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

(Image credit: Ben Geskin/Smazizg)

Apple's iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max only went on sale a few months ago, but all eyes are already on the Cupertino company's 2020 handsets — and for one very good reason.

The next iPhones will reportedly be Apple's first to support 5G networking. At least one model will support 5G — and possibly all iPhones coming out this year will be able to take advantage of the faster networking standard. Other reports point to an all-new iPhone 12 design that kills the notch, in-display Touch ID functionality and at least two new sizes.

It's still very early, and much can change in the next nine months. Still, there are plenty of leaks already out there. Here's what the rumor mill is saying about the new iPhone 12.

Latest iPhone 12 rumors (updated Jan. 21)

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.) 

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 coming out this year are priced at a premium compared to conventional models. The Galaxy S10 5G, for example, starts at $1,299 — a $300 premium over the already pricey Galaxy S10+. The newly released Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G also costs $1,299, which is $200 more than the standard Note 10 Plus.

Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo was initially pessimistic about the price of 5G iPhones. In November, he wrote about the increasing costs of the iPhone's motherboard, which would lead you to believe that the phone as a whole would be more expensive too. However in a more recent report, Kuo was actually positive about the pricing for the iPhone 12, saying “Apple will not significantly increase the price of 5G iPhones compared to this year's lineup”, the price raising by between $30 and $100 depending on the specific version. Kuo believes that Apple has found ways to offset the additional cost he alluded to before. 

One advantage Apple could enjoy by waiting until late 2020 for its 5G phone is that the price of 5G components may drop by then, allowing Apple to release the iPhone 12 for around the same price as what you’d pay for an iPhone today. That’s pure speculation at this point though, and Kuo's report makes it seem less likely.

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 12 design: Death for the notch?

(Image credit: Ben Geskin/Smazizg)

The notch that's become so familiar since Apple introduced it on the iPhone X could be on its way out for the 2020 iPhone. A China Times report says Apple is ready to move away from the notch, and while a Credit Suisse analyst says that will happen by 2021, the first notch-free iPhone in a long while could arrive before the end of 2020.

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)

However, there's a competing rumor, sourced via Mac Otakara from Apple's East 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 and smaller bezels.

Meanwhile, many designers have already began distributing video renders of their hopes for the design of Apple's forthcoming handsets. One such mockup, created by a designer named Techy Paradise, illustrates a notch-free device similar to that 6.7-inch prototype Geskin hinted at, with a quartet of camera lenses on the back for good measure.

Designer Pallav Raj has concocted another iPhone 12 design that shows what a notch-free version of the phone might look like; it also features the sharper edged design that's been rumored as a possible new look for the iPhone 12.

iPhone 12 concept design

iPhone 12 concept design (Image credit: Pallav Raj)

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.

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)

Previously, Kuo said that only the 5.4- and 6.7-inch models will feature 5G, while the 6.1-inch handset will be Apple's iPhone XR and iPhone 11 successor for 2020 and stick with LTE. However, Kuo has now revised his prediction: 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 four 2020 iPhones will have 5G.

These four phones are also expected to incorporate OLED displays. (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 12s (the 6.7 and 6.1-inch models), 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 (probably called 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: 5G networking for all four models?

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. 

Once 5G begins to mature, you'll start seeing two different types of 5G networks: millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6GHz. 

Initially, most 5G wireless networks launching in the United States were 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. Verizon has used mmWave to bring 5G to parts of more than 30 cities. 

Sub-6GHz 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; it also has a further reach. Sprint launched a 5G network built on mid-band spectrum in nine cities last year, while T-Mobile launched a nationwide sub-6Ghz network in December. AT&T is also rolling out a low-band network across the country to augment its high-speed mmWave service in more than 20 cities.

The first smartphones available in the U.S., such as the the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, use Qualcomm's X50 5G modem to connect to mmWave networks. However, Qualcomm's newest 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. (The X55 ships in some models of the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, and will come packaged with devices that utilize the Snapdragon 865 CPU later this year.)

X55 5G modem

X55 5G modem (Image credit: Qualcomm)

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. Kuo has subsequently said that the iPhone 12 models coming out this fall will support all versions of 5G

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, Intel backed out of 5G chips entirely and Apple purchased Intel’s modem business

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. That's unlikely to happen with the new iPhone 12, though.

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.

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 echoes 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. 

Kuo expects two iPhone 12 models, the 5.4-inch and 6.1-inch options, will feature dual-lens arrays, while a 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch 12 Pro variants will sport triple-lens cameras. This was then backed up by an investor report from UBS, which also indicates the two assumed 'Pro' variants will have a 3D sensing time-of-flight camera to back up the three other cameras.

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.

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.

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.