Get ready for the next smartphone smackdown between Apple and Samsung

(160916) — NEW YORK, Sept. 16, 2016 (Xinhua) — Photo taken on Sept. 16, 2016 shows the iPhone 7 Plus at Apple store at the Grand Central Terminal in New York, the United States. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were released in United States on Friday. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)

Apple and Samsung are set for another big face-off in the coming months as both prepare for major smartphone launches. Which means that we, as the phone-buying public, are being inundated with rumors about what these phones could do.

Keeping track of pre-release rumors can be exhausting, and the predictions should always be taken with a grain of salt. But this past week brought us more credible glimpses of what prospective phone buyers should expect and offered food for thought on today’s smartphone market.

Let’s start with Samsung, which will show off the Galaxy Note 8 on Aug. 23. The phone is Samsung’s follow-up to its (exploding and recalled) Note 7. Its debut will beat Apple’s next iPhone, which is traditionally launched in September, to market – perhaps by a lot, if rumors of a delay for a redesigned iPhone are true.

Renderings posted by reporter Evan Blass – who has an excellent track record when it comes to pre-release leaks – show a Note 8 with the same fingerprint reader configuration as the Galaxy S8. That wasn’t a popular design decision with users, who found it awkward and pretty smudge-prone for the cameras.

In those examples, the phone would also have a dual camera and what appears to be the same dedicated button for Bixby – Samsung’s voice assistant – that’s already in the Galaxy S8.

Apple, meanwhile, turned out to be the source of some of its own leaks, after iOS developers tweeted that they found references to the next iPhone in a release of firmware for the upcoming HomePod speaker. The revelations appear to confirm that new iPhones will have advanced facial recognition and biometric features.

There appears to be a bezel, or border, in the image included in the tweet, but developers commenting on the thread said that the border would not appear on the phone.

What will show up on the real device, they say, is the cutout at the top of the phone – what some have dubbed a “receding hairline.” That spot is supposed to house the camera and speaker, while providing limited intrusion on the screen. The Note 8 is expected to have a thin bar all the way across the top.

A Reddit user pointed out other code in the HomePod firmware indicating the possibility of wireless-charging in the new iPhone, tech blog BGR reported. That matches a much-touted feature that Samsung and competing phones have had for a while.

So, what does this mean for consumers?

Chances are that if you’ve fallen into one camp or the other, nothing that leaked over the past week will change your mind about which phone you’d buy – unless your personal dealbreakers are the weird cutout at the top of the iPhone, or the position of the Note 8’s fingerprint reader. Both companies appear to have listened to top complaints about their phones and, in some cases, taken them to heart.

But perhaps what’s most striking about what we’ve learned so far is how similar these phones would be – especially if the iPhone adds features already offered on Samsung’s devices, such as the edgeless screen and facial recognition.

As these top competitors draw closer in terms of smartphone style and features, there will be a lot of pressure on performance. If Apple can prove that it was worth the wait for its version of a fast-charging iPhone, for example, that could be a key distinguishing feature.

That’s disappointing news for people who want to make an easy, early decision on which device to commit to or who want to see smartphones continue to make leaps and bounds in design. Based on the rumors, there’s nothing that would give either phone an edge in “wow” factor, cosmetically speaking. We are firmly in an age of refinement. That could be a good thing if the products truly perform better. But it’s not as easy to get excited about launches anymore.

And if you’re truly undecided between the next iPhone and the Note 8, you’ll probably want to hold off on pre-orders until both phones hit the market and you can try them out yourself.



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