Question: How many new iPhone models does Apple release each year? It used to be one, then two when Apple launched the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Well now in 2016 it is going to be four…
Looking to consolidate his reputation as “the best Apple analyst on the planet”, KGI Securities’ Ming-Chi Kuo is at it again. In a research note obtained by MacRumors Kuo has reaffirmed that Apple will indeed release three models of the iPhone 7 this year in addition to the imminent 4-inch ‘iPhone SE’.
Consequently the three iPhone 7 models will be the 4.7-inch iPhone 7, 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus and a new and even more premium model based around (already huge) Plus which some are dubbing the ‘iPhone 7 Pro’. What’s the difference between the Pro (I’ll go with the name for now) and the Plus? A groundbreaking camera.
In fact, I should say groundbreaking ‘cameras’ because Kuo says the iPhone 7 Pro will use a dual-lens camera system created by LinX, an imaging specialist Apple purchased in 2015.
My fellow Forbes’ contributor Paul Monckton has already broken down LinX technology in detail, but the short version is it promises huge steps forward in speed and low light shots as well as the ability to incorporate a 2-3x optical zoom. The latter is potentially a major differentiator for Apple given the opportunity to build on the success of its ‘Shot on iPhone’ marketing campaign.
Kuo says LinX dual-lens technology also allows the camera module to be very thin so the iPhone 7 Pro may eliminate the range’s infamous camera bulge.
But why would Apple consider fragmenting its iPhone range just to put a better camera into a third iPhone 7 model? Why not equip all iPhone 7 models with the technology or, if it must be split, offer it in the Plus and not the standard iPhone 7? After all there’s a precedent there. The iPhone 6 and 6S already lag behind the iPhone 6/6S Plus cameras due to their lack of optical image stabilisation (OIS).
Kuo states the reason for making the third model simply comes down to supply constraints. Apple can’t produce the LinX camera modules in enough quantity so it will create a third smartphone just to get the technology to the market in more limited quantities.
And it is this last detail which, for me, raises questions.
Some may think a third super premium iPhone 7 is a great idea which allows Apple to cash in, but personally I think fragmenting the iPhone line is a bad idea and something Apple should avoid at all costs. With the iPhone SE, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus (and potentially ongoing sales of the iPhone 5S) there’s already enough variety and an iPhone 7 Pro would only serve to confuse customers.
So why is Apple doing it? It must think either a) LinX technology is so impressive customers need to see it and be blown away, or b) it will cover for limitations in Apple’s standard camera technology which fell behind Samsung’s Galaxy S6, especially as the gap is about to widen further with the Galaxy S7.
If it is the latter and Apple already knows its high volume, more conventional camera technology in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus can’t match the Galaxy S7 then perhaps Apple feels it needs a limited edition flagship which can match or even surpasses Samsung’s efforts and become the posterchild for marketing.
Of course the other angle is Kuo is simply wrong. But given over the last 18 months he broke news of the radical 12-inch MacBook, iPad Pro (including launch), the shift to 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screen sizes with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and nailed every major feature of the iPhone 6S four months ahead of its launch this seems unlikely.
As such I’ll be monitoring this very closely indeed…