iPhone 7 Release May Shake Up Apple's Upgrade Cycle

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The iPhone 7 will closely resemble the iPhone 6s, as Apple pushes major changes to its core product out to 2017, breaking the company's traditional two-year upgrade cycle, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Apple is prepared to rock the iPhone boat in a way that might send fans of the company's smartphone overboard. Rather than offer a completely fresh design for the iPhone 7 -- something the company is known to do every other year -- Apple will instead keep the design almost entirely the same and make only small alterations to the device.

The new iPhones on deck for release this fall will maintain the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens that have been part of the iPhone's design since 2014. The most significant change will impact the headphone jack, according to sources cited by The Wall Street Journal. Apple plans to remove the jack and rely on the Lightning port for audio-out, charging, and data-transfer activities. Losing the headphone jack will also help Apple make the iPhone 7 thinner and more resistant to water damage, claim the Journal's sources.

Apple is reportedly reserving big changes for the 2017 iPhone to mark the 10th anniversary of the original device. That device might feature an OLED screen that runs edge-to-edge and will include the fingerprint sensor, allowing Apple to (finally!) get rid of the home button.

Apple didn't comment on the Journal's report.

The shift in strategy here will surely be disappointing to some. Apple has released devices on a tick-tock schedule for years, with major design changes coming in even-numbered years, and minor improvements following in odd-numbered years.

For example, the 2008 iPhone 3G and 2009 iPhone 3GS were identical in appearance, as were the 2010 iPhone 4 and 2011 iPhone 4s, the 2012 iPhone 5 and 2013 iPhone 5s, and the 2014 iPhone 6 and 2015 iPhone 6s. The S variants typically improved internal specs, such as cellular radios, processors, and camera sensors.

Many believed (hoped?) the iPhone 7 would see a new design from Apple, but that may not be the case. Instead, the iPhone 7 may "feature" things no one wants.

For example, losing the headphone jack in favor of the Lightning port for audio out. We can debate the need for progress until we're blue in the face, but the fact remains that the 3.5mm headphone jack is a universal standard around the globe and has been for decades. Getting rid of it will automatically make the iPhone 7 incompatible with every pair of headphones on earth. (No, I don't want to use an adapter or dongle.)

Moreover, the reason behind it doesn't make a lot of sense. Sure, it will free up internal space and can help make the phone thinner, but The Journal's argument that it will help improve water resistance is silly. Just ask Samsung. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge handsets each have a headphone jack, and they're both extremely thin and waterproof. I don't think anyone is asking for a thinner iPhone -- especially if that comes at the expense of battery life.

[Anticipation still runs high for the device. Read: iPhone 7 Generating More Excitement Than iPhone 6s.]

The Journal goes on to cite a number of analysts who more or less concur with its sources, including KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who says he believes the iPhone 7 will be 1mm thinner than the current models.

However, the timing of The Journal's report is curious. It feels like someone (Apple?) is attempting to temper expectations for what's ahead.

Apple reported its first-ever decline in iPhone shipments earlier this year. If the iPhone 7 arrives with the changes outlined in recent reports, it may not fare as well as Apple hopes or needs it to.

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