In terms of the overall design of the iPhone, not much has actually changed in the past five years. Sure, Apple has removed the bezels and home button from the front in favour of a camera notch that was once controversial but has since become the norm on smartphones after it was copied by everyone else, and there’s no arguing that the triple-lens camera on the iPhone 11 Pro is a big deal, but the overall design of the iPhone’s body has remained basically the same since the iPhone 6 was debuted back in 2014, with only the materials changing slightly from year to year.
So with Apple already expected to make some big changes in its 2020 iPhone lineup, with next year’s iPhones offering everything from 5G support to entirely new sizes, it’s probably not surprising to hear that Apple is also considering a more significant design change than just swapping between matte and glossy glass finishes.
What’s perhaps more surprising, though, is the latest rumour that Apple may be going back to revisit an older design language — that of the iPhone 4.
A Metal Frame
According to respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a proven track record of being right more often than not, Apple will change up its flagship iPhone “significantly” next year. In a research note seen by MacRumors, Kuo says that the new devices will feature a new metal frame with a “more complex segmentation design” that’s similar to the iPhone 4.
We predict that the new 2H20 iPhone design will change significantly […] The metal frame and the front and rear 2/2.5D glass are still used, but the metal frame surface will be changed to a similar design to the iPhone 4, replacing the current surface design.Ming-Chi Kuo, analyst, TF International Securities
The iPhone 4 was arguably the most elegant and “museum-piece” iPhone design that Apple has ever produced, with two panes of strengthened glass sandwiching an exposed, square-edged aluminum frame in between them. It was a classic Jony Ive design that had never been attempted in any smartphone before it, and while the iPhone 5 retained an aesthetic that was very similar, by the time Apple released the iPhone 6 it had abandoned this design in favour of a thinner enclosure that emphasized curves over corners.
In what may now be seen as an indication of things to come, however, Apple did return to this more squarish design with last year’s first Face ID equipped iPad Pro, which have gone back to a metal band around the edges that reminded us of the classic iPhone 4 design as soon as we saw it.
‘A Major Selling Point’
Kuo goes on to note that he believes this new design will be “a major selling point” for next year’s iPhone lineup, and we can see how a significant change like this would help to set the 2020 iPhone apart as something radically different from what has come before, appeasing many who feel that Apple’s iPhone lineup has gotten a bit stale in recent years.
However, according to Kuo, there are practical reasons for the change as well. He believes that the grooving and injecting of the metal frame will improve transmission efficiency for the internal antenna by removing the impediments of metal shielding. This will likely be important for producing a high-performance 5G iPhone. Kuo also believes that Apple is likely to use sapphire or tempered glass to cover the structure.
Kuo notes that this is likely to increase Apple’s costs for the metal frame and glass casing, although he also expects that the new design, combined with other major features like 5G support, will push Apple’s smartphone shipments up to 85 million units in 2020, compared with the 75 million shipments that have been projected for this year’s iPhone 11 lineup.