Apple’s standard retail lineup includes the three most recent iPhone models. At the moment, the portfolio extends from the relatively new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus to 2014’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus to the iPhone 5S, introduced back in 2013. In the run-up to the most recent launch this fall, there was much speculation as to the fate of Apple’s iPhone 5C; would the company refresh or banish it? Alas, that model — essentially a plastic 2013 remake of the 2012 iPhone 5 — it was officially put out to pasture, leaving the 5S to occupy the entry-level slot.
Given the popularity of the 4-inch form factor, it’s quite likely that Apple will introduce a replacement for the aging iPhone 5S — at some point. Of course, with the 6S nomenclature already taken, the company will have to adopt an alternative coinage. Currently, the leading candidate seems to be the iPhone 6C, though the iPhone Mini, iPhone 5e, and, most recently, iPhone 5SE have also been bandied about; according to 9to5mac.com, the SE could signify “special edition” or an “enhanced” version of the current 5S model.
In the absence of any hard facts from Cupertino, however, the Internet will continue to feed the vacuum of information with all manner of speculation and hearsay, credible and otherwise. We present here a curated collection of the latest rumors, leaks, and dubious pronouncements made by anonymous supply chain sources about the next generation of the 4-inch iPhone.
Editors’ note: This story was originally posted on December 16, 2015 and last updated on January 31, 2016.
Announcement and release dates
The issue of timing is hotly contested at the moment. Apple usually introduces its new iPhones in the fall; announced on September 9, the 6S and 6S Plus first appeared in stores on September 25, 2015. The next major update — expected to be the launch of the iPhone 7 — is likely to come as kids head back to school in 2016.
An entry-level product like the iPhone 6C could ostensibly come sooner, however. Many sources are reporting that Apple is planning a product introduction for March 2016; a recent report from MyDrivers (via Gadgetz Arena) citing details revealed at a China Mobile event further corroborates this timing.
Given that such an introduction would coincide the Apple Watch’s first birthday, it’s highly likely that such an event would be focused on its successor. And yet it’s plausible that the iPhone 6C could also arrive then, with a retail launch following just days later. Mark Gurman, who has developed a good track record of predictions for 9to5mac.com, has been steadfast on the March debut.
That noted, Apple Insider reports that veteran Apple tea-leaf reader Gene Munster has suggested that the iPhone 6C would actually be introduced alongside the iPhone 7 next September. (Would it then be called “iPhone 7C”? That’s anybody’s guess.)
Sources report that Cupertino has already developed a number of iPhone 7 prototypes, and Ming-Chi Kuo, a prominent Apple analyst who works the supply chain for hints and clues, has predicted that the company will indeed bring out a new 4-inch model. From a design perspective, it remains unknown whether the iPhone 6C will follow in the footsteps of the aluminum iPhone 5S or the candy-colored polycarbonate iPhone 5C.
In the tradition of Apple’s brightly colored iPods of old, the 5C certainly provided a very different aesthetic palette from its immediate metallic predecessors and successors. And given that the current portfolio sticks to a pretty basic range of colors — silver, space gray, gold, and rose gold — the playful rainbow of the 5C would be a welcome option.
One particularly interesting rumor posits that future iPhones may do without a physical home button, leaning on the pressure-sensitive 3D Touch screen and hands-free functionality of Siri instead. Certainly, a buttonless iPhone would be a natural move for a company with such a strong preference for clean lines and simple design. It would also allow the large top and bottom bezels to shrink, effectively allowing Apple to squeeze a larger screen into the same size body. But such a radical redesign would almost certainly be reserved for the iPhone 7, not the stepdown, entry-level that the 6C would be. Likewise, the added cost and weight that 3D Touch would require seem far beyond the purview of 6C.
So far, the consensus is that the iPhone 6C will be aesthetically similar to the 5S, but with some of the newer components and software flourishes from the newer models.
There is a particularly durable rumor about a sapphire display, which would offer a higher degree of scratch and shatter-resistance than the current models’ Gorilla Glass. In fact, the higher-end Apple Watch models have sapphire displays — as well as OLED technology that provides best-in-class black levels, contrast, and colors on a growing assortment of smartphones (including the Samsung Galaxy S6).
Forbes (and others) have reported that the iPhone 6C may have a “2.5D” display, with curved edges, that improves the tactile sensitivity of finger swipes, similar to that found on the iPhone 6 and 6S. Apple uses LED backlit LCD technology for the current iPhones’ Retina displays, and there has been speculation that Apple will eventually switch to OLED displays, but not until 2018.
So, again, this upgrade would most likely debut on whatever model succeeds the iPhone 7 — and almost certainly not on the iPhone 6C.
Under the hood
If we assume that the 6C will become Apple’s new entry-level model, we wouldn’t expect to see the latest and greatest specs on this model. That noted, it’s possible that Apple could move from the 2013-era A7 chip found in the iPhone 5S, and use the same A8 chip from the more recent iPhone 6/6 Plus; if true, don’t expect Live Photos, which are dependent on the newer A9 processor.
Multiple sources, including analyst Kuo, however, have suggested that the iPhone 6C could come equipped with an A9 processor. Such an upgrade, coupled with 2GM of RAM (the content of yet another rumor), would put the iPhone 6C on equal performance footing with the iPhone 6S. Sources embedded within the Asian supply chain have also predicted that the iPhone 6C will have a 1,642 mAh battery, which is slightly larger than the 1,570 mAh model featured in the iPhone 5S.
At a minimum, it would make sense for Apple to bring the 6C into line with the rest of the iPhone line with the addition of Apple Pay. That will require the addition of NFC, which wasn’t included in the iPhone 5S.
On the camera side, don’t expect cutting-edge. That means the 6C will likely stick with the same 8-megapixel model from the iPhone 6/6 Plus, and will almost certainly forego the optical image stabilization found in the top-end iPhone 6S Plus. According to 9to5mac.com, it will feature the popular Live Photo feature, first found on the iPhone 6S series.
For storage capacity, expectations should likewise be kept in check. The 5S is currently available in 16GB and 32GB capacities; expect the same for the 6C.
The newest iPhone have excellent 4G LTE coverage that work with a wide range of wireless carriers around the world. If Apple wants to target this phone as widely as possible, it would make sense for the company to use that same sort of one-size-fits-all approach for the 6C’s wireless capabilities as well.
This is the big one.
For years, analysts have been calling for a more affordable iPhone — often without realizing that it was in front of them all the time. Apple has dropped its 2-year-old model to the entry-level “free on contract or $450/£379/AU$749” for years now. But with the iPhone 6C, will they stick with that pricing model? Raise it because it will be a “new” phone? Or lower it to keep up with the increasingly capable models like the Moto G and Alcatel One Touch Idol 3 that are hitting the market at prices as low as $250, contract-free?
The answer, again, is anybody’s guess. But if this is replacing the 5S at the bottom of the line, the safe bet is that the price stays the same. Apple can then always drop it later, or simply allow carriers in certain markets to adjust pricing and incentives accordingly.