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Predicting the 2018 iPhone line-up

At its product marketing event last week, Apple announced its new iPhone line-up, which breaks with precedent in two ways:

  • The iPhone X name (read “iPhone Ten”) takes a cue from the Windows world, in that Apple has skipped over the number “9.”
  • The iPhone price points have never been so diverse; the 2017 phones start at $349 (for the SE, Apple’s cheapest-ever new iPhone) and scale all the way up to $1149 (the 256GB X model, easily the priciest iPhone in history).

These changes make it tricky to predict what products (and prices) Apple might announce for next year’s iPhones. How will Apple handle the numbering gap next year? Would they ship a brand-new, downmarket “iPhone 9” a full year after the X? What about the pricing model? Will $999 be the new entry-level price for flagship iPhones, or was the X an aberration—the one-time result of expensive internal components (e.g. the face scanning tech or the OLED screen)?

Why bother guessing Apple’s plans?

On the one hand, it feels pointless to predict next year’s iPhone line-up. Apple’s plans are subject to change, and this year’s phones haven’t even launched. A lot could change; the iPhone X might suppress demand for the 8 models. Or the mass market may refuse to pay $999 for a new phone, no matter how shiny the tech. Or the X’s hardware changes may prove a bad bet—say, if Face ID doesn’t work as advertised, or if users prefer the Home button to the new software-based gestures. Any of these outcomes could change Apple’s plans.

Still, I want to take a stab at guessing 2018’s line-up, partly as a thought exercise and partly because I’m interested in the resale market. If I buy an iPhone X, just how much will my purchase depreciate by next fall?

My predictions

Here’s what I’m thinking:

2018 iPhone pricing
Product name Starting price Notes
iPhone 11 $999 Flagship model, successor to iPhone X
iPhone X $849 2017 hold-over
iPhone 8 Plus $699 2017 hold-over
iPhone 8 $599 2017 hold-over
iPhone 7 Plus $549 2016 hold-over
iPhone 7 $449 2016 hold-over

Some notes:

  • My basic premise is that Apple was telling the truth. The company’s execs crowed that the X is the “future of the iPhone.” That holds for both price and form factor. From here on out, new iPhones will look more like the X than like the 8.
  • The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus therefore are intended to serve as a “stop gap;” they help Apple avoid erecting a a price umbrella under which competitors could camp and sell $600–800 premium phones. But this is a short-term strategy; if I’m right, there will be no new downmarket phones next year—no “iPhone 9” or “iPhone 9 Plus.” Instead, as the years go by, the iPhone X will slide down the price ladder, just like the other current models. Eventually, the old “chin and forehead” phones (the iPhones 7 and 8) will fall off the ladder, and the X-style models will stand alone.
  • This approach makes naming the next flagship phone fairly straightforward. What is the sequel to “iPhone X” (“Ten”)? iPhone 11. Other have speculated that Apple might ditch the numbering scheme altogether, citing the examples of the iPad or the Mac. But Apple hasn’t established the same annual rhythm for those products. With the iPhone, legacy models stick around a long time, dropping $100 in price year after year. The phones’ unique identifiers help customers differentiate similar-looking versions from one another. Faced with a choice between the “iPhone X (2017)” and “iPhone X (2018),” customers might either a) be confused or b) opt for the cheaper model, saying to themselves, “Who cares, as long as I get the X.” Better to assign each new device a new name and thus reinforce its unique value over legacy options.
  • What about a potential “iPhone X Plus”: an edge-to-edge OLED screen in a larger chassis? Apple is probably testing such a device, but I’m not sure we’ll see it next year. The iPhone X may represent the “sweet spot” between the non-Plus and Plus sizes—a “one size fits all” phone that doesn’t need a big brother. The fate of an iPhone X Plus likely depends upon sales metrics: will “Plus lovers” migrate to the X this year? Or will they remain loyal to the bigger form factor of the 8 Plus?
  • I expect the SE will be retired. That’s a shame, because many users (including me) love the SE’s pocketable form factor. However, there’s a chance Apple will keep the SE (and its current specs) around as an ultra-low iPhone entry point. A $249 iPhone would be intriguing, but they’ve never ventured that low before. ■