Apple’s iPhone 12 is quickly taking shape and new renders show a retro-inspired design which looks stunning. But now we know a surprising new iPhone 12 design decision and it might just be the most important of them all.
Building on a remarkable year, Front Page Tech’s Jon Prosser has revealed that Apple will not equip all its new iPhone 12 models with the same ‘full fat’ 5G as was previously reported. Instead, Apple is cutting 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) support from its entry-level models and, while you might think that is a bad thing, it’s actually brilliant news.
05/07 Update: news today that one aspect of Apple’s future iPhone line-ups is going to have to wait. In a new report from acclaimed Apple insider Ming-Chi Kuo (via MacRumors), the analyst has revealed that the impact of the Coronavirus worldwide has delayed Apple’s launch plans for its, potentially game-changing, mini-LED displays. These displays, which combine the quality of OLED with even more power-efficient and thinner panels, are targeted across Apple’s product range. New MacBook Pros with Mini LED were touted for an October/November launch by Boomberg’s Mark Gurman while iPads and iPhones are also in the mix. The good news is Kuo states the global pandemic “will not damage the long-term positive trend” for this new technology but, for now, it looks like we’re gong to have to wait another generation for its arrival.
In addition to the inherent higher price, there are also extra engineering expenses. External modems need more space for proper heat dissipation to run properly even if they’re not connected to 5G networks, so phones need to be bigger to accommodate it. And since external modems are less power efficient than integrated ones, internal parts need to be completely retooled to make room for it. Add all that up and you’re getting a phone that’s way more expensive to build. The iPhone 12 won’t have that problem. For one, Apple makes its own system-on-chip, so it doesn’t rely on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon. For another, it’s been making iPhones with external modems for years, so it’s well aware of the power and heat needs. Even if the x55 5G modem costs more than the Intel XMM7660 in the iPhone 11, it won’t be anywhere near the exorbitant increase Android phone makers are seeing.
05/06 Update: an excellent breakdown from MacWorld has made this advantage even clearer. It explains that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865, the direct rival to Apple’s A14 chip, has, for the first time in five years, had to separate its modem from the main chipset. This introduces a cost hit, as both the 5G modem and chipset have to be purchased together, while their separation introduces efficiency problems. The external modem consumes more power (hence the mediocre battery life from Samsung’s Galaxy S20 line-up, despite their massively enlarged batteries) and more heat generation, which requires additional space to dissipate it, therefore forcing handset makers to build even bigger phones. Contrast that with Apple’s plans to launch a 5G-equipped entry-level 5.4-inch iPhone 12 at just $650 and, this year, Apple’s control over its own hardware looks set to pay-off very handsomely indeed.
Prosser explains that “Even the base models this year are getting 5G and OLED, I’m being told that it’s not millimetre wave 5G for the base models, but it’s still 5G so Apple can say 5.G.” And here’s the thing: for almost all users, “5.G.” is going to be more than enough. Why? Because mmWave 5G, while the fastest flavor of 5G capable of hitting up to 2Gb/s (2,000Mb/s), has atrocious range (circa 500 metres in real-world scenarios), it barely works indoors and its signal can even be killed by the rain.
By contrast, standard ‘mid-band’ 5G (sub-6 GHz) can still achieve ballistic speeds of up to 400Mb/s and its range is measured in miles. It’s also the version of 5G that is primarily being rolled out around the world. No-one with a good 5G signal is going to miss mmWave. And here’s the rub: while the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max need to tick all boxes for their premium price points, the cost-saving of leaving mmWave out of the entry-level iPhone 12 models is dramatic and Apple is passing it on to buyers.
Consequently, as Prosser previously leaked, it is a crucial piece of the puzzle allowing Apple to price the entry-level iPhone 12 at just $650 ($450 less than an iPhone 12 Pro Max), despite the fact this phone will contain mid-band 5G and upgrade from LCD to an OLED display. The latter move also enables Apple to remove the thicker bezels seen on the LCD-based iPhone XR and iPhone 11. The result is premium 5G iPhone design at a true midrange price point.
And it doesn’t stop there. The entry-level iPhone 12 models will also pack Apple’s potentially MacBook Pro-rivalling new A14 chipset and the primary and ultra-wide cameras of the iPhone 12 Pro models. You will lose the 2x telephoto lens (tip: walk closer) and the new LiDAR camera (which looks great) but you’ll be upgrading again before that reaches its full potential.
Knowing what to cut at each price point is a game of Russian Roulette for smartphone makers. But pulling mmWave 5G from the iPhone 12 is a brilliant design decision and, for the first time in iPhone history, the result is Apple looks set to beat all its rivals on price.