The much-rumored sapphire screen could pop up on the iPhone 6 after all, but only on the 64GB model. At least that's the latest speculation from Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.
Debate has surfaced as to whether Apple will upgrade the displays of its next-generation iPhone to sapphire as a way to entice customers with tougher, more scratch-resistant screens. Fans of sapphire say the material is harder than the Gorilla Glass currently used on iPhone screens and therefore is more difficult to break. But producing and cutting sapphire glass into the right shape is an expensive process, creating a challenge in mass production.
Instead of upgrading all the new iPhones to sapphire, Munster thinks Apple may limit its use.
"We believe that Apple may upgrade the screen of the 64GB versions of the iPhone 6 to sapphire as an early market test to see consumer feedback for sapphire screen phones with the eventual intention of moving the whole product line to sapphire within 2 years (i.e., iPhone 7)," the analyst said in an investors report released Tuesday. "We believe that the 64GB device could make up 30 percent of units if sapphire were an additional feature based on our prior survey work from the iPhone 5S launch, which suggests that 25 percent of buyers opt for the 64GB capacity."
Munster expects Apple to unveil both a 4.6-inch and a 5.5-inch iPhone at Apple's September 9 launch event. The analyst also believes the new lineup will include near-field communications (NFC). As such, he predicts that there's a 70 percent chance that Apple will announce some type of mobile payments system. As a mobile communications platform, NFC can serve a variety of functions. But its main appeal is enabling you to pay for items on the go using your mobile phone.
And what does Munster see for Apple's use of NFC?
"In terms of what the initial payments offering could be, we believe it could be a partnership to enable NFC use within Apple Stores or other specific retail partners with NFC capability," he said. "In the medium-term, we also believe that a payments product could ultimately be integrated with iBeacons to create a full retail technology solution."
And what of the iWatch? Munster gives that just a 50/50 chance of being announced on September 9.
"Our rationale is that Apple seems less likely to launch a new product category alongside the phone when it could dilute some of the attention from the core product vs. launching alongside iPads, which are expected to get more modest updates," he said. "Regardless, we believe that if the watch is not announced at the 9/9 event, it will be announced at an October/November iPad event and be available during the holiday quarter."
Finally, Munster forecasts Apple selling more than 6.5 million iPhone 6 units during the launch weekend, which would be a 20 percent jump over the opening weekend numbers for the iPhone 5S.
CNET will be on hand to live-blog Apple's launch event next week.