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TECH | Everything we know about the low-cost, 6.1-inch ‘iPhone 9’

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As surely as the leaves will turn color, Apple will announce new iPhones this fall. Based on the flood of rumors and purported leaks hitting the internet daily, we’re expecting three new iPhones.

The 5.8-inch iPhone X will probably get a refresh of the internals with faster performance. And all signs suggest Apple will introduce a larger version, the “iPhone X Plus,” with a 6.5-inch OLED screen.

But the breakout hit might not be either of these premium devices, but a new entry-leveliPhone with a 6.1-inch screen.

There’s no disputing the iPhone X is Apple’s best smartphone to date. From the edge-to-edge OLED display to Face ID to wireless charging to best-in-class performance, the iPhone X is forward-facing in more ways than one.

These innovations come with a literal high cost: The iPhone X starts at $1,000, which is more than most people are willing to pay.

But fear not — it’s looking like Apple will bring many of these features to the next entry-level iPhone, which is rumored to cost about the same as the current iPhone 8 or 8 Plus.

September is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to start reading the tea leaves. Here’s why the new cheap iPhone could be more attractive than the iPhone X and iPhone X Plus.

Will it be called the iPhone 9?

First things first, what will the entry-level iPhone be called? Apple made a mess of the iPhone names by simultaneously debuting the iPhones 8, 8 Plus, and X (you read it like a roman numeral, so you say it like “10”).

If Apple were to follow previous naming conventions, this year’s entry-level will be dubbed the “iPhone 9,” and, for simplicity’s sake, let’s just call the 2019 iPhone X the “iPhone X2.” So that makes the three iPhones: iPhone 9, iPhone X2, and iPhone X2 Plus.

But we think it’d be better if Apple simply called it iPhone. The lineup would then look like this: iPhone, iPhone X2, and iPhone X2 Plus.

Apple stopped appending numbers to its entry-level 9.7-inch iPad years ago. It could — and should — do the same for iPhone.

Price and release date

That’s as good a guess as anyone’s. But since this iPhone will be the new entry-level model, it should come in at a few hundred dollars less than the iPhone X2.

The well-connected (and usually eerily accurate) analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, now of TF International Securities, predicts the phone could cost between $600-700.

We’re not doubting Kuo’s own supply chain checks and predictions, but that seems unusually low compared to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, which start at $700 and $800, respectively.

Kuo’s price prediction is based on his belief Apple will reduce the iPhone X2 to $800-900 to make room for the Plus version to be priced at $900-1,000.

A lower price would no doubt make the new entry-level iPhone more affordable for many users who’ve yet to upgrade from their old devices. It could also help kickstart a new “super cycle,” giving Apple a new boost to declining iPhone sales.

Assuming there aren’t any production snags, the new iPhone is expected to launch in September along with the other two new models. Last year, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus launched in late September and the iPhone X in early November. This year they could all arrive at the same time.

Glass and aluminum design

The iPhone X is a glass-and-metal sandwich made of a stainless steel frame and strengthened glass back.

For the entry-level iPhone, Apple is rumored to be using lighter (and cheaper) aluminum for the frame. The back will remain glass, though, to support wireless charging.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are made of the same materials. Apple could use even stronger aluminum and glass for the new iPhone.

Different materials aside, the new entry-level iPhone should look very similar to the iPhone X, at least from the front. The differences, however, could be in the details. 

The above video is a concept rendering of what the new iPhone might look like based on alleged schematics.

New colors like blue and orange

Space gray, silver, gold, rose gold… nothing against these colors, but they’re kind of boring. Apple gave the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus a splash of color with the Product(Red) version, and it might get even more colorful for this year’s new baby model.

Word on the street is this iPhone could get come in “grey, white, blue, red, and orange.” The last time an iPhone came in blue or orange-like color was the iPhone 5C.

These colors wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Apple. The company’s released many an iPod in blue and orange before.

It’ll probably have a notch

The notch is here to stay.

If you were hoping for Apple to get rid of the notch, you’re going to be disappointed because it’s likely here to stay… for a very long time.

The entry-level iPhone will likely have the same TrueDepth camera system as the one on the iPhone X. That means, the phone will support Face ID (essential for features like Apple Pay and Animoji and Memoji).

Though many leaks have claimed the notch could shrink, we’re calling BS. These supposedly leaked display panels were most likely ones for Android-powered knockoffs. All of the components within the TrueDepth Camera — the infrared camera, flood illuminator, dot projector, selfie camera, proximity sensors, etc. — are necessary for Face ID and Animoji. It’s unlikely Apple would cut any of these parts.

6.1-inch screen, LCD, and thicker bezels?

The biggest difference between the entry-level iPhone and the iPhone X2/X2 Plus will be the screen.

With the iPhone X, Apple moved to an OLED display, which has the benefit of being thinner, brighter, and more energy efficient. OLED is also capable of displaying deeper blacks and more vibrant colors.

On the new entry-level iPhone, the screen will reportedly be LCD, which is the same display technology used in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. LCD isn’t bad — Apple’s always been really good at tuning its Retina displays better than others — but it isn’t quite as nice as OLED.

With LCD, there’s also the possibility the entry-level iPhone won’t be able to truly display HDR content like on iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Currently, the iPhone X is Apple’s only phone capable of displaying HDR content.

The cheaper iPhone is also expected to have a larger 6.1-inch diagonal size compared to the 5.8-inch iPhone X2 and 6.5 inches expected from the iPhone X2 Plus. It’s weird an iPhone with a larger display could cost less than one with a smaller one, but people really want bigger screens.

A report from DigiTimes also suggests the entry-level iPhone could have slightly thicker bezels around the display — the difference wouldn’t be very noticeable compared to the iPhone X, though.

Single rear camera

It’s a sure bet the new iPhone will have some kind of improvements to its cameras, just don’t count on there being two on the back.

The latest rumors suggest the entry-level iPhone will only have a single rear camera, likely the same 12-megapixel shooter with f/1.8 aperture as on the iPhone 8.

The new cheap iPhone will probably have one camera on the back like on this iPhone 8.

Without dual cameras on the rear, the new iPhone won’t support Portrait mode or be able to shoot photos at 2X optical zoom. That’d be a bummer, but not the end of the world. Not everyone needs the secondary camera. If you want the dual cameras, you’ll have to step up to the iPhone X2 or iPhone X2 Plus.

We haven’t heard anything about the selfie camera. It could stay the same as the 7-megapixel one on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

No 3D Touch?

Will anyone even miss 3D touch?

Another way Apple might cut corners on the new iPhone: remove 3D Touch. Since the iPhone 6S, every iPhone has come with a pressure-sensitive screen.

Apple touted the extra touch dimension as a way to add more controls to a pane of glass. Unfortunately, most people disagree, or at least don’t see the usefulness. Either most people don’t use 3D Touch or aren’t even aware of the feature.

One of the biggest problems with 3D Touch is that it’s impossible to know which buttons support it. Few developers have found purpose for the pressured-press with most simply programming it as a “right click” to open a menu — a pointless feature since the same can usually be done with a long press.

With little support for it, Apple could get rid of 3D Touch and few people would even shed a tear.

Faster performance powered by A12

You can always count on new iPhones to offer faster performance. How much faster, however, is the big question.

The iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X all share the same A11 Bionic chip. Logically, this year’s new iPhones should come with an “A12” chip.

Geekbench benchmark recently surfaced potentially revealing the A12 will be about 10 percent faster than the A11. Take this benchmark with a grain of salt, though. These scores can always be faked and it’s possible this alleged A12 chip could be something like an “A11X,” designed specifically for the low-end iPhone.

Cheaper might be better

Apple’s tried the whole cheaper iPhone before — iPhone 5C, anyone? — but it might have been too cheap. It was basically an iPhone 5 fitted with a new plastic shell. It wasn’t well-received.

The new 6.1-inch iPhone won’t be inexpensive, but compared to the iPhone X2 and X2 Plus, it’ll be more affordable.

Many analysts are predicting the iPhone will be a much bigger hit primarily because of price. Some are even saying Apple’s anticipating higher demand for this model than the iPhone X2 and X2 Plus and as a result is increasing production for it.

If this 6.1-inch iPhone ends up becoming the most popular, it wouldn’t be the first time a more affordable model sells better than its more premium versions.

Just look at the Apple Watch. Even though the stainless steel versions are nicer and more watch-like, the Sport version appears to be the most popular. (Apple has never broken down which models have sold better, but anecdotally, we’ve seen more people wearing the Sport version. That, and Apple’s website shows more Sport models than any other version.)

So maybe friendly pricing is important, after all.

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