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Who Knows What the Next iPhones Will Look Like?

Who Knows What the Next iPhones Will Look Like?

Photograph by Stella/fstop/Corbis

Rumors are circulating that Apple (AAPL) is working on some new iPhones, including ones with larger displays and cheaper, more colorful bodies.

Might Apple be exploring these products? Absolutely. Does that mean they will necessarily come to market? Who knows. Let’s go back to that oft-used (because it’s good) quote from filmmaker William Goldman about Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything.”

Apple is indeed one of the most secretive companies out there. And it’s also true that as the company has become bigger, it has become harder for Apple to maintain quite the level of secrecy it would prefer. When your supply chain stretches ever longer, there are more opportunities for contractors and partners to leak information about the product in question.

Doesn’t mean they’re always right, though. Take the case of the rumors surrounding the iPhone 5 last year. More than a few prominent tech sites speculated that Apple’s latest smartphone would feature a radical new design, based on information leaked by accessories manufacturers who had to have cases ready for the new device. Renderings were displayed; specs were cited.

They were entirely wrong. The iPhone 5 didn’t look at all like what some of the speculation suggested.

In the case of new iPhones having larger screens and cheaper components, it’s important to look closely at the words being used by the latest report. Apple is “considering,” “looking at,” “exploring” these possible options. I have absolutely no doubt that they are. I bet they’re considering far more than that. Apple’s prototyping efforts, I imagine, are similar to Prince’s studio recordings: There’s a vault of material we will never see.

“Apple develops product on a multiyear cycle,” says analyst Horace Dediu of Asymco. “To mitigate the market changes, they’ll plan four or five products in five years. They can’t do it in advance, so they do it in parallel. The iPad mini was brewing around, and they decided to launch it. A mini iPhone, a cheaper iPhone, would be a similar decision.”

Exploring something—even putting a group of people on it and crafting some prototypes—is a far cry from approving it for production and bringing it to market. How will we know when Apple’s decided? Simple: They’ll say so.

Grobart is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and the managing editor of Bloomberg Digital Video. Follow him on Twitter @samgrobart.

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