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iPhone 13: Release date, design, leaks and what we want to see

iPhone 13
(Image credit: Ben Geskin/Smazizg)

We're only weeks out from the iPhone 12's launch, but the perpetual smartphone rumor mill is already churning out leaks and rumors surrounding next year's iPhone 13.

Of course, given the iterative nature of this industry, it's difficult to forecast Apple's trajectory two generations in advance when we don't know precisely everything about the iPhone 12. For as much as we've heard, with more than a month still to go, certain aspects like pricing and software features can change in the final moments leading up to release.

All that is to say, it's extremely early days to discuss iPhone 13 rumors, and so that classic warning of taking everything you see or hear with a grain of salt is one to heed. That said, some of these rumblings clue us into fascinating design decisions that could inform not only future iPhones, but also send ripples through the smartphone industry as we know it.

Here's everything we know about the iPhone 13.

iPhone 13 release date

If the iPhone 13 release date follows Apple's pattern for previous launches, we could see this device hit shelves on the fourth Friday of September 2021. That would be Sept. 24. But the iPhone 12 release date is up in the air due to the coronavirus pandemic and may not be available until October or even November for the iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

It's possible that the coronavirus could delay the development of the iPhone 13, which would have an effect on the eventual release date. But at this point it's too early to tell. 

iPhone 13 design: Could it be portless?

Imagine if the iPhone 12 was the last generation of Apple handsets to feature a physical charging port in every model. It's a shocking thought, but Apple could begin phasing out Lightning ports starting with one of the iPhone 13 models — and USB Type-C won't be there to replace it.

Instead, a tweet from tipster Jon Prosser spells it out clear as day: There will be one port-free iPhone in 2021, he says, and eventually, they'll all go that way. "Never USB-C," Prosser adds, killing some enthusiasts' hopes that Apple would adopt the same standard as Android phones and the vast majority of other modern consumer electronics.

The idea of a portless iPhone may sound a bit ridiculous, but ironically, it's become likelier ever since the European Union made moves to force all phone manufacturers to use a common port for charging. Lightning has been the company's go-to since 2012, when it was introduced alongside the iPhone 5.

Rather than engineering future iPhones to work with the same interface as all Android phones — at which point, Apple would stand to miss out on the very lucrative market of accessory licensing that it's always enjoyed — reason suggests that the company would rather ditch ports entirely, and turn to Qi induction as its common charging solution. Qi is, of course, the wireless charging framework shared by all smartphones releasing today.

This might not be the way you charge the iPhone 13.

This might not be the way you charge the iPhone 13. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

However, to do that, a portless iPhone will need to charge much faster without wires than the current models do. The iPhone 11 Pro's wireless charging maxes out at 7.5 watts — around a quarter as quick as the new Warp Charge 30 Wireless system in the new OnePlus 8 Pro. Even Google's oft-criticized Pixel 4 has faster wireless charging than the latest iPhones, at 11 watts.

But what else could a port-free iPhone allow? Theoretically, eliminating the device's largest ingress point would improve durability and water resistance. It could also assist in making handsets thinner down the line, though given the rapidly accelerating size of batteries across the industry and the advent of especially energy-hungry 5G networks, it's probably a safer bet that iPhones in 2021 will be larger and perhaps thicker than those on sale today.

iPhone 13 notch and TrueDepth camera

The iPhone 11 series' iconic notch, which dates back to 2017's iPhone X, may be reduced into a narrower and more slender form for the upcoming iPhone 12 range. However, it's important to note that Apple supposedly experimented with ditching the notch entirely for its yet-to-be-released 2020 flagships, but that design has reportedly been tabled for future models.

Bearing that in mind, it's possible Apple could introduce that change for the iPhone 13. Last fall, leaker Ben Geskin published a render on Twitter detailing how the system could work, by embedding the entirety of the TrueDepth system and earpiece inside the handset's top bezel.

While it's reasonable to think Apple will probably keep the iPhone 12-style notch around for another generation, given that it's taken a more gradual, iterative approach to design in recent years, the company could conceivably introduce a more experimental model in 2021 — think no ports, but also no notch, either — along the lines of the original iPhone X. Of course, this is just speculation.

iPhone 13 Touch ID: Will it make a comeback?

Apple has never before released an iPhone with both Face ID and Touch ID, though that could change for the iPhone 13. In fact, a rumor far back as August 2019 from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed Apple was looking into adding an in-screen fingerprint sensor to its 2021 devices, and that the company viewed both biometric technologies as complementary, with potential to work well together.

Since then, more recent reports have even raised the possibility that Touch ID could make it into the iPhone 12. However, those rumblings are less definitive, with conflicting stories from multiple sources — indicating the feature is probably more of a next year goal.

Given that the current version of Face ID can't recognize people with masks, and Apple changed iOS to better accommodate users with face masks, we suspect that the company has to at least be thinking about how to bring back Touch ID in a sleeker way. A patent recently unearthed by AppleInsider sheds light on how Cupertino might be able to pull that off, with a sophisticated in-display system that uses an array of micro lenses to focus lenses on a subject's fingerprint. Theoretically, this would improve readability that is typically diminished by screen translucency.

iPhone 13 specs: An Apple-designed 5G modem?

Almost exactly a year ago, Apple purchased Intel's shuttering modem business for $1 billion. It was the only reasonable course of action for Cupertino, which had been in and out of court with Qualcomm for years over patent disputes that left certain iPhone models at a noticeable networking disadvantage compared to contemporary Android phones.

Apple and Qualcomm would eventually make up, of course, but ultimately it didn't matter — the iPhone maker wants to control its own destiny rather than be beholden to a supplier with which it has a tenuous relationship at best. By the time the iPhone 13 releases, that team will have been working under Apple leadership for nearly two-and-a-half years, making 2021 the absolute earliest it could launch its first handsets with its own modem onboard.

That said, 2021 would really be pushing it, as Fast Company pointed out in the fall. Modems take a long time to develop, and undergo a lengthy certification process. The slightest delay could set the project back a year or even two. It would appear that 2022 would make for a safer bet, though the source Fast Company cited believes 2023 is actually a more realistic time frame. Here's hoping we won't have to wait until the iPhone 15 to find out how Apple's modems change the game.

Regardless of which company ultimately builds the modems inside the iPhone 13, a recent report from DigiTimes (by way of AppleInsider) claims Apple may choose to focus the 5G modem in the iPhone 13 on either sub-6GHz or millimeter-wave networks, depending on the particular market in which the phone will ship. This is interesting, because the iPhone 12 range will support both sub-6GHz and mmWave across the board, or at least among the Pro variants. It could be a clever cost-saving strategy, but with networks in some markets (like the U.S.) equally dependent on both wireless protocols, it's far from an ideal solution.

iPhone 13 Flip: Could it fold?

There's no evidence at this stage to suggest Apple will launch a foldable iPhone in 2021 alongside the iPhone 13, though the possibility does seem to get stronger with every passing generation, especially as foldable devices become more common and affordable.

Apple has a number of patents to its name concerning handsets with foldable displays, some of which are covered in our hub for all things iPhone Flip. Reports in the past two years have claimed Cupertino has sampled some candidates for flexible screens, hinting that Apple is definitely researching the category. Some third-party mockups and concepts out there look very enticing, but they're more wishes than educated guesses at this early stage.

As we get past the iPhone 12's launch and begin looking toward the iPhone 13 in earnest, we'll likely have a better idea of whether or not a foldable variant could enter the fray. As for now, it's anyone's guess.

iPhone 13: What we want to see

Chances are we'll begin to hear the first concrete details on the iPhone 13 around the time of the iPhone 12's launch in the fall. That's because Apple's strategy with its forthcoming handsets will allow us to deduce where it goes after that. In fact, one of the earliest reports that Apple was planning a compact, 5.4-inch variant of the iPhone 12 dropped last September, mere days after the iPhone 11 series debuted.

The iPhone 13's cameras will surely get a lot of attention.

The iPhone 13's cameras will surely get a lot of attention. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Here's what we'd love to see from the iPhone 13 when it does surface, beyond what rumors are suggesting.

  • Faster wireless charging, included in box: If Apple does ditch the Lightning port once and for all, it needs to ramp up the slow wireless charging on current iPhones, and offer some kind of wireless charging solution in the box with the device. It's hard to imagine Apple simply telling buyers to go with any old Qi pad they might have lying around, as that could result in slow or inefficient charging; nevertheless, the company needs to do right by its customers here, and pack one in with the handset.
  • 128GB, standard: This seems likely for the iPhone 12 range. However, in case it isn't, Apple has got to get with the times and offer a base of 128GB of storage in all iPhone 13 models. It's borderline offensive to spend upwards of a grand on a premium smartphone that only packs 64GB from the factory, especially considering Apple's aversion to microSD expandability.
  • Improved camera zoom: Either by hardware, software or a combination of both, Apple has to punch up the iPhone's photography abilities when shooting from a distance. Many smartphone users love having a good ultrawide lens, but a strong telephoto is just as important too when you can't get up close to your subject. Perhaps Apple could learn a thing or two from Google's Super Res Zoom, which uses clever algorithms to nearly make up for the lack of a high-powered periscope lens.
  • 120Hz display: If you've never used a phone with one before, a fast refresh-rate display just makes every scroll, tap, task and game so much more responsive than on standard 60Hz panels. Personally, we'd settle for 90Hz if 120Hz is deemed too costly for battery life, but a swifter refresh rate could go a long way toward making iOS feel even smoother than it feels now, which is already pretty smooth.

We expect that the iPhone 12 Pro, with its rumored flatter design, 120Hz Pro Motion OLED display, 5G support and LiDAR-boosted camera, will form the foundation for Apple's 2021 devices. So keep a close eye on our iPhone 12 rumors page, in addition to this one, over the coming months as the future of iPhone takes shape.