Much to no one’s surprise, Apple took the wraps of its iPhone 12 at the October ‘Hi, Speed’ event. That didn’t mean there weren’t some pleasant surprises. From a new HomePod Mini to the triumphant return of MagSafe, there’s plenty to unpack.
Here’s a look at Everything Apple announced from its virtual launch event from Apple Park.
HomePod Goes Mini
Apple’s £279 HomePod wasn’t a runaway success, but Cupertino isn’t done with it just yet. The new £99 HomePod Mini is small, but equally mighty. You get 360 degree audio with noise cancelling and bass extension. Apple has also added the S5 chip for “computational audio”, which basically balances the sound based on the room environment.
Like its larger brother, the Mini comes wrapped in a mesh fabric (Space Grey or White colour options) with a backlit touch surface. Rather than the cylindrical shape, the Mini looks more like an elongated egg, presumably to pack the driver and two passive radiators. The biggest news is that the HomePod Mini will bring support for Pandora and Amazon Music “later this year”. Clearly it’s a sign the company is trying to show the US Congress that it does create a level playing field for third-parties.
Apple has also packed in the U1 chip to extend Handoff functionality. Now, users will be able to simply bring their iPhone (11 and up) near the HomePod Mini to transfer music and podcasts between the two devices. Apple’s website also says “Also coming soon are personalised listening suggestions that will automatically appear on your iPhone when you hold it next to HomePod mini.” The HomePod Mini will be available for preorder from the 6th of November and start shipping from the 16th.
Smart Home Smarts
For a few years, Apple tried to push the Apple TV as the centre of the smart home. Now it’s clear that the HomePod is. The HomePod Mini has got some very exciting new features making it a great ‘home hub’. Like the HomePod, the Mini also acts as a hub that can control your smart home kit remotely.
Apple also introduced a new “Intercom” feature, that allows users to send messages to everyone in the home via the HomePod. Any messages sent will be played on other HomePods, and your family’s iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and even AirPods. Although Apple didn’t mention any details, it’s likely you will need to have Family Sharing set up to take advantage of this.
Apple also really wants the HomePod to be part of your family. While the company introduced multiuser support with iOS 13.2, the Mini takes it another notch up. Each user now gets their own profile, with contextual information like calendar, messages, reminders and contacts on request. Combined with Intercom, it’s clear that Apple is gunning for Amazon and Google’s smart home dominance. While we can’t vouch for Siri’s accuracy just yet, it’s certainly an interesting and much needed step forward for Apple, especially with all the privacy features built in.
iPhone 12 is Both Big and Small
Apple’s iPhone 12 doesn’t add a lot of great new features, but rather several smaller ones that make it a truly interesting update. Of course, there’s 5G, but we will get to that in a bit. The iPhone 12 features a 6.1” OLED display with flat aluminium sides just like the 2020 iPad Pros. The notch still remains as large as on the iPhone 11, but Apple has reduced the bezels to give the phone a more edge-to-edge feel.
As with the iPhone 11, the iPhone 12 features 2 rear cameras (12MP wide and ultrawide) in a matte glass squircle. Night Mode and Deep Fusion are coming to both lenses as well, thanks to the power of the A14 chip. Apple has also added Night Mode to the front lens, which is also 12MP.
Apple has added a new ‘Ceramic Shield’ to the front screen, which it claims will improve drop performance by 4x. While that’s yet to be tested, it’s certainly a bold claim, even for Cupertino. The company has also added support for Dolby Vision and HDR10, which really don’t matter unless you are streaming that kind of content (which is admittedly, not as popular right now).
To the tune of the James Bond theme, Apple also unveiled the iPhone 12 Mini. The Mini is basically everything the iPhone 12 is, just in a smaller 5.4” display. Both devices will be available in Black, White, Product RED, green and a beautiful new Blue. Preorders open from the 16th, with the iPhone 12 starting at £799 for 64GB. The iPhone 12 Mini will start at £699 for 64GB.
iPhone Pro is For the Pros
With the iPhone 11, Apple introduced the ‘Pro’ branding. At the time, it didn’t really make much sense. There wasn’t enough to differentiate between the Pro and the iPhone 11 apart from the size and telephoto lens. In 2020 it seems like the company has found a better strategy – target the professional photographers and filmmakers.
The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max get a much bigger screen, since Apple slimmed down the bezels. The 12 Pro now features a 6.1” display and the Pro Max a whooping 6.7” display. Rather than the aluminium band, the Pro devices use a stainless steel finish for a much more premium look. That premium look extends to the colour options: Grey, Stainless Steel, Gold and Pacific Blue.
Looks aside, the Pro devices are certainly powerful. The A14 Bionic, ceramic shield, Dolby Vision and HDR10 support all come to the Pro as well. But, there’s more. Apple has added the LiDAR sensor from the iPad Pro to the iPhone 12 Pro. Thanks to the A14 Bionic, LiDAR will be used to make low-light photography up to 6x faster. You also get Night Mode portrait photos. The telephoto lens also now supports 4x optical zoom.
For photographers, the real deal comes with something Apple calls ‘Apple ProRAW’. The format will offer the smarts of Apple’s computational photography with the convenience of RAW. It will be available across all four lenses (yes, including the front camera). Apple hasn’t hinted at any iOS-specific enhancements yet, but we could see some next year to take advantage of this feature.
For the first time, the iPhone 12 Pro will be able to shoot in HDR, including support for Dolby Vision HDR. Users will also be able to edit in HDR on the Photos app, which is a small, but nice addition. The iPhone 12 Pro will be available to pre order from the 16th, at £999 for 128Gb (yup, Apple doubled the entry level storage). The 12 Pro Max will set you back £1,099 for the same spec.
5G Comes to iPhone 12
“Today is the beginning of a new era for iPhone” Tim Cook proclaimed as the company announced 5G was coming to the entire 2020 iPhone lineup. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg also made a cameo at the event, to announce Verizon’s nationwide 5G network. At launch, the iPhone 12 lineup will work with 100 carriers across 30 countries to launch 5G. Interestingly, the iPhone 12 supports both millimetre wave and sub-6 5G. The mmWave band, will be restricted to just the US. Early shots of the iPhone 12 on Apple’s US website show a groove on the device, which is absent in images of the phones on other Apple websites. Apple’s frequency bands page shows no compatibility for mmWave outside the US. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. mmWave is known for its spotty performance, whereas sub-6 5G is more consistent.
We expected 5G to be big, with the invite saying “Hi, Speed”, but in typical Apple fashion, the company proclaimed that the technology would revolutionise the iPhone. Sure, 5G will make gaming and video streaming more fast and efficient, but it won’t be cheap, or battery-friendly. That’s why the company also introduced a “Smart Data Mode”. The feature will switch to 5G only when necessary, saving you precious battery life.
There’s no word yet on what the iPhone 12 battery is like (with and without 5G), so there’s no real way to judge how useful this feature is. That said, it’s still a nice thing to have.
The biggest announcement with the iPhone 12 was clearly MagSafe. The beloved tech may have been killed off on Macs (for now), but Apple found a way to make it very useful on iPhones. MagSafe will guarantee the iPhone lines up with wireless chargers (was that really a big problem?). It’s a small, but nifty addition that Apple is expanding on. MagSafe will bring a wide variety of Apple and third-party cases and accessories. Apple showed off a wallet clip-on and a dual wireless charger, with more coming.
Apart from accessories, MagSafe will also enable 15W wireless charging. This will only work with licensed MagSafe products, which is a bummer. That said, at least the MagSafe dual charger is a cool addition, and even if it isn’t AirPower, it’s more portable at least.
Bye Bye EarPods
And finally, Apple has confirmed it will remove the EarPods and wall adapters from its iPhone boxes. This applies to not only the iPhone 12 series, but also older iPhones Apple continues to sell. Now all you get in the box is the device, and a USB-C to Lighting cable. The move will allow the company to reduce the box size, which means 70% more boxes can be fit on a single shipping pallet.
Of course, all this was done in the name of the “environment”, with Apple claiming the changes will cut over 2 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually. That is true, but it is still going to be a huge pain point for people shifting to iPhone for the first time. Maybe the company could offer an EarPods + iPhone bundle? Let’s hope so.