What to expect from Apple in 2016

January 7, 2016
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Wow. What a year 2015 was for Apple. The 12in MacBook, the iPad Pro, Apple Pay, Apple Music, Beats 1 and, of course, the Apple Watch, have given us plenty to talk about over the last twelve months – and these releases do more than just hint at what might be coming up in 2016.

Apple predictions for 2016: New Apple Watch rumours
Apple hasn’t exactly bet the farm on its Watch. It was launched with appropriate fanfare, but the company’s played it slow and sure since then. In store display areas are discreet, and overshadowed by its longer-established lines. Perhaps it realises that a fair few of us are waiting for the first revision.
Expect that to come in 2016 – around April, when the original model will be 12 months old. If anything appears between now and then it’s likely to be another big-brand collaboration, like the one it rolled out with Hermes back in September. Jumping in bed with a sports brand like Nike – with whom Apple has worked before – would be a logical fit, and give Watch Sport more weight in the fitness arena.

The first revision will almost certainly be an extensive upgrade to bring it in line with its most ambitious competitors, so we’re expecting an Apple Watch 2, rather than an iPhone-style ‘S’ variant. We’re also expecting it to be an entirely stand-alone device, along the lines of Samsung’s Gear S2, which connects directly to the cellular network, bypassing the Galaxy Phone entirely.Apple-Watch-using-dial

This might seem illogical if you considered the Apple Watch to be a stealth marketing tool for increased iPhone sales, but it wouldn’t be the first time Apple has broken an explicit link between two core products to boost the sales of the newcomer. Think back to its original strategy with the iPod, which was to use it as a Trojan for the Mac (it required a FireWire-enabled computer running iTunes which, at that time, wasn’t available on Windows). Only when it produced a PC version did the iPod really fly, and change the company’s fortunes forever.

Why do we believe it’s going to do that here? Aside from the need to compete with Samsung it’s because watchOS 2, which rolled out on 21 September, made it possible for the first time to run third-party applications directly, without using the phone as a data conduit. Building in full-blown phone-free comms is the next logical step.

This will require some additional components – in particular a SIM card and associated circuitry – but advances made in the last 12 months suggest that shouldn’t be a problem. The S1 processor in the current Apple Watch is built using the same 28 nanometer process as the chip in the iPhone 5S, which was current while Apple was closing Watch’s development cycle. Since then, we’ve seen both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s hit the shelves, and they use a considerably finer process, with their A9 processors built using a 14 nanometer process. Assuming Apple develops a new chip – likely called the S2 – for its second-generation Watch, it’s reasonable to assume that it will employ the same 14nanometer process and, rather than slimming the wearable, use the reclaimed space to bolster its built-in features.

Other notable omissions from Apple Watch that could be addressed in the first revision are native GPS, additional health sensors and a higher capacity battery, not necessarily to deliver a longer work time, but to deal with the additional load of the bolstered range of sensors and comms.

The new Watch should also be able to collect more health data, apparently Apple had high hopes for the health capabilities of the original Apple Watch but had to remove some of the sensors before launch because of accuracy issues. These could include blood oxygen levels and blood pressure, for example.

We also expect it will be a little thinner and faster, have better battery life, and that a front-facing camera might make it onto the Watch for FaceTime calls. We’d also appreciate a WiFi chip that can connect directly to a network without requiring the iPhone as an intermediary. In fact, less reliance on the iPhone full stop, although the WatchOS2 release in September meant that some apps could run independently of an iPhone. GPS capabilities and better water resistance would also be appreciated. We expect to see a new Apple Watch at the rumoured event in March with a launch in April 2016

Apple predictions for 2016: iPhone 6c

Rumour has it that a new 4in iPhone will also be arriving this Spring, likely at the same March event.

There is strong demand for an iPhone with a smaller display and lower price so we expect this to be a popular phone – despite the way everyone decided that the iPhone 5c was a flop.

We hear that it won’t feature 3D Touch, or the high spec camera of the 6s and 6s Plus, but it is said to feature a coloured metal case, Touch ID (for Apple Pay), even an A9 processor and 2GB RAM (possibly).

Read more about the iPhone 6c: iPhone 6c release date rumours and images

Apple predictions for 2016: iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

We’ve already had an ‘S’ model since the last full update, so expect 2016’s iPhone 7to be a more extensive revamp – we’re expecting a bit of a redesign for Apple’s 4.7in and 5.5in iPhones, as is customary when Apple makes a leap from S to a whole new number.

Pundits are forecasting the death of the home button, which we don’t think many would mourn. Adopting soft buttons, as are common on Android devices, makes sense, and it would allow Apple to increase the screen size without bulking up the physical body. Conversely, it may reclaim the lost space to produce a smaller device with the same 16:9 aspect screen as it employed in the iPhone 5, 5s and 5c to tempt an upgrade out of anyone who was put off by the iPhone 6 and 6S’s wider, taller bodies.

Before you assume that losing the Home Button and its fingerprint scanner would be unlikely in this era of Apple Pay, Apple has a patent that indicates that it’s been looking at on-screen fingerprint scanners. Alternatively, there’s no reason why the fingerprint reader couldn’t be moved to the side of the case or sited by the earpiece, on the opposite side to the front-mounted camera.

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Building the iPhone 7 around an AMOLED screen – as used in the Apple Watch – would also make sense on several fronts, as it’s less power hungry than the LCD technology Apple currently uses, can display more colours and is more responsive, but it seems unlikely that Apple will roll it into the iPhone any time soon. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, believes the company will persevere with LCD for several years, and with Apple suppliers building new LCD factories in China to satisfy future demand, it looks like he could well be right.

Some of the other new features you can expect: wireless charging, haptic feedback for the on-screen keyboard, waterproof, better battery life, improved camera, A10 processor and 3GB of RAM in the 5.5in version. Other rumours point to a thinner design, a 3D camera, and the elimination of the 3.5mm headphone jack, with the iPhone 7 shipping with wireless headphones.

There are two potential benefits to losing the headphone jack: the iPhone could be slightly thinner (apparently 1mm) and if the headphones were to use the lightning port that could allow for high res audio.

We also hope 2016 is the year Apple stops selling the inadequate 16GB version of the iPhone.

Apple predictions for 2016: iPad Air 3

There was no new iPad Air last year so we are expecting an update to that model soon. Although maybe Apple now recognises that the upgrade cycle is longer for an iPad compared to an iPhone and is in no real hurry to update the now medium-sized iPad. However, there are a few updates the iPad Air could benefit from: we expect the iPad Air 3 will have a faster processor, better camera, 3D Touch (although KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo doesn’t think 3D Touch will make an appearance, apparently due to production issues), and we hope support for the Apple Pencil. We expect to see the iPad Air 3 at the rumoured event in March.

Apple predictions for 2016: iPad mini 5

Given that the iPad mini was just updated in Septmeber, and on the assumption that Apple might have slowed down its upgrade cycle for the iPads, given that people don’t update their tablets as often as their iPhones, maybe we won’t see a new iPad mini this year, and maybe this doesn’t really matter.

Apple predictions for 2016: iPad Pro

Will the iPad Pro make an impact on iPad sales or will they keep sliding? You can expect the iPad Pro to get a lot of attention this year for that reason alone. Will the device itself be popular? Right now Apple is positioning it as a tool for creatives, rather than as a laptop replacement as some might see its competitor the Microsoft Surface Pro. We think the only way that the iPad Pro could become a true replacement for a laptop is if it was capable of running OS X, and we can’t see that happening, not least because Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously said that wasn’t Apple’s strategy.

With the iPad Pro only arriving in November 2015, we don’t think that Apple will be updating the iPad Pro any time soon, especially given the fact that the iPad mini and iPad Air appear to have moved beyond a yearly update cycle.

Apple predictions for 2016: Apple TV

Apple’s television product – once famously dubbed a hobby by Steve Jobs – has just undergone its most ambitious revamp in years. For UK users, the big news of 2016 is likely to be the appearance of BBC iPlayer on the platform. The Corporation has already finally extended its existing browser-based service to the Apple box, where it will join Sky, which has been on the service for some time.

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Sadly, though, that could be it as far as the UK’s free-to-air broadcasters are concerned, unless any other unofficial ports appear online. The BBC reported in October that ITV had no plans to appear on Apple TV (just as it initially didn’t appear on either Sky or Freeview), while the intentions of Channels 4 and 5 were ‘unknown’.

There were also rumours in 2015 that Apple would launch a Netflix-competing streaming service for Apple TV (at least in the US) but nothing materialised. Apparently the company just can’t reach agreements with the networks. Perhaps the company will focus on the app structure instead and allow companies to provide their own streaming services in the form of apps. We’d like to see Apple adopt an Apple Music-esq system for providing TV shows via iTunes though, rather than paying £2.99 per episode though.

As for the Apple TV hardware, there have been rumours pointing to a new Apple TV box launching in early 2016, but we think that is unlikely given the fact that Apple only just launched the fourth generation Apple TV.

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Apple predictions for 2016: 2016 Mac Pro

The Mac Pro is due a refresh – it hasn’t been updated since its launch in 2013 and now it’s looking a little long in the tooth, being bypassed by generations of Intel chips that never made it into the chassis. Will Apple update the Mac Pro in 2016 or has it given up entirely on this professional Mac workstation? We don’t anticipate any external remodelling, but references within the El Capitan code suggest a new machine could be in the works, which would enable Apple to benefit from the last two years of processor advances.

We hope Apple is just waiting for the E5 V4 Broadwell chips that are set to launch in the first half of 2016, or perhaps integrating Skylake, so that its complete line-up is running on the same core hardware from end to end, so a WWDC launch could be possible.

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Apple predictions for 2016: MacBook Air

This time last year the rumours were pointing to a MacBook Air with Retina display, what Apple actually gave us in April 2015 was a whole new MacBook with Retina display, in the 12in form factor. This has kind of left the MacBook Air in limbo, but while the MacBook Air isn’t as powerful as the MacBook Pro, it’s a whole lot more powerful than the MacBook, and it’a a lot less expensive. So what might Apple have planned for the MacBook Air in 2016? Maybe it will finally get its Retina display – but if that pushes the price up people may be less keen.

What the MacBook Air really needs is a performance boost and improved specs – it’s currently using an Intel processor that’s a few generations old and we are hoping Skylake processors will make an appearance in the new models – apparently the Skylake U processors that seem destined for the MacBook Air will ship in the early part of 2016. A makeover wouldn’t go amiss either, with the laptop sporting the exact same design since 2010. We’re also hearing that the 11in model may disappear from the line up (with the 12in MacBook being Apple’s most portable Mac laptop), and that a 15in model may be added to the range.

Apple predictions for 2016: Retina MacBook Pro

We’d like to see a bit of a makeover, but it’s what’s inside that counts and what’s inside currently is the Intel Broadwell processor in the 13in model and inexplicably, the even older Haswell  processor in the 15in version. We say inexplicably, but part of that blame must lie at the feet of Intel, who was particularly lax at updating its chips in 2015. It seems likely that the MacBook Pro range will finally get the Skylake chips at some point in the first part of 2016. That will make a lot of professional Mac users very happy. We hope to hear more at the rumoured March event.

Apple predictions for 2016: 12in Retina MacBook update

Apple launched its incredibly thin and light 12in MacBook back in March, so with just a few months to go until the MacBook’s first birthday, we’re expecting a refresh to the line-up in 2016.

Rumours are thin on the ground right now, but speculation suggests that the 2016 MacBook will be released either at a special event in March or in June at WWDC 2016. It’ll probably still have an Intel 14nm Core M Chip but it could have a lower price tag.

Apparently the relevant Skylake chips are already available, and they will bring graphics performance improvements. We wonder if Apple might have a Rose Gold version in the works, on the assumption that the colour palette copies that of the iPhones. We also hope to see a price decrease as was the case with the MacBook Air when the second generation launched.

 

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