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Of course the iPhone 17 and iOS 19 are already in development

Published Jul 1st, 2024 6:50AM EDT
iPhone 15 Pro Display
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

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Picture this scenario: the newest iPhone just launched, and you’re waiting for it to be delivered to your door on the late-September release date, but the web is already talking about next year’s iPhone and its supposedly impressive specs and features.

This happened more than once in recent years, with the iPhone 16 being an example. Rumors last September had already spoiled the iPhone 16’s biggest design change about a year before Apple had a chance to confirm it.

If you’re a longtime iPhone user who also keeps themselves updated on the latest news and rumors, such leaks wouldn’t be surprising. Apple’s work on next year’s iPhone begins even before this year’s iPhone is launched.

It’s how Apple does things to ensure it can offer the iPhone experiences it’s going after. It’s not just about lining up suppliers to manufacture parts for the new device but also getting the software features ready.

Hearing from an insider that Apple is already developing iOS 19 at a time when iOS 18 isn’t even ready is absolutely what you should expect from the iPhone maker. The iPhone 17 is already in development, too, even though the iPhone 16 models will not launch until early September.

Unlike other years, the planning of the next-gen iPhone and mobile operating system might be more important than ever. And that’s all because of Apple Intelligence.

Mark Gurman mentioned Apple’s next-gen operating system in his Power On newsletter on Bloomberg. The report focuses mainly on Apple’s AI suite unveiled at WWDC 2024. Apple Intelligence could become a big money maker for Apple.

It’s not that Apple will charge from its AI apps and features, at least not initially. But AI could help Apple drive more people to newer devices, as AI features might need better hardware.

The iPhone 16 is one such example. You’ll need an iPhone 15 Pro or later to get Apple Intelligence in iOS 18. If you don’t have one of last year’s Pros, that means buying a new iPhone this fall. Similar hardware upgrades might be needed for the Mac and iPad down the road.

It’s in this context that Gurman mentioned the internal codenames for Apple’s various operating systems, including iOS 19:

The company has formally begun work on 2025’s major operating systems: iOS 19 (“Luck”), macOS 16 (“Cheer”), watchOS 12 (“Nepali), and visionOS 3 (“Discovery”). Now, this may seem early. After all, this year’s crop of software hasn’t been released to the public yet. But this is the usual schedule: The company is already developing next year’s hardware products and needs the accompanying software to start testing the devices. That said, it’s far too early to tell what the actual features will be.

The key detail in this paragraph is that Apple is developing “next year’s hardware products.” Hence the need for next-gen software. When it comes to its best-selling product, that’s the iPhone 17 series. And there’s one big reason to be excited about next year’s iPhones.

Rumors say Apple will introduce an iPhone 17 Slim/Ultra next year. That’s a flagship handset packing a thinner and slimmer body than before. Of course, Apple will need time to ensure it can mass-produce a device that fits its needs.

But the real reason why developing the iPhone 17 and iOS 19 so early is exciting concerns AI. Apple Intelligence won’t be available on iPhone 15 and older devices. These handsets feature less-capable Neural Engines than the iPhone 15 Pros and iPhone 16 models.

More importantly, the old iPhones that can support iOS 18 just fine have up to 6GB of RAM. Apple’s on-device AI will need at least 8GB of memory.

It’s likely Apple realized at some point last year that all iPhone 16 models would need at least 8GB of RAM to comfortably run Apple Intelligence features on-device. Rumors say all iPhone 16 variants will get 8GB of RAM. But Apple will likely not go beyond that. Apple probably decided long ago it would optimize iOS 18 and AI to run on 8GB of memory. That is, the iPhone 16 Pros should also feature just 8GB of RAM.

With the iPhone 17, Apple can ensure the 2025 iPhones have the right hardware to run as many current and future features of Apple Intelligence on-device as possible.

If that means bumping up the RAM significantly to future-proof these devices, such a decision could be made as soon as Apple chooses the AI features to build into iOS 19. Put differently, Apple might decide the iPhone 17 specs at some point in the coming months.

I’m not saying the iPhone 17 series will need a big RAM bump for iOS 19 and future software updates. But if they did, Apple would have plenty of time to ensure they get the proper specs upgrades and line up suppliers to mass-produce them in appropriate quantities come 2025.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.