It is September – bringing with it autumn, the back-to-school rush, and new iPhones. Or so it would normally.
This year’s iPhone rollout has been the strangest in recent history, and it hasn’t even really begun. Global lockdowns have caused major problems for the production schedule, and have led to delays in getting the phones out to the public. A number of things are still unclear about the new handset, and might not even be known by Apple itself.
But much more has been revealed, through a host of leaks, rumours and reveals. We know roughly what the phones will look like, just how many of them there’ll be, and some of the new features that Apple hopes will encourage people to upgrade.
Here’s everything you need to know.
There will be more new iPhones than ever, this year, according to reports: a total of four different models.
That will be made up of two normal or non-pro models: the smaller iPhone 12, and the larger one. Then there will be two versions of the pro one, as this year, made up of an iPhone 12 Pro and an iPhone 12 Pro Max.
(This year, Apple offers an iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, with the normal iPhone 11 sitting in the middle in terms of size.)
Those four phones will come in three different sizes, according to reports. The normal iPhone 12 will come in a 5.4-inch and 6.1-inch size; the Pro will have a 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch version.
If that little phone does come good, it will be the smallest phone Apple has released since the first version of the iPhone SE. That proved incredibly popular – surprising even Apple – with numerous commentators suggesting that it showed people did want smaller phones after all.
There was a time, between the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 7, that Apple’s naming scheme was fairly simple: one year, Apple would add an “S” to the name of next year’s phone, and then the next the number would increase, and the year after that Apple would go back to “S”. It continued this way through the 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, 5, 5S, 6, 6S and then 7.
And then 2017 arrived, and with it both the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X. Both undermined that fairly reliable system: the 8 followed straight on from the 7, and the X added a whole extra dynamic entirely.
The confusion continued in the years that followed: the XR and the XS sort of added the old system to the new names, but not really. And then came the iPhone 11, which followed both the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X.
If it does stay vaguely on track with its old names, then the changes this year suggest that Apple will also opt for a new number. (This might also be partly motivated by the fact that “iPhone 11S Pro Max” would surely be a little too much, even for a company that has not shied away from long phone names in recent years.)
If all of that happens, it would suggest that there will probably be an iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Max or Plus, an iPhone 12 Pro, and an iPhone 12 Pro Max. But there is no way to know for sure.
It’s rare that the iPhone’s release date is one of the more interesting things about the release of a new version of the phone. Ordinarily, it conforms to an entirely predictable schedule: show off the phone at an event on a Tuesday in the middle of September, before it goes on sale on the Friday of the following week.
This time around, however, the release date is one of the big mysteries around the new phones. It’s clear that problems – likely caused by global lockdowns – have caused issues for the iPhone’s release date, but it’s still not entirely clear how exactly those problems will affect the schedule for the handset’s release. It’s possible that not even Apple knows, yet.
Apple is holding a major event the week it would normally release the iPhones, on 12 September this year. But that appears not to be an iPhone event, instead serving as the reveal for a new Apple Watch, new iPads, and maybe even more.
The company has admitted that the phones will be “a few weeks” later, during a call with investors. But it did not say then whether the announcement would be delayed as well as the release, or anything more specific about how much of a delay there will be, and that has been its only public statement on the matter.
Rumours and extrapolation suggest that the phones will probably be both revealed and released in October, perhaps a month or so later than usual. Given that Apple has not given any direction otherwise, any later than that could cause major concern among both customers and investors.
But given that the unpredictable nature of this year, nothing can be said for certain, about the iPhone as much as anything else. Even if Apple is targeting October now – or earlier – then there is nothing to say definitively that it will be able to make it.
There is no reason to think that the new phones will be more expensive than the current line-up. But there’s no definitive evidence that they won’t be, either.
The new, smaller iPhone 12 – the 5.4-inch model – could give Apple new flexibility to offer the bottom of its new line-up a little more cheaply than normal. Some rumours have suggested that it could start at $649, which would be the cheapest OLED phone Apple has sold, and suggests that it could serve a similar purpose as the iPhone SE.
The price of the new iPhones is more flexible than almost everything else about the product: it can be changed right up until the last moment, given that it is not written on the boxes. As with other information such as the different names of the phone, there is no reason for that information to leave Apple, and no reason that they couldn’t change it before the release.
The big change to the iPhone’s design this year is that it will borrow from the looks of the iPad Pro, which already borrowed somewhat from the looks of the iPhone 4. In practice, that means they will get the flat, metal sides that were seen on those products, rather than the curved, smoothed ones on the current phone.
It is not clear which of the models will get this new design. It is entirely possible that the Pro versions will look more like the iPad Pro, while the standard versions of the iPhone 12 will look like the iPhone 11.
There will be other minor tweaks, partly enabled by that change. There will be space for extra sensors in the camera part on the back of the phone – for bigger lenses, and the LiDAR sensor – as well as the addition of an extra cutout down the side, which may be a 5G antenna.
Many of those changes could be seen in what appears to be a leaked chassis from the iPhone 12, which offers a look at how that design could look.
There will also be a more minor tweak in the design: Apple is rumoured to be switching out the dark green that arrived with the iPhone 11 Pro for a new navy blue colour. Some leaks have also suggested that the normal iPhone 12 could come in a range of different colours, too.
The new case design will serve as a home for plenty of new features, too.
As in recent years, a big focus will be the camera. They’re expected to improve in all the normal ways – more detailed photos and performance – but the major change to that part of the phone will be the addition of a LiDAR sensor. That allows the phone to more accurately map out the space around it, by sensing space; that could improve augmented reality features, but also assist with things such as faster autofocus.
The new phones are also expected to be the first with 5G support, and that is said to be coming across all the different iPhones models. (Rumours have suggested that Apple has been disappointed with 5G performance, and it still remains difficult for consumers to actually get, but it has been criticised for being later to the technology than rivals such as Samsung.)
There have been other rumours that don’t look quite so certain, either because they were sketchy in the first place or because Apple has reversed the changes. Those include suggestions that the new phones could have a different camera system on the front that will reduce the size of the notch, and that it could add the “ProMotion” display with an increased refresh rate from the iPad Pro.
As ever, Apple will almost certainly roll out a new and better processor, too. That’s likely to be the A14, which could offer both better performance and better battery life; Bloomberg has also reported that it will be particularly focused on artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
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