Apple enters the 5G era with its new iPhone 12 series of smartphones. The company also introduced the HomePod smart speaker...
In its second round of announcements in less than a month, Apple introduced a new HomePod Mini smart speaker and its first lineup of 5G phones that range from the iPhone 12 mini to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Breaking it down to the technology level, this included a new intercom app, new OLED displays, a lidar sensor, and the new A14 Bionic mobile SoC.
Being just another smart speaker in an overly crowded space, the announcement of the HomePod Mini was not overly exciting. It’s a small sphere, has a fabric mesh cover, and uses Siri — enough said. Well, almost. Apple did integrate one new feature called “intercom” that allows the user to broadcast a message to other Apple devices. It also allows the recipients to respond. So, instead of yelling through the house, Apple users can now have Siri do it for them. Of course, if your teenager is wearing a non-Apple headset playing a game on her computer or game console, the intercom feature is just as ineffective as yelling.
The real interest is in the new lineup of iPhones. The iPhone 12 series are the first 5G phones. In conjunction with Verizon, Apple declared that “5G has finally arrived.” I hate to break the news, but the first 5G NR specification was ratified in 2018 and the wave of 5G phones began in early 2019. But we are happy to welcome Apple to the party. If you recall, Apple was relying solely on Intel modems during this time and Intel was late in delivering a 5G modem. At the same time, Apple was feuding (to put it mildly) with Qualcomm. Since the resolution of hostilities, Apple has shifted development of 5G iPhones to using Qualcomm modems and has acquired Intel’s modem assets to develop its own modems, but these will likely not be available for several more generations of iPhones. By shifting to Qualcomm, not only was Apple able to introduce an entire line of 5G phones, but the company also claims to have the highest combination of frequency support for the broadest global use — proving that the two companies are much better when they work together.
As expected, the new line of iPhones offers a new SoC, enhanced OLED displays, camera modules, and offered some new casing options. At the heart of the iPhone is Apple’s own A14 Bionic chipset featuring six CPU cores, four GPU cores, sixteen neural processing unit (NPU) cores plus other enhancements to the ISP. In addition to the new cores and features, the A14 will be the first mobile SoC to be manufactured on a 5nm process, presumably by TSMC, but Apple did not specify. This allowed Apple to pack 11.8 billion transistors into the A14 and maintain the same power levels as the previous A13 generation, which had roughly 10 billion transistors.
In addition to the new SoC, Apple added a lidar sensor to the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max products. The devices use lidar for autofocusing the camera, to map an environment, and for use with augmented reality (AR) applications to accurately add effects to a scene. This is probably the most interesting enhancement to the iPhones and one that is sure to inspire innovation from application developers.
For multimedia, Apple also partnered with Dolby to support 4K Dolby Vision on the new iPhones. As with other OEMs, Apple hopes to displace even professional video cameras. While unlikely in the near term, it is inspiring a new generation of content creators and adding to the flood of high-quality video. Apple continues to steer clear of the high-priced foldable designs that many of the Android OEMs have pursued. Apple also enhanced the magnetic system dubbed MagSafe for wireless charging to increase both the safety and performance of the wireless charging solutions.
At $99 for the HomePod mini, $699 for the iPhone mini, $799 for the iPhone 12, $999 for the iPhone Pro, and $1099 for the iPhone Max, Apple is targeting the volume segment of the markets with reasonable price points and is sure to be seen as a great upgrade opportunity the holiday season by Apple users.
In another announcement, Apple highlighted its effort to go 100% carbon neutral by 2030. The company is already powering its facility and data centers with renewable energy, using recycled materials in the manufacture of iPhone components like the charging magnets, and pushing its suppliers to become more environmentally friendly. This is a very inspiring strategy and demonstrates environmental leadership for the industry.
Other than the inaccurate “5G has finally arrived” claim, the only other disappointment was from Verizon. Verizon claimed U.S. nationwide 5G coverage in the US, but that always comes with caveats. Someone should inform Verizon that 30%+ of the US population still lives in rural areas and 5G coverage won’t be the same in all areas where coverage is offered. So, while having a 5G phone will give you better performance when on 5G networks, it is not everywhere, especially not “nationwide.” The real benefit is that the performance of the phone should continue to increase as the 5G networks rollout and continue to evolve. As I said at the beginning of 2019, no one should be buying a phone without 5G. Now with the iPhone 12s, everyone has a choice.
— Jim McGregor is principal at Tirias Research.