A new iPhone needs a flagship feature – something an announcement event can be built around. In 2019 it was all about the cameras (triple lenses and night mode). In 2020 we think it will be 5G, if Apple can pull it off in time.
Android phone manufacturers have been widely offering 5G for some time – since before the iPhone 11 launched, in fact – but Apple is behind the curve in this department. Why the delay?
The problem is getting someone to supply the modems. Apple used to partner with Qualcomm but the two firms had a major falling-out over patents; later a relationship was set up with Intel, but that company has since quit the 5G arena… and sold most of its smartphone modem business to Apple.
So Apple could now make its own modems, but that won’t be feasible until 2021. In the meantime, it’s believed that deals with other suppliers (or with Qualcomm again, since legal matters have been resolved) are on track for a 5G launch in the second half of 2020. By which time, incidentally, Three will have finally started offering 5G and it will therefore be available to everyone in the UK… in theory, and depending on geography.
The other potential reason for Apple’s late entry to the 5G party could be that it wants to do the thing properly. There are multiple versions of the technology, and the one everyone really wants – referred to as millimetre wave, or mmWave – isn’t widely available yet. Most people are offering a mid-band version of 5G, operating at sub-6GHz frequencies, and this is slower than mmWave (although still a lot faster than 4G).
One analyst, Mehdi Hosseini of Susquehanna, has predicted that Apple will release the iPhone 12 with only mid-band 5G capabilities, then follow up with a mmWave-ready model a few months later – which sounds to us like a recipe for customer discontent. But Ming-Chi Kuo is reasonably confident that Apple will be ready for mmWave in time for the September 2020 launch. Indeed, he thinks that catering separately for mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G mean the company will actually announce four different handsets in September, the largest number of iPhones it has yet rolled out in a single launch.
Keeping on the technical side of things, Kuo has warned that Apple’s 5G-ready handsets probably won’t offer 2×2 MIMO uplink as had previously been predicted, and rather than six amplifier they will have only one or two. This may only affect theoretical upload speeds, however, at least at launch: the carrier infrastructure is unlikely to support 2×2 immediately.
We discuss this subject in far more detail in a separate article about 5G iPhone rumours.
Before the late-2019 event, Bloomberg was predicting the imminent launch of an iPhone with a more powerful 3D camera, as part of Apple’s continuing push into AR. This now seems likelier than ever.
Current iPhones already feature 3D cameras, used for Face ID facial recognition, which makes it harder to market this as a breakthrough or flagship feature. But Bloomberg reckons that the 2020 version will be transformatively more powerful: it will have a range of around 15 feet, the site predicts, compared to just 25-50cm on the iPhone X series and 11. It will be used to scan the environment, whereas current 3D scanning is deployed on the user’s face.
Fast Company‘s source predicts that the next iPhones will feature ToF (time-of-flight) 3D cameras on the rear – which is to say, the ‘world-facing’ end – and this would be a significant step forward. This will enable improved augmented reality, a tech category that is rapidly turning into an Apple obsession, as well as photo/video effects that aren’t currently possible, such as multi-layer bokeh.
The same supplier will be used for this sensor array as for the front-facing 3D setup, according to Fast Company, and the site cautions that Apple may yet veto the inclusion for 2020.
While we’re chatting cameras, Patently Apple has spotted patent activity that points to future iPhones having the ability to create fake group selfies even if the participants couldn’t be in the same place at the same time. Very useful at a time of lockdown, but it seems more likely that this feature will be implemented in software – ie an iOS update – rather than in new iPhone hardware.
To offer Touch ID on the iPhone 12, Apple would need to embed the sensor somewhere other than in the Home button. It could go under the glass of the screen: we’re reaching the stage of technological development where this is becoming logistically feasible.
Indeed the Chinese-language site Economic Daily News believes Apple will be ready to deploy an under-display fingerprint sensor in its late-2020 handsets, based on Qualcomm’s ultrasonic scanning tech. Qualcomm already supplies this technology for use in Samsung phones, so the capabilities are there; but the site claims this will be a second-gen version that’s faster and has a longer range.
Patently Apple, meanwhile, has spotted a patent grant that would allow the company to place a fingerprint sensor under an OLED screen.
A less exciting but potentially more practical option would be to embed the fingerprint sensor in the power/side button, a method used in Samsung’s Galaxy S10e. Sure enough, in a late-January report Ming-Chi Kuo predicted that Apple will launch a lower-cost iPhone with power-button Touch ID in the first half of 2021.
Ultra-short range 802.11ay Wi-Fi
Citing “sources familiar with the next iPhone 12”, Macotakara says there is a possibility that the device will support IEEE 802.11ay, a new and extremely short-range wireless standard. The site says this would enable the next iPhone to offer “significantly improved” data transfer performance between devices – in other words, AirDrop could get a major bump in the next generation.
This proposed update has been on the table for some time, having seen its earliest draft version in January 2017. The 802.11ay standard offers four times the bandwidth of 802.11ad and is based on the 60GHz band.
- A14 processor
- 5.4in/6.1in OLED Super Retina display (6.1in/6.7in OLED with 120Hz ProMotion on Pro models)
- 4GB RAM (6GB RAM on Pro)
- 128GB/256GB storage (plus 512GB on Pro)
- Dual-lens rear camera (triple-lens with LiDAR on Pro)
Let’s talk a bit more about the A14 chip, which appears to be cropping up in some online benchmark tools. If these benchmarks are legitimate, the A14 is going to be crazy fast.
Take a look at the following screengrab from the popular benchmark Geekbench, posted by AppleInsider. It compares the score for an iPad Pro 12.9in from 2018 – one of the most powerful mobile devices Apple has ever released, albeit since overtaken by the 2020 Pro and its A12Z chip – with what appears to be a prototype iPhone 12. And the iPhone 12 is scoring higher, even in multi-core.
The ‘A14’ is clocked above 3GHz – the first of Apple’s A-family chips to achieve this – and despite having fewer cores than the A12X (6 rather than 8) it rates higher throughout the CPU tests.
How likely is this to be genuine? Reasonably likely. Prototype devices have been spotted in online test suites before previous Apple launches, which makes sense; by this point in the release schedule the company will undoubtedly have created and be testing in-house samples of the iPhone 12.
We’ve also seen alleged photos of the A14 popping up online; this isn’t hugely informative, although markings on the chip appear to indicate it was in production as early as April.
When it comes to performance, RAM is almost as important as the choice of processor; the fact that the iPhone SE (2020) has only 3GB, compared to the 4GB in all the other A13 phones, caused such a significant reduction in benchmark speed that people thought – almost certainly mistakenly – that it had been underclocked.
For this reason it’s pleasing to see the inclusion of a really solid 6GB of RAM in this year’s Pro models. The non-Pro models, however, have to settle for 4GB.
As we’ve suspected for a while, it looks like Apple will remove the 64GB base storage option later this year, and set the minimum at 128GB.
Sceptics will observe that the 2020 iPhone SE still offers a baseline 64GB allocation, but that’s firmly aimed at the budget-conscious buyer. We feel that iPhone 12 buyers will expect rather more storage.
We may now know the full display specs for the late-2020 iPhones. In a tweet that’s since been deleted, DisplaySearch founder Ross Young dropped the full list, and it suggests that the iPhone 11’s successor will have a much sharper screen.
Here’s how they’re going to shape up, if Young is right.
- iPhone 12: 5.4in (2340×1080, 477ppi)
- iPhone 12 Max: 6.1in (2532×1170, 457ppi)
- iPhone 12 Pro: 6.1in (2532×1170, 457ppi)
- iPhone 12 Pro Max: 6.7in (2778×1284, 457ppi)
(Note that we calculated the pixel density figures ourselves using CalculatorSoup, so any errors are ours alone. The original leak quoted slightly different figures of 475, 460, 460 and 458ppi respectively – we’re not sure how they arrived at those numbers.)
Here’s how that compares with the current line-up:
- iPhone SE: 4.7in, 1334×750, 326ppi
- iPhone 11 (and XR): 6.1in, 1792×828, 326ppi
- iPhone 11 Pro: 5.8in, 2436×1125, 458ppi
- iPhone 11 Pro Max: 6.5in, 2688×1242, 458ppi
It seems logical that Apple would try to offer something a little more impressive than 326ppi on its mid-range phones – that always seemed a little stingy for £729/$699 – and give Android handsets more of a challenge. What does seem odd is the the idea that the iPhone 12, the cheapest of the new devices, would have a markedly higher pixel density than any other model.
For that reason, and because the tweet was deleted, we’re not betting our houses on these specs being accurate. Hopefully some corroborating evidence will arrive soon.
As for the refresh rate, rumours point to the Pro models getting 120Hz. That’s old news in Android land, of course, and is already available (complete with ProMotion dynamic switching) on the iPad Pros, but would be new for Apple’s phone line. Don’t count your chickens just yet, though: other pundits believe 120Hz is off.
EverythingApplePro thinks the ProMotion feature (which is a separate but related matter: it enables a device to switch from 60 to 120Hz as and when it’s necessary, to preserve battery life) is nailed on for the iPhone 12 Pro models; Jon Prosser thinks it could yet be “nerfed in software”.
Finally, what about the glass itself? In late July, the US firm that makes Gorilla Glass announced its latest development: Gorilla Glass Victus. This material is, Corning claims, twice as drop-resistant as the previous version and four times as scratch-resistant as rival glasses – and since Gorilla Glass is used in existing iPhone models, the gossipmongers immediately started to wonder if Victus would make an appearance in the iPhone 12.
Apple is such an important customer for Corning that we’d be surprised if Victus isn’t already being used in iPhone 12 production; the announcement has been timed in such a way that it would embarrass Apple if it now has to launch the 12 without the latest screen materials. But Cupertino has always been cagey about Corning’s involvement in iPhone production, and it’s possible that it simply won’t say one way or the other.
Apple sometimes comes in for mockery when it refers to its latest device as the “best iPhone yet” – what else would you expect, people point out. Technology gets better each year, and if you didn’t offer better specs than the previous model nobody would upgrade.
In one respect, however, it appears the iPhone 12 may be a little behind its predecessor. Screenshots from various databases suggest the new models will have smaller batteries.
If the figures are correct, the iPhone 12 Max has a battery capacity of 2775mAh, 335mAh lower than the iPhone 11. The 12 Pro is also 2775mAh, 271mAh less than the iPhone 11 Pro. And the 12 Pro Max looks to be 3687mAh, 282mAh less than the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
That sounds very odd indeed, not just because of the aforementioned expectation for tech to advance every year but also because 5G and OLED screens throughout the range (both expected this year) will mean greater power drain on the new handsets. More power drain, less battery capacity, bad news for battery life.
Well, not necessarily. As the Macalope points out, “we know nothing about what other changes Apple may have made in hardware or software the might affect power consumption”. For sure, if the iPhone 12 has half the battery life of the 11, we’ll discover that in testing and give it a brutal review. But Apple is aware that people take battery life seriously and we’d be very surprised if it hasn’t got a plan.
Pundits and leakers remain comparatively reticent on the subject of the iPhone 12’s camera chops, but we do hear that it could be the first smartphone to offer 4K video capture at 240fps.
Price: How much will the iPhone 12 cost?
There’s heated disagreement in this area.
Jon Prosser – a high-profile and widely respected leaker, despite an error at WWDC – thinks the iPhone 12 will start at $649, a $50 drop in price from the entry-level iPhone 11 – which would make sense, given that it will have a smaller 5.4in screen and apparently won’t include any accessories. But more recently we’ve heard that we’ll see a price rise, with the cheapest model costing $749. That would be controversial, to say the least, but Apple does love to tell us about its courage.
(It may release a cheaper and less fully featured – but still 5G-compatible – model in 2021. That’s a theory touted by Business Insider, for one.)
The price-rise theory remains a bit of an outlier, so we’re going to remain optimistic about prices holding steady or even dropping slightly. Here’s what Prosser predicts, with our UK estimates added in brackets at the end:
- iPhone 12, 128GB: $649 (£679)
- iPhone 12, 256GB: $749 (£779)
- iPhone 12 Max, 128GB: $749 (£789)
- iPhone 12 Max, 256GB: $849 (£889)
- iPhone 12 Pro, 128GB: $999 (£1,049)
- iPhone 12 Pro, 256GB: $1,099 (£1,149)
- iPhone 12 Pro, 512GB: $1,299 (£1,349)
- iPhone 12 Pro Max, 128GB: $1,099 (£1,149)
- iPhone 12 Pro Max, 256GB: $1,199 (£1,249)
- iPhone 12 Pro Max, 512GB: $1,399 (£1,449)
And here’s how that compares to the prices of the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, as of 12 May 2020:
- iPhone 11 Pro Max: from £1,149/$1,099
- iPhone 11 Pro: from £1,049/$999
- iPhone 11: from £729/$699
Apple has been ramping up its phone prices for a while now, particularly in the UK, and it would be pleasing if there is no price rise on the iPhone 12 Pro, despite its larger screen and 5G. Although perhaps we won’t be be feeling so positive if, as mentioned above, Apple keeps prices flat by ditching the headphones and wall charger from the box. Talking of which…
What’s in the box?
Apple has bundled pretty much the same collection of accessories and paperwork with every iPhone since 2007. But there’s evidence that this year will be different.
Firstly, about the EarPods we’ve been taking for granted. Back in May the respected pundit Ming-Chi Kuo predicted that Apple might ship the iPhone 12 with no headphones at all. A second analyst, Dan Ives, backed up the theory in June.
But things didn’t stop there. The theory now is that we won’t get headphones or a charger. The second part of that is supported by a somewhat loaded survey that Apple’s been running, asking people if they’ve still got their old chargers and whether they still work.
If Apple does strip out these two old faithful accessories from the iPhone 12 box (it’s unclear at this point if the Pro models will be included in the purge) there will be a lot of unhappy campers in Apple world. But there are good reasons why it makes sense: as the survey will presumably make clear, lots of us still have one, two or even more old sets of accessories from previous years’ iPhone purchases, and which we don’t use any more because of duplication or because we’ve bought better alternatives.
Both financially and environmentally it makes little sense to bundle electrical items which consume non-trivial resources to make and dispose of and which in many cases remain unused. Far better to leave them out, avoid having to bump up the price, and let those who need to buy the things from the Apple store.
Also, it means Apple will be able to design an ‘exquisite’ new box. We haven’t seen that yet, but we have glimpsed a 3D render of the box insert from a “really reliable source”. As you can see, it hasn’t got room for a charging plug and there doesn’t seem to be space for headphones either:
Apple may be able to sugar the pill slightly if reports of a braided Lightning cable are correct. Plausible reports from the supply chain suggest the new cable will look nicer, feel nicer and last much longer before fraying.
That appears to be the only accessory in the box, so it makes sense to give it a bit of a makeover, and may compensate for some of the bad news. It also fits with current trends, because Apple sells a braided Thunderbolt cable.
Note, however, that it’s expected to be a Lightning-to-USB-C cable, which means it won’t work with the charging plug from almost any previous iPhone. (The iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are the only Apple phones to come with USB-C chargers.) You may end up shelling out for a new charger anyway.
The same source has since dropped more photos of the braided cable, and it now seems there will be white and black versions. The photos were posted in a now-deleted tweet, but this composite image was snagged by 9to5Mac:
In conclusion, then, here’s what we think will be in the iPhone 12 box:
- iPhone 12
- Braided Lightning-to-USB-C cable (in white and black finishes)
- Some stickers
…and that’s it.