New Apple Leak Reveals iPhone 15 Design Shock

11/01 Update below. This post was originally published on October 29

Apple’s iPhone 15 range is tipped to make big changes externally and internally, but now a truly eye-opening design change has leaked.

According to respected analyst Ming Chi Kuo, Apple will replace the physical volume and power buttons on premium iPhone 15 models with solid-state (immovable) buttons that provide feedback via haptic motors. And we already know its codename.

Last month, anonymous leaker ShrimpApplePro tweeted that Apple is working on an ‘iPhone with no physical button. Project codename ‘Bongo’.” The lack of context around the timeframe meant it was widely overlooked, written off by many as being years away. But Kuo changed all that.

“My latest survey indicates that the volume button and power button of two high-end iPhone 15/2H23 new iPhone models may adopt a solid-state button design (similar to the home button design of iPhone 7/8/SE2 & 3) to replace the physical/mechanical button design,” explains Kuo.

Kuo says that Apple will fit Taptic Engines (the company’s branding for haptic motors) on the new iPhones’ internal left and right sides, which provide force feedback “to make users feel like they are pressing physical buttons.” Interestingly, Kuo states that he also expects premium Android smartphones to adopt this design quickly.

10/31 Update: writing in his latest Power On newsletter, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has thrown his weight behind USB-C coming to the iPhone 15 range, and described how Apple will present the switch to customers.

“While Apple appears to be bitter that a government is intervening in its product road map, the move from Lightning to USB-C is actually a good thing for consumers,” argues Gurman.

While Apple didn’t specifically confirm it would fix a USB-C port to new iPhones, Gurman says they will indeed come to iPhone 15 models, implying that it will be for the full range rather than Pro/Ultra exclusive, as some leaks claim .

“You can bet that when Apple announces the iPhone 15, the change won’t be described as government intervention,” says Gurman. “It will be presented as a way to simplify charging across iPhones, iPads and Macs.” This is undoubtedly true, if somewhat disingenuous, given that Apple could have switched iPhones to USB-C years ago — after all, Apple itself was involved in developing the standard.

When Lighting was first introduced in September 2012, its compact reversible nature justified its existence over the irregular micro-USB. But that argument has lost weight as USB-C arrived and became ubiquitous on iPads and Macs, creating a self-imposed fracture of the company’s charging solutions.

01/11 Update: Apple’s iPhone design decisions continue to leak or, in this case, the lack of a decision.

In a new supertweet to his premium followers, display specialist Ross Young revealed that “Apple has not yet finalized its display choice on the SE4. It is believed to be considering 6.1″ OLEDs from 2 suppliers as well as 5.7″-6.1″ LCDs from 2 suppliers.”

This is genuinely surprising. Apple is known to work several generations in advance, so for the company to be still deliberating about something as fundamental as the size of its next iPhone SE is highly unusual. That said, I suspect I know why.

Booming sales of massive 6.7-inch iPhone Pro Max models, combined with poor sales of the 5.4-inch iPhone Mini range (which resulted in its cancellation), had convinced the company Big Was In. But subsequently, underwhelming sales of the iPhone 14 Plus have confused the matter, with customers shunning Apple’s cheapest-ever big-screen iPhone.

This was not meant to happen. The combination of large screen real estate and a long-lasting battery at a (relatively) affordable price led many, including myself, to predict the iPhone 14 Plus would be the highest-selling iPhone 14 model. Instead, Apple finds itself torn between smaller budget-saving LCD options and a 6.1-inch OLED. The latter could further cannibalize iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus sales at the low end after they were already pegged back at the high end by customers opting for Pro models, where the cost differences dwindle when spread over a 2-3 year carrier contract.

As such, Apple has some thinking to do. Moreover, with Young saying in a follow-up supertweet that the company won’t release the iPhone SE4 until 2024, it still has time on its hands to evaluate longer-term sales of all iPhones before making a decision.

It is a decision that carries significant consequences because Apple has arguably got its product segmentation strategy wrong for the first time in years. It is a strategy that has also raised doubts about the positioning of other lines, including entry and Pro-level iPads and the entry-level M1 MacBook Air Vs its M2 successor.

In fact, I would not be surprised if the reported delay in M2 MacBook Pro shipping is not connected to the company reconsidering how it will position M1 models in general: continue selling them at a reduced price like the M1 MacBook Air and risk further cannibalization or replace the models entirely. Across multiple product lines, it’s a growing problem which Apple needs to get right.

While the concept sounds strange, it makes sense. Apple has a lot of experience with haptic motors, having successfully pulled off this sensory deception trick with MacBook touchpads since 2015. The company also shrunk its haptic motors to introduce ‘3D Touch’ on the iPhone 6S but failed to make its functionality intuitive, ultimately killing off the feature with the iPhone 11.

This was a rare example of Apple making great hardware but failing to find a software application, so its return feels apt. Moving parts also carry a higher risk of failure, so the transition should increase reliability and lower repair costs. It may also increase water resistance. The tech could even be extended to offer DualSense-like feedback in games, given there will be motors on both sides of the phones.

Some questions remain, such as how cases will work (cutouts could feel strange), but it sounds like a very positive move overall. Combine this with leaks claiming Apple will introduce an iPhone 15 Ultra with a super strong titanium chassis, dual-facing front cameras, a Thunderbolt 4-powered USB-C port, alongside a new design for standard iPhone 15 models — and it looks like the excitement is returning to iPhones in 2023.

Watch this space.

MORE FROM FORBESNew Apple Leak Reveals More iPhone 15 Release Details

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