Predictions: What do MacNN's writers think Apple will show?

The writing team of MacNN gaze into their crystal balls for Apple's product launches

Apple's media event, in which the company offers "Let us loop you in," is taking place this coming Monday. The large number of rumors and the wide array of products Apple now offers means it is much harder to pin down exactly what will be unveiled in a few more days, but what does the writing crew of think will be shown on-stage by Tim Cook and his subordinates?

Charles Martin, editor:

On the most recent episode of The MacNN Podcast, I mentioned an idea in jest about the four-inch screen and all the leaks we've seen leading in an alternate area: instead of a new iPhone model for a market that our own polling shows doesn't care much and would appeal to a niche audience only (unless this thing is going to sell for $299 outright): what if all this were instead for just a new iPod touch? The more I think about that idea, the more I hope Apple does it (alongside an actual iPhone).

An iPod touch that could optionally add cellular data to it would not be just another iPhone model (in the same sense that an iPad mini with cellular isn't one), it would still not have the telephony portion. One can already turn an iPod touch into a functional "phone" if one wants to with third-party apps like Skype -- the only catch is that you must be in Wi-Fi nearly all the time for that to really work. Although I don't own an iPod touch, it struck me that that's how I usually spend my day: my home office, cafes and coffee shops and pubs, sometimes the library. There's even a municipal hotspot network in the downtown core.

Bottom line: I think there's a case to be made for it, and it would kill three birds with one stone. First, for those people who want "an iPhone with the 'phone bill' part," a new iPod touch with an optional cellular option would meet the demands of the usual buyers, while expanding the market for those who want a small iPhone, or a cheap but true iPhone, or a developing-market budget iPhone, or an unlocked, contract-free device with iPhone 6-era technology. Second, the current iPod touch is 90 percent of an iPhone 5, and sells for $199. Apple could probably make one that can handle cellular data only for, let's say, under $350 for the base model.

That would beat Wall Street predictions, give the company a low-cost device for developing markets and heavy texters (who calls people anymore, anyway?), and something that -- with apps like FreedomPop or Skype can work "almost" like iPhones -- would do well inside and outside North America. Last but not least, giving this thing Touch ID and Apple Pay would create a whole other army of people who want to use it, putting pressure on merchants to adopt it. This would also give the budget-minded segment of the Android market (ie most of them) another reason to switch. I hope they do it, and do it soon.

Apart from that, I would certainly like to see a new 9.7-inch model iPad with Apple Pencil support, even though I'm not much into drawing. To bring the Pencil's effective cost of entry to $600 and up instead of $900 and up (I'm including the cost of the Pencil itself in that range) would give less-than-pro sketchers a shot at using it, and would also open up the market for Smart Connector accessories. It's easy to see why this rumor has been the most consistent of the bunch.

Finally, I certainly like the idea of official new Apple bands and possible further partnerships. I never bought into the "new Apple Watch 2 in April" rumor, but the unofficial Apple Watch band market is thriving, and I'm sure Apple wants a piece of that action (as they did when they entered the iPad case and iPhone battery case markets). For the record, I don't think we'll see a fully-new Apple Watch model for this Christmas season either, though I'll leave the door open for a lightly-revised model with better battery life, and -- through the bands we might see on Monday -- maybe even some extended health monitoring. I think the stage is getting set for a remarkable Worldwide Developer's Conference and second half of the year.

Mike Wuerthele, managing editor:

There are carefully-cropped package product photos, there are 3D renders of the phone, and some enterprising souls decided to call another manufacturer's phone the iPhone 7, and that's all this week. Not all of this will be true, but some of it is. What I'd like to see, and what we're going to see are different things, of course.

I'm genuinely not expecting anything revolutionary from Cupertino. There'll be a minor iTunes update, and patches to every OS known to man, because Apple just doesn't know how to spread this around. However, I'm reasonably certain that the iPhone SE exists, but I think that there is little chance that it is sporting an A9, and no chance that it has force touch in the 16GB capacity. An A8 processor would still be better than the A7 in the iPhone 5s. However, I think all bets are off on the 64GB capacity model. I think that version will be priced $200 more, not $100, and it will sport the A9 -- which confirms every rumor that we've heard on this device, minus the back-and-forth on the name.

It's past time for what is now the mid-range iPad in the line to see a boost. The iPad Air 2 will stick around at a slightly lower price point, and be supplemented by a $600 "pro" model with some of the niceties on the larger iPad Pro. Evolutionary, not revolutionary. The Apple Watch won't see an update, beyond accessories, not because there isn't one coming, but because this event is for the iPhone and iPad, and the Apple Watch has only been fully stocked at retail for a while. Remember, this is the company that shipped the Apple TV in 2007, and its only seen three updates in the ensuing decade. Why? Because there is no reason to, and the Apple Watch fits in that same category of "developing technology and market."

The original iPad release was a "right place at the right time" for Jobs and company. The concept had been tried before, with limited success. Apple had mobile momentum, and the iPad rode it the rest of the way. Look at the iPad Air 2, and compare it in every regard to the only six-year old original iPad. For that matter, consider the screen area of the iPad Pro, and put that up against the same-weight first shipped iPad.

Still think that there's not a revolution going on?

Malcolm Owen, staff writer

I am the first to admit that the shotgun approach for predictions is probably the easiest way to go. Giving too many estimates of what to expect and including every single vaguely-reasonable rumor into a prediction gives the writer the ability to point to their work at a later time triumphantly, claiming they are right on some points. In some cases, this could start someone off in a career as an industry analyst, or an end-of-the-pier fortune teller. I'll try to avoid that fate.

Let's start with the main item event: The iPhone. Is there going to be a "smaller" iPhone? Probably. One of the issues of infiltrating a major unsaturated market, such as China, is making sure you have devices at every conceivable price point. While Apple won't go down the road of Samsung, a "small" and relatively cheaper iPhone to go with the "medium" normal-sized device and the "large" Plus model seems like something that will cover that lower range.

What to expect with the new iPhones? The dual-camera concept sounds like a good idea in theory, except looking to HTC's previous attempt at using the concept makes me think Apple is more likely to go for the higher-resolution, better-quality single sensor instead. As you'd expect, faster devices with maybe a slight push upwards from the base capacity model from 16GB to 32GB. Screen sizes could remain static, with the smaller one weighing in at close to four inches, and I'm uncertain if Apple's ready to pull the headphone jack yet. As for the name: The iPhone 7.

Now for iPads. While some seem to believe there will be an iPad Air-sized "Pro," to go alongside the Air as a more expensive option, I'll say it will become the "new iPad" at that size, without a cheaper non-Pencil version. So an iPad with the Pro's internals and compatibility with the Pencil, but at the 9.7-inch level. I would go as far as to suggest that the trend will also trickle down to the smaller iPad mini, but since the fourth generation has only been out since September last year, it won't make an appearance at Monday's event. Let's go further and say this new device will be called the "iPad" without any second identifying term at all.

With regards to the Apple Watch, I get the feeling we're not going to see much of a change regarding the year-old hardware. There are enough models at the various price points to make it hard to expand, as you have to update all versions at the same time with the same upgrades. I do believe there will be new bands announced, and possibly some updates to the young watchOS.

I have the feeling there will be some software announcements, especially considering the frequency of betas issued in recent weeks. Aside from a reiteration that Apple wants to protect its customers, in response to the FBI's request for a backdoor to encrypted data, don't count on there being any major security announcements at the event.

Bradley McBurney, contributor

Unlike many of Apple's recent keynotes, the "Let Us Loop You In" event is maintaining a very level-headed set of expectations. No one is predicting that Tim Cook will come out on the stage and blow us away with some new revelation. Instead, the general consensus is that we will simply see a few new additions that will offer some budget friendly options in the iOS world.

At this point it would be crazy to believe that the iPhone SE, iPhone 5se, or whatever the actual name happens to be, doesn't exist. It feels like we have been hearing about this device for months now, and in that time have seen rumors crop up claiming just about every possible spec layout. So what do I think this "budget" iPhone will have in store for us? Aside from the all but guaranteed four-inch screen, I believe the phone will house an A8 processor and the 12-megapixel rear camera currently found in the iPhone 6s. Force Touch feels unlikely here, but would be a welcome surprise as the four-inch form factor is actually something I prefer.

When it comes to iPad, I feel like we will see the same update move we are already familiar with. The iPad Air 2 will live on with a small price drop, while an updated version with a few new features will take its place in the product line. Chances are we won't see the iPad get any thinner this year, because honestly how thin can they go, but we will see an internal update and the addition of the iPad Pro's Smart Connector.

Among these announcements we should also see the usual peppering of minor news, such as updates on Apple Music and Apple TV, as well as a few potential teasers of the next version of iOS that we are sure to see come WWDC.

  1. Avatar
    Steve Wilkinson Senior User Joined: Dec 19, 2001

    This whole 'budget phone' thing is tricky, because Cook has said Apple isn't interested, and Apple has historically not been interested. Now, maybe that was just Cook throwing the hounds off the trail, who knows. But here's the thing, most foreign budget markets would probably rather have a cheaper, larger screen phone, not a 4". The 4" phone demand is for the 'West' where we have other computing device and want back our phones again (not phablets, as we don't *need* the screen size).

    So, if you're going to using one as a primary computing device, you're probably going to get the larger screen size, even if that breaks the bank... or go without... or buy some other brand. I'm not sure a 'low-cost' 4" iPhone would solve this problem, if it's actually a problem in the first place.

    *I* like Charles idea about the iPod which can be converted to a phone. I'd certainly buy that, as I'd have newer hardware and could just add in the phone part when I like. However, as I've said many times, 1GB vs 2GB RAM is the big deciding factor. A8? Then it's a no-go. That's the single most important spec. If Apple goes 1GB A8, they've blown it.

    But, if Charles is right, then maybe they will go that direction. Why? Well, because if it were an A9 in an iPod touch to which phone could be added, and only missing something like Force Touch, then who wouldn't buy one?! It would totally ruin the rest of the lineup, so the only way that works is if it's close in price to the 6s. Now, I suppose it could be a situation where 'upgrading' it to phone capability closes that gap, so that it's a lower cost barrier to initially purchase, then adds up to close to the 6s when phone is 'unlocked'. That might work... and again, if it's 2GB RAM, I'll probably be all over that.

    And yes, the iPad nearly has to go pro at the 9.7" size, as I think most people aren't going to buy the current Pro unless they are in certain markets. As cool as it would be to have those capabilities, there's no way I'm going bigger than my current iPad. I'd even go to the mini if it weren't a physical requirement to have iPad 9.7" screen size for a non-keyboard typing experience. (When I fly, I find a laptop doesn't really work well, so I often use the iPad to actually type on-screen.... or in a more informal meeting at a coffee shop, a laptop is more socially intrusive, so the iPad is a better fit unless the note-taking is a lot.)

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