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What to expect from the Apple 'iPhone 12' launch in 2020

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Apple is anticipated to hold a second Fall special event in October, with the lack of iPhones in the first effectively guaranteeing that the second will feature the "iPhone 12." Here's what to expect.

The yearly upgrades to the iPhone are always surrounded by large amounts of rumors and speculation, fueled by leaks and claims by analysts, and 2020 is no exception. This is AppleInsider's rundown of rumors that hint at what's included with the "iPhone 12" and its stablemates this year.

When will the "iPhone 12" event be?

Apple traditionally holds its main iPhone launch event in September, something it has done for eight years running. While Apple has held other events in October, they are typically used for the launch of other major products.

Considering the long-lasting and major impact of COVID-19 on the Apple supply chain, this has severely altered Apple's usual schedule, and so all bets are off as to when it will take place. Considering Apple has already held one special event on September 15, it seems likely that Apple will insert a few weeks grace between events, effectively guaranteeing an October iPhone launch.

On August 12, serial leaker Jon Prosser tweeted that Apple would break with tradition, by announcing product changes to the iPad lineup and introduce the "Apple Watch Series 6" in the week starting September 7. The annual iPhone event would instead take place on October 12.

A tip to AppleInsider from the employee of a carrier claimed the event will occur on October 13, something Prosser has pretty much agreed with.

When can you buy an "iPhone 12?"

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic caused issues with Apple's famous supply chain, and it is thought that it has interfered with Apple's intended scheduling to ship the iPhone. Indeed, during its earnings call, Apple leadership confirmed it would not see a "normal" iPhone release schedule in 2020.

As for when the models would go on sale, this would normally depend on the timing of the event itself, but given Apple's warning, all bets are off.

Prosser's earlier October iPhone event claim was accompanied by a suggestion that Apple could break the launch into two release phases, with mid-tier "iPhone 12" models up for preorder in the week of October 19, followed by "Pro" models in November.

The September 22 tip to AppleInsider claimed preorders would commence on Friday, October 16. Prosser went further again, claiming that not only would preorders start October 15, but it would arrive in stares on October 23.

An August 3 report from DigiTimes also puts forward the case of there being a two-stage release, but with two 6.1-inch models shipping first followed by the larger and smaller models. The report also claimed the peak time for shipping all new models will skew between two and four weeks later than normal.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo offered on September 14 that mass production dates vary by model, with the "iPhone 12" pair being mass produced in early and mid-Octoiber respectively, while the "iPhone 12 Pro" will have the same treatment in late October.

How many "iPhone 12" models or screen sizes will there be?

Rumors have largely pointed to four models being released in this generation, in two tiers. The lower tier will consist of the "iPhone 12" and "iPhone 12 Max," which will sport 6.1-inch and 5.4-inch displays, while the upper will be the "iPhone 12 Pro" and iPhone 12 Pro Max, with 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch screens respectively.

The names are only tentative and unconfirmed, as explained later.

Renders of the 2020 iPhones [via iSpazio]
Renders of the 2020 iPhones [via iSpazio]

The two tiers will apparently differentiate in a few ways, as it does with the current iPhone 11 generation, with the screens this time being one such variation.

While OLED is expected across the board, rumors point to the Pro models having a Samsung-derived OLED with "Super Retina XDR," as well as 120Hz ProMotion support and a 10-bit color depth. In theory this will mean the Pro models will be able to display a wider range of color than the non-Pro versions, including better HDR video.

Screenshots and video surfacing in late August via Jon Prosser pointed to a ProMotion feature being included in the "iPhone 12 Pro Max," including settings to enable a "High Refresh Rate" and an "Adaptive Refresh Rate."

Hoever, on September 11, Prosser claimed the 120Hz ProMotion Displays didn't make the cut for mass production.

A few days later, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo speculated there wouldn't be ProMotion due to battery life concerns. As the use of 5G will be a strain on battery life, adding 120Hz displays may significantly hurt the user experience."

Kuo also reiterated display claims of 5.4-inch and 6.1-inch "iPhone 12" models accompanied by 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch "iPhone 12 Pro" units.

What will the new iPhones be called?

For the vast majority of the year since the last generation's release, the names for the 2020 iPhones have been tentatively set as the "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Max," the "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max."

Generally this follows established naming conventions, where the higher-tier iPhones use the "Pro" name, the model generation increases by one, and the "Max" suffix identifies the physical size and screen.

Though these are generalized guesses, recent rumors and leaks have pointed to Apple possibly shaking up how it names its range.

On September 21, leaker "l0vetodream" on Twitter proposed the names for the models could be the "iPhone mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max." In effect, the suggestion is that the "iPhone 12" and "iPhone 12 Pro" will have the same dimensions and screen size, while the "mini" will relate to the smallest model in the range.

This does seem relatively plausible, as the "iPhone 12" and "iPhone 12 Pro" are quite similar, making it difficult to really declare the non-Pro as bearing the "Max" identifier.

A collection of leaked case stickers on September 25 pointed to three different sizes of Apple silicone case accessories, with the middle-sized shared between the "iPhone 12" and "iPhone 12 Pro." While the largest was intended for the "iPhone 12 Pro Max," the smallest label mentioned the "iPhone 12 mini."

What's new with the A14?

Launches of new iPhone models usually include a new system-on-chip designed by Apple, and it is likely to continue to be the case for the "iPhone 12." Following on from the A13 Bionic, the most logical name is the A14 Bionic.

Unusually, instead of introducing the chip during the iPhone launch, it did so during the September 15 event for the new iPad Air 4.

According to Apple's press materials, the A14 Bionic is made using a 5-nanometer process and contains 11.8 billion transistors. Packing a new six-core design for a 40% CPU performance boost, it also has a new four-core graphics architecture for a 30% improvement in graphics, in comparison to the A12 Bionic.

While there are yet to be comparisons with the A13 Bionic, analysis suggests the CPU performance could be better year-on-year by 16%, with 8.3% better GPU performance.

The Neural Engine has been updated making the 16-core element twice as fast and capable of up to 11 trillion operations per second. Second-generation machine learning accelerators in the CPU promise 10-times faster machine learning calculations.

"iPhone 12" Rear cameras and LiDAR

The camera system on the "iPhone 12" is largely thought to be relatively similar to what was offered in the iPhone 11 range, with the non-Pro having two cameras while the Pro models sport three cameras.

For the "iPhone 12," this would consist of 12-megapixel wide-angle and 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lenses, while the "iPhone 12 Pro" pair will have a third 12-megapixel camera for telephoto shots. All will likely benefit from processing improvements, both in software and with the A14's higher performance.

In June, YouTube's EverythingApplePro and Max Weinbach claimed the rear cameras will be able to record 4K footage at frame rates of 120fps and 240fps, effectively increasing the resolution of the slo-mo function.

3D-printed mockups [via Mac Otakara]
3D-printed mockups [via Mac Otakara]

Screenshots published in August by Jon Prosser supported this, with settings text indicating 4K video could be recorded at 120 or 240fps. There were also mentions of an "Enhanced Night Mode," toggles for "zoom capabilities," "bit depth video," and "advanced noise reduction" in the same leak.

Back in March, famed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said the camera array in the "iPhone 12" will support at least one "7P" element instead of a 6P. The use of a seven-element plastic lens may help Apple refine the optical systems it uses to improve photographs and video.

There have been some reports Apple will add LiDAR to the Pro models, borrowing the concept from the iPad Pro. Able to produce a depth map, the LiDAR scanner can help the iPad create a more detailed map of the environment than currently possible using the ARKit framework and standard cameras.

It is feasible that Apple may have some extra features planned for LiDAR in the iPhone, potentially to improve photography. The TrueDepth camera array at the front uses depth mapping as part of its Portrait mode, with depth mapping at the back potentially assisting with other types of photographs involving subjects.

TrueDepth and the iPhone notch

The driving force behind Face ID will continue to be available in this generation, with no word on changes to its capabilities for 2020 so far. What may change is how it appears on the iPhone itself.

Early images from Ben Geskin in September 2019 suggested there were iPhone prototypes that housed the TrueDepth array within the top bezel, eliminating the need for a notch in the display. Geskin's image echoed another July note from Ming-Chi Kuo, claiming the notch would either decrease in size or be removed entirely.

A September Kuo note doubled down on the smaller notch, suggesting the smaller iPhone model will have a "slightly narrower notch area for displaying the information well" in its upper corners.

Ben Geskin's alleged in-bezel TrueDepth camera array.
Ben Geskin's alleged in-bezel TrueDepth camera array.

In April, images from leaker "choco_bit" on Twitter suggested the notch could be considerably smaller, but not completely gone. Other images from Jon Prosser that month included a CAD drawing that also showed a smaller notch.

In August, Prosser said the TrueDepth camera notch was largely unchanged from current versions.

Will the "iPhone 12" have 5G connectivity?

One feature that is universally believed to be arriving this year will be support for 5G mobile networks. Apple's signing a deal with Qualcomm puts 5G modems within its grasp, but the main question is one of how it will be implemented in the models.

As 5G is made up of two broad bands of signal, covering sub-6Ghz frequencies and mmWave, 5G aims to have robust and wide coverage using the former and potentially weaker high-speed connectivity with the latter.

A Qualcomm modem and antenna.
A Qualcomm modem and antenna.

Analysts at JP Morgan suggested in December that there would be sub-6GHz 5G support across all models, but only the top-tier versions will have mmWave support.

In June, Wedbush expected Apple would ship models with a mix of 4G and 5G compatibility across the lineup.

DigiTimes wrote in July that all models will work with both bands, but that Apple was entertaining the possibility of issuing models with partial 5G support for specific markets for future generations.

To offset the cost of expensive 5G components, TrendForce speculated Apple would ship the new models with fewer accessories, to bring the overall bill of materials down.

The September 14 note to investors from Ming-Chi Kuo said 5G would be across the board, but its inclusion and related battery concerns forced the ProMotion display feature to be left out for 2020. Versions will apparently be offered with and without mmWave, though sub-6GHz models will arrive earlier than those supporting both sub-6GHz and mmWave.

What will the "iPhone 12" look like?

The vast majority of rumors point to Apple borrowing the design language of the iPad Pro lineup for the "iPhone 12" collection.

In April, a Bloomberg source claimed the use of more distinct sides with flattened stainless steel edges instead of a gradually curved corner. The design would echo that of the iPhone 5 or iPhone 4.

Schematic leaks and supposed molds of the new models followed, which went along with the sharper-edged motif across the range.

In turn, these helped various outlets create dummies and mockups of what the new models could look like, complete with the square camera bump on the rear and flat metal edges.

Said recreations include versions published by Sonny Dickson, 3D-printed versions from Mac Otakara, as well as versions sourced in July for AppleInsider. The latter of the group is based on schematics leaks used by case manufacturers to produce accessories ahead of the official Apple announcement, and are a fairly good indicator of what to expect from the finished product.

There may be a difference in terms of body design between Pro and non-Pro versions, with the former thought to use stainless steel while the latter uses aluminum.

A video leak on September 11 claimed to show the chassis of the "iPhone 12 Pro." The five-second video showed what could be a production-quality chassis with milled edges, a white glass backing, and a selection of assembled innards, along with cutouts for elements such as the triple camera array and rumored LiDAR scanner.

The September 11 chassis leak [via EverythingApplePro]
The September 11 chassis leak [via EverythingApplePro]

The overall design presented in the video showed flat sides and well-defined edges, one that closely matched the rumors of an iPhone 4-inspired design.

Other Features of the "iPhone 12"

The memory of the Pro models is thought to be higher at 6 gigabytes, compared to four for the non-Pro versions. The Pro editions will also seemingly benefit from higher storage levels, adding a 512GB option on top of the main 128GB and 256GB capacities.

The box may not necessarily include a charging plug or EarPods, in Apple's bid to cut costs and boost AirPods sales. If one is included, the charger may be a 20-Watt version bundled with the Pro models.

Apple may still keep a cable in the box, with leaks pointing to a braided USB-C to Lightning cable that may be included with the latest models.

There is the suggestion that this year could see Apple eliminating Lightning from the iPhone range and moving over to USB-C, though it is also proposed this may occur in 2021, not 2020.

Lastly, to help people use wireless charging correctly, Apple may include magnets in the rear of the casing to help position the iPhone on charging points.

How much will the "iPhone 12" cost?

In terms of how much the new models will cost at launch, the "iPhone 12" is tipped to cost $649 and $749 for the 128GB and 256GB models respectively, rising to $749 and $849 for the "iPhone 12 Max."

For the Pro models, the "iPhone 12 Pro" is thought to be priced from $999 for 128GB of storage, $1,099 for 256GB, and $1,299 for 512GB. The "iPhone 12 Pro Max" is believed to be priced even higher at $1,099, $1,199, and $1,399, depending on capacity.

 

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