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Anticipated to be revealed in September 2020, the tentatively-titled "iPhone 12" is, at least according to initial rumors that arrived even before the launch of the iPhone 11 range, thought to be a gamechanger for the line. Alongside existing expectations of specification increases, rumors and analysts speculate there to be many things great about the incoming model. 

Potential “iPhone 12” display technology

Much like the previous few generations, Apple is anticipated to launch three “iPhone 12” models with varying size of display. Generally, the rumors point to screens measuring 5.4 inches, 6.1 inches, and 6.7 inches diagonally.

Also like the versions that came before, Apple is also thought to be following the model of offering two “iPhone 12 Pro" higher-tier models alongside a more budget-friendly option. Of the three sizes, the 6.1-inch is the most likely to be the budget version. 

As a first for iPhone launches, Apple may shift over to using OLED across the board, instead of offering one LCD model alongside two OLED versions. However, while the use of OLED on all models may bring the displays closer together in terms of quality, there may still be differences. 

The ““iPhone 12”” could reduce or remove the notch entirelyThe “iPhone 12” could reduce or remove the notch entirely

In November, one report claims Apple will be sourcing its higher-tier model displays from Samsung Display, which will use an "on-cell touch" panel referred to as "Y-Octa," eliminating film from the manufacturing process to create a thinner and lower-cost display. The other screen is likely to use more conventional film methods, with Samsung Display joined by LG Display for that particular component. 

Chinese display producer BOE was tipped at one point to become an OLED supplier, but it seems Apple may be sticking to Samsung and LG for this generation. 

One potential feature of the “iPhone 12” could be the addition of ProMotion display technology, borrowing what is used in the iPad Pro to offer a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz. Conversely, it may also help to reduce the refresh rate of the display at times when fewer updates are required, which could help save battery. 

Could the “iPhone 12” have 5G?

With the gradual rollout of 5G across the United States, it is expected Apple will join other device producers in upgrading the flagship models from 4G LTE to 5G.

Following the conclusion of Apple's long-running lawsuits with Qualcomm over modem pricing and patent infringement, as well as a licensing agreement for Qualcomm to supply modems. Current speculation has Qualcomm supplying its 5G modems to Apple in time for the 2020 iPhone releases. 

It is highly unlikely that anyone else will be providing said 5G modems to Apple, as existing 4G LTE modem supplier Intel revealed it was exiting the 5G modem business shortly after the Apple-Qualcomm agreement was made. 

Qualcomm’s 5G modems could mean significant improvements for iPhone connectivity versus IntelQualcomm’s 5G modems could mean significant improvements for iPhone connectivity versus Intel

While Apple has acquired Intel's 4G and 5G modem patent portfolio, as well as key personnel as part of a billion-dollar deal, it is extremely unlikely it will be able to turn around its investment in time for the “iPhone 12”. 

Apple does have designs to make its own 5G modem, but speculation puts it as first surfacing in 2022, and as part of a system-on-chip design by 2023, years too late for the model in question. 

Qualcomm itself has also supposedly hinted that the 2020 iPhone will have its 5G modems. 

As to whether all three will offer 5G or only some of the models, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggested in June 2019 the 6.1-inch budget model would have LTE while the others would have 5G. One month later, Kuo revised the prediction, claiming all three will be 5G-enabled. 

A14

The annual refresh of the iPhone usually happens alongside an update to the A-series processor. Given the last one was the A13, it is probable the next one will be called the "A14," and include further improvements in terms of power usage, performance, and machine learning capabilities. 

While Apple could have stuck to a 7-nanometer chip production process for the "A14" in the “iPhone 12," as it did for the A13, it may change to an even smaller process. 

Chip foundry TSMC was tipped in April 2019 to have come up with a mass production-ready version of a 6-nanometer process called "N6," which offered significant enhancements, including an 18-percent greater logic density over N7. 

TSMC manufactures Apple’s SOCTSMC manufactures Apple’s SOC

Even so, other reports point to the possibility of using a 5-nanometer process. By April, the 5-nanometer process was at the "risk production" level, where TSMC refines the process before allowing clients to use it. 

Though TSMC has provided design infrastructure details to its clients, it remains to be seen if it will be ready in time to meet the 2020 “iPhone 12” production schedule. 

Scores that may belong to the "A14" popped up on Geekbench, and indicate huge performance leaps for the iPhone chipset.

It shows a 50% gain in single core performance over the A12X processor used in iPad Pro models. This is quite the upgrade, and gives it a similar multi-core score despite having two less cores.

The benchmark also shows that this may be the first A-series chip to clock at over 3GHz.

Physical Design and Internals

Rather than refine the existing iPhone 11's design, it was suggested by Ming-Chi Kuo in September 2019 Apple would go for a new metal frame for the chassis, including borrowing some design ideas from the iPhone 4. 

Using a metal frame with a "more complex segmentation design, new trenching, and injection molding procedures," the glass would have a "sapphire or glass cover assembly to protect the trench injection molding structure." 

The iPhone 4The iPhone 4

Kuo claimed the design change is "significant," and would be a major selling point for the smartphone. 

Going to 5G for the “iPhone 12” will also require a change in motherboards to larger and more expensive versions, Kuo mused in November. The logic board is tipped to grow by 10% to accommodate the new technologies in use, increasing the cost of the component by 35%. 

Kuo also proposed Apple would increase the use of liquid crystal polymer (LCP) flexible printed circuit (FPC) antenna technology for the “iPhone 12." The higher number of units to enable 5G verses 4G LTE, as well as using LCP FPC for the upper antenna could cause supply chain issues over the increased demand. 

Cameras

The back of the new model is rumored to include some form of augmented reality-enabling technology, in the form of a Time of Flight system using vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) sensors. Just as the TrueDepth camera array works to perform 3D mapping at the front of the “iPhone 12," a similar depth-sensing system on the back could provide other benefits from AR, such as more accurate focussing for photography or video, identifying subjects of images, and so on. 

Much like the current tiered differences in rear cameras, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo forecast the use of VCSEL on the back of the two higher-tier models in July.  This was further confirmed by an iOS 14 code leak showing that two of the three "iPhone 12" models will have the TOF sensor, which may indicate only the pro versions of the phones receiving it.

Rear cameras for the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro MaxRear cameras for the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max

Distinguishing the pro models with additional camera hardware is nothing new, as the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max both have a telephoto lens, where the iPhone 11 does not. Apple will surely continue the trend with the new models due later this year.

To the front, there is some suggestion that Apple could revise the infamous "notch" to something smaller, as suggested by Kuo in July, by making the sensor array even smaller. 

In September, there was even the suggestion the notch could be removed entirely, borrowing the idea of the iPad Pro by hiding the TrueDepth camera array in the bezel. Apple is also claimed to be testing multiple prototypes for the 2020 iPhone with a view to de-notching it.

A late March note from Ming-Chi Kuo suggests there are signs from the supply chain that the 5G models will have an improved camera module with a bigger sensor. The camera array will apparently sport at least one 7P element, rather than a 6P used in the iPhone 11. 

Leaked camera module placement (left) fan render (right) Leaked camera module placement (left) fan render (right)

A leaker with an image depicting a three camera module plus LiDAR suggests that Apple will have a similar camera bump with the sensors arranged in a square. Fans have already begun generating their own renders of course.

Pre-Release Attention

Even though sales for the moment are focusing on the iPhone 11 range, the prospect of 5G and the positive potential it has for Apple's sales has captured the imagination of analysts. 

Ming-Chi Kuo made an early April prediction that Apple would ship 200 million “iPhone 12” units based on the power of the 5G model. While short of the heyday of iPhone sales in 2015, where 231.2 million units shipped in the year, Kuo projected Apple would shift between 70 million and 75 million units after the release of the 2020 model. 

In July, Raymond James revised its Apple rating of stock from "market perform" to "outperform" and set a higher price target of $250. Analysts at the firm had "increased conviction in the impact of a 5G iPhone product cycle in 2020." 

In August, Nomura Instinet poured water on Wall Street opinions, calling their hot takes on the 5G model as being too optimistic. 

For November, Strategy Analytics proposed the 5G model would allow Apple to take a "dominant" position in the 5G sub-sector despite a relatively late entry, simply by maintaining its "current upgrade rates for newly-introduced iPhone models." Given the relatively small number of 5G model sales, Apple is tipped to storm the market and take the lead in a very short space of time.

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