iPhone 12 launch — 5 burning questions Apple needs to answer

(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

We could easily tell Apple what it should and shouldn't do when it introduces the iPhone 12 next Tuesday, Oct. 13, though we're pretty sure it wouldn't do much good. It's not that Apple wouldn't listen to us — at least, that's the story we're going with — but rather in these days of virtually live product launches, it's a safe bet Apple's pre-recorded iPhone 12 unveiling is likely already in the can.

That's a pity, because the iPhone 12 arrives at a unique time for Apple. This is the first time since the iPhone 4s back in 2011 that Apple has released a phone in October. And that was back before the iPhone was one of the main drivers for Apple's business. Meanwhile, rivals like Samsung and Google have already had a chance to show off — and in some cases, launch — their fall flagships before Apple even steps up on stage.

Even with all the attention a new iPhone commands, Apple's got some catching up to do. So expect the company to use its Oct. 13 launch video to tout the various advantages the iPhone 12 will lord over the rest of the smartphone world.

We'll hear all about the A14 Bionic processor that Apple first unveiled at last month's iPad Air 4 unveiling and how it will power the four new iPhone 12 models. Apple will doubtlessly talk about 5G — the iPhone's finally getting it, across all four models. And Apple will certainly spend time touting a bevy of new features, from new colors to an assortment of camera capabilities. And all that will be fine.

But if Apple wants our advice — seriously, Tim Cook, we won't even send you straight to voicemail — we hope that this Tuesday's iPhone 12 launch spends some time addressing these key points.

Why should we care about 5G?

It would be ridiculous to call 5G a bust at this point. But at the same time, the hype about the new wireless standard has far outweighed the actual benefits that early adopters have experienced. Part of that's because 5G networks are a little more than a year old and still evolving. And another part is because there's been no one device that clearly represents the moment 5G has arrived.

iPhone 12

Apple's different iPhone 12 models are expected to add 5G connectivity. (Image credit: Everything Apple Pro)

Maybe it's premature to saddle the iPhone 12 with that burden, but Apple's phone has a big enough following that the addition of 5G connectivity is significant. Just by adding 5G to the latest iPhones, Apple enables more people than ever before to take advantage of 5G's faster speeds and lower latency.

Apple will obviously mention the 5G capabilities of its new phones. But we hope the company goes a little deeper and talks about what 5G connectivity will mean for iPhone 12 users as well the kinds of experiences 5G can enable. At the same time, Apple should paint a realistic picture of where 5G is now and detail how its new phones are positioned to reap the benefits of better performance as wireless carriers continue to build out their networks.

To that end, there's a rumor that only the iPhone 12 Pro models will be able to connect with all types of 5G. The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 are rumored to only work with low-band 5G networks that have a wider reach but slower speeds than mmWave-based 5G. If that rumor turns out to be true, we hope it's not something Apple glosses over. Instead, we'd like Apple to explain the reason for that decision and outline what it means for the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 as 5G networks evolve.

How good are the displays (without 120Hz)? 

Another early iPhone 12 rumor that sounds like it's not going to pan out is the presence of a faster refresh rate for the screens on some models. At one point, it sounded like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max might feature screens with a 120Hz refresh rate, similar to what Samsung's done for its Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra flagship devices. As we get closer to the iPhone 12 launch, however, it seems like that feature's going to be tabled until next year, and that all iPhones will have standard 60Hz refresh rates.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs OnePlus 8 Pro display

Phones like the OnePlus 8 Pro and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra feature 120Hz displays — that looks like it won't happen for the iPhone 12 Pro. (Image credit: Future)

We wouldn't expect Apple to address that in its iPhone 12 reveal. But given the advances other phone makers have adopted for their displays — the Pixel 5, the Motorola Edge Plus and both OnePlus 8 models offer faster refresh rates, too — it's incumbent on Apple to emphasize the things its screens can do. Talk about the brightness, the colors, the accuracy of what you see on an iPhone 12's screen.  

We spend a lot of time looking at the display — we've got the Screen Time stats to prove it — so give us a sense of what we'll be looking at with the iPhone 12. A current rumor suggests the iPhone 12 could feature a new kind of screen glass called Ceramic Shield Front Cover — we’d love to hear more about what that means for the display’s durability, for example.

What's the LiDAR sensor capable of doing?

One rumor we do expect to pan out for the iPhone 12 is the presence of a LiDAR sensor on the rear camera array — at least for the iPhone 12 Pro models. The move's not unprecedented, as the iPad Pro features such a sensor. And while it would certainly mean some improvements to portrait shots, it sounds like the true value of a LiDAR sensor will be to support more sophisticated augmented reality apps and experiences.

LiDAR could be part of the iPhone 12 Pro's camera array.

LiDAR could be part of the iPhone 12 Pro's camera array. (Image credit: DMJ4D)

That's the kind of thing that needs to be shown off so that people can see it for themselves. AR technology doesn't always lend itself to on-stage demos — it's something you best experience first-hand — but perhaps Apple can take advantage of the live-on-tape nature of the iPhone 12 launch to cook up some really interesting demos.

One thing we're absolutely confident about: if there are compelling AR apps that developers have whipped up using Apple's AR Kit tools, you'll see them during the iPhone 12 launch. Past Apple product events have proven that Apple has no qualms about turning over the spotlight to app makers if what they've created shows off an Apple product in the best light, so we'd be surprised if there weren't any AR demos during next Tuesday's iPhone 12 launch.

We’ve also heard that the LiDAR sensor could help with autofocus performance, low-light photography and perhaps even enable portrait-style effects in videos. But we’ll have to see what Apple’s announcement brings.

What other camera tricks can the iPhone 12 do?

Based on iPhone 12 rumors, don't expect too many surprises in terms of camera hardware. The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 are expected to feature the wide and ultra wide angle cameras found on the iPhone 11, while the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max will adopt that triple lens setup introduced with the iPhone 11 Pro (plus the LiDAR sensor, of course). There's talk of the iPhone 12 introducing a 7-part lens for the main camera that will mean better photo quality.

More features like Deep Fusion, please.

More features like Deep Fusion, please. (Image credit: Apple)

The latest rumors have the iPhone 12 Pro getting a 4x optical zoom and the iPhone 12 Pro Max sporting a 5x zoom, which would be a big improvement over the 2x lens in the iPhone 11 Pro series.

It's software where Apple could surprise us. In recent iPhone launches, Apple has shown off features like Deep Fusion, where its phones perform pixel-by-pixel photo processing to call out details and textures, and Smart HDR, where multiple exposures are combined into one superior shot. It's likely Apple has something similar planned for the iPhone 12 that we'll find out about when Apple devotes time to focusing on the new handset's cameras.

Why no charger?

When Apple eighty-sixed the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, then-Apple executive Phil Schiller was tasked with explaining the move at the launch event. "The reason to move on: courage," Schiller said. "The courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us." 

As explanations go, that one was pretty lame, even if other smartphone makers have subsequently followed Apple's lead, which was probably less inspired by courage and more driven by an interest in selling wireless earbuds.

A 20W Apple charger may be in  the works, but the iPhone 12 models could ship without a charger of any kind.

A 20W Apple charger may be in  the works, but the iPhone 12 models could ship without a charger of any kind. (Image credit: Mr. White)

We bring this up because of another rumor circulating around the iPhone 12 — that it will ship without a charger or wired earbuds. If that comes to pass, Apple's going to have some explaining to do, especially since it's expecting people who pay $999 and up for an iPhone 12 Pro to supply their own accessories.

There are perfectly acceptable reasons for making such a move — it keeps phone costs from spiraling upward and there's an environmental impact when you include accessories with every phone you ship. But it's up to Apple to make that case, and this time, trumpeting your courage isn't going to cut it as a response.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.