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New iPhone 12: Everything we know about Apple’s 2020 iPhones

iPhone 12
(Image credit: Ben Geskin/Smazizg)

The iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max may make up Apple’s current iPhone lineup. But that’s not preventing anyone from looking ahead to what’s coming this fall from Cupertino.

That’s when the next iPhone is arriving, and that model — the iPhone 12 — will reportedly be Apple's first to support 5G networking. Other reports point to an all-new iPhone 12 design that gets rid of the iPhone’s distinctive notch while adding in-display Touch ID functionality. And there could be more iPhone models than usual.

We’re still more than eight months out from the next iPhone launch, and a lot can change. But here’s what we know so far about the iPhone 12.

iPhone 12: What to expect

  • Four iPhone 12 models coming this fall, after the iPhone SE 2 comes out this spring
  • Multiple iPhone 12 models will feature 5G
  • Two new iPhones will likely add a time of flight sensor to the three rear cameras
  • All new iPhones could feature OLED screens, with some models offer faster 120Hz refresh rates

Latest iPhone 12 rumors (updated Feb. 17)

iPhone 12 release date

The iPhone 11 lineup debuted at an Apple press event Sept. 10, so it stands to reason that the new iPhone 12 will follow in September 2020. (Here's a tip: keep the second week of September free and don't forget to account for Labor Day if you want to guess the specific announcement date.)

There’s always a possibility that Apple would go with an earlier launch in the year to avoid losing too much ground to rival phone makers who’ve already come out with 5G models. But that would be an unusual move for Apple, which tends to limit its phone releases to the fall. However, there seems to be a good chance a lower-cost iPhone SE successor may appear earlier. (More on that below.) 

An earlier launch than usual isn't on the horizon according to Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst and expert in making predictions about Apple's next moves. He has outlined the products that Apple will release in the first half of 2020, but there's no iPhone 12 on the list. Looks like we'll be waiting until September as usual for the time being.

It's possible the launch could have been delayed, since coronavirus has caused development setbacks which will lead to delayed production. However even if this does happen, the iPhone 12 should still launch in September.

iPhone 12 price

The iPhone 11 starts at a fairly affordable $699, while the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max cost $999 and $1,099 respectively. The wild card is how much 5G support will add to the price of the new iPhone 12.

Most 5G-capable phones arriving in the past year are priced at a premium compared to conventional models. The Galaxy S10 5G, for example, starts at $1,299 — $300 more than the already pricey Galaxy S10+. The Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G also costs $1,299, which is $200 more than the standard Note 10 Plus.

Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo strikes a positive tone about the pricing for the iPhone 12, saying “Apple will not significantly increase the price of 5G iPhones compared to this year's lineup.” He estimates between a $30 and $100 bump depending on the specific version. 

Waiting until late 2020 to release a 5G phone may work to Apple’s advantage if it can release the iPhone 12 for around the same price as what you’d pay for an iPhone today. 5G networks will also be farther along than they are now, with 5G coverage limited to select neighborhoods in just a few cities. For example, T-Mobile has already launched its low-band 5G network, which offers speeds slightly faster than what LTE traditionally delivers. So, although Apple will come out with 5G devices later than Samsung, OnePlus and others, the iPhone 12 could be arriving right as 5G becomes relevant to more people. 

iPhone 5G: Apple's first 5G phones

A report from Nikkei says that all iPhone 12 models will ship with 5G networking capability, which means you wouldn't have to necessarily to step up to an iPhone 12 Pro Max to enjoy faster downloads. Reportedly, Apple will work with Qualcomm and Samsung to supply its 2020 iPhones with modems from both companies that can connect to 5G networks built on both mmWave and sub-6GHz spectrum.

According to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via CNBC), Qualcomm's development to date has been centered on mmWave, while Samsung has concentrated on sub-6GHz. 

Having support for both mmWave and sub-GHz 5G networks is important, because different carriers are using different technologies when rolling out their 5G networks. Verizon 5G is focusing, at least initially, on mmWave, which delivers the fastest speeds but typically requires line of sight.

T-Mobile and AT&T are concentrating on lower-band 5G, which delivers the longest range but not the fastest speeds. (T-Mobile and AT&T will are also working on mmWave but it's not as widespread.) And Sprint is using mid-band 5G. So it's critical that Apple's 5G iPhones support all of the above technologies. 

Now that Apple bought Intel’s modem business, it's expected that Apple will eventually stop getting its 5G modems from Qualcomm and will design its own modems in house, the same way it does for its A-series processors. That's unlikely to happen with the new iPhone 12, though.

Ming-Chi Kuo has made a new prediction about the iPhone 12's 5G capabilities - that it will use far fewer signal amplifiers than he first thought. This will mean slower 5G speeds as a result, but users outside of 5G areas definitely won't notice the difference, and those with access to certain 5G networks may not either, since the fledgling networks are not yet that much faster compared to 4G.

iPhone 12 design: Taller, slimmer and new blue?

iPhone 12 concept

(Image credit: Ben Geskin/Smazizg)

Don't expect a radically different design for the iPhone 12. The latest leak via MacOtakara cites a rumor within the Asian supply chain which claims that the design of the iPhone 12 will not be that different from the iPhone 11, using the same curved rail design, although with a thinner depth, greater height and smaller bezels to increase screen space.

The notch that's become so familiar since Apple introduced it on the iPhone X will likely still be there on the iPhone 12, but it could be smaller, according to the MacOtakara report. Another rumor says that Apple will spice things up by offering a blue color for the iPhone 12.

(Image credit: EverythingApplePro/YouTube)

But not everyone believes the notch is here to stay. Benjamin Geskin, who comes up with a lot of phone renders based on leaks and rumors, has put out a render of a 6.7-inch iPhone that drops the notch and instead houses the iPhone's TrueDepth camera components inside a thin bezel. Geskin tweeted that this is a prototype for a 2020 iPhone model. In a subsequent tweet, Geskin said Apple's testing out Face ID prototypes that feature components capable of fitting in the phone's top bezel, though there's no source attributed to that claim.

Another rumor is that Apple is looking to phase out the round-edged design it first established with the iPhone 6 line and has carried through to the latest iPhone 11 series. The new look would evoke the iPhone 4's matte aluminum band aesthetic, adopting sharper edges with flat sides and flatter front and rear glass slabs.

A concept published by PhoneArena helps us visualize how this rumored design could shake out. Also notice the more slender notch at the top of the display, with increased real estate for the time and battery icons to the left and right of the earpiece and TrueDepth camera system.

(Image credit: PhoneArena)

iPhone 12: How many models?

Most of what we know about the new iPhone 12 thus far comes courtesy of a report from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who forecasts four different iPhone 12 models on tap for 2020: one at 5.4 inches, two at 6.1 inches and the largest variant measuring 6.7 inches. All four 2020 iPhones will have 5G, Kuo says.

Apple's iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max

Apple's iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

These four phones are also expected to incorporate OLED displays, which would mark a change for Apple. Like the iPhone XR before it, the iPhone 11 features a Liquid Retina display instead of an OLED panel.

As for other specs, an investor's note from UBS has predicted that the two largest iPhone 12 models (the 6.7 and 6.1-inch versions), will have 6GB RAM, while the smaller two (the second 6.1-inch model plus the 5.4-inch model) will stick with the same 4GB RAM found in the current iPhone 11. 6GB RAM will be the most memory found in an iPhone to date, which, combined with a new processor (likely the A14 Bionic) will keep Apple at the top of the smartphone performance charts. That'll especially be true if the A14 is manufactured on a 5-nanometer process, as some rumors have hinted.

Could an iPhone SE successor be in the works for 2020?

Could an iPhone SE successor be in the works for 2020? (Image credit: Future)

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 reached end-of-life status in the last year. 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.

But Apple is also rumored to be readying a full-fledged iPhone SE successor with a 4.7-inch LCD display and iPhone 8 design with an A13 Bionic processor. Analysts expect that phone to make an appearance during the first three months of 2020. You can read more on that device in our iPhone SE 2 rumor roundup.

iPhone 12 cameras

Given that the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max feature triple-lens rear cameras for the first time in Apple's hardware, we expect that to continue for the 2020 versions of the Pro iPhones. It’s also widely expected that the new iPhone 12 will add a new lens — a time-of-flight sensor. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo expects such an addition to at least two iPhone 12 models.

iPhone 11 Pro

The iPhone 11 Pro's three lenses could be joined by a time-of-flight sensor on the iPhone 12 Pro. (Image credit: Future)

A time-of-flight sensor can more accurately judge distances. That helps create better bokeh effects on portrait shots. It also means the iPhone 12 will be in a better position to support augmented reality apps, which have been an increasing area of focus at Apple in recent years. A new report, which highlights 3D camera sensors echoes this claim.

Kuo’s report follows a Bloomberg article from January that claimed Apple could introduce depth-sensing time-of-flight cameras on its 2020 roster, capable of scanning entire rooms. 

Based on a patent filing, Apple is also working on a periscope-like telephoto lens that should provide a longer zoom range than previous iPhones. Apple is apparently trying to fit five-lens and three-lens arrays into a smaller space by using a prism to reflect light.

DigiTimes have published claims that the next iPhone will use "sensor shift", a new kind of image stabilization technology, on its cameras. The technology works by detecting how the phone is moving, and then moving the camera sensors in the opposite direction using small actuators, keeping your picture stable. This is different from the fairly common optical image stabilization (OIS) on other modern smartphone cameras, which moves the lens instead, and hopefully for Apple will be more effective at producing quality shots even in shaky hands.

In November, Sony began teasing its upcoming flagship IMX686 image sensor, which could make it into the iPhone 12. The sensor captures 64 megapixels, though it also has the ability to deliver optimized 16-megapixel shots with improved light sensitivity, thanks to Quad Bayer pixel-binning. The image sensors employed in all three iPhone 11 models are manufactured by Sony and rated at 12 megapixels. 

iPhone 12 display: 120Hz refresh rate

The new iPhone 12's display could support a welcome improvement over the screens on many current smartphones. A tweet from leaker Ice Universe claims that Apple is considering whether to let next year's iPhone switch between a 60Hz and 120Hz refresh rate. This rumor received more weight in October 2019, when DigiTimes reported that the iPhone 12 will have the same 120Hz refresh rate as the iPad Pro.

Offering an iPhone with a 120Hz refresh rate would mean a smoother scrolling display than anything we've currently seen from rival devices. Right now, the OnePlus 7 Pro, OnePlus 7T and Google's Pixel 4 set the standard for flagship phones with a 90Hz refresh rate. The ROG 2 Phone from Asus notably has a 120Hz refresh rate, which is rare for an OLED panel. Samsung’s Galaxy S20 will reportedly offer the feature (though not by default) as will the OnePlus 8.

iPhone 12 Touch ID in display

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.

More recently, Ming-Chi Kuo said that it's possible the 2021 iPhones could feature both Face ID and Touch ID.

No more Lightning port?

Apple has given its iPhones its proprietary Lighting port since the iPhone 5. However, times are changing. The newest generation of iPad Pro uses USB-C, as does basically every other portable device manufacturer in the world right now, but more important than this is the influence of the European Union.

The EU has voted to make manufacturers use USB-C in order to increase consumer convenience and decrease waste. Apple has objected to this ruling, but it isn't going to have much of a choice but to comply. Whether this law will go into force before the iPhone 12's design is finalized isn't certain, but it could be possible that the iPhone 12 will use USB-C as a result.

Outlook

Given the features slated for the new iPhone 12, it may be tempting to skip the iPhone 11 series and hold out for the 2020 phones. We understand the impulse, though really, the best time to upgrade your phone is when you need a new model, regardless of the features that may materialize a year from now. That said, as we get closer to the fall, waiting to upgrade makes more and more sense.

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.