It is an unusually broad year for iPhones: four models come in three different sizes, representing both the smallest model of recent years and the biggest display ever found in an iPhone. The new iPhones come in a range of different colours and finishes, and with magnetic accessories intended to personalise them yet more.
Prices are similarly varied, with Apple’s still-current iPhone SE on sale for nearly a third of the top-end iPhone 12 Pro Max. And so are the release dates: usually on sale by mid-September, some of the iPhones unveiled at the launch event on Tuesday evening won’t actually be around until the middle of November.
The phone arrives at a difficult time for Apple. That the coronavirus outbreak that led the company to delay the release by six weeks could also mean that people are less willing to buy the handset – a trend that was already happening before the outbreak, when research suggested people were happy to hold onto their phones for much longer than the traditional two-year upgrade cycle.
It also comes as the most hyped and discussed technology in mobile phones still remains out of reach to many users. 5G is integrated into the phone, and Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, repeatedly stressed how exciting and revolutionary it is going to prove – but he had to do so in part because questions are being raised about how useful it might be until the infrastructure is fully rolled out, and with many people working from home and on WiFi connections.
Amid all of that, Apple offered a host of upgrades that it hopes will convince people to invest in the new line up, and a fleet of options to offer them when they decide to do so.
Apple’s live-streamed keynote event – hosted from its Apple Park campus in California, but virtually because of lockdown restrictions – actually began with an introduction of something else entirely. It first introduced a smart speaker, noting that recent times had left people spending more time at home than ever before.
The HomePod Mini – which, as the name suggests, is a smaller version of the HomePod first released in 2017. It is being offered at a dramatically cut price – $99 compared with $299 – in return for a reduced size and presumably reduced performance.
It then turned to phones, but once again postponed the announcement of the actual handsets. Instead, it focused on 5G, with Tim Cook claiming it as a revolutionary “step change” in the ways that phones connect to the internet, with faster connections not just speeding up existing ways of using phones but introducing entirely new ones too.
In an attempt to allay fears that the radical potential of 5G will be stymied by the difficulties of actually accessing networks, Verizon’s CEO Hans Vestberg appeared as part of the keynote to stress that infrastructure will be rolled out across the country, with a particular focus on large venues such as stadiums, for when people can finally return to them.
When attention did finally turn to the phones, the first to be announced was the standard iPhone 12.
Apple talked in detail about the new design of the handset, which squares off the edges in a style first introduced with the iPad Pro, though redolent of the iPhone 5. Other external design changes include the display being pulled tighter to the edges of the phone, allowing it to be smaller despite a bigger display, as well as the introduction of a blue colour.
Invisible until you drop it is the new “Ceramic Shield front cover”, which Apple said makes the phone far more resilient, allowing it to be four times better at withstanding falls to the floor. The updates came as part of work with Corning, which makes tough glass for phones, and represents the “biggest jump in durability ever on the iPhone”, according to Apple.
Inside, the phone gets a vastly improved display, an A14 Bionic chip that is faster at some things than many of Apple’s computers, and greatly improved cameras.
It then moved to the iPhone 12 Mini. Like the HomePod Mini, that was exactly what it sounds like: a smaller version of the iPhone 12, though it has the exact same features as its larger sibling.
Pricing was largely as expected: the smaller iPhone 12 costs $699, and the bigger $799, or the same in pounds.
It then moved onto the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. They took all the features from the iPhone 12 – the durable, new design, the processor and everything else – and added yet more features which it stressed were intended to appeal to people who use their phone in professional contexts.
Those include new cameras that the company claims are so powerful they can be used in filmmaking, for instance. And those cameras are augmented by a LiDAR sensor – which can measure in 3D and so sense space – which it said could be used to map and kit out medical facilities, for instance.
The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max also come in a more premium stainless steel finish, also getting a new blue colour. They stay at the same price as the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max they replace: starting at $999 for the smaller one and $1,099 for the larger, or the same in pounds.
The release dates will be staggered, presumably as a result of the same coronavirus-related issues that forced the company to push back the launch event by a month. The normal versions of the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro will open for pre-orders on 16 October and go on sale on 23 October, but the very small and very large phone won’t open for pre-orders until 6 November, and go on sale on 13 November.
Throughout all of those announcements, it also mentioned its new MagSafe technology, which allows accessories including chargers, wallets and cases to be clipped onto the back of the phone with magnets. That’s all powered by a ring of such magnets found in the back of the phone, and so needs the latest handsets to work.
It also spoke about the accessories it wouldn’t include. Apple will no longer put a charging brick or earphones in the box, as had been rumoured before the event, and it will change the other end of the Lightning cable to include USB-C.
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