This year’s major iPhone event is like no other. Like pretty much event manufacturer, it has moved to a virtual launch. The extensive virtual Worldwide Developer Conference has given Tim Cook’s Apple experience in this style of event, but the iPhone 12 family is the keystone product launch of the year. Without a hand-picked adoring crowd to cover the stage, will the missing features of the iPhone 12 stand out?
Since the launch of the iPhone 11 family, the Android-powered competition has pushed ahead with innovative features such as fast refreshing screens, 5G connectivity, and fast charging. What can the new iPhones deliver to match this challenge? And will Apple’s second-line products help deliver success?
If you want a checklist to follow, I’d expect Apple to lean into a triplet of messages… these will be the fastest iPhones ever; these will be the iPhones with the longest battery life ever; and these will be the iPhones with the best cameras ever.
In other words, here’s the new talking points, they’re the same as last year’s talking points.
At least the new iPhone 12 family is going to look subtly different. Apple is going to tweak the design language, returning to a more angular look harking back to the iPhone 4 design. Of course these handsets are going to be much larger than the iPhone 4’s 3.5 inch screen, in the case of the top-end iPhone 12 Pro Max it’s nearly double the diagonal at 6.7 inches.
A closer look at the leaked designs show the edges have a touch more chamfer than the iPhone 4, so you’re not going to be holding a razor sharp edge in your hand. What is still present is the notch, the same choices around screen technology,
One of the big shifts in display technology – the move to faster refreshing screens with rates up to 120 Hz offering more fluidity and clarity in movement – has taken hold in the Android world, with mid-range handsets now expected to support at least 90 Hz. While there is still a question mark over this, the majority of commentators are expecting Apple’s iPhone screens to remain at 60 Hz.
So, to Tim Cook’s Triplet.
If Apple’s 2020 will be known for anything, it’s the groundwork it has done to move the macOS platform to Apple’s own ARM-based designs. A consolidation of its three consumer computing platforms – the iPhone, the iPad, and the Mac – all running variants of the A14 creates a synergy across the platform that can be leveraged in many ways. It reduces Apple’s product development costs, third-party developers can develop for three platforms, and it reduces Apple’s exposure to outside influences (such as Intel’s roadmap not quite syncing up with Apple’s).
I wouldn’t expect Apple to lean into this too heavily for the iPhone launch apart from the ‘fastest iPhone ever’. The move is really a more detailed topic for the launch of the new MacBook and MacBook Pro machines that will be the first commercial Macs to run macOS on ARM, but watch for the marker going down.
(Side note… Part of me wonders if Apple ever considered bidding for ARM Holdings, That would have been an interesting albeit courageous move).
Apple insiders believe that the iPhone 12 family will, in general, pick up an extra hour of rated battery life compared to the iPhone 11 family. The tight integration between the hardware and software on the iPhone allows greater efficiency for a smaller battery compared to Android. But to get this battery life, Apple has chosen to sacrifice the aforementioned 120 Hz screen. The other alternative was to drop 5G support. Given 5G is now seen as a ‘default feature’ that is already a late appearance on the iPhone, this feels like the only way to go in an either/or.
But it was Apple that engineered itself into this either/or situation – Android manufacturers seem able to do both at the same time with all day battery life.
It’s also worth nothing that the increased battery life might not apply across the whole range. The iPhone 12 Mini (note the new name for the lowest tiered model to upsell the second tier iPhone 12) is expected to be just 2227 mAh. Compared to the 3110 mAh battery on the equivalent entry-level iPhone 11 model from last year, on top of the addition of 5G, could leave the iPhone 12 Mini feeling rather anaemic.
Finally there’s going to be a push on the camera. Those looking for the best imaging are going to be looking at the top tier iPhone 12 Pro Max model, because this model is going to have an improved main camera lens compared to the other models in a sensor nearly double the size of the iPhone 12 Pro, and 5x optical zoom in the second lens. That’s going to put some clear water between the Pro and the Pro Max – a common trend on Android ranges but a first for Apple.
Outside of the actual iPhone is Apple’s approach to peripherals. To keep the cost of the iPhone handsets down, the retail packaging is going to be cut down. The traditional EarPods will be removed from the box (but remains available to purchase at the Apple Store), and most watchers are expecting the mains charger to also go the way of the iPod Mini. The lightning to USB cable should remain, possible in a new ‘braided’ form which should offer more protection to the wiring.
No doubt your free Apple stickers will still be there. Yaay?
Apple is also expected to resuscitate the MagSafe branding through new wireless charging pads. Given the ring of magnets leaked previously, this could offer a ‘guiding hand’ to bring the iPhone into the optimum charging area on the inductive pads – something seen with a number of third-party manufacturers, notable Mophie’s Charge Force.
Other ancillary peripherals expected to launch, presumably as opening acts in the show before the smartphone star turn include a smaller HomePod expected to carry the HomePod Mini branding and a larger set of earphones under the AirPods Studio brand.
Apple’s pocket geolocation trackers based around bluetooth, the oft-discussed AirTags, may or may not be presented here. The inclusion of the U1 ultra-wideband enabled chip in the iPhone 11 led many to believe that AirTags were imminent, but that was thirteen months ago. Maybe this year?
And finally… the focus on this event is going to be on the iPhone and the peripherals that support it. I very much doubt that Apple is going to set up and sell the iPhone, only to sit down and start a second volume over the advantages of a MacBook or MacBook Pro running an ARM-based chipset. Maybe there will be a tease of the new macOS laptops, but the expectation is for a November event focused on that new world.
So, the three watchwords for the presentation are ‘fast’, ‘long battery life’ and ‘best camera’, all of which will be ‘in a way that only Apple can deliver’. But its the message underneath the usual game of buzzword bingo to watch out for. Note the words around the chip design and the integration of hardware and software. Watch for every hook that pulls you into Apple’s cloud services. Pay attention to the market spaces that Apple is either entering or consolidating its position.
And above all, realise just how pivotal the iPhone is to Apple’s efforts in every space. While Apple will want to push a message of innovation and cutting edge technology, the iPhone 12 remains just as dependable and predictable as the script that you’ll hear from Tim Cook
Now read more about the challenge facing Apple’ within the ARM-powered MacBook Pro…