The dual-camera setup of the iPhone 7 may be exclusive to the 5.5in model

Posted on 06/22 23:57 in | 0

When will the iPhone 7 come out? (And when will it launch in the UK?) What new features and design changes can we expect in the new iPhone for 2016 when it comes out? And what will Apple's next iPhone be called? iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus? iPhone 7 mini? Something new?

The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus launched in September 2015, so now we're starting to excitedly think about what this year's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus could bring. The web is full of speculation about new iPhone(s) that Apple will launch in 2016, and in this article we gather all the rumours about the iPhone 7: release date, design, specs and new features, from wireless charging to a touchscreen display with built-in Touch ID. Plus any leaked photos of iPhone 7 components we get hold of, and all the cool iPhone 7 concept illustrations and videos that designers have come up with.

We're sure to see a next-generation iPhone in 2016, but what will the new iPhone 7 look like? (Traditionally, Apple alternates between internal upgrades for the 'S' update, then a physical redesign for the full-number update, so a completely redesigned chassis is likely.) What new features should we expect? And when will the iPhone 7 come out? We round up the evidence to bring you everything there is to know about the iPhone 7 so far.

In this article we talk about the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 - the follow-up to the iPhone 6s. If you'd like to read about the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus, take a look at our iPhone 7 Plus release date and new features rumour roundup.

Bookmark this page for a regularly updated summary of all the information currently available - and all the rumours doing the rounds - related to the iPhone 7: details, clues, hints and rumours, as well as any leaked photos of the iPhone 7 that emerge. We'll update the article whenever we hear worthwhile new information (or scurrilous but interesting gossip) on the subject of Apple's next iPhone.

Also read: Apple rumours and predictions for 2016 | iPad mini 5 rumours

If you're looking for information about the current iPhone range, by the way, read our iPhone 6s review, Phone 6s Plus review, iPhone 6 review, iPhone 6 Plus review and iPhone 5s review; and our iPhone buyers' guide.

For more rumour-mongering and future-gazing, take a look at Apple patents and the clues they offer about the future of iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch & Mac.

In our iPhone 7 rumour roundup we cover a lot of ground: you'd be amazed by the clues, hints and general speculation about the iPhone 7 that people have managed to dig up. But for those who don't want all the detail, the following section sums up our verdict on the whole thing:

1) Apple will launch two new iPhones in September 2016, and possibly three. The theory that Apple will push the main iPhone 7 launch forward to summer 2016 seems thin to us, but it is possible we will see an update to the 4-inch iPhone line earlier than the autumn, and maybe even as soon as March 2016. We now know that Apple is holding a press event on 21 March 2016 (starting at 5pm UK time), and we strongly expect new iPhones to be unveiled there. But rather than  the 4.7-inch iPhone 7, this is more likely to be a 4-inch model, which most pundits predict will be called the iPhone SE.

2) Later this year we expect a 4.7-inch phone (called the iPhone 7), and a 5.5-inch model (the iPhone 7 Plus). If Apple does make another 4-inch iPhone (which, thanks to the success of the larger iPhones, is by no means a certainty) then we think it'll be called something like the iPhone 7 mini, but iPhone 6c, iPhone 6e and iPhone 5se are possibilities too.

3) The iPhone 7 is likely to get a substantial physical redesign after the largely identical iPhone 6/6s generations. It's too early to know what direction Apple will pick, but it's likely to be thinner than ever: removing the headphone jack would be one way to help achieve this, forcing music fans to use wireless Bluetooth headphones, or headphones that connect via the Lightning port, or an adaptor. The 'no headphone jack' rumour is starting to gather momentum, with multiple 'confirmations' via multiple (but anonymous) supply chain sources, although we've yet to see firm evidence ourselves. Other design tweaks could include a flush camera and the removal of the antenna bars.

4) Battery life in the iPhone 7 may be a little better than in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but Jony Ive's comments have made it plain that Apple doesn't consider a higher battery life to be worth significant sacrifices in other areas (we suspect that, if they're honest, most smartphone buyers would agree) and Apple's larger-screen iPhones have decent batteries already. You can always buy the lovely new battery pack case...

5) Higher screen resolution is a possibility - Apple undermined its own 'Retina is as sharp as your eyes can see' myth with the iPhone 6 Plus, and the company is playing catchup against many of its rivals in terms of screen resolution. Apple may well take the higher pixel density that was exclusive to the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus (401 pixels per inch, as compared to 326ppi for all non-Plus iPhones), and apply it to all the models in the next generation; it could even raise the pixel density further than this, although we fear that this is unlikely. And a harder screen material would play well, whether Apple manages to resurrect the sapphire situation or goes with Corning's new Project Phire.

6) 16GB will surely be phased out as the lowest storage offering. It's nowhere near enough in this day and age. We hope and expect the iPhone 7 to start at 32GB, with 64GB and 128GB options.

7) The iPhone 7 could get a USB-C port, like the new 12-inch MacBook, but we think this is unlikely. The change from 30-pin to Lightning is recent enough (and was painful enough for many users) that to switch again now would be highly controversial.

8) And as for the other out-there rumours? 3D screen: no. Curved display: potentially. Flexible display: nope. Edge-to-edge screen: yes, quite possibly. Spring-out gaming joystick in the Home button: definitely not. Wireless charging: quite possibly. Better waterproofing: a reasonable bet, although the self-healing ports aren't likely to appear for a while yet.

See also: How to set up WhatsApp Web on your iPhone | How to spot 'free iPhone' scams | Advanced iOS 9 tips

Let us know which feature you'd be most excited about for the iPhone 7 by answering our poll:

Sorry if that sounds obvious, but it's not as simple a question as it sounds. The iPhone 7 isn't the seventh iPhone (the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were the 11th and 12th iPhones respectively, in the product's ninth generation, so that ship sailed a long time ago) but it's what we have been for convenience calling Apple's next iPhone launch.

At the moment Apple sells iPhones in three sizes: with 4-inch screens (the iPhone 5s); with a 4.7-inch screen (the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s) and with a 5.5-inch screen (the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6s Plus). We're currently working on the basis that Apple will make at least one new model in the latter two sizes, and for now we're choosing to call those theoretical devices iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. There could be another 4-inch iPhone, though - which we like to call the iPhone 7 mini, but could be called almost anything at this point.

In fact, the 4in iPhone 6c, or iPhone SE as it is currently being called, has hit the headlines big time over the past few months, and it's rumoured to be arriving as soon as March (this month). Find out more in our iPhone 6c round-up.

Update (09/03/2016): Although we originally thought that Apple would release two variants of its iPhone 7 this year (4.7in and 5.5in), the latest rumours suggest that there could, in fact, be three new models available at launch. Along with the 4.7in iPhone 7 and 5.5in iPhone 7 Plus, KGI Securities’ Ming-Chi Kuo claims (via a note obtained by MacRumours) that there will be a third (even more) premium option available, based on the already huge iPhone 7 Plus, which is leading some to call it the iPhone 7 Pro. We're not too sure about this unofficial branding, but we'll go with it until something more convincing gets leaked. Anyway, we digress. 

What's the main difference between the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 7 Pro? A new 'groundbreaking' camera. Or should that be cameras? As Kuo claims that the iPhone 7 Pro will sport a dual-camera system on the rear, developed by LinX, an imaging specialist that Apple acquired back in 2015. The LinX imaging technology should provide enhanced speed when taking photos and better low light photography, as well as possibly being able to incorporate a 2-3x optical zoom for better quality when taking photos. It's also rumoured that the camera module is so thin that the camera bump present in the iPhone 6 and 6s range could be a thing of the past (or so we hope!).

But why only release the upgraded camera technology on an expensive model, when the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus cameras can barely compete with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7? According to Kuo, the decision was made because of supply constraints - Apple can't produce enough LinX camera modules for both the 7 and 7 Plus, so creating a third option allows the company to still bring the technology to market. Apple's "Shot on iPhone" marketing campaign is hugely popular, and a 'Pro' variant of the iPhone with an enhanced camera would definitely be the poster boy for the campaign.

While this is only a rumour and there are no leaked images supporting the claim, Ming-Chi Kuo has something of an impeccable track record when leaking the latest Apple news. Over the past 18 months, Kuo broke the news of the new 12in MacBook before anyone else, along with the iPad Pro (and its November launch date), as well as the bigger screen sizes associated with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. That's without mentioning the fact that Kuo predicted every major feature of the iPhone 6s four months before Tim Cook officially announced the smartphone.

If Apple sticks to its traditions, we can expect the iPhone 7 to arrive in mid-September 2016.

The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus were unveiled on 9 September 2015 (and released to the public on 25 September), iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were unveiled on 9 September 2014 (released on 19 September); the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s were unveiled on 10 September 2013; the iPhone 5 was unveiled on 12 September. There's a pattern there that the eagle-eyed reader may be able to spot. 

Our money is on the 6th, 7th, 13th or 14th of September 2016, since it's usually a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Clear your diary. Although with this being said, there could be some delay for the launch of the iPhone 7, though, or at least a lower than expected supply at launch. This is due to an earthquake in Taiwan that caused damage to Apple supplier TSMC's factories. Earlier in February 2016, reports stated that TSMC has reached a deal with Apple to become the company's sole manufacturer of the A10 chip for the iPhone 7.

Apple is likely to launch a new phone ahead of that, though, but it's not going to be the iPhone 7. The company has sent out invitations to an event that's taking place on 21 March at Apple's headquarters, where the iPhone SE is likely to make an appearance as well as a new iPad Air 3, new Apple Watch straps and possibly new Macs too.

Latest update (22/03/2016): It seems we were right, as Apple hosted an event on 21 March 2016 where it showcased the 4in iPhone SE and not the iPhone 7, alongside the 9.7in iPad Pro and a range of Apple Watch straps. 

AppleInsider is quoting a "reliable source" who predicts that 2016's iPhone 7 will launch several months ahead of the usual yearly upgrade cycle, appearing in the summer of 2016 instead of in September.

The site states that this particular source "has, in the past, provided accurate information about Apple's future product plans", but while this may be true, it must be pointed out that plenty of other sources have made this exact prediction about previous iPhone launches and they've always been wrong. It's just one of those things that gets repeated every year because it's such an appealing rumour.

Apple has significantly shifted its iPhone launch cycle only once: the first four iPhones all launched in summer, then Apple pushed the iPhone 4s back to the autumn, and then every iPhone since then has stuck to that launch cycle. (The iPhone 4s came along in October, admittedly, rather than the September launch date that Apple has followed ever since the iPhone 5.)

If Apple changed the cycle once, it can certainly change it again. But it won't do so lightly: an unexpectedly early upgrade is always infuriating for those who've just bought the previous generation model, and it creates the suspicion that the company might pull a similar trick the following year, leading to a customer base that is more cautious about upgrading. What's more, Apple's natural cycle of announcements sees iOS and OS X upgrades announced at WWDC in June, leaving enough time for the software to be completed in time for the autumn hardware launches. It seems like a risk for Apple to announce everything in the summer and leave its customers hungry for new releases for the rest of the year.

And the reasoning for why Apple would push forward the iPhone 7 launch date is thin.

"This year's iPhone 6s upgrade features largely the same external design as the iPhone 6," argues AppleInsider. "That has prompted concerns among investors that demand for the iPhone 6s could wane, particularly toward the tail end of the product cycle… Launching the iPhone 7 in an earlier window of 2016 would be one way for Apple to address those concerns."

The thing is, every S-class iPhone upgrade has been accused of offering only minor upgrades on the previous generation, yet they all still sell well. And if anything the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus represent more significant upgrades than the iPhone 4s and iPhone 5s did: Live Photos is fun, 3D Touch has the potential to alter the way we think about smartphone interfaces, and the processor and cameras are much improved. Even Touch ID is noticeably quicker.

So while this isn't out of the question, we can't see that any convincing reason has been given why Apple should shift its update schedule next year. (Mind you, as Boy Genius Report points out, this rumour might be a mixup based on Apple's imminent release of a new 4-inch iPhone, which wouldn't replace the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus and therefore wouldn't be such a disruptive launch if it came in the summer. Read our iPhone 6c rumours for more on that, or read the next section for the theory that Apple will split its iPhone launches into two yearly events.)

So much for the likely launch date. But it's possible - and has been widely speculated - that Apple will begin releasing new iPhones twice a year, to help it keep up with the ever growing and ever improving competition. This would mean an iPhone launch event in the spring of 2015 followed by another in the autumn.

In this case we would expect less dramatic enhancements in each update: perhaps the full iPhone 7 in autumn, followed by an 'S'-class update in the spring. Or Apple might choose to update its 4-inch smartphones in one set of announcements and its larger phones in the other.

It's an interesting theory, but if we were betting men and women Macworld would put its money on September iPhone launches for some time to come.

Apple usually keeps the same design for two generations of the iPhone (the 4 and 4s, say, or the 6 and 6s), before unveiling a physical redesign on the next update. We expect the iPhone 7 to be fundamentally different in look and design to the two generations of iPhone that precede it.

It's possible that Apple will use different materials to make the iPhone 7 more durable. Before the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were unveiled there was speculation that Apple would use Sapphire glass for the display and Liquidmetal for the chassis, and two generations later Apple may be ready to unveil one or both of these upgrades.

If the latest reports via nowherelse are true, we may have a good idea about what to expect with the iPhone 7 in terms of its look. The report features a leaked image of the iPhone 7 chassis, which hints at a redesigned antenna along with a change in the camera lens setup. While some reports claim that the camera bump (present in the iPhone 6s) is gone, we can see that it's still there, although it looks like the chassis surrounding the camera is slightly raised to house the lens. The source? The images were said to be taken at Catcher technologies, a company that supplies cases for Apple products.

The leaked image doesn't only depict changes to the antenna and camera setups, it also 'confirms' that Apple is looking to ditch the 3.5mm jack with the iPhone 7. Of course, as with any leak, this is best taken with a pinch of salt and could've been created based on internet rumours, so don't throw out your headphones just yet. 

Interestingly, another leaked image seems to confirm that Apple will be moving the antenna lines from the rear to the edges of the iPhone 7. The image, first appearing on Nowhereelse, seems to showcase a (possibly prototype) iPhone 7 chassis featuring antenna lines along the edge of the smartphone instead of the usual placement on the rear. Unlike the above leak, this one can't be tracked as easily and as such may turn out to be a (very well edited) fan composition. However, we're still months away from the iPhone 7 reveal so it is possible that we're looking at a genuine iPhone 7 prototype. You can take a look at the leaked image below, and decide for yourself:

Yes okay, this may turn out to be a rumour regarding the 'S' variant of the iPhone 7 series, but we think it's one still worth mentioning. According to Chinese website Nikkei (via AppleInsider), Apple is planning to make the switch to OLED a year sooner than previously expected, and will be shipping with the iPhone in 2017. Although don't get too excited, as it won't be all iPhones initially - due to manufacturing constraints, the OLED display will be used in either the 5.5in iPhone 7s Plus or the fabled iPhone 7s Pro. 

According to Nikkei, Apple is looking to quickly make the switch to OLED displays to improve iPhone sales which analysts predict will stall in the near future. Samsung and LG are expected to provide the bulk of the OLED display manufacturing, although Japan Display is also said to be planning mass production of OLED displays starting early 2018. It's worth taking this with a pinch of salt though, as the ever-reliable KGI Securities Ming-Chi Kuo claims that Apple is unlikely to adopt OLED displays in the iPhone lineup until 2019, quite a way away. 

On 2 February, new reports emerged that suggest the iPhone 7 will no longer have a protruding camera on the rear, and will ditch the antenna bands in favour of a completely unbroken rear casing.

That's according to a source that allegedly spoke with MacRumors, revealing the details about the iPhone 7 design for the first time.

The changes could be achieved through the use of a ceramic back rather than metal, according to Business Korea's 5 February report, but there's no real evidence to support this yet.

NEW: The rumours were reiterated in a new report by Mac Otakara that was published on 29 February, claiming that the iPhone 7 could also have a thinner Lightning port and stereo speakers, and all of these factors could make the iPhone 7 1mm thinner than the iPhone 6s, down to 6.1mm from the current 7.1mm.

After Mac Otakara proposed the idea in late 2015 (see below), two Chinese-language sites have separately offered what they claim is 'confirmation', based on sources in the supply chain, that Apple will not include a 3.5mm headphone jack in the iPhone 7 - although of course it is possible that their sources are the same person, or that one site is just following the other's story. (For what it's worth, neither site links to the other.)

Anzhuo (link will require translation) cites "supply chain news" and claims that Apple "has confirmed [that it has] cancelled [the] 3.5mm headphone jack on the next iPhone, [and] meanwhile will replace wired headset [with a] Bluetooth wireless headset."

The firm suggests that users will be restricted to wireless headphones, since "headphone Lightning previously said interface may not exist" - a translation-mangled phrase we take to mean that we probably won't be able to connect any Apple-bundled headphones via the Lightning port. (Third-party headphones that connect via Lightning are already available, albeit rare.) But any Chinese-literate readers are welcome to take issue with our interpretation.

Meanwhile, Wei Feng, poetically reporting "the latest coming from the mouth of the supply chain of wind", states that Apple indeed plans to get rid of "the traditional body in the next generation iPhone headphone jack, and will start from this year for the iPhone with wireless Bluetooth headsets". Wei Feng doesn't specify that the Lightning EarPod story is dead, as Anzhuo did, but makes no mention of any alternative to wireless headsets.

Fast Company is the latest site to 'confirm' this rumour, citing "a source with knowledge of the company’s plans". The site predicts that "the new phone will rely on its Lightning cable port for sound output to wired headphones".

And on 20 January, Cult of Mac shared iOS 9 code that could further hint at the removal of the headphone jack for the iPhone 7. Twitter user Chase Fromm highlighted a bit of code within the iOS 9.3 beta 1.1 software that reads: "Headphones.have.%input.NO."

The 3.5mm headphone jack won't be with us forever, of course (and Apple has a history of controversially jumping off soon-to-be-obsolete technologies ahead of the curve, as it did with Adobe Flash, CD/DVD drives, FireWire, conventional USB ports and so on), but to ditch it without offering any wired alternative strikes us as extreme, even if it would allow Apple to make the iPhone 7 even thinner, squeeze in a bigger battery or whatever.

And what do the headphone companies make of all this speculation? Interestingly enough, as the Verge observes, most of the companies at CES were surprisingly sanguine about the prospect of the headphone jack disappearing from Apple's most popular product. Most of them, after all, also sell wireless models, and there remains the prospect of Lightning-compatible headphones as a new avenue to explore.

A number of Apple fans have gone further in their scepticism, going so far as to start a petition demanding that Apple reconsider the plan.

"If the rumours are true, the new iPhone 7 will have a non-standard, proprietary headphone jack - making every pair of headphones on earth useless," the petition reads. "Not only will this force iPhone users to dole out additional cash to replace their hi-fi headphones, it will singlehandedly create mountains of electronic waste - that likely won't get recycled."

The petition set itself a goal of 200,000 signatures, and passed that shortly before time of writing: it's presently on 204,303. So there is some weight of feeling behind this. What do you think?

In late 2015, the Japanese-language site Mac Otakara first reported on a rumour that the iPhone 7 won't get a headphone port at all, enabling Apple to shave a further millimetre from the device's thickness.

As we wrote at the time, this would have consequences. It wouldn't rule out headphone use entirely, but it would restrict it considerably. Users would have three options: wireless Bluetooth headphones; newly designed headphones that connect via the Lightning port; or an adaptor, which would probably be overpriced.

The iPhone is very much the iPod of its day, and music is a big part of its appeal, making this a big gamble in order to make an extremely thin phone even thinner. This would be even more unpopular than the removal of USB ports from the 12-inch MacBook. Is Apple really this obsessed with thinness?

If Apple doesn't include a 3.5mm headphone jack in the iPhone 7, it's going to need to ship the phone with new Earpods. According to 9To5Mac, the iPhone 7 will have Lightning-connected Earpods instead, and Apple is also said to be working on wireless Earpods as an alternative.

The wireless Earpods, which are likely to be created with help from the team from Beats Electronics, which Apple acquired in 2014, are expected to be so completely wireless that they won't even have a cable that connects the earpieces together.

And instead of EarPods, they could be called 'AirPods,' a name that Apple has already registered the trademark for.

AirPods may not come cheap - they'll be a premium alternative to EarPods according to the report, and could be around the £200 mark.

Apple was not able to announce, in September, that the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are the thinnest iPhones ever. In fact, they are a tiny bit thicker than their respective predecessors, because they had to squeeze in the components to power 3D Touch and some extra-thick aluminium reinforcement around the most bend-prone areas.

For the iPhone 7, therefore, we suspect that the company may like to trim a few millimetres. One way it can do this - and a clue that thinness is still on its designers' minds - is a newly granted patent, number 9,142,908, for a cut-down headphone connector.

If you look around the edge of your current iPhone, you'll see that the headphone aperture appears to be the external factor on exactly how much Apple can thin down the device. The headphone port is bigger, from top to bottom, than the Lightning port, bigger than the speaker grill, marginally bigger than the volume buttons (which could easily be cut down if necessary). It's an obvious target for miniaturisation.

Apple's solution to this is a "Low profile male connector", which sounds a bit like someone who isn't very good at dating but in this case means a D-shaped headphone port. Instead of being round, the headphone connector has a segment lopped off so it takes up slightly fewer precious millimetres.

In mid October, Piper Jaffrey analyst Gene Munster (who is notorious for his Apple Television predictions, which have so far proved to be inaccurate) has suggested that the iPhone 7 won't have a Home button, thanks to the new 3D Touch technology found in the iPhone 6s display.

"3D Touch may provide Apple with a way to eliminate the home button on the phone and use the additional space to make the screen bigger or the device smaller," he said. "One barrier to this could be Touch ID, which is integrated into the home button currently. Apple would need to move the Touch ID reader to potentially the side of the phone to remove the home button."

As we discuss later in this article, an Apple patent has revealed that the company is investigating ways to build the Touch ID sensor into the screen itself, so Munster's theory doesn't seem implausible, but as proven with his Apple television predictions, Munster isn't always right... even he says that the odds of a buttonless iPhone 7 are 50%.

We expect the iPhone 7 to be thinner, as explained above, but a lot of users feel that the iPhones have already reached the peak of useful thinness - in the sense that reducing the thickness of the devices any further is going to compromise on qualities such as physical robustness without offering any real benefits in terms of portability. It's even possible that the iPhone 7 could be a bit thicker, if Apple feels it can use this change to incorporate useful new features. We think this is unlikely, but let's run with the theory as a thought experiment.

One reason why the iPhone 7 may be thicker than the iPhone 6s, for instance, would be so that it can feature what Apple calls "sidewall displays".

Apple has published a patent relating to such displays, hinting that a future iPhone could feature a display that extends on to the sides of the device (or a slim second display sitting on the side of the device). This could give access to the slide-to-unlock functionality, music player controls, messaging readout, caller ID, system controls and more.

The Weibo source who spills the beans on Apple's waterproofing tests in our new features section also reckons that the iPhone 6s & 6s Plus will be the last iPhones to be made of metal. The iPhone 7 will have a chassis made of something else.

But made of what? We don't know. Although liquid metal, ceramics, plastics and sapphire have all been thrown around as possibilities. We find it odd that Apple would ditch its metal design so soon after upgrading to 7000-series aluminium, but radical design changes cannot be ruled out for a full-number iPhone update, and as mentioned above a report from Business Korea in February seems to suggest that ceramic is indeed a possibility.

Update 29/03/2016: According to KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has often correctly predicted upcoming Apple products - the analyst think the iPhone 7 or a new product-line within the iPhone 7 family could feature a curved 5.8in AMOLED screen. If this rumour is to be true, there would be an understandable shift from Apple to get rid of the headphone jack and produce a smartphone which is immediately distinguishable over its competitors. 

We're into the realm of patents here, which we would generally warn readers means we're talking about developments that could easily end up appearing in a shipped product several years down the line or not appearing at all - Apple, like most tech companies, routinely applies for far more patents than it's ever going to use. But this one has actually been granted (it was applied for a few years back) so it could be reasonably close to reality.

Patent 9,146,590 refers to an "electronic device with wrap around display". And essentially it describes a curved screen that allows for more screen elements to be displayed without making the device significantly bigger. (Remember that the illustrations rarely represent what the designer has in mind. In theory the display could wrap entirely around the device, or at least extend over one edge like the Note Edge.)

While the patent talks about a "flexible display assembly", it's important to note that this isn't a patent for a bendable screen: the flexible portion of the display is attached to the interior surface of the curved transparent housing, which "provides a rigid support structure that prevents deformation".

This patent, like the wraparound display patent mentioned in the new features section, was spotted by Patently Apple.

If we can return to the subject of patents, here's one that's pretty leftfield. We don't expect this to appear in the next generation of iPhone, but it's an intriguing insight into the design directions Apple is considering - or choosing to pretend it's considering.

Apple was recently awarded a patent for 'Flexible electronic devices', covering both flexible device bodies on the exterior and flexible components inside.

"A flexible electronic device may include a flexible display, a flexible housing and one or more flexible internal components configured to allow the flexible electronic device to be deformed," the patent explains.

That really would be a bold riposte to Bendgate: transforming it from a bug to a feature, in effect (even though, as we've repeatedly pointed out, the iPhone 6 Plus is hardly unusual in its susceptibility to strenuous bending). The iPhone would bend, the screen would bend, the battery inside would bend, everything would be fine.

It's still hard to see exactly what this would gain us, though, as opposed to the converse rumour (discussed further down this section) holding that Apple will beef up the iPhone 7's durability by using the 7000 Series aluminium alloy from the Apple Watch Sport.

According to the latest reports, Samsung Display is set to make flexible OLED displays for the iPhone 7. The rumour stems from claims that Samsung is reaching out to display tech companies in South Korea that they're hoping will lend a hand with building the displays, as the order from Apple will be huge.

Samsung may even be intending to invest billions in an new factory in which it'll manufature the displays.

At present, iPhones use LCD displays, but the Apple Watch uses a flexible OLED so it's certainly possible that Apple intends to bring the tech to the iPhone. We're not talking flexible in the same way as the patent above, though. It'll simply mean that the screen could curve around the design of the iPhone 7 more accurately, hinting further at an edge-to-edge display. It'll also likely be used to improve 3D Touch.

In the continuing march of miniaturisation, one of the elements of the iPhone design that's proved resistant to shrinkage is the bezel below the screen - it can't get much smaller than it already is because it needs to house the Home button. Which is why a recurring theory is that Apple will extend the screen down past the Home button, or even incorporate the Touch ID sensor that lives in the recent iPhones' Home button into the touchscreen.

Technology that would facilitate such a development was recently announced by a biometric R&D company called Sonavation.

"Sonavation," the firm declares, "has reached an industry milestone by successfully developing and bonding an ultrasound biometric sensor which is compatible with Corning Gorilla Glass, providing a high-resolution 3D fingerprint image."

This would enable Apple (which is known to use Gorilla Glass in its iPhones, even if the supplier is apparently not permitted to say this publicly) to run the screen vertically edge-to-edge, with no cut-out for the Home button. The Home button could occupy the same position but appear only when needed, much like the software keyboard; and the technology for Touch ID would be bonded to the underside of the screen at the appropriate point.

Last year Apple filed a patent that appeared to back up the theory that it's looking into ideas like this. Patent application number 20150036065, for "a  fingerprint sensor... incorporated in a display stack in an electronic device", was filed by a number of Apple's engineers in April 2014 and published recently. Here are some of the accompanying illustrations (although you should bear in mind that patent images are almost universally ugly, and shouldn't bear much resemblance to what the finished design would look like):

We're still not completely sure what this design would achieve, since (as you can see in the iPhone illustration in Fig. 1) it doesn't even do away with the Home button, and therefore doesn't increase the amount of screen area.

And we've not been blown away by the reliability of the Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 5s, which seems to be hyper-sensitive to any quantity of grease sitting on the Home button. (Granted, the 6s and 6s Plus sensors seem more reliable, as well as faster.) Given how smudged an iPhone screen can get, this seems like it could be even worse, even before you factor in potential complications of embedded the sensor within the screen elements.

In other words, this seems like a long shot, at least for now.

Apple is already using sapphire in the display of the Apple Watch, and it's possible that the company is now ready to import this material into its smartphone lin-up. Sapphire glass is more durable than Gorilla Glass, so could be an ideal material to use for the bigger display.

Apple was backing a Sapphire plant in Arizona - run by GT Advanced Technologies - that could have been used to manufacture 200 million 5-inch iPhone displays per year, according to reports. But that company has now been declared bankrupt and was unable to meet Apple's demands.

There could be a further twist, however. New reports suggest that long-term Apple supplier Foxconn is gearing up to build its own sapphire plant in Asia, and could be able to take GT Advanced Technologies' place.

Foxconn's planned plant in Taiwan will cost it $2.6bn to set up, but could give it a huge advantage as companies jostle to be involved in the production of the next iPhone.

Sapphire vs Gorilla Glass: What is Sapphire glass, what are its advantages, and why is it a good idea for the next iPhone?

Sapphire glass sounds nice, but don't write off Gorilla Glass (the material used on current iPhones) just yet.

Corning, the company that makes Gorilla Glass, has responded to the looming threat of Sapphire glass. It announced a new development at the start of February 2015: an ultra-hardened composite material that at this point is known by the name Project Phire.

At an investor meeting, James Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies, explained how the firm expects to beat sapphire: "We told you last year that sapphire was great for scratch performance but didn't fare well when dropped. So we created a product that offers the same superior damage resistance and drop performance of Gorilla Glass 4 with scratch resistance that approaches sapphire."

Liquidmetal is also said to be under consideration as a material for the chassis, because it's more durable than aluminium: a smaller quantity of this material can be used to achieve the same degree of strength as the metal used for Apple's current iPhones. This would enable Apple to keep the bigger iPhone light and thin, despite the bigger screen.

Plus, removing the bezels in the bigger iPhone to create an edge-to-edge display would mean Apple could introduce a bigger display without the need to increase the overall size of the iPhone too much.

It's also possible that Apple will bring some other elements of the technology used in the Apple Watch to the iPhone 7. For example, the Apple Watch's display can detect finger pressure, so the iPhone 7's display (or perhaps just a portion of it) could be capable of doing the same.

There's a lot more to the iPhone 7 than screen size, of course. What new features can we expect to see?

An odd and confusing rumour currently going round claims that Apple is working on new features that will make its iPhones impossible to hack - even for Apple's own engineers. This is an apparent response to the FBI's ongoing attempts to get Apple to break into an iPhone 5c used (but not technically owned) by one of the attackers in the San Bernardino shootings.

I say confusing, because it's unclear what this will involve, and many of the current iPhones' security measures are unverified. Yes, it's understood that Apple could in theory (but is refusing to) install custom firmware on the 5c and bypass the built-in protections that stop hackers from brute-forcing the passcode. But until now it was also understood that the Secure Enclave on the iPhone 5s and later would prevent Apple from using the same methods on later models.

The Times' article implies that Apple intends to go still further with hardware protections on the iPhone 7, although it's also possible that it intends to add software features in an iOS update and retrospectively improve the 5c's ability to withstand hacking attacks.

In any case, the publicity of Apple's battle with the FBI has ensure that privacy is high on the news agenda, and it would be understandable if the company (or one of its rivals) chose this year to announce a smartphone with market-leading privacy protections. Interestingly, however, pollsters have found that a majority of Americans actually take the FBI's side in this case, suggesting that privacy may not be a priority for everyone. (Or maybe we each care only about our own privacy, rather than as an abstract principle.)

Update, 26 Feb 2016: The Samsung Galaxy S7, unveiled at MWC 2016, has full IP68-standard waterproofing (after getting rid of the feature for the S6k, to fans' disappointment). This adds additional pressure for Apple to make the iPhone 7 waterproof.

It's been claimed on the Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo that Apple is testing out waterproof designs for the iPhone 7. (Mac Otakara, which picked up on the claims, says that dustproofing is also being looked at, although we can't spot any mention of this in the original posts. Perhaps it's an issue related to translation.) This is reportedly and unsurprisingly at a very early stage - "volume production is very low!", the (translated) post points out - but is being assessed ahead of work starting on prototype designs.

The claims remain just that at this point, of course, since we have only the word of a Weibo user to back this up. (A user who cites 15 years of experience in integrated circuit design and has - a presumably respectable - 32,904 fans on the site, but still.) If they are true, though, it's likely that more leaks and evidence will emerge in the months to come, and we'll update this article with any developments.

What we're talking here, at any rate, is proper official waterproofing, since brave early buyers have discovered that the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are themselves much better at dealing with submersion than previous Apple devices. Apple evidently doesn't feel quite confident enough about this upgrade to name it as a new feature (which is odd, since this would be a big step forward to boast about). We saw similar reticence with the Apple Watch, which Apple would only claim as splash-proof but appears to be basically waterproof in any reasonable conditions.

Whether the iPhone 7, then, will be announced as Apple's first officially waterproof phone (regardless of its true capabilities) remains to be seen. Some commenters to the original Weibo post, indeed, predicted that waterproofing wouldn't be seen until the iPhone 7s… but now we're really getting ahead of ourselves.

And while we're on the subject of waterproofing...

One of the most-read articles on Macworld is a tutorial discussing ways of drying out an iPhone that's got wet: it's a distressing, and distressingly common, thing to happen to a device that costs several hundred pounds and contains important, sensitive and possibly unrecoverable data.

For this reason readers and pundits frequently speculate on the possibility that future iPhones will be waterproof. Indeed, the most recent generation of iPhone models are the most waterproof yet; but we still wouldn't be pleased if the iPhone 6s fell in a paddling pool.

A patent published on 12 November suggests a radical new solution to the water logging issue: a mechanism whereby the iPhone can dry itself by pumping water - or other liquid - out through its speaker grills.

Patent application 20150326959, wonderfully, is called LIQUID EXPULSION FROM AN ORIFICE.

"The embodiments described herein are directed to an acoustic module that is configured to remove all or a portion of a liquid that has accumulated within a cavity of the acoustic modules," the patent's summary reads.

The concept is centred around modules within the speaker cavities that can be made more or less hydrophobic, depending on the charge applied to them: when liquid is detected, charges would be applied across the various modules in such a way that the liquid would be moved across the modules and ultimately expelled from the cavity.

We love the idea almost as much as the name of the patent, but as with most of the more interesting patents we hear about, it's unlikely to bear fruit in a real shipped product for a little while.

Even if Apple doesn't go for a fully waterproof design, we could see Apple introduce a new feature that would allow you to use your touchscreen with wet fingers. Apple supplier Japan Display has revealed that it has developed new display technology that can operate with wet fingers, something that most smartphone screens are currently unable to do.

But this technology could be taken even further if Apple does indeed make it's phone completely waterproof, as it could allow the touchscreen to be used underwater for capturing photographs of sealife, for example.

One solution to the waterproofing conundrum used on rival smartphones has been small removable caps that sit over the ports that are vulnerable to water. But these tend to be fiddly, and a bit ugly: not very Apple. What about if the ports were covered, but you didn't need to take anything out before plugging in your headphone or charging cable?

This sounds more sci-fi than R&D, but a patent application published on 10 December 2015 shows that Apple has been looking at the possibility of using port seals that can be pierced by a male plug connector, and then heal themselves back to waterproof integrity after the connector is removed.

Patent application 20150357741, called ELECTRONIC DEVICE WITH HIDDEN CONNECTOR, describes "a self-healing elastomer applied over one or more external electronic connectors" that may "provide environmental protection for the connector and the electronic device".

The plug is forced through the elastomer seal whenever a connection is needed.

"Electronic probes may temporarily penetrate the self-healing elastomer to mate with the electronic connector," the application explains. "After removal of the probes the self-healing elastomer may elastically reform and self-heal."

Self-healing materials are currently used in a variety of products, such as smartphone cases and screen protectors, so this isn't quite as fanciful a concept as it might sound to the uninitiated. We haven't been particularly impressed by such products thus far, but part of the problem is aesthetic: when you've got a scratch on your iPhone's screen protector you would expect the self-healing mechanism to remove the scratch so effectively that you can't see it was ever there, but our experience suggests that isn't practical with current technology. But Apple's concept only needs the self-healing to be effective in a crude, broad sense - making the aperture waterproof again, without it having to look perfect.

For those who are interested in materials sciences, here's what Apple's application has to say about the self-healing elastomer:

"[0039] Self-healing elastomer 315 may be a polymer with elastic properties such as a low Young's modulus and a high failure strain. In further embodiments, self-healing elastomer 315 may comprise a silicone material, also known as a polymerized siloxane. In some embodiments, the polymerized siloxane may be mixed inorganic-organic polymers with the chemical formula [R2SiO]n, where R is an organic group such as methyl, ethyl, or phenyl. In these embodiments the silicone material may comprise an inorganic silicon-oxygen backbone with organic side groups attached to the silicon atoms. In further embodiments self-healing elastomer 315 may include one or more materials that change its color. In some embodiments self-healing elastomer 315 may approximately match a color of housing 150. Other formulations may be used without departing from the invention."

It's a perennial rumour for upcoming Apple devices, but wireless charging could be a reality this time around: it didn't arrive with the iPhone 6s as some had predicted, but was introduced to the Apple Watch as inductive charging.

As iMore's Rene Ritchie points out, inductive charging hasn't been practical for the iPhone in previous years because the technology available at the time didn't work through an aluminium backplate (the Apple Watch, which does offer wireless charging, has a ceramic back). But this could all be about to change in the near(ish) future. In July Qualcomm announced a wireless charging breakthrough that does work through metal. This came too late for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but the technology may appear in a subsequent generation of Apple smartphone.

It has to be said that, whatever the reasoning behind it, Apple is behind a lot its rivals in this respect. The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge both offer wireless charging, as does the Google Nexus 6 and the Motoroloa Droid Turbo, but the tech has been available in a handful of phones since around 2010. (Electric toothbrushes have had it since the 1990s.)

Indeed, there have been inductive charging cases available for the iPhone for some time, and nearly two years ago we were talking about the technology appearing in what we were then referring to as the iPad 5: iPad 5 patent: inductive Smart Cover contains battery.

Wireless charging sounds amazing, but we should stress that at the moment inductive charging has a very short range; so you wouldn't be able to just sit at your desk and have your iPhone (in your pocket) charge from the plug several feet away. Rather, you'd place the device on a wired mat. Convenient, but not quite as space-age as it might have sounded when we talked about 'wireless charging'.

The artist Yasser Farahi, whose work appears lower down in the images and videos section, has come up with a mocked-up advert for this feature:

Some iPhone 6s users have been complaining that their Touch ID fingerprint sensors have been overheating, causing the home button to become "burning hot," but that should soon be a thing of the past if Apple's latest patent is anything to go by.

On 13 October, a new Apple patent was published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office that describes a method of automatically capping its power usage in order to cool down. It would use a built-in temperature sensor that would monitor the heat of the iPhone and adjust its power usage accordingly.

This tech could well make its way into the iPhone 7 in order to address the overheating issues.

There was a small amount of mild irritation when iOS 9 launched and Apple started to ask us to set up 6-digit passcodes on new iPhones (instead of 4-digit ones) by default. Our tutorial explaining how to go back to 4 digits has been quite popular, but we should probably point out that improved device security isn't an entirely terrible thing.

Meanwhile, the next iPhone - or one a few generations down the line, since we're talking patents again - could entirely transform the way we unlock our devices. Apple has been granted a patent for a gesture-based passcode system.

The patent - number 9,147,058 - is labelled "Gesture entry techniques", and describes its claims thus:

"The present embodiments relate to the use of security measures based on non-alphanumeric inputs that are user configurable (as opposed to purely biometric inputs) to control access to restricted information or functions. For example, access to confidential information may be based on a gesture input via a touch sensitive input device, such as a touch sensitive display or touchpad. A gesture may be used to invoke one or more authentication screens, such as, a gesture entry screen, a gesture replay screen, and a gesture re-entry verification screen, for accessing confidential information or functions that may be otherwise unavailable."

We've seen this before in Android world, but it would be a nice option for iOS users. Apple's been on the case with this since 2012, but has finally been granted the patent, so we're hopeful that it could make an appearance at some point in the near future - whether touted as a feature of the iPhone 7, or as a software update as part of iOS 10, or as a feature that relies on both.

A report in the Financial Times [paywall] in late July suggests that smartphones with physical SIM cards may soon be a thing of the past, as Apple and other smartphone manufacturers come closer to agreeing a standard for a built-in software/electronic SIM.

The FT predicts that this project is more likely to bear fruit in the 2016 generation of iPhones than the ones released in autumn 2015; this year's iPhones (the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, perhaps) are more likely to come with an Apple-branded hardware SIM like the iPad Air 2. The Apple SIM (which we discuss in the next section) works with multiple networks, offering many of the same benefits as a software SIM but requiring less wrangling with the networks.

The same source who told AppleInsider about the RAM increase (in the specs section, above) also reckons that the iPhone 7 is likely to come with a pre-installed Apple SIM.

"[The Apple SIM], which also made its debut with the iPad Air 2, allows consumers to sign up for mobile data plans from any participating carrier directly from the Settings app without long-term contracts and to switch providers at any time," says the site.

This is unlikely to be a popular move with the carriers, although it may be a hit with users. Read more about the Apple SIM in this article:

Apple's new SIM and what it means to you in the UK

This one sounds a little like the 'joystick Home button' rumour we look at below, but is rather more plausible.

Apple has published a new patent for a Home that is sensitive to gestures: you'd be able to swipe across it, or lean a thumb in one direction to scroll the screen of a game, for example, that way. 

"The patent details an iOS home button capable of detecting various gestures along with the force of each touch. In other words, imagine Force Touch [see below], albeit applied to the home button as opposed to the device's display."

It certainly sounds less damage-prone than the 'pop-out' Home button we heard about earlier this year, and which we find very hard to imagine appearing in the iPhone 7. Then again, plenty of pundits have been speculating about Apple doing away with the Home button entirely - as is the case on a number of Android smartphones - and installing Touch ID on the screen itself. Colour us unconvinced.

See also: EE WiFi calling - What is it and how do I set it up on my iPhone?

This rumour is pretty far out there, and we're not sure it's realistic to expect this to appear in any Apple devices for a while yet. But it's definitely an interesting idea.

Essentially the concept is this: the Home button on the iPhone 7 would be able to 'pop up' on a little spring and turn into a sort of mini-joystick for playing games. There are plenty of iOS games that would benefit from a hardware controller (this explains the enduring popularity of Bluetooth gaming controller accessories) and this sounds like a lot of fun.

But gamers remain only one section of the iPhone's audience, and it seems like a risky idea to potentially compromise the resilience of everyone's iPhone Home button (which has famously been very prone to breakage in the past) for a feature that would benefit only some users.

A wacky idea that we're not convinced by, then - but one that is backed up by an Apple patent: application 20150015475, originally filed on 9 July 2013 but only published by the US Patent Office on 15 January 2015. So somebody at Cupertino thinks the idea is worth a thought.

In August 2014, rumours about a new iPhone charger emerged, suggesting that the USB part of the charger could be reversible, just like the Lightning connector.

A video showing what's believed to be a new charger for a future with a reversible fully reversible USB Lightning cable emerged on the web earlier in 2014. It shows the USB being plugged in to the adapter both ways, in the same way that the Lightning connector itself is reversible.

iOS 10 is also likely to introduce new features at a software level. Among the features we're hoping to see in iOS 10: improved parental controls and group FaceTime calls.

We should get our first glimpse of iOS 10 complete with plenty of clues about future iPhones and iPads during WWDC 2016 in June, where Apple will show off what it's been working on when it comes to software. You can find out more about what to expect from iOS 10 in our iOS 10 rumour round-up.

Interestingly, Apple has revealed new features in iOS 9.3, which is already available as a public beta and should be released in its final form soon. iOS 9.3 includes new Night Mode, new 3D Touch shortcuts, new tactic feedback and more. Read more in our iOS 9.3 article.

Looking closer at Apple's patent portfolio, we can come up with some further iPhone 7 features that could well be on the cards for 2015. Face recognition could be used to unlock the device, or the entire display of the iPhone 7 could be a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, eliminating the need for a Home button and making room for a larger display.

Take a look at our Apple patent round-up for more features that Apple is investigating for future products.

It's time to get a bit more technical. Let's talk iPhone 7 specs.

Apple doesn't go to the big trade shows, but all of its rivals were at Mobile World Congress showing off new products. The Barcelona conference always gives an idea of the smartphones that will be big in a given year, and the kinds of mobile technologies that customers will buy.

Two of the highest-profile smartphones on show this year were the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5, and both have substantially better specs than Apple's flagship iPhones; there's more to life than specs, but it will be interesting to see how Apple responds when the iPhone 7 is unveiled.

The LG G5 and Samsung's S7 have better specs in a number of areas: the G5 has higher camera megapixel ratings (as well as dual rear-facing cameras); both have a much better screen resolution; battery capacities are greater; and processing power, thanks to more RAM and a quad-core processor (the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus have dual-core chips).

Specs can be deceptive, and what really matters is the user experience: the pleasure and usefulness a device offers.

The quality of a photograph, for example, is about a lot more than the camera's megapixel rating, as we discuss in our article about the megapixel myth. Battery life is quite obviously influenced by battery capacity, but also by the demands placed on the battery by the rest of the hardware (and this is likely to be higher if you have an exceptionally high screen resolution) and how optimised the OS is to the device. Screen resolution beyond a certain point is overkill, because the human eye has long since stopped being able to make out the individual pixels. And the iPhone 6s is clearly powerful enough to run anything on the App Store.

But while specs don't tell the whole story, they can't be ignored, either. And Apple faces a perception issue, too.

For more thoughts on the areas where the iPhone is perceived to have fallen behind its most famous rivals, and the areas we therefore think it might focus on this autumn, see our comparison reviews: iPhone 6s vs Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s vs LG G5.

The latest rumour about the iPhone 7's specs relates to LiFi, a new wireless standard that boasts 100x faster download speeds than conventional WiFi connections. LiFi uses visible light communication (VLC) instead of radio waves like conventional WiFi routers.

Intrigued? Find out more about LiFi in our complete guide over at PC Advisor.

One rumour holds that Apple will take the battery developments it deployed in the 12-inch MacBook - whereby contoured, layered battery units are stacked inside the chassis in order to take up every possible inch of space - and use these to squeeze more battery volume inside the iPhone 7.

Apple could even, thanks to the new battery technology, make more radical changes to the overall design of the iPhone, because its engineers no longer to base their work on a fixed battery shape; although the idea of Jony Ive coming up with a BlackBerry Passport-esque square design at this point in the iPhone's history is a little off-putting.

Smartphone battery life is one of those things that everyone says is important, and once again Apple will hear many requests for improved battery life in the iPhone 7 - but you do wonder how much of a compromise the average Apple fan would be willing to make in return. What if, in order to achieve a superb battery life, the iPhone 7 was twice the weight, or cost significantly more? What if the screen was less powerful or the processor scaled back?

Mirroring these thoughts somewhat, Jony Ive discussed battery life briefly in an interview with the Financial Times' 'How to spend it' supplement recently. And he gave fairly heavy hints that Apple doesn't think battery life is a high enough priority to make compromises in other areas worth it.

"Talking of performance, when the issue of the frequent need to recharge the iPhone is raised, [Ive] answers that it's because it's so light and thin that we use it so much and therefore deplete the battery. With a bigger battery it would be heavier, more cumbersome, less 'compelling'."

It's possible that will see conservative increases in battery life, as we did with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. But those advances were feasible because the bodies of those devices were larger, and they could therefore accommodate larger batteries. And it sounds like Apple won't be sacrificing portability to make the iPhone 7 have a significantly better battery life.

Sorry, everyone. Still, cheer up: as the Express reports, Apple was recently granted a patent that would allow it to embed solar panels under the screen of future iPhones, thereby doing away with the need to charge them up at all. No, it's not going to appear in the iPhone 7, but some day…

In December 2015 Apple gave its critics an early Christmas present by unveiling a battery pack for the iPhone 6 and 6s that is, without wishing to be unpleasant and apologies for the language, pretty gosh-darn ugly. (To be fair, we've not yet got our hands on a review sample, so we may be won over by its feel, performance, usability and so on.)

In a single surprising step the company put its famed sense of taste and design nous in doubt (coming after the suspect decision to put the charge port for the Magic Mouse 2 on its bottom), and simultaneously reminded everyone that iPhone battery life is generally felt to be subpar.

Is this a tacit acknowledgement that battery life is a problem for the iPhone range? Can we therefore expect the iPhone 7 to see improvements in this department as Apple looks for a more full-time and less bulky solution to the issue?

We might (battery technology is improving all the time), but this probably isn't the mea culpa some iPhone users were looking for. When discussing the new case, Tim Cook emphasised that it wasn't for everyone (at £80 you'd hope not), and that he felt that even those who did need the case would only use it in relatively extreme scenarios when power wouldn't be available for a long time: when hiking, for example.

I would agree that Apple is aware that battery life is a concern for a lot of its customers, but it knew that long before it released its battery pack. And battery life remains a question of compromises, such that increasing it always necessitates either making a device thicker, heavier or more expensive, or choosing not to make it thinner, lighter or cheaper when you could have done.

I still believe that most people would rather have a thin, relatively cheap iPhone than a fat, more expensive iPhone with an extra two hours of battery life. And now anyone who would be willing to make that compromise now has an officially sanctioned alternative: spend the extra money, make your phone fatter and uglier, and get the battery pack.

In a crazy sort of way, the ugliness of the battery pack almost makes sense as a demonstration of what drastically improved battery life actually looks like. "You want twice the battery life? Even if that means your iPhone has a massive lump on the back? Yeah, DIDN'T THINK SO."

Unusually reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has predicted that the iPhone 7 Plus - but not the iPhone 7 - will feature 3GB of RAM, according to AppleInsider.

We weren't expecting an upgrade in this department just yet; three generations of iPhone (from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus) came with 1GB of RAM, and this was only bumped to 2GB last year for the 6s and 6s Plus. We expected at least one more generation with 2GB, and potentially two.

Still, Kuo is right more often than he's wrong, and the idea of offering an additional differentiator for the Plus model is appealing. (Other than a larger screen, the 6s Plus offers longer battery life than the 6s and optical image stabilisation for video. It's debatable whether this is enough to justify the extra £80 to £90.)

According to new reports, Intel has 1,000 people working to get its 7360 LTE chip ready for the 2016 iPhone. Currently, Apple uses Qualcomm's 9X45 LTE chips in all of its iPhones, so this could be a huge deal for Intel.

A Weibo-sourced rumour, this one - and one that requires even more pinches of salt that the chap who told us about the waterproofing tests. (The Weibo user we're going to quote has just 1,688 fans, compared to the 32,904 who follow our previous source.)

Be healthily sceptical, then, when we report the prediction that the A10 processor in the iPhone 7 will have six cores - a huge leap after sticking with dual-core systems-on-a-chip from the iPhone 4s to the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. It goes without saying that this would create an absolute beast of a smartphone, but whether Apple would consider such gains worth the undoubted compromises and costs required to achieve this - we can't say we're convinced.

Incidentally, Cult of Mac also reckons that Apple is already ordering supplies of the A10, 10 months ahead of the expected launch of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

"Apple has placed LCD driver orders with Synaptics for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, indicating that the touch and display driver (TDDI) single-chip solutions its been developing in-house aren't quite ready for prime time," writes the site.

Further reports have emerged seemingly confirming the rumour that Samsung will be cut out of the processing supply deal for the iPhone 7's A10 chip, losing the entire contract to rival TSMC.

Samsung and TSMC shared the deal for the A9 processor in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but a minor scandal (promptly christened, inevitably, 'batterygate') developed when it emerged that devices running TSMC's chip (which should in principle have been less efficient as a result of being made on a 16nm process instead of a 14nm one) were fractionally faster and had slightly better battery life. Some analysts believe that this minor victory will result in TSMC getting to make all of the A10s.

Indeed, this rumour is sufficiently credible for one analyst firm to lower its stock price target for Samsung - its chip supply business is vital to the health of the company as a whole, and the iPhone gig is clearly one of the biggest and most lucrative in the industry.

It's possible that the iPhone 7's cameras will see another bump in megapixel rating, after the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus went from 8Mp to 12Mp (rear-facing) and 1.2Mp to 5Mp (front-facing). But we tend to think that Apple prefers to change the way its iPhone cameras work rather than focusing on their specs. And if a patent published in March (but applied for back in 2011) is any indicator, Apple is pondering a bold new camera miniaturisation technology based on what it calls "a light splitter cube".

"The cube splits the incident light into first, second, and third color components that emerge from the cube through a first face, a second face, and a third face of the cube, respectively," the patent explains. "First, second, and third image sensors are provided, each being positioned to receive a respective one of the color components that emerge from the first, second, and third faces of the cube."

Above: a selection of the illustrations provided as part of the patent application. That's an interesting placement for the dock connector, isn't it? (Note, too, that it appears to take the form of the old 30-pin connector, since Lightning wasn't introduced until 2012.)

As Business Insider points out, this isn't a wholly new development, but rather a miniaturisation of an existing system (used in video camera, for instance) in order to make it suitable for a smartphone or similar ultraportable device. If this does make an appearance in the iPhone 7, it could lead to improved colour and light capture and reduced blur when the camera moves.

On the other hand, patent-based rumours should always be viewed with a certain degree of scepticism, since the majority either never see the light of day as actual shipped products, or do so many years after the public hope or expect them to. It's widely believed that Apple routinely files patents it has little intention of using, in order to head off or mislead competitors, and in any case these were very much at the concept stage when the patent was filed. Who knows how the company's plans have changed since 2011.

A more reliable gauge of near-future camera upgrades - since Apple has spent $20m on it, and is therefore rather more commited to the idea - is its recent acquisition of a company called LinX, which makes 3D camera sensors.

LinX's cameras are tiny, but the company claims they are a match for digital SLR cameras in performance terms. And their depth-sensing capabilities make them ideal for facial recognition and 3D-scanning, as well as post-shot refocusing. The possibilities that this would open to developers - apps that translate 3D scans into plans for 3D printers, for instance - are highly appealing.

Daring Fireball's John Gruber has quoted a source who claims the iPhone 7's camera will have a two-lens system that could help allow users to capture "DSLR-quality imagery".

A dual-lens design offers a number of advantages over the present (admittedly highly acclaimed) iPhone camera setup, including the option to add an optical zoom. It's also been suggested that future iPhone cameras will have better performance in low-light conditions.

For a real-world example of the technology, the HTC One M8 already features a rear-facing camera that uses a dual-lens system. (See iPhone 6 vs HTC One M8 comparison.)

In February 2016, further rumours about a dual-camera on the rear of the iPhone 7 emerged, but they suggest that the tech will be limited to the bigger iPhone 7 Plus and won't feature in the smaller model. Those rumours are backed up by Sony's comments about dual lens cameras: "Our so-called dual lens - dual camera - platform will be launched by, we believe, major smartphone players," said Sony's CFO. "The real start, the takeoff smartphone with dual lens camera will be in the year of 2017,"

Plus, Digitimes has said that Largan Technology, which is believed to be one of Apple's main camera suppliers, has sent dual-camera samples to Apple for testing.

Update (05/04/2016): It seems as if the iPhone 7 may feature a dual-lens setup, although if the latest rumour is to be believed then it may only be coming to the iPhone 7 Plus. According to MacRumours quoting trusted KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the top hardware upgrade due in the iPhone 7 is a dual-camera setup and that will only feature in the larger 5.5in model. "though many competing models with dual-camera will launch soon, joining others already on the market; first impressions could underwhelm".

On 7 January 2016, an Apple patent was published that may have a bearing on future iPhone developments - although almost certainly not on the iPhone 7, except in the very general sense of 'this is the sort of development Apple has been considering recently'. (The application was published on 7 Jan; it was applied for back in June 2015, but it isn't likely to be granted for a good while yet, with another 6 to 18 months a reasonable ballpark figure.)

Apple is looking at ways to implement optical zoom in its iPhone (and possibly iPad) cameras.

Patent 20160007008, entitled MOBILE CAMERA SYSTEM, describes the use of "multiple cameras to provide optical zoom to a user". Needless to say, this means multiple cameras facing in the same direction, rather than the front- and rear-facing cameras already present on the current range of iPhone and iPad models.

"Increasingly," explains the patent, "as users rely on these multifunction devices [smartphones and tablets] as their primary cameras for day-to-day use, users demand features, such as zoom photography, that they have become accustomed to using in dedicated-purpose camera bodies. The zoom function is useful for capturing the details of a scene or alternatively capturing the context in which those details exist. The ability to change focal length to achieve zoom effects is sufficiently compelling to users of dedicated purpose cameras that it compels them to carry bags with an array of removable lenses, each of which weighs more and takes up more space than many common examples of a multifunction device, such as a phone."

In order to achieve this, Apple proposes the use of side-by-side cameras, potentially with different focal lengths, and adds that it may be desirable to store the images taken by each camera separately.

Each time the iPhones get updated we speculate about the possibility that Apple will boost storage: removing the 16GB baseline option and starting at 32GB. (At the moment, for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus at any rate, there is a curiously isolated 16GB model, a gap, and then the 64GB and 128GB models above. You can buy a 16GB and 64GB iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (no 128GB option any more), while the iPhone 5s comes in 16GB and 32GB.)

We're hopeful that this will finally happen with the iPhone 7, and we'd be glad to see the back of the 16GB storage tier, which we increasingly find unrealistically restrictive for the average user.

Many iPhone users find that 16GB isn't enough for their day-to-day needs, but the price jump up to 64GB (the 32GB models have been phased out) puts them off shelling out for more storage.

Read next: Why is an iPhone's true storage capacity less than its advertised capacity?

What screen size will the iPhone 7 have? There are a number of competing theories.

Of the three smartphone screen sizes Apple currently sells, the 4.7 inches of the iPhone 6 appears to be the favourite among customers. The iPhone 6s Plus and its 5.5-inch screen strikes many people as too big; the 4-inch iPhone 5s seems too old-fashioned and titchy to many more. 4.7 inches may be the sweet spot for the average Apple fan.

But it seems unlikely that Apple will give up on its other screen sizes as easily as that. For one thing, there are definitely smartphone users out there who still value smaller devices: those with smaller hands, those who prefer to use their smartphone one-handed, people who just don't like change. (That last category includes the author of this article, to be quite candid. I wrote a little about the significance of very small alterations in the size and shape of smartphones in an article that I called The handbag theory.)

Apple may seek to placate this market by updating its 4-inch line-up. And while they have been consistently outsold by the iPhone 6 and 6s, the Plus models haven't been a sales disaster either - and they're important products for Apple in terms of prestige and acquiring a foothold in new markets.

For simplicity, therefore, we're predicting three new iPhones from Apple over the next year or so. An update of the iPhone 5s with a 4-inch screen, which could be called the iPhone 7 mini; a 4.7-inch update of the iPhone 6, which we're calling the iPhone 7; and a new phablet, based on the iPhone 6 Plus, with a 5.5-inch screen. This last update is the one we're calling the iPhone 7 Plus.

Our colleague Jason Snell, writing for Macworld US, discusses the theory that Apple’s recent refresh of its iPod touch line may signal a similar update to its line of 4-inch iPhones.

"The new iPod touch, for all its advancements, still sports the same 4-inch Retina display as the iPhone 5, 5s, and 5c. And it makes me wonder if maybe, just maybe, it's the first hint that we’ll be seeing an updated 4-inch iPhone this fall.

"My guess is that there will be a new 4-inch iPhone this fall. It might look more like a small iPhone 6, or it might take a cue from the new iPod touch and remain exactly the same on the outside, while being completely different internally. But will it be a "cheap iPhone"? I doubt it. More likely, it'll be outfitted with last year’s iPhone 6 technology and fill the slot that’s one step down from whatever replaces the iPhone 6."

There are plenty of fans of the smaller, 4-inch-screen form factor here in the Macworld UK office, and we think it would be unwise of Apple to abandon this market entirely.

The iPhone 7 could feature a 3D display, according to Economic Daily News, which claims that Apple supply chain partner TPK is working on a project that relates to "naked eye 3D screen" - in other words, a 3D screen that doesn't require glasses to see.

We leave this until last, because it's a rumour that apparently affects the iPhone 8 generation rather than the upcoming iPhone 7.

Samsung, which supplies components for the iPhone range despite being a major rival in the smartphone market, has reportedly been pressuring Apple into using OLED screens rather than the LCD ones currently included.

BGR claims Apple will give in to this pressure and start using OLEDs in 2018, which (assuming Apple continues to follow current traditions) would be the year of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, the 7s generation having launched in 2017.

OLED screens are more desirable than LCD in a number of ways: they produce sharper, more brightly coloured images, and are more power-efficient. (The Apple Watch uses an OLED screen.) But they cost more to manufacture, which explains Apple's reluctance to deploy them in iPhones thus far.

We can't wait to see what the iPhone 7 looks like. We won't know for sure until Apple reveals the new design in September, but there are ways to get a sneak preview before then.

Every year one or more factory workers in the Apple hardware supply chain gives into temptation and starts posting photos of prototype or even production units, and we'll post them here as soon as they emerge. There are also loads of talented designers and illustrators out there who have put their minds to work on coming up with iPhone 7 concept images: artists' impressions, if you like, of what the iPhone 7 could look like. (See also: The 10 weirdest Apple concept art designs.)

Here are the latest images, photos and videos of the iPhone 7.

Our first leaked photo of iPhone componentry appears to be here, thanks to postings from the Chinese-language site AppleClub.tw and the French site NowhereElse.fr, both sites that have provided legitimate component leaks in the past. For this reason we're treating these as unconfirmed but likely to be genuine images - of iPhone 7 prototypes at least, if not the final design so far ahead of the likely launch date.

All this said, there's not a huge amount that can be gleaned from the photos. You can see the iPhone 7's backlight, whose components and connectors look largely the same as the backlight on the iPhone 6s but have changed positions; a few other ports and apertures have also moved around, and AppleClub reckons the 3D Touch 'wafer' is in a different position too. This is our first confirmation that, as expected, Apple has rethought the iPhone's physical design, but but the extent of the redesign remains unknown.

AppleClub got the scoop (sourcing the photos from the micro-messaging service WeChat) and then NowhereElse republished the images, but the latter added useful annotations and comparison images for the iPhone 6s, which is why we're reposting from that site. Rest assured that any further leaks from the supply chain will be posted as soon as we hear about them.

Joy Of Tech, a regular webcomic satirising the tech industry - and which once featured Macworld publishing director Simon Jary, although that's another story - covers the iPhone 7 in its 11 January 2016 update. This shows what the artists think the iPhone 7 would look like "if Apple was a democracy" - in other words, incorporating all the features people like us are always saying they should include.

We've posted a small taster below, but you should go to the site to enjoy it for yourself - and then stick around to read the other postings, most of which are good too.

Is is that time already? Somebody on the production supply chain has got an early prototype or unfinished unit, grabbed a quick video of it and posted it online. The iPhone 7 has leaked, everyone!

But hold on for a second, because we're pretty sure it's a hoax. Take a look at the video embedded above and you'll notice a few oddities:

1) Anyone working with a confidential prototype would surely have their phone confiscated beforehand. And be searched afterwards. And watched closely at all times. For someone to have their hands on the hardware, alone, with access to a phone, is a bit implausible.

2) The person doing the filming gets caught… and yet is still able to post the footage. Was this originally a Periscope-style live broadcast? Again: possible but unlikely, unless they knew they were going to get caught.

3) The person who shouts "Hey!" at the end sounds suspiciously American. An American supervisor in a Chinese factory is not impossible - a visiting inspector from Cupertino, perhaps? - but unlikely. (It's also, let's be honest, deeply, deeply unconvincing as a piece of dramatic acting. HEY!) 

Any of these elements taken alone would make us raise our eyebrows, but between the three of them they leave us in little doubt that this is a fake. A conclusion confirmed by the fact that the sharer - matched by a watermark logo on the video itself - is a company named Viral Video Lab, which has been accused of posting hoaxes before.

Here is an article about a Viral Video Lab clip explaining how to make a paper plane float on the hot air above a stove, and another about a 'walk along glider'. Both are, the article argues, completely fake. And if you look at the Viral Video Lab channel, most of the videos are of the 'believe it or not' type, with sketchy believability.

For what it's worth, the 'iPhone 7' in the video has a horizontally edge-to-edge screen, no Home button and a rear-facing camera in the centre of the back rather than on one side. (It's hard to make out, but the slot on the bottom looks a bit wider than a Lightning port - almost like the old 30-pin dock, as unlikely as that sounds.)

A video by a design firm named DeepMind, shows an iPhone 7 running iOS 10 on a stunning edge-to-edge screen. Interestingly enough, it retains the traditional screen allocation most of the time, with the menu bar sitting across the top of the screen about an inch down from the top of the phone and what appears to be a blank bezel at the top and bottom of the device - but when required, these areas spring to life as spare screen area.

It's a lovely bit of work. Take a look:

There are also a couple of similar concept images that have come from iPhone-Tricks.com, with an edge-to-edge screen and running iOS 10. The concept shows iOS 10 with bigger app icons that are a bit like Android widgets.

Next up is a fan-made concept video examining the 'dynamic Home button' concept that we talked about in the new features section (among other new ideas). It's really well-made; Jony Ive, eat your heart out.

And here's a rather terrifying iPhone 7 parody video. None of it is real (thankfully), but it's quite funny.

The video is called Upgrade by Noka Productions, and is hosted by Vimeo. Discovered by AdWeek.

If you've recovered from that, shall we look at some iPhone 7 concept illustrations?

First up is a truly remarkable set of designs that take a key element of the Apple Watch design - the digital crown control - and transplants it on to the side of the iPhone. It's really far out there, in terms of plausibility, but a fascinating imaginative leap. What do you reckon?

A little radical for our taste, as we say, but what a great bit of lateral thinking! These renders are by ADR Studio. Visit their website to see the rest of the set.

Design student Marek Weidlich has also created an iPhone concept that takes inspiration from the Apple Watch, particularly when it comes to the OS.

Designer Martin Hajek is well known for his work in this area. He's created some beautiful images of the next iPhone, and his designs, like ADR's work above, looks at the ways in which its design could be informed by the Apple Watch - but in terms of colour options rather than drastic changes to the controls. Here are his visualisations of a Rose Gold iPhone:

You can see the full set on Hajek's website.

We've also seen some beautiful concept renders from the artist Yasser Farahi. Here are some of Farahi's stunning designs:

As you can see above, Farahi has come up with some smart new colour options for the iPhone 7 - more varied than on the iPhone 6 series, but more restrained and adult than on the iPhone 5c. Here are the new 'wine' and 'copper' options in more detail:

Take a look at Farahi's site for more.

Let's return to our old friend Martin Hajek for a moment. A slightly older iPhone 7 design concept that Hajek came up with is based on the idea that the screen of the next iPhone will reach all the way to the edges, allowing the phone itself to be slightly smaller than the current iPhone 6 while accommodating the same amount of screen space.

The illustration above shows a second concept that Hajek has come up with: putting holes in the display for the Touch ID button, speaker and front-facing camera

They're lovely, aren't they? There are lots more iPhone 7 concept images on Martin Hajek's website.

If that's not enough for you, we're also starting to see concept images of the iPhone 8. (Yep, the iPhone 8. This is getting ridiculous.)

On the Behance website, designer Steel Drake has posted some images of what the iPhone 8 might look like when it arrives a few years from now. This concept of the iPhone 8 is entirely covered in glass apart from metal sides.

We'll be updating this article with more iPhone 7 information as we get it. See also: Android M vs iOS 9 comparison.

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