While some might think it's too early to be wondering out loud about the iPhone 6, there's really no better time. We're far enough out from the fall, and from the inevitable leaks that will come as fall approaches, that many more possibilities, many more dreams, remain open to us. 'll preface it by saying all I've heard so far is that there'll likely be two iPhones this year, a 4-inch model and a bigger than 4-inch model. Whether that's the iPhone 5s dropped down, an iPhone 5sc made unabashedly plastic, or simply a smaller iPhone 6 remains to be seen. As does the size of the larger phone, from 4.3 to almost 5-inches. So let's begin there...
1. Larger screen
This part should go without saying, seeing as how I've said so much about it already. A larger screen would increase Apple's share of the premium market, remove the only key physical differentiator of the subsidized competition, make a better primary computing device, make a more accessible product, and open the platform up for future advancement. An iPhone 6 with a bigger screen, at this point in time, would do what Apple does best — make for a better product that could delight and even larger pool of potential customers.
I used to think I'd prefer 4.3, but after having used a BlackBerry Z10, Nexus 5, and Lumia 1020 over the last few months, I've come to realize the point of going big is GOING BIG. I'd love as close to 5-inches as possible, especially if the overall size of the iPhone doesn't scale with it.
One of these things is not like the other. That's what comes to mind when I look at the iPod touch, iPad Air, Retina iPad mini, and iPhone 5s. The iPads and iPod are sleek and slim, with curves in all the right places. The iPhone 5s, like the iPhone 5 before it, is an extruded round-rect with sharp edges. Rather than just catching up to the iPad and iPod design language, it would be great to take it a step further. Or, rather, a touch further. iOS 7 is so physical, do directly manipulable, that it's hard to imagine iOS 8 being otherwise. And all of the current lateral edge gestures — the hierarchical back gesture, the forward and back sequential gestures — would just feel so much better with curved edges.
How a combination of Apple's ultra-thin screen technology with what would hopefully be much, much smaller bezels and my desire for rounded edges would all come together, I'm not certain, I just know I'd love it if they could.
3. More sensors
The iPhone 5s not only added Touch ID but iBeacon and the Apple M7 motion coprocessor as well. Apple's been at the forefront of the contextual awakening, from multitouch, accelerometer, ambient light, and proximity, to aGPS and GLONASS, gyroscope and magnometer, and, of course, Siri which made the mic "smart". The Moto X has natural language and contextual coprocessors to enable Google Now to "always listen". Whether or not Apple goes that far, letting Siri run locally would be a welcome upgrade all its own.
There's a lot more that can be done with sensorsl, including adding smarts to iSight, improving indoor navigation, and tying into the rumored HealthBook and iWatch projects, and all of that will require not only software, but data gathering, battery-saving technology as well.
Once upon a time speed was the most important thing. Every year we expected our computers to be significantly faster and more powerful than the year before. Eventually, however, the speed improvements leveled off. Luckily, for most people, most of the time, computers were already fast enough, and something else became even more important — battery life. Thanks to Haswell and OS X Mavericks, we now have a MacBook Air that can outlast any iOS device on the planet. Maybe it's time for the same shift in priority to hit the iPhone?
Every year Apple has made the new iPhone significantly faster, thinner, and more powerful than the year before while keeping the same battery life. Miracle of engineering that may be, I'd love to see the priority shift to keeping the same thinness but greatly increasing battery life. Let's see the iPhone regain the long-lasting crown.
5. Better optics
Apple makes some of the best cameras in mobile, However, the greatness of the iPhone 5s camera, like the greatness of the iPhone 5 camera before it isn't primarily in the optics or in the capture stage at all. It's in the digital image processor. The Apple A7 is simply a monster when it comes to taking whatever data that thin 8 megapixel sensor can latch onto and making the most of it. It's so good, in fact, the ultra-thin iPhone 5s can hold its own against much better, much deeper glass, including the larger aperture, bigger pixel, optically image stabilized monsters many of Apple's competitors are fielding.
What makes a mobile camera great isn't specs. Its the ability to take better pictures in the widest range of circumstances possible, including and especially low-light. If Apple could marry better, smarter optics to their already industry leading processing, no light would no longer be the limit.
6. 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Apple's AirPort Extreme routers got faster, longer-range 802.11ac wireless networking last year, as did the Mac product lines and several Android phones. The iPhone 5s did not. It might seem like an odd thing to want, given how fast 802.11n is already, but for devices born to be mobile, for a wireless world, for syncing and streaming, downloading and beaming, every second of time you shave off is a measure of experience you improve.
Hopefully there's a power-saving race-to-sleep advantage to 802.11ac as well, letting data move faster so the chips can power down faster, which would make it even better.
What I don't think we'll see with an iPhone 6
There are some things, fantasy or not, I don't think we'll see in an iPhone 6 or any imminent new phone from Apple. Some because of the laws of economics and physics, others simply because of Apple focus and beliefs.
Ditching the Home button. Making a screen bigger without increasing the size of the phone typically means removing or reducing almost everything else from the face plate. However, not only does Apple have that big round Home button, it's now the nexus for Touch ID as well. Unless and until that moves — in screen? — the big honking Home button stays.
More metallic finishes. Gold was great but the metallic red and blue finishes on the iPod touch are likewise gorgeous. Apple could even stagger their releases so some of the colors come out midway through the typical year-long product cycle, giving it a little more life... All that said, so far Apple's kept the brighter colors constrained to the lower end product lines, including the iPhone 5c and that doesn't seem likely to change.
NFC. It remains a chipset, not a feature set, and Apple's all in on Passbook, Bluetooth LE, and iBeacon. Personally, I'd love NFC. Outside the U.S. all of our credit and debit cards not only have chip-and-pin, but many have NFC as well. I can pay for my groceries, my fast food, my coffee, my gas, my clothes, and almost everything else under $60 with a tap. Just not the tap of an iPhone.
Multiple carrier radios. Yes, the iPhone 5s can't do simultaneous voice-and-data on Verizon. That's because LTE doesn't support simultaneous voice-and-data and, unlike GSM carriers, Verizon has no HSPA to fall back on. Their EVDO Rev. A doesn't do voice-and-data either. Other manufacturers add a second radio to get around this, giving up some battery efficiency to do it. Apple isn't those manufacturers and they don't like that tradeoff. Sadly, voice over LTE (VoLTE) is still a ways off, and Apple hasn't traditionally embraced new radios quickly, and for the same power efficient reasons.
Your iPhone 6 dreams?
That's a short list of some of the things I'd like to see — and a few I don't expect to — in Apple's upcoming iPhone 6. Since we're over half-a-year away from the traditional fall launch window, there's a lot of freedom to speculate right now and that's the fun part. Not crazy stuff like a built-in iEspresso maker or glowing Apple logo but maybe things like better waterproofing or always-on notifications on the display? What are your dreams for the iPhone 6?