physically very similar to the 6 and 6S.

That, along with the iPhone's 10th anniversary, has set the stage for the line's most radical redesign yet. As reported by both Bloomberg's reliable Mark Gurman and KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via 9to5Mac), the tenth-anniversary iPhone (which looks like it'll be called the iPhone X) will feature a nearly bezel-less front display. It's a feature that has rapidly become the standard on flagship handsets including Samsung's Galaxy S8, S8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8 as well as LG's V30 and G6. This means the display will likely be the same size (or bigger) than the 5.5-inch screen on the iPhone 7 Plus, but it'll come in a form factor not much larger than the iPhone 7, which has a 4.7-inch panel.

The other big change from a display perspective is the technology powering the screen. The iPhone X should have an OLED panel -- a departure from the LCDs that have been used in every previous iPhone. If the rumors are accurate, this will will only be the second product in Apple's lineup with such a screen, with the first having been the Apple Watch. OLED screens have brighter colors, greater contrast and much deeper blacks thanks to the lack of a backlight. OLED panels are also thinner than LEDs, which is crucial for phones -- the less room the screen takes up, the more room there is for battery.

If this screen seems like the most radical change in the new iPhone, the removal of the home button will be almost as big a deal. For 10 years, it has been a hallmark of the iPhone's design language, but it seems Apple is finally ready to say goodbye. Instead, the iPhone X is rumored to have a "virtual" area at the bottom of the screen that responds to different taps or gestures which let you navigate iOS. Exactly how it'll work remains to be seen, but recent reports indicate that it might be similar to multitouch gestures on the iPad that let you jump home or enter the multitasking menu without using the home button.

Losing the home button also means that Touch ID will likely be going away. In its place will be a 3D facial recognition system built into the front-facing camera. Bloomberg believes this will be used to both unlock your phone and make payments with Apple Pay. Past facial recognition systems have been proven to be easily duped, so we'll see what tricks Apple has to keep your credit cards and phone data safe.

Another bit of iPad inspiration is the rumored app dock that may appear on the iPhone X. Just as the iPad will get a new app dock and multitasking view as part of iOS 11, it sounds like the new iPhone will follow suit. It does sound a bit strange to bring this feature to only the new iPhone, as Apple has typically kept software features in iOS consistent across devices for as long as it feasibly can. On the other hand, it does make sense for Apple to unify the way iOS looks and acts across as many Apple products as it can.

Charging will get a revamp this year, as well. For the first time, it sounds like Apple will grace iPhone users with wireless, inductive charging. Of course, that'll require a charging pad -- and if I had to guess, Apple will sell that separately rather than include it with the phone. To make this work, the iPhone 8 is expected to have a glass back, reminiscent of the iPhone 4 and 4S.

Finally, it's no surprise that the iPhone X will have a new camera system. The battle for "best smartphone camera" is hotly contested, and Samsung's latest devices up the ante yet again. Apple will surely put updated cameras in the iPhone X, probably a dual-camera setup like the iPhone 7 Plus has, but word on the street is that it'll also be better-suited to working with augmented reality apps. AR is a big priority for Apple, as we saw back at WWDC in June when the company released the ARKit system for app developers. I expect Apple to show off some new AR apps made with ARKit that take advantage of the new cameras when it demos the iPhone 8 next week.

Unfortunately for those excited by this new iPhone, it sounds like it's going to be in short supply and very expensive. A number of sources have pegged the price in the $1,000 range, though some have claimed it could cost even more. Currently, the most expensive iPhone is the 256GB 7 Plus, which retails for $969, so it wouldn't be surprising to see this new phone exceed that.

The good news is that most customers (at least in the US) will buy their next phone on an installment plan, so you likely won't have to shell out $1,000 all at once. Still, getting an iPhone 8 could easily end up costing you $50 or so per month -- in addition to your existing cell phone plan. The 256GB 7 Plus costs $45.75 per month, with AppleCare+ included, while it's a little over $40 if you buy from Verizon or AT&T (with no AppleCare). If you want to get the iPhone 8 on an installment plan, be ready to skip a few lattes each month.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus

If you're not ready for the bleeding edge the iPhone X promises, Apple is also expected to provide more modest updates to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. KGI Securities believes that it'll have more changes to its design than the "S" phones usually get, namely it'll have a glass back to allow for inductive wireless charging, just like the iPhone X. Indeed, owing to the more substantial redesign, it sounds like Apple will skip the typical "S" designation and call these new phones the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

Despite the name, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will likely be physically similar to the existing iPhone 7. That means it'll keep the home button and larger bezels above and below the screens; the displays are expected to be the same as on the existing phones as well. There haven't been many rumors about what new features these phones will bring to the table, but Apple has introduced plenty of notable features in the "S" phones in the past (which these phones will resemble, despite the naming convention change this year), like Touch ID on the 5S and Live Photos on the 6S. That's not to mention improved cameras and processors; the 8 is rumored to have the same A11 processor that will be in the iPhone X.

Ultimately, these phones will be overshadowed by the iPhone X, but the lower price will ensure that Apple still sells plenty. And that's without even mentioning the fact that the iPhone 8 will initially be much easier to find than the X. Plenty of radically redesigned Apple products have also suffered from first-generation bugs, so if you want to pick up a new iPhone without breaking the bank or worrying about when you'll be able to get it, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will be worth keeping an eye on.

Apple Watch

It's only been a year since the Apple Watch was updated, but Gurman, Scott Moritiz and Ian King at Bloomberg believe another refresh is on deck. It would be a biggie, too: The next Apple Watch might have LTE on board, a feature that would greatly expand its capabilities when not connected to an iPhone. Being able to stream music, use maps or send messages and make quick calls without a phone would be pretty killer indeed. CNBC's sources backed up Bloomberg's report a few weeks later, so there's a lot of smoke around this particular rumor.

Bloomberg says that Apple wants to launch these watches by the end of the year, but they could slip into 2018 -- that'd be a blow to holiday season sales, a high point for the Apple Watch thus far. Whenever it does go on sale, though, all of the major US carriers should support it.

It remains to be seen what else will be new in this "Series 3" Apple Watch, but it looks like Apple will stick with the same form factor it introduced almost three years ago. KGI's Kuo said that the next watch would stick with the 38mm and 42mm case sizes that have been standard throughout the product's lifespan. Apple is also expected to release models without LTE as well. It's not clear what else will be different in Series 3 watches, but it's safe to guess that processors and battery life will be places of focus.

Apple TV

4K TV sets are getting increasingly cheaper, so it's probably past time for the Apple TV to support this higher resolution. Once again, Bloomberg's sources indicate that a 4K- and HDR-ready Apple TV set-top box will be revealed next week. Additionally, there have been indications that the iTunes Store has been getting ready for 4K movies for a while now, though Apple is apparently battling with the movie studios about pricing.

HomePod

At WWDC, Apple gave a pretty thorough overview of HomePod, its Siri-powered music speaker and virtual assistant, including its $350 price and a planned December launch. But next week, we'll hopefully find out if Apple will meet that deadline and get some info about when pre-orders and deliveries will happen. Given that the speaker will only be available in the US, UK and Australia for starters, we're thinking supply will be pretty tight; it might be an AirPods situation where stores get a handful of speakers every day and online orders will take weeks to be fulfilled. But if there's any hope of getting one in time for the holidays, we should find out next week.

iOS 11 / macOS High Sierra / WatchOS 4 release dates

One thing we're just about sure of is that we'll find out when iOS 11, macOS High Sierra and WatchOS 4 will launch. If history is any indication, iOS should arrive the Wednesday before the launch of the next iPhones. WatchOS should come shortly after, while macOS may not show up until October. But all these dates should be confirmed during Apple's event.

One more thing?

WWDC this past June was one of the most packed Apple events we've ever seen, and it seems like next week's iPhone showcase could rival it. We'd be pretty shocked if Apple has time for "one more thing" after all of this. But Apple did say the iMac Pro would be available in December, so it's possible we'll hear a word on that. The whole point of "one more thing" is to be a surprise -- but in practice it's often not. Either way, we'll have to wait just a few more days to find out for sure.

Update, September 11, 10:00AM: This post has been updated to reflect news over the weekend that indicates the names of the new iPhones will be then iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.

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