Next year's iPhones will reportedly be Apple's first to feature 5G compatibility. At least one model will support 5G — and possibly all iPhones coming out in 2020 will be able to take advantage of the faster networking standard. 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 about the iPhone 12.
iPhone 12 release date
If you’re trying to plot out when Apple’s 5G-capable iPhones will arrive, we hope you invest in one of those 18-month calendars. With the iPhone 11 likely to appear at Apple's Sept. 10 press event, it stands to reason that the iPhone 12 will follow a year later in September 2020. (Pro 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 2020 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.
iPhone 12 price
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.
One advantage Apple could enjoy by waiting until 2020 for its 5G phone is that the price of 5G components will have dropped 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.
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5G networks will also be farther along than they are now, with 5G coverage limited to select neighbors in just a few cities. So though Apple will come out with 5G devices later than Samsung, LG and others, the iPhone 12 could be arriving right as 5G becomes more relevant to more people.
iPhone 12 and 5G
Most of what we know about the iPhone 12 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: 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.
iPhone 12: 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. (The X55 will ship in some models of the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, coming out later this year)
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, Intel backed out of 5G chips entirely and Apple purchased Intel’s modem business. 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. That's unlikely to happen with the iPhone 12, though.
iPhone 12 camera
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 for those 2020 versions of the phone. It’s also widely expected that the 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.
Other iPhone 12 features
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.
More recently, Ming-Chi Kuo said that it's possible the 2021 iPhones could feature both Face ID and Touch ID.
As for the look of the 2020 iPhone, the notch that's become so familiar since Apple introduced it on the iPhone X could be on its way out. A China Times report says Apple wants 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 by 2020.
The iPhone 12's display could support a welcome improve 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 60 Hz and 120 Hz refresh rate.
Apple is considering a switchable 60Hz/120Hz refresh rate screen on the iPhone in 2020, and is discussing with Samsung and LG. pic.twitter.com/4aoU303umuJuly 21, 2019
Offering an iPhone with a 120 Hz refresh rate would mean a smoother scrolling display than anything we've currently seen from rival devices. Right now, the OnePlus 7 Pro sets the standard for flagship phones with a 90 Hz refresh rate. The ROG 2 Phone from Asus will have a 120 Hz refresh rate, but that gaming-centric phone hasn't gone on sale yet.
Given the features slated for the iPhone 12, it may be tempting to skip this year’s update and hold out for next year’s model. 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.
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.