As Samsung leads us toward 5G, bilateral charging and foldable screens, can Apple keep up?

James Miller/CNET

We probably won’t see Apple’s next iPhone — possibly called the iPhone 11 — until this fall, but 2019 is already a game-changing year for phones.

We’re at the dawn of 5G, the next generation of cellular technology, which promises to increase connectivity speeds by an order of magnitude. Samsung’s foldable phone is due out on April 26 (with many others right behind), including Xiaomi’s phone with two foldable screens. And we’re seeing phones with advanced camera technology on store shelves with even higher-resolution imaging on the way.

And as far as we know, the next generation iPhone will have none of it.

With all of the biggest players set to debut 5G phones in 2019, the signals suggest that Apple won’t join them until 2020 — at the earliest. With the company still working to bring OLED displays to the entirety of its lineup, foldable screens don’t seem to be a realistic route on Apple’s near-term roadmap, despite the company having filed some interesting patents. There are some rumors about laser-guided, AR-ready, 3D cameras being integrated with Face ID in the future, but the consensus is that we’ll see only incremental steps for Apple’s camera technology in the next iPhone.

But, still, this is Apple. Despite signs of slumping performance at the end of 2018, it still made $37 billion in revenue from selling nearly 50 million phones from July through September last year. The iPhone remains a premium product sold by a premium brand. So we can’t count out the possibility of Apple surprising us this fall with revolutionary features or distinctive aesthetics.

For now, details remain scarce. Apple has not responded to repeated requests for comment. But as we count down the months until the company introduces the next set of iPhones, we’ll collect the most interesting rumors right here. Check back often.

Rumor: Three new iPhones expected in September 2019

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Angela Lang/CNET

Apple plans to stick to the script from recent years, introducing three new iPhone models this fall, according to the Wall Street Journal. We expect the new models to generally follow the format of the current generation: a “budget” successor to the iPhone XR, a midrange flagship following in the footsteps of the iPhone XS and a supersized model like the iPhone XS Max.

Apple will likely continue its tradition of announcing new phones in September. Last year, the company introduced three new phones on Thursday, Sept. 13 and released the first two, the iPhone XS and XS Max, on Friday, Sept. 21, with the iPhone XR shipping about a month later, on Oct. 26. For now, we expect the timing to be similar again this year — though there’s always the possibility of new features pushing back the announcement or release time frame as Face ID reportedly did in 2017.

And what will Apple call this next batch of phones? As my colleague Jessica Dolcourt has pointed out, Apple may have dug itself into a hole with the current crop. There’s no obvious sequel to the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR. So far, most of the reports we’ve seen use the iPhone 11 or iPhone XI nomenclature.

Rumor: Plus two other brand-new iPhones, maybe?

Though the consensus is pretty firm about Apple’s plan to unveil three new, modestly upgraded phones in 2019, Japanese blog Mac Otakara (via MacRumors) has suggested that there may be an alternative roadmap. Citing supply chain sources, the site suggests that Apple may in fact debut two brand new models — equipped with OLED displays and a more advanced rear camera system, no less — and give a minor internal refresh to the successors to today’s iPhone XR, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

Mac Otakara has been accurate about rumors in the past, but this one feels sketchy. Apple expanding its phone lineup to five distinct models would be a very dramatic departure. Not impossible — but unlikely, for now.

Likely: The 2019 iPhone won’t support 5G

The upcoming launch of 5G this year will mark a significant step forward for the telecommunications industry. But it’s looking like Apple will stay on the sidelines for at least this year, if not longer. Bloomberg has reported that Apple expects to release its first 5G phone in 2020 — but that even delivering it by then may be a stretch.

As reported by CNET’s Shara TibkenApple and Qualcomm recently settled their court battle over patent licensing and reached a multiyear licensing and chipset supply agreement. And it may have been Apple’s interest in 5G chips that convinced it to compromise, according to analysts. A Nikkei report says the company had tested Qualcomm 5G chips as the companies explored a settlement.

Apple’s most recent phones — the iPhone XSXS Max and XR — all use modems built by Intel, which had previously announced plans for a 5G modem ready for commercial devices in the second half of 2019, with broader deployment set for 2020. But recent reports suggested that the company’s 5G technology would not be ready until 2021. Hours after Apple and Qualcomm settled, Intel announced it would exit the 5G phone modem business.

Qualcomm makes the modem that will power the first wave of 5G phones, slated to arrive later in 2019. After years as a Qualcomm customer, Apple dumped the company in 2018 over a legal dispute. Before the recent reconciliation, analysts wondered whether Apple might turn to Samsung for a 5G modem or buy and retool Intel’s modem business. Now that the Qualcomm relationship has been rekindled, Apple’s plans and timing for a 5G phone remain unclear.

Rumor: Three rear-facing cameras on the 2019 iPhone

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A render of a purported iPhone 11 prototype.

OnLeaks/Digit

Cameras have always been a major focus of iPhone rumors, and the consensus now suggests that at least one of this year’s phones will have three rear-facing lenses. Bloomberg has reported that at least one of the 2019 iPhones will have three cameras on the back to support Apple’s new 3D technology that will enhance AR applications. (The article also suggests that a subsequent iOS update will double the length of Live Photos to six seconds.)

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@OnLeaks

Bloomberg’s reporting follows leaks from two Twitter users in the know. On Jan. 6, OnLeaks and Ice Universe posted renders showing a purported prototype with three cameras in a triangular configuration, plus a flash, housed in a large, square module. (Ice Universe later tweeted that such a camera design is an “irreversible reality.”)

Steve H.McFly

@OnLeaks

Here comes your very first and very early look at yet another 2019 prototype! Discover it right now through gorgeous 5K renders made on behalf of my Friends over @compareraja -> https://www.compareraja.in/blog/compareraja-exclusive-apple-iphone-xi-2019-leaked-in-renders-features-horizontally-stacked-triple-camera-unit/  (please read the full story in order to make educated comments…)

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An article published by OnLeaks and Indian site CompareRaja in January posited an alternative theory: The iPhone 11 will have three rear-facing cameras, including 10- and 14-megapixel sensors, with two of the lenses and the flash positioned encircling one central lens. As shown in the renders, it looks somewhat like the camera on the back of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro — but centered, giving the phone something of a cyclops look. More recently, however, it seems like this theory, or alternative prototype, has lost momentum.

Rumor: The iPhone 11’s battery will be able to charge other devices

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The new Galaxy Watch Active can charge wirelessly off the back of the new Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus.

Samsung

Now that Apple has officially killed its AirPower wireless charging mat, we’ll have to make due with traditional methods (or third-party solutions) for powering up our iPhones and AirPods — at least until the next iPhone comes out.

A note from veteran Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says that the next-generation iPhone will support bilateral charging, as reported by 9to5Mac. That means you’ll be able to use your iPhone’s battery to share some juice with other iPhones or the new AirPods with the wireless charging case. If the rumor is true, Apple will nevertheless be playing catchup to Samsung, whose newest Galaxy S10 phones can charge other devices — including the company’s Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Watch Active — via the wireless Qi standard.

In addition, Kuo has predicted that all of the new 2019 iPhones will have larger batteries — and, presumably, even better battery life. And that’s saying something: On our video playback battery drain test, the iPhone XR lasted for more than 19 hours and the iPhone XS Max held out for over 17 hours, 23 minutes, while the iPhone XS stayed alive for only 13 hours, 30 minutes.

Rumor: New renders show iOS 13 in dark mode

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A render of what Apple’s iPhone control center could look like in “dark mode.”

PhoneArena

With a dearth of official news, and even of credible leaks, we’re left to sort through the renders — the output of imaginative minds with advanced Photoshop skills. Currently making the rounds are mocked-up photos showing what iOS 13 — that’s ostensibly what Apple will call the next version of its mobile operating system — on the forthcoming iPhone 11 could look like in “dark mode,” courtesy of PhoneArena. In the images, the iPhone 11 seems to be based on a variation of the “cyclops” design, featured above.

Rumor: The iPhone goes to USB-C in 2019

One of the longest-standing iPhone rumors concerns Apple making the jump to USB-C. This year, however, there’s more momentum behind the buzz, as the company has now replaced its proprietary Lightning connector with USB-C on the newest iPad Pros, MacBook Air and MacBook Pros.

Bloomberg now says that Apple is “testing” USB-C on some prototype iPhones, following previous reporting by Mac Otakara that suggested that the company was considering making the switch on the next-generation model. The video embedded below, published by ConceptsiPhone, shows what an iPhone with a USB-C connection could look like.

Steve Hemmerstoffer, who runs the OnLeaks Twitter account, says that the 2019 iPhone prototype he’s seen features a Lightning port for charging — not a USB-C connection, according to CompareRaja.com.

Rumor: Apple sticks with LCD and OLED mix in 2019

Among the three phones Apple released in 2018, only the iPhone XR has an LCD display. The two higher-end models, the iPhone XS and XS Max, both use OLED panels that have higher resolutions and produce more vivid colors and images. Based on what we know so far, Apple is likely to follow suit with the next batch of iPhones.

Though Apple could feasibly adopt OLED technology across its phone portfolio this year — bringing the more expensive panel to whatever follows the XR, in addition to the sequels to the XS and XS Max — that’s more likely to happen in 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal. DigiTimes has bolstered this theory, reporting that the three 2020 OLED phones will be about the same size as the current generation iPhones, with 5.4-, 6.1- and 6.7-inch models. (And then there’s the Mac Otakara report, which claims that Apple may debut two additional OLED models in 2019.)

Note that apart from one patent filing, we’ve heard zero credible rumors about plans for a foldable iPhone.

Rumor: Apple will upgrade Face ID

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Jason Cipriani/CNET

Bloomberg’s report says that Apple’s forthcoming 3D camera — which may not be included on any 2019 phone — will drive an updated version of Face ID, that will extend the technology’s range, improve security and enable new AR capabilities.

Previously, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via MacRumors) predicted a much more modest update for Face ID in 2019 — the addition of a new “flood illuminator” to all forthcoming iPhones, which will mitigate environmental light and improve Face ID performance. In other words, the next version of Face ID may include a brighter light that will help the phone recognize you faster and more accurately, with more dramatic advancements coming in 2020 and beyond.

Rumor: New touchless gesture interface coming to future iPhones

Apple is working on a new way for users to interface with future editions of the iPhone, according to Bloomberg. The “touchless gesture control” will let users interact with the phone without touching the screen. Though it’s not scheduled for 2020 or later, it sounds like it could be cool.

Or not. LG’s new G8, equipped with an 8-megapixel camera with an IR sensor and transmitter, has a feature — Air Motion — that sounds similar. It lets the front-facing camera track and read your hand movements. By pinching your fingers and thumbs together, you can swipe, launch apps and control media.

CNET’s Lynn La found the feature annoying; it was slow and inconsistent, and gestures took couple of tries before they would register. Perhaps Apple’s execution will be sharper.

Rumor: New A13 processor powers the iPhone 11

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James Martin/CNET

The A12 Bionic chip that powers the newest iPhones is crazy powerful. According to analyst Ben Thompson, the processor is “so far ahead of the industry that it will still be competitive with the best Android phones in two years, and massively more powerful than lower-end phones.” That means that Apple doesn’t necessarily have to put a new chip in the next generation of iPhones to stay competitive — but it almost certainly will. This could be the A12X processor that’s currently used in the newest iPad Pros — or a new chip, ostensibly called the A13.

Rumor: iPhone prices will increase again in 2019

When Apple announced a $1,000 price tag for the iPhone X in 2017, critics complained. But customers didn’t seem to care, and the phone outsold every other Apple device for weeks thereafter.

Apple took note, and the iPhone XS and XS Max ratcheted prices up even higher, starting at $999 and $1,099 respectively. My colleague Jessica Dolcourt’s analysis shows a pattern of hefty price increases in the premium smartphone market over the past two years, and we expect Apple, Samsung — which just announced a foldable phone that costs nearly $2,000 — and others to continue pushing the boundaries of customer budgets for the foreseeable future.

Of course, iPhone sales are slowing, so there’s always a chance that Apple will attempt to keep prices where they are. In fact, in China, the company recently slashed prices on the iPhone and a number of other products. The follows an earlier move in 2018, when Apple began offering hundreds of dollars in incentives to customers around the world who traded in an old iPhone when upgrading to an iPhone XS or iPhone XR.

And here’s everything we know about the iPhones coming in 2020 and beyond:

  • Apple may introduce three OLED phones in 2020, which will be roughly the same size as the current-gen iPhones: 5.4 inches, 6.1 inches and 6.7-inches, according to MacRumors.
  • The company may revamp the 4.7-inch LCD iPhone 8, according to Economic Daily News (via MacRumors), upgrading it to an A13 processor and starting pricing at $649.
  • In the midst of its lawsuit with Qualcomm, Apple was expecting to release its first 5G phone in 2020. And even that timeframe seemed to be a stretch. Now that the court battle has ended, Apple’s timing for 5G remains unclear.
  • Starting in 2020, the company will stop using Intel chips in its Macs in favor of custom ARM-based processors. This will let developers create a single version of their apps — starting sometime in 2021 — that’ll work across Apple’s various operating systems on the iPhoneiPad and Mac, according to Bloomberg and Axios.
  • TMSC, the company that designs Apple’s mobile A-series chips for the iPhone, has announced the completion of its 5-nanometer chip designAccording to MacRumors, this is likely to become the foundation for the A14 chip that will ostensibly power the 2020 iPhones.

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