It’s hard to remember a time before smartphones. Amazingly though, it was just 10 years ago today, January 9, that Apple shook not just the tech space, but the entire world with the unveiling of the original iPhone.
A device that marked a seismic shift in portable technology and consumer expectations alike, the 2G, low-res, plastic bodied original iPhone already looks like a relic from a distant time. Over the past 10 years, iPhones have become thinner, faster, bigger, stronger, and added more megapixels than you count on your fingers.
Apple’s not done either. Yes, the rate of smartphone evolution might have slowed recently, but the next wave of iPhones are going to be even more exciting than those that have come before. Want to know what’s next? Here’s everything you can expect from the next decade of iPhones.
1) Curved Screens
Image: Concept Phones
Let’s start with something that will be with us towards the beginning of this next 10-year cycle, a curved iPhone. A long mooted iPhone addition, the tech’s already there - just look at the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge - and dozens of patents have shown that Apple is already working on the futuristic phone.
Unlike Samsung’s attempts though, this will offer more than some subtle curving. Instead, it's looking like a complete wraparound display is inbound, enveloping both sides of the phone in a single sweeping arch of visual loveliness.
The curved model won’t be the standard straight away, but an additional high-end luxury model, or ‘iPhone Pro’ as a number of reports have dubbed it. When it does eventually land - possibly this September according to analysts - expect to see virtual buttons populate the side of your phone. These reactive shortcuts will change to what apps you’re viewing on the main section of the screen - much like the current MacBook Pro Touch Bar.
2) Foldable Phones
OK, yes, curved screens look cool, foldable devices, however, are the future, and one that it’s no secret that Apple is actively working on. The company’s been filing patents around the innovative pocket-friendly tech for years, and the ideas and intelligent property requests continue to flow.
Giving owners the best of both worlds, these foldable phones will allow for large, immersive screens to be collapsed down into a pocket-friendly form when not in use. While it's still a few years from mass consumer availability, display manufacturers have even already started showing off the tech.
Exactly when the foldable iPhone will drop is still unclear. While one futurologist has pegged 2019 as the magical date, others have looked to 2020 or beyond as a more realistic timeframe, we’d peg it down for the latter part of this second decade. However, with Samsung rumoured to be readying its own folding phone for launch as early as this year, Apple is unlikely to wait too long before launching its own folding offering.
3) Wireless Charging
It’s going to happen, honest. Eventually it has to. A feature that’s been tipped to make an appearance on every iPhone over the past few years, wireless charging is definitely in the works and will be here well before that second decade is up.
The hold up is down to Apple’s unwillingness to compromise. Instead of some basic addition that requires phones to be placed on specialised charging pads - something that’s just as restrictive as actually connecting a cable - the iPhone maker is working with partners to add long- range wireless tech. Seriously long-range.
According to industry analyst Louis Basenese who cites insider sources at both companies, Apple has joined forces with speciality start-up firm Energous to master wireless charging tech that will automatically repower your phone up to 15 feet (4.5 metres) from the charging station. This is expected to make an appearance later this year, but we've heard that before so don't hold your breath.
4) Interchangeable Camera Lenses
That dual-lens camera on the back of the iPhone 7 Plus is all sorts of impressive. It’s just the start of what’s to come though. Yes, your phone’s already replaced your dedicated compact camera, but with interchangeable lenses on the horizon, expect your DSLR to go in a similar direction.
Dubbed a “Bayonet attachment mechanism” in Apple’s patent files, the official images have shown how optional lenses will be able to be screwed in and out of attachment brackets surrounding the main camera sensor. Yes, it will add a bit of bulk to your pocket-friendly gadget, but when you’re able to capture everything from telephoto to fisheye snaps, who really cares?
Despite the patents having been filed in 2014, sadly this probably won’t happen soon, we're probably looking at 5+ years. When it does though, packed in alongside improved low-light capabilities and enhanced image stabilisation, your smartphone really will be the only camera you need.
5) Drop-Proof Designs
If you've owned an iPhone over the past decade, chances are you've dropped it at some point. If that didn't result in a spiderweb of cracked screen sadness, you got off lightly.
Although easy on the eye, iPhones haven't been the most robust bits of kit. Thanks to the wonders of Sapphire Glass, however, future models will be able to be knocked, dropped and generally abused and come out the other side unscathed.
Apple has added Sapphire Glass to its camera lenses in the past, and it's only a matter of time until we get a full panel. The issue at the moment is this ultra- toughened drop-proof Glass is expensive to produce. When it drops though, so will you, and without worry for a change. It'll be like the Moto X Force just, well, a little bit more elegant to look at.
6) Digital Crown
Image: Patently Apple
Short of throwing its Touch ID fingerprint scanner under the home button and moving the lock control from the top to the side, Apple’s iPhones haven’t really switched up their physical button configurations all that much over the past 10 years. The next decade could mark a seismic shift though, with an Apple Watch-inspired Digital Crown a potential addition to the side of future iPhones.
A patent filed by Apple in July 2016 showed plans to bring a physical ‘rotary input’ option to all iDevices in the future. Sitting in the lower left corner of the phone’s slimline design, the rotating control would let you seamlessly scroll through menus and options without clogging up the screen with your podgy fingers.
According to the patent, the rotary input - which would feature mechanical feedback clicks with each turn - could also be used as a more precise way of setting volume levels.
7) Software That's Attuned To You
It’s not just the iPhone hardware that’s going to change a lot over the next 10 years, iOS is set for major updates and a mass of innovative new features too.
While the exact array of features will change regularly over the next 10 years, there are already a number of inbound additions that Apple is known to be work on. This includes everything from your phone automatically calling for help if its sensors suspect you’ve fallen ill and even being able to tell what mood you’re in.
How? Well according to futurologists, it’s all going to be down to the software working with new and existing sensors. Discussing the inbound additions, Scott Byrnes-Fraser, Head of UX design at Adaptive Lab said: “They can monitor heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, location and movements. Based on that information it would be possible to calculate the most likely emotion being felt at that time.”
Elsewhere, it's Siri where the big changes are going to happen though. The digital assistant with who we all have a love/hate relationship is set to get its degree, masters and a couple of doctorates too. As well as gaining the ability to handle your cash, Siri will become more contextually aware. Soon it'll be like having your own version of Iron Man's Jarvis just, y’know, in our pocket.