You might want to remain patient before buying your next iPhone.
Sure, the expected unveiling of Apple’s iPhone 11 (if that's what it's called) is still roughly two months away, and all we are going on at this stage are leaks and rumors.
But there are already hints that the 2019 iPhone upgrade cycle will be comparatively modest, if not actually a bit of a bore, with far more significant changes coming in 2020. Most notably, if you’re looking for an iPhone compatible with the blazing-fast 5G networks that carriers have started to roll out, you’ll almost certainly have to wait until next year.
Granted these are the early days of 5G, and Apple has a long history of adopting technologies on its own timetable rather than rushing to be first. But you can’t help but notice all the Android rivals that have already or will be shortly going all in with 5G handsets.
What this all suggests for the iPhone faithful is that waiting may be your best option.
That is unless you are tempted by an Android field that continues to get stronger. I've been very impressed with the OnePlus 7 Pro I took on a recent vacation. It's not a 5G phone either – that comes later – but many people who saw it were intrigued by its lovely screen and design, and the camera is terrific.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Brooklyn's Barclays Center on Aug. 7 when Samsung unveils the Galaxy Note 10, the next versions of its priciest phones, of which there may be one or two 5G variants.
Biggest iPhone changes come in 2020
As for Apple, in a note to clients seen by CNBC, J.P. Morgan analyst Samik Chatterjee speculated that three September 2020 iPhones – no telling what they’ll be called by then either – will have screen sizes of 5.4, 6.1, and 6.7 inches and will include OLED displays and yes, 5G modems. Chatterjee added that at least two of the trio will have “Time of Flight” 3D sensors that promise to step up the quality of augmented and virtual reality games and other custom applications.
Where then does that leave the 2019 phones expected to launch in September? Look for three handsets that will include chip improvements and a bump up in specs, but the writing on the wall suggests these upgrades will be incremental.
Battery life: So, this will likely get at least a little bit better, or so the hope goes, and that's never something to scoff at. (There may be room internally for bigger batteries.)
Cameras: Via a triple camera system on the rear, at least on the most expensive of the new models, if not all three, the optics should also improve. That would give a shooter more flexible wide-angle and zoom options, perhaps. The new iPhone may also let you better capture photos in dim light, something Google's Pixel phones and the aforementioned OnePlus do very well.
Wireless charging: Another expected feature will let you wirelessly charge AirPods or other smartphones by placing them on the back of the new iPhones. Apple is playing catch-up to Samsung and others there as well.
Design: Otherwise, any design changes to the new phones probably won't feel dramatic, with screen sizes likely to match the current iPhone lineup: a 6.5-inch model (as with the iPhone XS Max), a 6.1-inch (like the XR) and a 5.8-inch offering (the XS).
Notch: It remains to be seen whether the notch covering sensors on the front of those current iPhones will be reduced or disappear altogether on the new models.
Cost: A reasonable guess is that prices for the new phones will be similar if not identical to the current iPhone lineup: $749 on up for the XR, $999 for the XS, $1099 for the XS Max.
iOS software: One thing we already know for sure is that the latest iPhones will run iOS 13, the software now available as a public beta. Among the fresh features it brings are a Dark Mode interface, better privacy safeguards and a redesigned Photos app.
Keep in mind, though, that alone is not a reason to upgrade, since iOS 13 is also compatible with iPhones dating as far back as 2015.
It is entirely possible that Apple will pull some surprises and that the summer speculation is just that and proves to be way off base. But if the reading of the tea leaves proves right, iPhone buyers may be smart to learn the meaning of patience.
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