This column, originally published on Sept. 8, has been updated to mention a recent code leak indicating Apple's next flagship iPhone will be called the iPhone X, along with a KGI Securities report discussing iPhone X production constraints.
As much as Tim Cook has talked about stepping up Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) efforts to plug product leaks, the rumor mill has arguably provided us with even more useful info about the iPhone X than it did about the well-reported iPhone 7 prior to its launch. It has also signaled that Apple will be unveiling a 4G-capable Apple Watch and 4K-capable Apple TV set-top at its September 12th iPhone event.
But there are still a lot of important details that the rumor mill has at best partly fleshed out. Here are some of the ones to keep an eye on:
1. Exactly how Apple prices the new phones
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have each reported Apple's next-gen flagship phone -- code found within leaked iOS 11 firmware indicates it will be called the iPhone X, with two cheaper models called the iPhone 8 and 8-Plus -- will feature a starting price around $1,000. But it isn't known whether Apple will continue its habit of supporting three storage tiers, with an extra $100 and $200, respectively, charged for iPhones at the higher-capacity tiers.
For the iPhone 7 and 7-Plus, those tiers are 32GB, 128GB and 256GB. Given its high starting price, it wouldn't be surprising to see Apple only sell 128GB and 256GB iPhone X models, or perhaps 256GB and 512GB models, if it's feeling generous. It's also possible that Apple could take a page from its Apple Watch strategy and provide status symbol-cravers a "limited edition" iPhone X featuring premium materials and a $1,500 or higher price.
For the iPhone 8 and 8-Plus, odds are that Apple will stick with or stay close to the $649 and $769 respective starting prices sported by their predecessors. But with the company able to upsell consumers on the iPhone X, it could make sense to switch to two storage tiers here as well.
2. What the iPhone X is bundled with
The iPhone X's expected steep pricing has fueled speculation that Apple will bundle something of value with them. This would be much like how Samsung is giving customers who pre-order its $900-plus Galaxy Note 8 a choice of either a Gear 360 camera or a "foundation kit" featuring a 128GB memory card and a wireless charging pad.
With the iPhone X and 8 both rumored to support wireless charging, a charging pad definitely sounds plausible. Other possibilities include a year or two of Apple Music or Apple's increasingly popular AirPods.
More of What's Trending on TheStreet:
- Carly Fiorina on Not Running for Senate, Cryptocurrency and the Opioid Epidemic
- Bitcoin Blocked in China: ICO Ban Has Ripple Effect on Cryptocurrency Businesses
- Hurricane Irma Will Make Orange Juice Unaffordable and Destroy Your Grocery Bill
- This Is How I Protected My Money While Living Through Epic Hurricanes
Follow @TheStreet on Twitter for updated storm coverage as Hurricane Irma moves the market:
- Hurricane Cleanup Could Make These Stocks Stealthy Winners, Analysts Say
- Hurricane Irma Slows to Category 4, But NHC Warns Storm 'Extremely Dangerous'
- 6 Best Ways to Avoid Financial Ruin During This Vicious Hurricane Season
- Hurricane Irma Will Make Orange Juice Unaffordable and Destroy Your Grocery Bill
- Hurricane Irma and The Waffle House Index: Why It Has Amazing Predictive Powers
- Hurricane Irma Highlights the Dangers and Costs of Infrastructure Damag
3. What the iPhone X's reported 3D depth-sensing modules will enable
The depth-sensing modules reportedly integrated with the iPhone X's front and rear cameras -- they rely on lasers shipped by Lumentum Holdings Inc. (LITE) , Finisar Corp. (FNSR) and II-VI Inc. (IIVI) -- have been widely rumored to enable augmented reality features, along with more accurate autofocus and face-unlocking feature for the front camera. But details have been vague about what kind of AR apps the modules will enable.
One possibility -- driven home by what Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) is promising for the depth-sensing tech it plans to bake into Snapdragon processors meant for future Android phones -- is that the iPhone X's cameras will be able to create 3D scans of faces and objects that can later be used by apps supporting Apple's new ARKit augmented reality platform. But for now, that's just speculation.
4. Which high-profile developers will announce ARKit and Core ML apps
Since Apple first unveiled ARKit at its June WWDC conference, developers have been gushing about what the kinds of user experiences the platform -- supported on iOS 11 by iPhones and iPads running the iPhone 6S' A9 processor or something better -- can enable. And we've seen some very promising demos from the likes of Ikea, The Food Network, AMC and game developer Climax Studios.
But larger developers of commerce, gaming, entertainment and social apps have mostly kept their ARKit-related work under wraps. That should start to change on Sept. 12, given Apple's habit of using product launch events to show off how major developers have been taking advantage of new features.
It's also possible that some major developers will show off their use of Apple's recently-announced Core ML platform (also a part of iOS 11) for running AI/machine learning models on iOS devices.
5. How the iPhone X's OLED display will stand out
Apple has long put a lot of work into optimizing the displays it uses, and hopes are certainly running high that the iPhone X's curved OLED display will yield big improvements relative to the LCDs used by the iPhone 7 and 7-Plus. The OLEDs used by high-end Samsung (SSNLF) phones generally get high marks for their brightness, color saturation, contrast and viewing angles, thanks to both Samsung's engineering and the technical advantages OLEDs claim relative to LCDs.
Can the iPhone X's display, which relies on Samsung OLED panels, surpass those used by the Galaxy S8 and Note 8? One way for Apple to differentiate would be to bring the ProMotion and True Tone display technologies supported by newer (LCD-based) iPad Pro models to the iPhone X. ProMotion supports a fast 120-hertz refresh rate and automatically adjusts the refresh rate to match an app's needs; True Tone adjusts a display's white balance to match an environment's lighting.
6. How good the Apple Watch 3's battery life will be -- especially when its 4G modem is used
Apple Watch sales have improved noticeably in recent quarters (even the Boston Red Sox are fans), and the arrival of a 4G-capable Watch should provide a fresh boost by making the Watch more useful in situations where it's impossible or at least inconvenient to keep an iPhone on hand. But battery life is still a major hangup for many consumers: Apple promises "up to 18 hours" of battery life under normal use, which still makes it tough to leave it on overnight for sleep-tracking in the absence of a mid-day charge.
The third-gen Watch will reportedly offer improved battery life, but just how much remains unknown. It's also unknown just how much using the Watch's 4G modem (reportedly from Intel Corp. (INTC) ) will drain its battery. If it's willing to accept a 1 Mbps peak download speed, Apple could keep the modem's power draw down by using the low-power LTE-M standard.
7. What initial iPhone X supplies will be like
Apple typically starts delivering its latest iPhones on the second Friday after a launch event. This time around, that would mean Sept. 22. However, reports still indicate early supply shortages are a strong possibility.
On Sept. 11, KGI Securities' Ming-Chi Kuo estimated the current iPhone X production rate amounts to less than 10,000 units per day, a level that would spell massive near-term shortages. However, it should be noted that other production estimates aren't quite as harsh. Last week, BlueFin Research estimated 5 million iPhone X units would be produced in the September quarter, and 46 million in the December quarter. And the WSJ reported production is ramping following glitches seen "early in the manufacturing process."
Should Apple expect major iPhone X shortages, it might provide a comment or two about "limited supplies" at its event. But once pre-orders begin (they typically start within a couple of days of the event), investors and would-be buyers should be able to get a better read by checking iPhone shipping times on Apple's site and those of carrier partners.