There have so far been 15 different iPhone models, and they all fit that description. Some people might look at the iPhone’s relatively static design over the years and think Apple has stopped innovating. But if you take even the most cursory look at the power, features, and components of the original 2G iPhone and compare them to today’s iPhone 7, it’s hard to take that point of view seriously. Like all of Apple’s products, each new iPhone evolves on the progress of its predecessors.
Products only become iconic if they have memorable designs that stand the test of time, and the iPhone certainly qualifies.
Steve Jobs announced the iPhone as a “widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough Internet communications device” in January 2007, and Apple officially launched the first model on June 29, 2007. Ten years later, it’s undeniable just how revolutionary the iPhone was.
While this year’s “iPhone 8” (or is it the iPhone X?) is expected to come with some of the most dramatic changes to the iPhone’s overall design in years (and will no doubt sell like crazy), we’re even more excited for what’s to come by the end of the decade.
It’s with this unbridled enthusiasm that we set out to imagine what the iPhone in 2020 might look like. While it might have been more fun to project even further forward, we felt going past a few years out starts to become an exercise in wish fulfillment and an excuse to include features that are grounded more in science fiction than concrete mobile technology.
In creating our smartphone from the future, we took into account 10 years of iPhone innovation, current mobile trends, and all the credible rumors about the iPhone 8. Here is our prediction for iPhone 2020:
If there’s a single design philosophy behind the iPhone, it’s Apple’s relentless march towards simplifying and eliminating mechanical components, leaving you with an austere window into the life you’re living through the device. Our iPhone 2020 pushes this idea forward a few iterations to become the purest realization of the iPhone: A gorgeous display surrounded by nothing but glass.
Also: There’s no charging port. It’s a radical change, but a port-free world is also clearly the place Apple (and others) want to take us.
You’ll see hints of our iPhone 2020 in some phones today. Samsung’s Galaxy S8famously discarded the home button in favor of a virtual one, and Vivo just demonstrated one of the first phones to integrate a fingerprint reader into the screen. Using durable glass for not just the display, but for the rear panel as well, is also a trend that’s on the rise.
At the same time, there are things that are distinctly Apple. iOS in the future will surely incorporate some natural evolutions of popular features today (like Siri suggestions) but also still fundamentally work the same way as iPhones of today.
That is, with one big caveat: There’s no home button. There have been rumors of Apple dropping the home button for almost as long as there have been iPhones, but we feel the iPhone and mobile tech in general are at a point where this will become a given for high-end phones in the next few years.
For all the changes, though, it’s still an iPhone. Much like how a Porsche today still looks like a Porsche from yesteryear, our iPhone 2020 shares the same DNA.
One final note before the juicy details: There’s a reason why we’re calling this project “our” iPhone 2020. We don’t presume to present this project as definitive: We have no special knowledge of Apple’s product roadmap or any specific insider information. We do, however, have a special obsession with the iPhone, and we’ve been covering it — as a device, a lifestyle product, and the linchpin of Apple’s entire strategy — since it was just another rumor.
This is one possibility of what the iPhone will look like in 2020. We think we’ve done a decent job of predicting what the world’s most popular smartphone might look like, three years hence. We think we got it mostly right, but we know that many will disagree, perhaps strongly. Feel free to tell us.
An iPhone that’s a single slab of of glass is inevitable. So, too, is an iPhone without a charging port.
Removing the Lightning port would no doubt send users into an uproar, much like the removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 did. But it would also be classic “courageous” Apple. To use a famous quote reportedly uttered by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky that Steve Jobs was fond of: A port-less iPhone would be “skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been.”
Apple has proven time and again it’s not afraid to remove ports in order to push us toward a wireless future. Apple’s already made it very clear wireless is where products are headed with the single-port MacBook and AirPods. An iPhone without a traditional port is basically inevitable… it’s just a question of when it’ll happen.
By 2020, the Lightning port will be eight years old — a perfect time to be retired. The only proprietary Apple port that survived longer was the 30-pin port, which lasted nine years and was used on iPod, iPhone, and iPad until Lightning replaced it in 2012.
Going portless would be a dramatic change, but it’s justified. If indeed this year’s iPhone 8 comes with built-in inductive wireless charging, by 2020 it would become the normal way to charge on hundreds of millions of iPhones.
At the same time, there would still need to be some kind of physical connector for emergencies and special cases — a way to transfer data, charge via cable, and connect some accessories. To support these features, our iPhone 2020 has a magnetic Smart Connector (similar to the one on today’s iPad Pro) in place of the current Lightning port.
With the MagSafe-like connector, you’ll be able to charge the iPhone 2020 quicker, transfer data to a computer through the same cable, and attach accessories.
Android co-founder Andy Rubin, who now heads Essential and will soon release the Essential Phone, has suggested similar thinking — that phones in the future would ditch charging ports and just use magnetic connectors for attaching accessories are the future.
For the rest of the design, our iPhone 2020 follows current mobile trends: Features considered premium, such as displays that stretch edge to edge with super-slim bezels and fingerprint sensors embedded underneath screens, set the foundation for its design.
Though the iPhone’s display has grown from 3.5 inches to 5.5 inches (for the Plus models) in the span of 10 years, Apple’s mostly stuck with using the same materials, refining and perfecting them with each new model.
Our iPhone 2020 will give users what they’ve been demanding for years: Even bigger screens in small bodies.
Transitioning from the currently rumored iPhone 8’s glass and stainless steel “sandwich” design, our iPhone 2020 sports an all-glass body. We chose recycled glass not just because it aligns with Apple’s green initiatives, but because it also simplifies the types of materials used to construct the iPhone. Moreover, glass allows wireless reception to pass through much more reliably than metal.
Our iPhone 2020 also uses carbon fiber, which is durable but extremely lightweight, to reinforce the glass frame’s internal structure, preventing the extra-hardened glass from bending or warping. We don’t want another #bendgate.
Peering through our crystal balls, we can see Apple sticking to two sizes. So we’ve mocked up a 5.8-inch and 6.6-inch iPhone, mirroring the successful “regular” and “Plus-sized” iPhone strategy first introduced with the iPhone 6 in 2014. These larger screens, however, won’t come at the expense of larger dimensions.
With 18:9 aspect ratios, our iPhone 2020 will be taller and narrower (and better for one-handed use), but still occupy roughly the same dimensions as the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, which have 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens, respectively.
Based on current trends, and rumors this year’s iPhone will switch from LCD to OLED, we see the iPhone 2020 having an OLED display for deep blacks and power savings, while maintaining the same eye-dazzling display technologies (True Tone, ProMotion, DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut, etc.) that make the new iPad Pros so spectacular. Our iPhone 2020 will also support HDR (High Dynamic Range), which should be as common as full HD is today.
The under-the-glass Touch ID fingerprint sensor that the iPhone 8 is expected to have will carry through to the iPhone 2020. The slim top bezel above our iPhone has a single feature: a 12-megapixel FaceTime camera. Like the fingerprint sensor, the traditional earpiece and various light and proximity sensors will also be embedded within or underneath the screen; Elliptic Labs uses ultrasound to get rid of the sensors and phones like Sharp’s Aquos Crystaland Xiaomi’s Mi Mix use a combination of piezoelectric speakers and ultrasound to replace the earpiece.
Buttons on the iPhone 2020 won’t disappear entirely. The iPhone 7 proved Apple could simulate the feeling of a tactile home button using the Taptic Engine. On the iPhone 2020, we foresee the volume buttons and mute switch transitioning to the same.
The only mechanical button on our iPhone 2020 is the power button, which can’t be haptic-powered, as that would require a running current to the Taptic Engine when the phone’s turned off. As good as Apple is with technology, it still needs electricity to make it work.
CHIPSET & SYSTEM
The iPhone would be nothing more than a pretty slab of glass without the cutting-edge technology inside. It literally and figuratively connects everything together.
Fortunately for Apple, because of its vertically integrated operations, it owns “the whole widget,” as Steve Jobs loved to say.
We’re not mobile engineers, but looking at teardowns of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, we’ve re-imagined what the inside of the iPhone in 2020 could look like if reconfigured to accommodate the above changes.
The most important internal changes we see happening have to do with component size — a smaller logic board that makes way for a larger battery, a bigger Taptic Engine to support the new haptics-simulated volume buttons and mute switch, and room for a larger speakers thanks to the removal of the Lightning port.
Since 2010, Apple has designed its own mobile chips (the “A” series) for iOS devices. By creating its own custom system-on-a-chip (SoC), Apple’s been able to tune the performance to best fit iOS’s needs. We don’t see Apple moving away from custom chipsets for the iPhone in 2020. If anything, it’ll have even more custom chips inside, including the graphics chip. Imagination Technologies, the semiconductor company that’s made the graphics chips for the iPhone since the beginning, announced in April Apple has decided not to use its graphics “in its new products in 15 months to two years time.”
That means it’s highly likely Apple will design its own custom graphics chips for future iPhones that better leverage its Metal 2 graphics API just like it did with the A-named processors.
If Apple keeps pace with launching a new “A” chipset with every iPhone, by 2020 it’ll be at A14. Similarly, it’s likely it’ll also be accompanied by an “M14” motion coprocessor to collect data from the iPhone’s myriad sensors. Apple’s included an “M” series motion coprocessor sidekick on every iPhone since 2013.
We could also see the rumored “Apple Neural Engine,” a special chip devoted to AI and machine learning as reported by Bloomberg, if it doesn’t make its debut on an earlier iPhone. Including a special chip just for on-device AI and machine learning inside of the iPhone would also serve Apple’s privacy initiatives to protect user data, rather than relying on processing in the cloud.
Averaging out the performance gains between each generation of “A” series processors from the A4 to the A10 Fusion, we get an average of about 47.5% increase in CPU performance. Calculating the same for the graphics chips between the iPhones, we get a rough increase of about 63.3% in the last seven generations. Barring a serious chip breakthrough, we can presume that the iPhone in 2020 will be very fast, but it’ll likely have roughly the same average speed gains between each model from now until then.
The logic board (also called “motherboard”) could shrink by as much as 50%. The iPhone 7 currently uses a 16-nanometer chip, but Qualcomm’s managed to create an even smaller 10-nanometer chip with the Snapdragon 835. Seven-nanometer chips are expected to roll out by 2018. It’s also possible Apple could be so far ahead of the pack and move to a 5-nanometer chip by 2020. (IBM’s already created a 5-nanometer chip with 30 billion transistors.)
A smaller logic board with a smaller chip could pave way for a larger battery. Like everything else, Apple’s always been conservative with battery capacity. iOS just isn’t as as power-hungry as Android is.
In the last few years, the iPhone hasn’t had any significant increases in battery capacity (measured in milliamp-hours). Battery life only increased 390mAh from the iPhone 4 to the 6, and 150mAh from the 6 to the 7. For the Plus-sized iPhone, battery life actually decreased by 15mAh from the iPhone 6 to the 7 Plus. But even with the small capacity increase and decrease on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, Apple still claims two more hours than the 6S and 6S Plus due to new efficiencies in Apple’s chip design and software.
If Apple sticks to its conservative battery capacity, increasing things about 150mAh every two years, the iPhone 2020 could have a battery with around 2,260 mAh on the regular model and somewhere around 3,000 mAh for the Plus model. These are extremely small batteries compared to Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+, but Apple has always done more with less in terms of energy when compared to its Android competitors.
The display may be the “face” of the iPhone, but the camera is its “eyes.” Without great cameras, the iPhone can’t preserve your memories or let you interact with others visually. Moreover, the phone won’t be able to sense what’s going on around it — an ability that will only grow in relevance in the next few years as Apple pushes deeper into augmented reality with the recently announced ARKit.
All of which is to say iPhone’s camera system will be even more important than it is today. The iPhone 7 Plus has arguably the best cameras on the planet, but that wasn’t always the case. The dual 12-megapixel camera on the 7 Plus has come a long way from the original iPhone’s single rear 2-megapixel camera.
Behind the iPhone’s spectacular, true-to-life photos and videos is a little chunk on Apple’s custom “A” processors called the image signal processor (ISP). The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus’s ISP can calculate 100 billion operations in 25 milliseconds on every photograph, while using on-device machine learning to help improve picture quality and low-light performance. Without this powerful ISP, the iPhone 7 Plus’s Portrait mode (which takes photos with shallow depth of field) would not work as well as it does.
Apple will certainly keep improving on its dual-camera system, but instead of reserving it for just the “Plus” model, it will likely become standard on all iPhones.
There are many leaks suggesting Apple will rotate the dual cameras 90 degrees on this year’s iPhone 8, turning them vertical instead of horizontal. If that turns out to be true, it’ll look strange at first, but it’ll most likely become the template for future models.
The iSight dual camera on our iPhone 2020 closely resembles the rumored iPhone 8’s, complete with camera bump. It’s been years since Apple launched an iPhone with a flush camera on the back (that would be the iPhone 5S, or iPhone SE if you consider that a “new” iPhone even though it’s got the 5S’s design), but we think Apple won’t go back to that design, even though Chief Design Officer Jony Ive reportedly hates the camera bump.
Why? Because Apple and its customers have already come to terms with this “optimization.” For the equation of camera quality and a bumpless design, Apple favors quality.
On a basic level, photo quality depends on three things: the quality of the lens, the image sensor that’s reading the light traveling through it, and the image signal processor that helps compile the final photo.
The main reason why our iPhone 2020 still has a bump is because the overall design is about as thin as today’s iPhones, and is camera optics — while improved — are still essentially the same: multiple lens layers stacked between the image sensor and the sapphire glass camera cover. These layers contribute significantly to sharper, color-accurate photos, and better shooting in low-light situations. Even with improved design of the optics, Apple would likely opt for an extra lens element (and thus improving quality) over a flush camera.
Improvements to resolution are harder to pin down. Apple used an 8-megapixel iSight camera on the iPhone 4S through to the iPhone 6 and then switched to 12 megapixels on the iPhone 6S to 7. Other phones, like the OnePlus 5, have dual cameras with more megapixels (16 and 20 megapixels), but Apple usually doesn’t upgrade resolution for a few years.
Extrapolating on this, our iPhone 2020 has dual 16-megapixel cameras. Apple could go with 20 megapixels in 2020, but historically the company’s been conservative with upping the camera resolution.
While the design of the iPhone makes us drool, it’s the software that makes it a joy to use. When you look at the history of iOS, its underpinnings haven’t really changed since the original iPhone launched (when it was called iPhone OS).
If you took someone from 2007 and showed them iOS 10, they would recognize it as iPhone software. There’s still a grid of app icons spanning across several home screens. There’s still a status bar showing the time and battery capacity. And the keyboard still makes that distinctive tap-tap-tap sound.
So a complete redesign of iOS by 2020 is highly unlikely. Even big changes — like dropping the physical home button — need to be integrated into how iOS currently works.
However, current trends point toward an increased role for AI and machine learning. On the iPhone, this is shown through Siri’s increased role and myriad abilities, which get better every year.
By the time we get to iOS 14, it’s not hard to see Siri as the heart of iOS. Apple is already slowly pushing Siri to the surface with enhancements in iOS 11 like language translation and “Type to Siri” (so you can ask Siri questions without using your voice), and on watchOS 4 for Apple Watch, there’s a new Siri-based watch face that displays pertinent information based on usage patterns and location.
For iOS 14, the biggest change to take into account is the lack of a physical home button. On the lock screen, there’s now a half-sized virtual home button peeking out of the bottom of the screen. Slide up with your finger and the full-sized virtual home button appears, ready for you to press just slightly harder (or, if you have 3D Touch disabled, it’ll float for a second for you to remove your finger and tap again). Want Control Center instead? Just keep sliding.
As for Touch ID, it’s integrated into the screen, so the home button, wherever it appears, also functions as a fingerprint reader. When an app or service wants you to authenticate via Touch ID, it’ll be up to developers where it appears.
The home screen of course has the iconic grid of apps, but with one extra row thanks to the taller 18:9 display. The same half-sized home button works just like on the lock screen.
Above the dock, you’ll find two special rows. You can choose for these two rows to work just like regular rows with apps that snap into place, but their default will be “Siri App Suggestions.” Just like Siri suggestions today, these are apps Siri thinks you might want to use based on various factors, including location.
Swipe left from the main homescreen and you’ll see the good ol’ widget screen. Inspired by iOS 11’s redesigned Control Center, we’ve made the page more customizable. In addition to the full-width widgets, there are also half-sized square widgets, inspired by the new Siri cards in watchOS 4.
Without a home button, though, how does the app switcher work? You can still press hard on the left edge of the screen to bring it up, but now you can also use a swipe-up gesture (the reverse of the swipe down gesture to activate Spotlight search) on any homescreen to bring up a vertical carousel of apps that you can quickly scroll through with your thumb. If this sounds a lot like Android’s current app switcher, that’s because it is. It wouldn’t be the first time iOS has borrowed a feature from Android.
Despite some fundamental changes that are a consequence of having no home button, our iOS 14 is, above all else, familiar.
Apple ruffled quite a few feathers by getting rid of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. The objective couldn’t have been clearer: wireless headphones are the future.
And with AirPods, Apple provided not just another pair of wireless earbuds, but a legitimately better wireless experience. With its custom W1 chip inside, Apple was able to solve the pain point of connecting wireless earbuds to your iPhone.
As magical as AirPods are, they’re a $160 luxury that’s sold separately. However, by 2020, it’ll be four years since the iPhone ditched the headphone jack and hopefully well into the wireless audio future, especially without a Lightning port to attach any dongles to. That’s why we believe Apple will bundle a pair of AirPods with future iPhones to drive home this wireless revolution, replacing the wired EarPods that currently come in the box.
These would be the AirPods 1.0, the ones you can buy today. With the first-gen AirPods elevated to box pack-ins, Apple will certainly sell a new-and-improved version, with better sound quality and longer battery life, much like how Apple sells more premium in-ear wired earbuds alongside the standard EarPods.
The box won’t be free of wires just yet. Our iPhone 2020 comes with a Smart Connector cable that’s got a USB-C end that plugs into the power adapter. A cable with a USB-C plug is a no-brainer since all of Apple’s MacBooks (except for the aging MacBook Air) only have USB-C ports. Full-sized USB (called USB-A) won’t be dead by 2020, but it’ll be less common as USB-C slowly replaces it everywhere.
Though we see wireless charging as one of the premiere features on future iPhones, we also expect it to be one of convenience. To date, no phones have come with wireless chargers included in the box, and wireless chargers have yet to become popular in public places. To get wireless charging, iPhone 2020 owners will have to buy a charging pad sold separately. But further out, it may come with.
TO ANOTHER 10
Revolutionary. Iconic. Genius. Various people have used those words to describe the iPhone over the years. It’s indisputable how impactful and life-changing the iPhone has been since it launched 10 years ago.
As the iPhone celebrates its 10th birthday and the world awaits this year’s new model, we wanted to reflect on a decade worth of innovation by looking towards the future.
As noted in the introduction, the iPhone 2020 we’ve created is strictly a product of the Mashable Tech Team’s imagination. There is nothing real about our iPhone, except that it is an iPhone that we designed that’s grounded in reality and based on technologies and trends that already exist or will exist in the next few years.
If we learned anything in this exercise, we now have an even greater appreciation for all the work that goes into building a complex device such as the iPhone. It’s not just firing up 3D CAD software and mocking up a pretty 3D render and calling it a day.
While designing our vision for a realistic iPhone in 2020, we came across many challenges most users would never think about. Complex problems like how would an virtual home button that relies on 3D Touch work for a person who has no way of feeling pressure? Would Apple turn what’s a single-step action on iOS into a two-step action in 2020? We don’t have definitive answers to these problems, but somewhere deep in Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, there are people trying to find solutions for them or invent something better.
The iPhone will go down in history as one of the most important consumer products ever created. What will the iPhone look like in 2020? In another 10 years? Most likely just as iconic and revolutionary as the original was a decade ago.