Hardware

Why Apple's new iPhones may delight and worry IT pros

Apple expert Jason Snell offers his take on what the next iPhones' rumored features and changes could mean for business users.

Apple is set to introduce new iPhone models on Tuesday at a special event on its new campus in Cupertino, CA. Leaks suggest that the new iPhones will include a high-end model that's dramatically different from any previous model. But what does that mean for the professionals who rely on the iPhone as a key part of their business life?

SEE: Apple's first employee: The remarkable odyssey of Bill Fernandez (PDF download)

Let's start with the most obvious features of any iPhone upgrade: All the new iPhones will presumably offer new versions of the Apple-designed A series chips, with faster processing and graphics power, as well as improved cameras.

That's always true to some degree, but this year that added power and improved camera feeds into a larger story: In June at its annual developer conference, Apple announced that the new version of iOS, which should arrive in the next few weeks, will feature an augmented-reality framework known as ARKit. With the release of iOS 11, Apple will become the world's largest augmented-reality platform, and every iOS developer will have access to Apple's state-of-the-art frameworks.

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Augmented reality may sound frivolous, but it has tons of real-word uses. Microsoft has spent several of its recent media events showing off its HoloLens augmented-reality system not just as a way to play Minecraft in your living room but as a tool for businesses. The new iPhones will undoubtedly be optimized to run ARKit at a high level; imagine interior designers and contractors instantly previewing changes to someone's home or office space, live, via an AR app. Preview that IKEA desk in your office before you order it.

That top-of-the-line iPhone is rumored to carry a large price tag—$999 or more, just to start. That's a big expense for any businessperson to bear, though Apple has never been the low-price leader on smartphones, and it continues to sell phones and reap the profits. My guess is that with two-year contracts becoming less common in the US as carriers shift to other methods of financing phones, the buying cycle of the average smartphone will lengthen. Perhaps there's a nice space for a high-end phone that costs a bit more, but lasts for three years. An ultra cutting-edge iPhone might take longer to feel outdated.

Another interesting thing about this rumor is that it suggests Apple is broadening its product line even more than before, from the small and low-cost iPhone SE all the way up to this rumored high-end model. More models at more price points gives businesses purchasing flexibility and gives users more options, and that's all good.

A major concern about this new high-end iPhone is the rumor that it will do away with the Touch ID sensor found on recent models and instead use a camera system to verify users via their faces. Obviously your corporate IT director is going to be concerned about the security of that system, but biometric security is such a core part of Apple's strategy—including being the foundation of its Apple Pay system—that it's hard to believe Apple would ship facial ID technology in its flagship device if it weren't just as solid and reliable as Touch ID has been.

My guess is that the new face scanner will prove to be the most secure and accurate ever shipped in a smartphone, if only because Apple has the most to lose if it fails. But if the introduction of Touch ID creeped out some people in your company, you might want to expect the same reception for Face ID (or whatever it's called).

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Finally, there's the rumor that the new high-end model will do away with the home button that's been on the face of every iPhone since the first one was released 10 years ago. If that's the case, Apple will certainly replace that button's functionality with some combination of gestures and haptic feedback. I suspect that this is a direction Apple will go with all of its iOS products in the future—if there's anything Apple's designers love, it's being able to remove a button or port—and some of the interface changes we've already seen in prerelease versions of iOS 11 suggest that Apple is beginning to redefine how it handles launching apps and multitasking.

In the long run I don't think such a change will be a big deal—in fact, you can always argue that reducing the number of moving parts on a device increases product reliability—but any change can lead to short-term productivity drops as people get up to speed. I'd imagine that it won't take long for the user of a new iPhone to adjust to the lack of a proper home button on the front of the screen, but some adaptation will still be necessary.

In any event, we'll know more about where Apple's taking the iPhone product line on Tuesday.

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Image: Apple

About Jason Snell

Jason Snell was the lead editor of Macworld for over a decade and he now runs SixColors.com and The Incomparable podcast.

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