iPhone Next: How iPhone 7 hints at next year's breakthrough

Go ahead. Yawn at the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

Or dig a little deeper, and maybe you'll perk up at some tantalizing clues to the future of the iPhone.

You see, there may be more to Apple's latest phone than just a carbon copy of the iPhone 6 and 6S with a few ho-hum upgrades. Let's look first to the past for some insights.

The introduction of the original iPhone in 2007 and the App Store the following year marked dramatic leaps forward in the world of mobile devices. Apple really hasn't had breakthrough moments like that since then. Its track record over the last few years shows a slow amassing of features over several generations that contribute to something bigger down the line.

Just look at Passbook, a minor app introduced in 2012, and the TouchID fingerprint reader introduced in the iPhone 5S a year later. Apple used those two elements to power its Apple Pay payment system, introduced in the subsequent iPhone 6. Siri, the digital voice assistant unveiled in 2011, is just starting to show her true potential as she works with HomeKit and an increasing array of apps.

If history repeats itself, the new elements of the iPhone 7 -- the new static "button," the dual-lens camera on the 7 Plus and, yes, even the move away from the headphone jack -- may prove to be the foundation for some bigger changes ahead for next year's iPhone. If you're not happy with this year's edition, Apple's big 10th anniversary iPhone could be where the company pulls out all the stops.

So sit back as we attempt to read the tea leaves left to us by the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Apple declined to comment for this story.

A totally wireless iPhone?

No headphone jack? What about no wires at all?

One of the big points that Phil Schiller, Apple's marketing chief, tried to convey to audiences at the iPhone 7 launch event last week was the push toward a greater number of wireless experiences.

"Up till now, no one has taken on the challenge of fixing the things that are difficult to do in your wireless experiences," Schiller said onstage. "It makes no sense to tether ourselves to our mobile devices."

Though Schiller was talking about the wireless AirPod earphones, that comment could be taken as a mission statement of sorts for the entire device. Between the AirPods and the removal of the headphone jack, Apple is forcing your hand to give up on wired headphones -- or at least consider it.

That may be just the beginning. Next year's iPhone could do away with the last physical wire: the Lightning cable needed for charging. Yes, Apple may finally embrace wireless charging, a feature found on other marquee devices, like Samsung's Galaxy S7.

"All the talk about wireless at the event definitely signals a future intent to move to wireless charging," said Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research.

The Apple Watch already uses a form of wireless charging. And the Qi standard, embraced by the likes of Samsung, already drives wireless charging stations in thousands of public spaces and 50 models of cars. Those stations are just waiting for an iPhone.

Better Bluetooth

Bluetooth 5, meanwhile, promises to quadruple the range and double the speed of existing Bluetooth technology. It may be the answer to those skeptics who still shun wireless headphones. With Bluetooth 5, those headphones should work more reliably.

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