iPhone 7 May Pack 3-4 GB Memory, More Storage; 4-Inch Comeback is Rumored

iPhone 7 May Pack 3-4 GB Memory, More Storage; 4-Inch Comeback is Rumored

Market research company TrendForce has made a splash making some predictions of key upgrades that may lie in score for Apple, Inc.’s (AAPL) tenth generation iPhone, which is almost assuredly going to land next fall under the name “iPhone 7” and “iPhone 7 Plus”.

Granted this is very early to be making such predictions; we’re currently creeping up on the two month mark for the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus’s time on the market.  The ninth generation models were unveiled on Sept. 9 with sales beginning on Sept. 25.  With the iPhone typically seeing refreshes approximately every 12 months, Apple fans are presumably a sixth of the way into the ninth gen. model’s reign as the flagship device.

I. Memory and Endurance May See a Boost

All that said, the predictions from TrendForce…

  • 3 GB LPDDR4 DRAM (memory) (in A9 successor system-on-a-chip (SoC))
  • Graded waterproofing

…seem pretty reasonable, if a bit obvious.  

A fan mockup ad of an iPhone 7 concept created by Yasser Farahi.

Waterproofing/hardening has become practically ubiquitous across flagship models, with most flagship models carrying a iP67 or better rating for at least one of their variants.  (The ‘6’ stands for the highest grade of dust resistance — basically, complete resistance to dust, while the ‘7’ stands for waterproofing good for immersions of up to 1 meter.)

IP67 has become relatively common amongst Android devices.  Will Apple adopt a similar waterproofing for its tenth generation model?  Or might it even up the bar with IP68 waterproofing?
[Image Source: eTradeSupply (top); PhoneCruncher (bottom)]

One thing to watch will be whether Apple tries to up the bar with a higher grade of waterproofing.  IP67 is enough to protect for most not immersion applications (e.g. intense rain or snow), but prolonged exposure at modest depths may eventually lead to compromise.  The logical next step would be IP68 protection, which would basically take the waterproofing up to 3 meters.  Such devices are generally considered safe to use for longer swims in the pool.

Another area Apple could up the bar in this area is improved controls when the device is wet.  Even very hardy Androids like Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.’s (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935) “Active” variant of the Galaxy S6 have trouble with their controls when the screen is wet.  That’s because most modern touchscreens rely on capacitive touch.

It’s possible Apple might be able to lean on some variant of its force touch technology to provide a slightly clunkier fallback set of controls to allow you to control your device even when it was immersed (similar to old resistive touchscreen devices).

Force touch could allow device control underwater, depending on how it is implemented.
[Image Source: Apple]

The memory expansion is also practically a requirement.  Apple might even include 4 GB if it decides to make that a selling point.  Most Android flagship devices included at least 3 GB of DRAM, but 4 GB devices are becominging increasingly common as mobile multiprocessing demands increase, as memory becomes cheaper, and as 64-bit mobile processors have become widely available.   (Samsung, the primary supplier of Apple on the memory front, offers both 3 and 4 GB LPDDR4 options.)

Apple’s use of “compressed memory” has allowed it to maintain a fairly fluid brand of multi-tasking, but there have long been reports of memory issues among users who multi-task more heavily.  Given Apple’s modest lead in SoC development among the chipmakers using ARM Holdings Plc (LON:ARM) both on the GPU and CPU fronts, memory is a natural place for Apple to focus on improving.  After all, it really is one of the only outstanding weak spots in terms of compute performance for Apple these days.

II. Extra Prediction — Storage Boost

I will add my own prediction to the mix — increased storage capacities.  I would expect Apple will bump to 32 GB, 64 (or possible 128 GB), and 256 GB.

As I said in my review of the iPhone 6S and 6S+, the devices have outstanding apps, services, computing power, and design.  Probably the biggest valid objective criticism is the fact that the most affordable model is almost useless with only 16 GB of onboard storage and no expandable storage.

It is highly doubtful that Apple would include a microSD/microSDXC/microSDHC slot (although I suppose it might someday pony out some sort of proprietary storage slot).  More likely it will simply stick to tried and true formula of bumping storage capacities, as it’s been doing since the launch of the iPod personal media player line back in 2001.

Samsung has been perfecting ePoP technology to win these kinds of orders.  ePoP stacks memory and storage chips into a single package. [Image Source: Samsung]

The time is right for a storage upgrade as Samsung should be ramping up its ePoP production next year.  ePoP, or embedded package on package, involves stacking NAND flash atop LPDDR4 memory for a single module which can be internally wired to a processor die within an SoC (if not directly connected).  Samsung’s ePoP spec was boasting up to 256 GB earlier this year, so my high end prediction should be very feasible.

This would arguably be a game changer for the tenth generation model if it happens, because it might make the device available with enough memory to be useful and at a price more reachable by the buyer looking to a pay a price tag more similar to Android flagship phones.

III. Rebooting the 4-Inch iPhone

The report by TrendForce also suggests a 4 inch iPhone model — a throwback of sorts — may be coming in Q2 2016 (Apr.-June).  This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this rumor, but it is one of the more specific date estimates I’ve heard to date.

Is it true?  Hard to say at this point given Apple’s intense secrecy.  I will say, however, that the idea makes sense in principle for several reasons.  

First, it gives the customers back something they once treasured.  The iPhone’s first five generations had 3.5-inch screens.  While Android quickly adopted bigger screens, many users cited the small screen as a selling point as it was easier to operate for users with smaller hands.

The 4-inch form factor was introduced in the sixth generation model (the iPhone 5) in 2012, and while short lived was perhaps the most popular among fans as many felt it to be a “just right” size.  The 4-inch iPhone 5S remains one of the best-liked iPhones hardware wise.

Some Apple users considered the 4-inch iPhone 5S the pinnacle of iPhone design in terms of usability in terms of screen size.

However the mid-size screen would only last two generations before it was swapped out in the eighth generation model — the iPhone 6 — for a larger 4.7-inch unit in the non-Plus variant.  Many users were alienated by this changed, complaining it was an annoyance for users with smaller hands.

With Apple releasing the long-rumored “jumbo iPad” — aka, the 12.9-inch screen iPad Pro — it’s clear the company is looking to offer more size options to customers (something it traditionally resisted doing).  A smaller iPhone is probably the next most logical point of expansion and probably would have more sales potential than the iPad Pro.

The compelling question would be whether it would be a lower end budget model like the troubled iPhone 5C (whose legacy in terms of leaner hardware was inherited somewhat by the baseline models in the next generation, but whose cheaper styling was largely dropped as a mistake) or if it will carry premium stylings with a slightly trimmed down spec, similar to the 4.7-inch iPhone 6S.

The naming may depend on that question of strategy as well.  If it’s going to be more of a budget device it could revive the ‘C’ class and be called the iPhone 6C.  Or if it’s a higher end device it might get some new naming such as iPhone 6SM, iPhone 6S Mini, or iPhone 6S Nano, iPhone 6S Air or perhaps something even simpler like “iPhone Nano” or “iPhone Air” (marking the start of a new line of smaller sizes (albeit technically a reboot)).

We shall see, but expect at least some — if not all — of these storylines to play out at Apple in the next ten months, or so. – See more at: http://www.dailytech.com/iPhone+7+May+Pack+34+GB+Memory+More+Storage+4Inch+Comeback+is+Rumored/article37534.htm#sthash.wG9IuSEc.dpuf

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