The name: Apple's naming conventions would indicate that the next model of the iPhone will be called the iPhone 6, as the successor to the iPhone 5s.
But Apple has been playing around a bit with its names lately, most notably by dropping the numbering scheme from the iPad line to bring us the iPad Air and the iPad mini. Among Apple fans, there have been plenty of concept designs made for an "iPhone Air," including a slick concept by graphic designer Sam Beckett that hits on a lot of features that Apple customers would like to see in their next iPhone:
Hardware: The Beckett concept also incorporates a lot of the hardware rumors that are making the rounds -- namely that Apple will almost certainly pump up the screen size of its phone in a nod to the ever-growing screen sizes we see from its competitors. The company has said in the past that it would run the idea of a bigger iPhone screen through its paces, given that it’s determined the current model is just right for the width for most people's thumbs when using a phone with one hand.
In a note to investors earlier this week, Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves said that he expects to see a 4.7-inch iPhone -- the same size as Samsung's 2011 Galaxy S II -- to meet demand for a larger phone without getting too big. Such a screen, he said, could also potentially woo back Android converts who left Apple solely because of the iPhone's screen size.
There's also some speculation that Apple will again release two versions of the iPhone, to appeal to different markets. A report from Macotakara, a Japanese blog with a mixed but mostly good record when it comes Apple rumors, indicates that Apple is considering a 4.7-inch and a 5.7-inch model to further expand the current line, rather than act as replacements for the 5s and 5c. A 5.7-inch model would take the firm well into "phablet" territory.
Reuters had previously reported that Apple is considering those screen sizes. Of course, the key word there is "considering" -- nothing appears to be set in stone, and these models appear to only be in the testing process.
Software: Of course, the hardware isn't everything. There are also plenty of rumors out there about what's coming in the iOS 8 version of Apple's mobile operating system. In a report from 9 to5 Mac, Marc Gurman said that the next version of iOS will come with a major upgrade for Apple Maps. The mapping service, which got off to a rocky start in 2012, has been steadily improving, and Gurman reports that, after a few acquisitions, Apple has given Maps a much higher level of polish and added much-requested features such as transit maps. The firm may even play around with augmented reality, the report said, which lets users see directions and place names laid on top of images from their phone's camera. Improving maps is particularly crucial if Apple wants to play in the connected car space as much as its recent release of CarPlay, an operating system for smart cars, indicates.
The new system is also rumored to include a new app for another key area of Apple's future growth: wearables. 9 to 5 Mac has also reported that Apple plans to introduce a dedicated health app, code-named "Healthbook," to collect and analyze fitness data.
Timing: For the past few years, Apple has released its phones in September or October, and that's still when most analysts expect the company to release the next iPhone. There are, however, growing reports that Apple may return to a summer release -- as it used to have -- though Apple has remained characteristically tight-lipped about its plans.
Crazy stuff: Some of the fun of being an Apple observer is hearing the super-crazy rumors that pop up when iPhone mania really takes hold. And while we're still a few months out from the thick of rumor frenzy, there are already some out there that walk on the wild side.
One of the most intriguing is that Apple may use sapphire glass -- a type of glass that it uses for the camera lenses and fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5s -- for its full screen, and embed a solar cell into the screen to serve as a power source. The speculation comes from Seeking Alpha analyst Matt Margolis, who thinks that a series of Apple moves ranging from patents its filed on solar charging to its recent announcement of a sapphire glass plant in Mesa, Ariz., augurs a move to solar charging.
That seems a bit far-fetched. But, of course, you never know with Apple.