Apple enjoyed strong iPhone sales through 2015 as iPhone 6 and 6 Plus filled in the gap for large-screen models in the iPhone series. However, the global smartphone market has reached a high level of saturation, and the sales of the follow-up model, iPhone 6s, have been weak. With replacement demand falling, Apple in the first quarter of this year posted its first quarterly drop in iPhone production volume since this smartphone series was introduced in 2007, totaling at 42 million units. Whether the next release in the series will be able to turn overall iPhone sales around has drawn increasing worldwide attention as its launch date draws near.
According to the global research firm TrendForce, Apple has settled on most of the specs for the next iPhone, which will come in two sizes: 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches. The major hardware highlights include expanded storage for all models and dual-camera specifically for the 5.5-inch model. However, the next iPhone (here also referred to as iPhone 7) is generally consistent with its predecessor appearance-wise; and more importantly, display is not included in its upgrades. On the whole, the market keeps a conservative outlook on the annual iPhone sales for this year. TrendForce’s latest analysis puts this year’s iPhone production volume at 216.5 million units, down 8.2% from 2015.
Apple will hold on to LPDDR4 and the 5.5-inch model of iPhone 7 will be first in the series to carry 3GB of memory
As the latest generation of mobile DRAM, LPDDR4 will continue to serve the iPhone 7 as it did for iPhone 6s. In terms of memory density, the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 will be the first in series to have 3GB of memory in the form of four stacked 6Gb mono-die modules. The additional memory is used to process the images taken from the dual-camera. On the other hand, the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 will stick with 2GB.
Premium version of iPhone 7 will have storage specs of 256GB – the largest in the entire iPhone series
Steep drop in NAND Flash prices since the second half of 2015 has encouraged smartphone brands to use storage capacity as a selling point for their products. The storage specs competition has been especially intense in the high-end market. In the case of iPhone 7, the 5.5-inch model will need a larger storage for the high-quality photos and videos that its dual-camera can take. Consumers’ demand for expanded device storage has also risen significantly in recent years on account of the increasing app sizes. Hence, Apple is likely to make changes to the storage options for iPhone 7. The 64GB version, which has been the most popular option in previous generations, may be discontinued and replaced by the 128GB version, though this decision has yet to be finalized. On the other hand, Apple is certain to raise the maximum storage option to 256GB so that iPhone 7 will have the highest NAND Flash density of the entire series.
No noticeable display specs upgrade for iPhone 7 as LTPS reaches maturity
Display has been central to iPhone’s appeal, and every refresh in the series represents another major upgrade in this area. The display of iPhone 7, however, will not feature a significant breakthrough. This also signify that LTPS LCD has reached its peak in development and is unlikely to make another big technological leap in the future. Hence, the market and the media is more focused on whether the iPhone release for 2017 will adopt AMOLED. TrendForce believes AMOLED is currently the only viable technology for mass producing display panels on flexible substrates. Adopting this solution will definitely help reinvigorate the iPhone series in the medium and long term. Nevertheless, Apple by and large does not have the same level of control over AMOLED as it does over LCD. Dealing with challenges in the AMOLED panel supply chain will be critical for Apple in its quest to take the iPhone series to a new height.