An Edgy iPhone 6 Concept

Last month, in Apple’s Wildcard, I predicted Tim Cook announcing an iPhone 5S rather than an iPhone 6 this fall, pointing to the 3G and 3GS, 4 and 4S models as proof. I did, however, hedge my bets with Tim Cook’s “Can’t innovate, my ass” comment:

“What if Tim Cook just really, really wanted to give all the people who wrote stories about innovation being dead at Apple, all the Apple pundits and haters, and maybe Samsung in particular, a big FU and release another major update to their flagship product just six months after its debut? It’s a long show, I know, but Apple under Tim Cook is a very different Apple than under Steve Jobs, and Tim Cook’s Apple might just do it.”

When I wrote that post, I envisioned the 5S in the same form factor as the 5 but with the characteristic component upgrade, whereas an iPhone 6 would simply feature a more drastic performance bump. Even in my wildest dreams I did not envision something so wonderfully different as the iPhone 6 concept that popped up on the Hacker News front page yesterday evening. Titled iPhone 6. An edgy concept., “JohnnyPlaid” used a number of beautiful 3D renderings to detail some interesting concepts for an iPhone 6, set to hit the market with iOS 8 which, given Apple’s history, would come sometime next fall.

The first and most striking aspect of Johnny’s concept is the edge-to-edge display: forgoing the 5’s left and right borders and slimming the bottom and top swipe areas, his iPhone 6 concept phone looks radically different than its existing predecessor. To call it a complete departure from the iPhone line would not be an inappropriate characterization. Interestingly, as an aside, I do not consider a complete departure such as this one all that unlikely: with iOS 7, Apple may not only hope to overhaul its operating system and associated app ecosystem, but may also use this opportunity to reboot, if you will, the iPhone line, which some believe to have stagnated in recent years.

But back to the screen: Johnny explains that with a battery of touch sensors lining the screen’s sides, the iPhone 6 would possess the ability to differentiate meaningful touches and gestures from those incurred while innocuously gripping the phone. An interesting idea, to be sure, but — like autocorrect — I feel it may prove unpredictable enough to instill within its users an unhealthy distrust.

Another objection to an edge-to-edge screen lies not in its technical implementation, but rather takes issue with the remaining edges: without its side borders, the top and bottom areas look severely out of place, the last vestiges of a bygone era. If Apple does implement an edge-to-edge display, I feel it must extend to every edge, not just the left and right ones. Alternately, Apple could instead abandon the egregiously out of place black borders for a more neutral color and perhaps overcome the unglamorous transition from beautiful retina display to solid black handles.

With an edge-to-edge display, Apple must also deal with yet another problem: the perception of the iPhone 6 as a fragile device. Although the proposed graphene protective coat overlaying the retina display and combination aluminum and carbon unibody design would make the phone essentially shatterproof, thereby effectively destroying the need for a case, holding what boils down to a pane of thin glass backed with a material of unproven durability would introduce another element of uncertainty in the minds of consumers. In return for a striking new design, Apple would call into question the device’s durability and, ultimately, quality as well. Perhaps unfortunately, this is a trade off I do not believe Apple will make. Given the opportunity, I would agree wholeheartedly with this decision.

My final objection to the edge-to-edge display is the increase in resolution from 1136x640 at 326 ppi to 754x1296 at 333 ppi: having just undergone a change in screen resolution from the 4S to the 5, forcing developers to once again refactor their apps to fit a new screen size conveys poor planning and a lack of foresight; it shows instability and lack of a single, concrete vision for the platform. While the inconvenience such a move would cause developers would in no way prevent Apple from changing the iPhone’s screen size once again, I do believe the signals doing so would convey just might.

Next, Johnny introduced “Lightning 2”, a combination of Magsafe — the magnetic charging system Apple uses in its computers — and Lightning — the current interface for communicating with Apple’s latest devices. Although I love the idea of no longer requiring me to skewer my device just to charge it, I don’t consider “Lightning 2” likely: Apple just transitioned from the 30-pin to Lightning connector after almost ten years. If a Magsafe-like adapter for the iPhone was in the works during the iPhone 5’s development, which it undoubtedly would have been as a major design change, Apple would have forgone the switch to Lightning in anticipation of “Lightning 2”’s release; two more years with the traditional dock connector would not have hurt anyone, and would have made the eventual transition even more dramatic.

Finally, Apple’s impending foray in to the vehicle industry also hints at stability in its dock connector design. Notoriously slow to innovate, car manufacturers would undoubtedly require some guarantee of stability in this area before creating an entire line of iDevice-compatible cars.

The Magsafe charger front is not the only area in which I disagree with Johnny, but on his proposal of multi-touch gesture support in the bottom border area of the phone as well. Necessitating the removal of the home button, although the idea seems like a good idea at first it falls on its face through further consideration. Introducing an always-on gesture area, and a customizable one at that, would create great confusion when a swipe gesture worked in one app but not another, or preformed differently from app to app. An interesting concept, but an altogether too problematic one — and that’s putting it lightly.

Unfortunately, I do not know enough about the current iPhone’s components, performance, and power consumption to comment intelligently on the next section of his concept expose, “Performance & Power”. I will, however, say that the proposed tech specs are very impressive and worthy of Apple’s name.

Shaking up both available sizes and associated price tags, Johnny replaces the 16GB model at $199 with the 32GB model at the same price, a price decrease of $100. He also knocks the 64GB device down a tier to $299, and adds two new offerings at 96GB for $399 — previously the 64GB device’s territory — and a 128GB offering at $499. If the iPhone 6 brings with it any changes in this area, it will be the addition of the 128GB model; the 16GB model will remain the cheapest iPhone, and a 96GB model will remain nonexistent, as it always has across all of Apple’s platforms. It follows that the prices will remain constant, with the only change being the addition of the 128GB model at $499.

Wrapping up his concept, Johnny detailed an 8MP Facetime camera capable of 1080p video — up from 1.2 megapixels in the 5 — and a 20.2MP front-facing camera able to record video in 2K resolution, a great leap from the current 8 megapixel camera shooting 1080p video. To my surprise, I found this not all that unlikely.

From the 4S to the 5, Apple did not actually improve upon the camera’s hardware, although many would argue otherwise based on their own qualitative evidence. With the release of the 5S this fall, the iPhone would be due for an update in this area, an update that would likely bridge the gap between the 8MP and 20.2MP front camera and the 1.2MP and 8MP Facetime camera. Halfway there, Apple would then be forced to break the alternating camera update cycle to reach Johnny’s predicted levels with the 6, but it would not be unheard of nor particularly surprising if the company did so. I give this a hesitant thumbs-up.

Tucked away in the penultimate spot, the NeverWet waterproof coating is an interesting idea; however, I feel that Johnny did not take it far enough: if Apple does manufacture a waterproof phone, it will be 100% waterproof, able to take photos and videos underwater. Perhaps we will see this in the 6: with the release of the Galaxy S4, the technology to do it well just might have arrived, which is what Apple notoriously waits for in every aspect of their devices.

Finally, the iPhone family featuring an iPhone 6 and, contrary to the popular rumors floating around the internet these days, a vertically-shrunk iPhone Mini. Without dimensions it is impossible to say for sure, but Johnny’s iPhone Mini appears to be roughly the size of an iPhone 4 and 4S. In my opinion, Johnny went the wrong way: any device segmentation Apple adds to the iPhone line will be in the form of a larger phone, not a smaller one. That said, I find Apple adding a device of another form factor to the iPhone lineup hard to believe.

Johnny laid out a number of interesting points in his article, a truly edgy concept for the iPhone 6. With at least a year until we can determine the accuracy of his prediction, it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty exactly what we will and will not see Tim Cook introduce. Johnny is likely not far from the mark though; edgy or not, his concept very likely reveals a great deal of what we will see in the iPhone 6.