Apple readies iPhone overhaul for smartphone's 10th anniversary

A customer views an Apple Inc. iPhone at a Maxim Store in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 7, 2017.
A customer views an Apple Inc. iPhone at a Maxim Store in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 7, 2017.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SAN FRANCISCO (BLOOMBERG) - Ten years after Steve Jobs held up the original iPhone to a gushing San Francisco crowd, Apple is planning its most extensive iPhone lineup to date.

Apple is preparing three iPhones for launch as soon as this fall, including upgraded versions of the current two iPhone models and a new top-of-the-line handset with an overhauled look, according to people familiar with the matter.

For the redesigned phone, Apple is testing a new type of screen, curved glass and stainless steel materials, and more advanced cameras, the people said. Those anxiously awaiting the redesigned iPhone, however, may have to wait because supply constraints could mean the device isn't readily available until one or two months after the typical fall introduction. 

The iPhone is Apple's most important product, representing about two-thirds of sales. It also leads customers to buy other Apple devices like the iPad and Apple Watch, and serves as a home for lucrative services like the App Store. This year's new iPhone lineup comes at a critical time. 

Last year, Apple broke its typical upgrade cycle by retaining the same iPhone shape for a third year in a row and endured a rare sales slide. Samsung Electronics' new S8 lineup has also been thus far well received after last year's Note 7 battery debacle. 

For the premium model, Apple is testing a screen that covers almost the entire front of the device, according to people familiar with the matter. That results in a display slightly larger than that of the iPhone 7 Plus but an overall size closer to the iPhone 7, the people said. Apple is also aiming to reduce the overall size of the handset by integrating the home button into the screen itself via software in a similar manner to Samsung's S8, the people said.

The overhauled iPhone will use an organic light-emitting diode display that more accurately shows colors, while the other two phones will continue to use liquid crystal display technology and come in the same 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screen sizes as last year's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple's iPhone feature and design plans are still in flux and can change, they added.

The people asked not to be identified discussing Apple's private testing and design plans.  For its redesigned phone, Apple has tested multiple prototypes with manufacturing partners in Asia, including some versions that use curved glass and stainless steel, according to one of the people. 

One of the latest prototype designs includes symmetrical, slightly curved glass on the front and the back. The curves are similar in shape to those on the front of the iPhone 7. The new OLED screen itself is flat, while the cover glass curves into a steel frame. The design is similar conceptually to the iPhone 4 from 2010. An earlier prototype design had a thinner steel band, leaving more noticeable curved glass on the sides. 

Apple also tested a more ambitious prototype with the same slightly curved front and steel frame, but a glass back with more dramatic curves on the top and bottom like the original iPhone design from 2007, one of the people said.