iPhone 12 key features teased in iOS 14 — here's what to expect

iPhone 12 Pro navy blue
(Image credit: Svetapple)

The iPhone 12 isn’t coming out until this fall, but Apple’s preview of the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 software updates provides some pretty good clues as to what we can expect from Apple's new handsets. 

Yes, we’ve already heard about the four new iPhone models, the new A14 Bionic processor and 5G connectivity, but iOS 14 itself teases some substantial upgrades for the iPhone 12 lineup as well. From exciting new AR capabilities and higher screen refresh rates to other goodies, here’s what iOS 14 tells us about possible iPhone 12 features so far.

Big augmented reality upgrades

iPad Pro 2020 LiDAR scanner

(Image credit: Apple)

One of the hallmark features of iPadOS 14 is ARKit 4, which leverages the LiDAR scanner on the iPad Pro. With ARKit 4, there’s a new Depth API that enables instant placement of virtual objects and better object occlusion. Apple says that this API also allows for more precise measurements.

Other features offered in ARKit 4 include location anchors, so AR experiences could be placed at specific landmarks and users could view these virtual objects from multiple angles. This feature doesn’t require a LiDAR scanner.

As of now the iPhone 12 Pro is rumored to offer a LiDAR scanner, though it’s not clear whether it will be on the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro Max or both. Our money is on both Pro models. Regardless, the A14 Bionic chip should provide much better AR performance across the board with an upgraded neural engine.

120Hz ProMotion display

(Image credit: EverythingApplePro)

Rumor has it that the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro will offer 120Hz ProMotion displays, giving users a much smoother user experience when scrolling, playing games and watching movies. Discovered by Ben Geskin in the iOS 14 developer beta, the accessibility menu has a new “Limit Frame Rate” option that sets the max refresh rate to 60 fps. Today’s iPhones are already capped at 60Hz, so this could be a telltale sign that 120Hz displays are coming to the iPhone 12 Pro. 

5G and App Clips: The end of app downloads?

iOS 14 app clips

(Image credit: Apple)

iOS 14 introduces a new feature called App Clips, which allows users to experience just the part of an app they need to perform various tasks quickly. You could use App Clips to pay for items with Apple Pay on the spot, rent a scooter or set up a smart home device. You can also discover App Clips by scanning an NFC tag or QR code or from within the Safari browser, a link within a message or in a Place Card in the Maps app. 

The iPhone 12 could supercharge App Clips with 5G, as you’ll be able to download the clips much faster. And as PCMag’s Sascha Segan argues, over time developers will be able to store much more of their code in the cloud instead of the device as 5G networks become more widespread. 

Spatial audio taken to the next level

(Image credit: Apple)

iOS 14 offers spatial audio support, but right now it's optimized to deliver a surround-sound like experience through the AirPods Pro. As Apple says, "spatial audio with dynamic head tracking puts surround sound channels in exactly the right place, even as you turn your head or move your device."

I don't think the iPhone 12 will necessarily be able to track your head, but I would expect more robust speakers and better spatial audio support both when listening to music and when recording video. The iPhone 11 already has spatial audio and Dolby Atmos support, and the iPhone 12 should build on that. Who knows, maybe the TrueDepth camera up front could track your head in the background when watching a movie.

DSLR-like speed and maybe 8K video

(Image credit: Jonas Daehnert)

As more and more of us leave standalone DSLR and mirrorless cameras behind for our phones, iOS 14 is taking performance to the next level. For instance, Apple says you can now shoot photos up to 90% faster and that the time to first shot will be up to 25% faster with the new OS. And Apple's computational photography magic won't get in the way, as the camera "can intelligently modify how photos are processed" so you can shoot faster.

This speed theme could translate to even better performance on the iPhone 12 with new sensors and a new A14 Bionic chip, which will tie directly to the camera experience with its dedicated image processor. So perhaps the iPhone 12 could leverage these speed gains in combination with new hardware to take much better action shots. 

Another possibility? 8K video. Samsung phones like the Galaxy S20 already offer this capability, but Apple could add it to the iPhone 12 as iOS 14 will now feature quick toggles to change video resolution and frame rate while you're in video mode without having to open the Settings app. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.