Apple's iPhone 11 may still be several months away from its fall release, but it's Cupertino's 2020 handsets that are garnering increasing attention — and for one very good reason.
Next year's iPhones will reportedly be Apple's first to feature 5G compatibility. It's possible that not all the iPhones coming out in 2020 will have 5G, but at least one, possibly two, likely will. The latest rumors point to Qualcomm and Samsung as modem suppliers, with Apple looking to produce its own 5G-capable chips in the long term (though those chips certainly won't be ready by 2020).
It's still obviously very early, and much can change between now and the end of next year. Still, we've heard some details about Apple's plans for its first 5G iPhone. Here's what the rumor mill is saying.
Three models, all with 5G
Most of what we know thus far comes courtesy of a report from analyst Ming Chi Kuo, who forecasts three different iPhone models on tap for 2020: one at 5.4 inches, another at 6.1 inches and the largest variant measuring 6.7 inches.
Previously, Kuo said that only the 5.4- and 6.7-inch models will feature 5G, while the 6.1-inch handset will essentially remain Apple's iPhone XR successor for 2020 and stick with LTE. However, Kuo has now revised his prediction, claiming that thanks to the strong chance that Android phone makers will be selling 5G phones on the cheap by next year, and Apple's interest in AR and recent purchase of Intel's smartphone modem business, he's now confident that all three 2020 iPhones will have 5G.
These three phones are also expected to incorporate OLED displays, meaning 2019 could be the last year in which Apple offers a new LCD-powered iPhone. (The 2019 successor to the iPhone XR is expected to feature an LCD panel.)
While none of this is set in stone quite yet, the news of a potential 5.4-inch model should delight fans of the 4-inch iPhone SE, which Apple let languish after its launch in 2016 and which recently reached end-of-life status. The 5.4-inch 2020 iPhone would likely slot somewhere in the middle between the SE and the current 5.8-inch iPhone XS in size, with much more usable screen real estate than the SE, thanks to Apple's newer full-screen, slim-bezel design.
Both mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G
Once 5G begins to mature, you'll start seeing two different types of 5G networks: millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6GHz.
Currently, most 5G wireless networks launching in the United States are restricted to the mmWave side of the spectrum. This type of infrastructure yields extremely low latency connectivity with gigabit-caliber speeds, with the caveat of extreme sensitivity to physical obstructions. Sub-6-GHz spectrum, on the other hand, is much more similar to conventional LTE networks, as it's considerably slower but able to penetrate buildings and walls.
Today, the only 5G smartphones available in the U.S. — the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and the LG V50 ThinQ 5G — both use Qualcomm's X50 5G modem to connect to mmWave networks. However, Qualcomm's next 5G modem, the X55, supports sub-6GHz as well — meaning phones with the new hardware will be much better prepared to support the full range of 5G in all its different specifications.
Reportedly, Apple will work with Qualcomm and Samsung to supply its 2020 iPhones with modems from both companies that can connect to both mmWave and sub-6GHz networks. According to Kuo (via CNBC), Qualcomm's development to date has been centered on mmWave, while Samsung has concentrated on sub-6GHz, so Apple may prefer to employ a particular firm's chip in a certain region depending on whether mmWave or sub-6GHz is more prevalent.
Up until recently, an ongoing legal battle between Apple and Qualcomm stymied 5G iPhone development. For months, Intel was pegged as the supplier that would provide Apple's first 5G modems in 2021, about two years after 5G-ready phones from Apple's rivals had debuted. But then, Apple and Qualcomm settled their lengthy dispute, and Intel immediately backed out of 5G chips entirely. Qualcomm and Samsung are both much further along in their development than Intel ever was, paving the way for 5G iPhones a year earlier than was anticipated.
Eventually it's expected that Apple will stop contracting Qualcomm and Snapdragon for 5G chips and will design its own modems in house, the same way it does for its A-series processors. However, that isn't expected to happen until 2022 or 2023 at the earliest.
Camera, features and everything else
Aside from the phones' sizes and inclusion of 5G, there's much we still don't know about Apple's next next-generation handsets. However, we can glean some insights based on what Apple has planned for this year's batch of devices.
Given that this year's iPhone XS and XS Max successors are expected to employ triple-lens rear cameras for the first time in Apple's hardware, wed expect that to continue at least with the 2020 5.4-inch and 6.7-inch models.
It's also been reported several times over that this year's iPhones will ditch 3D Touch, which enables pressure-sensitive contextual actions on current models. However, Apple could bring Touch ID back in a big way in 2020 by enabling fingerprint recognition anywhere on the display, according to information provided to MacRumors by Barclays analysts.
Additionally, back in January, Bloomberg reported that Apple could introduce depth-sensing time-of-flight cameras on its 2020 roster, capable of scanning entire rooms. Ideally, this would enable more accurate depth effects in shallow depth-of-field portraits. But more crucially it figures to greatly improve the quantity and quality of augmented-reality effects in games and apps.
There's still so much we don't know about Apple's first 5G iPhones, so be sure to keep an eye on this hub over the coming months as new information surfaces. Meanwhile, for all the news, leaks and reports surrounding the upcoming iPhones set to arrive this fall, check our 2019 iPhone rumor page.