This time of year, iPhone rumors run rampant with drawings and even full CAD renderings of the next generation Apple smartphones. None of us, outside of a few at Apple, know what the next iPhone will look like or what features it will have. Is there a final form that the iPhone will reach? There is only so much you can do with a rectangle. There can be subtle changes, but the form is still the same.
I think Apple has hinted in current designs and even in some software clues that a day is coming when there will be no openings on the iPhone whatsoever. They have already removed the headphone jack. I think the technology is near — probably even here already — where Apple could make its smartphone a totally sealed device with no openings. If Apple can indeed accomplish this, then the iPhone would be totally sealed from water and dust. How could Apple do this?
Side buttons — Apple could remove all side buttons by implementing the current buttons much like Touch ID today. Touch ID is not a “real” button, but simply senses when it’s pressed and behaves like a real button with the taptic engine providing feedback. It will be a small thing to make the volume buttons taptic and sealed. There could be some pattern milled into the metal along the edge to let you know when you are over the proper place to simply press to adjust the volume.
The slide-to-mute feature could operate in the same manner as well as the power button. Apple has already duplicated a part of the power button in software, as there is a power down button now in iOS 11. The phone would probably always need to be “listening” to sense a press on the power button to power on. This could easily be accomplished with the technology used in the M1 chip.
Speakers and microphones — To be able to totally seal the iPhone the speakers and microphones would need to be under glass or metal with no openings. This will no doubt pose an issue. With sound transmitting well through such materials, Apple could probably develop a sound system that can use the sound waves vibrating the metal and glass to produce a full-facing speaker system.
The same vibrations would activate a microphone positioned directly against metal or glass to receive vibrations and produce sound. No doubt there are engineering issues to overcome, but this is technically possible today. The challenge will be the quality of sound, but this should be a challenge Apple can solve.
Power — It’s no secret that Apple is working on wireless charging. Wireless charging today usually involves placing a phone on a pad for inductive charging. The Apple Watch already charges this way. I think it’s only a matter of time before Apple totally removes any charging port from the iPhone. This is technically possible today, but I think Apple will wait until wireless charging is more mature. When Apple goes this route there will be wireless charging pads is many public places and even built into tables in coffee shops and libraries.
Apple will also work on how to transmit power at longer distances to the iPhone. It may only be within a few feet, but, when this is possible, I think Apple will remove the charging port. Apple could also supplement this and trickle charge your iPhone with some small solar panels behind the glass.
They could even implement an old technology used in watches from many decades ago. There were self-winding watches that could wind themselves by your movement. As much as we carry around our iPhones in our pockets, the movement could easily generate enough power to help supplement other charging technologies.
Since this is all technically possible with today's technology, why doesn’t Apple just make the leap and go with a totally sealed iPhone. The likely reason is you and me-- the customer. There was such an outcry when Apple removed the headphone jack that Apple probably needs to take small steps toward this. I think they are moving that direction and will soon be there. This would basically render the iPhone unserviceable except by replacement, but that is a trade-off many would gladly accept.
It is indeed possible and I, for one, would welcome this. Then Apple will need to top off the iPhone with unbreakable glass. This, too, is technically possible since there is bullet proof glass. I think the final, ultimate iPhone form will be no buttons and no ports and made of unbreakable glass and more advanced metal alloys. Apple will then continue to advance the iPhone on the inside with more advanced components and software.
I look forward to the day this iPhone is in my pocket.