Today was Apple's second event this fall, named "Hi, Speed". The previous one, about a month ago, introduced new Apple Watch and iPad models, among other announcements. Notably absent that day was any mention of iPhone.
That's what today was all about. We now have all the details on iPhone 12, which is seeing some changes to its line-up with the inclusion of a "mini" option. Of course, today's announcements covered more than just iPhone; we also got the details on the new HomePod Mini, a $99 HomePod speaker.
iPhone 12: Mini to Max
As mentioned, the iPhone line-up is changing a bit. The pattern we've gotten used to is still present: there's iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Now, though, there's a new addition in the form of iPhone 12 mini. This model is identical to iPhone 12, except for screen size. The mini is 5.4 inches to iPhone 12's 6.1 inches. The Pro variant is also 6.1 inches, while the Pro Max is a pocket-straining 6.7 inches.
Before we get to the differences, let's run through the features that all the new models share.
The physical design of iPhone 12 is somewhat different from that of the 11. Instead of the rounded sides you might be used to, iPhone 12 returns to flat sides, with the front and rear glass merging with a metal frame. Apple says that, despite the larger screen sizes in these models, iPhone 12 is eleven percent thinner, sixteen percent lighter, and has fifteen percent less volume than iPhone 11. By reducing the screen bezels and pushing the screen as close to the frame as they could, they say that iPhone 12 is about the same overall size as iPhone 11, yet has even more display surface.
As usual, there's a new processor at the heart of the new iPhones. The A14 Bionic is the same chip we saw introduced in the recently-announced iPad Air, and as we found out then, the A14 is an impressive bit of engineering. Today gave us even more details. It has twice as many cores for machine learning, it runs both normal and graphics operations faster than the A13, and it is among the first mobile chips to use a five nanometer process. Basically, this means Apple is able to fit more material into the same physical size, letting the A14 do more work while drawing little extra power and putting off less heat. Apple claims that the A14 Bionic is generations ahead of anything else out there, and is the fastest chip in any smartphone.
It won't surprise you that there are improved cameras on every new iPhone. The pattern where the Pro models include an extra lens continues, but every iPhone 12 is capable of taking better images than any iPhone before it. Low light performance has markedly improved, though you'll see more in this area on the Pro, and Smart HDR updates help images look great. So Apple says, at least.
Before we get off of visual topics, let's touch on the screen. The glass is the big topic here: not only is it the newest, toughest glass Corning has made to date, it's backed by a "ceramic shield" to offer even more durability. Essentially, Apple and Corning have come up with a way to grow ceramic crystals in the glass itself. These tiny crystals offer four times the drop resistance as compared to iPhone 11. Also of note is that all iPhone 12 models now sport OLED screens, with twice the pixel count as last year's phones had. Previously, the non-Pro phones used LCD screens, so this will be a welcome change for those who want their display to look great, but may not need the other features of an iPhone Pro.
Ever since iPhones gained the ability to charge wirelessly, way back with iPhone 8, people have wished this charging method could top off batteries faster. More and more often, competing phones offer faster wireless charging speeds, leaving Apple's phones in the dust. This year, iPhone 12 finally addresses this shortcoming, supporting wireless charging speeds of up to twice what previous-generation iPhones could manage. This isn't to say that you'll see your battery charge twice as fast, but you'll certainly see a big jump in charging speed, if you use a compatible wireless charger.
Apple has finally gotten onboard the 5G train. Each iPhone 12 will include 5G cellular support, though the details of which bands, types, and features are supported where can get rather complicated. Still, not only has 5G support finally arrived, but it's done so without costing extra. You don't need to choose whether you want the 5G model of whichever iPhone 12 you buy; instead, 5G will be included on all variants.
Apple also explained that they've tuned iOS to only use 5G at certain times, improving battery life by not leaving the power-draining feature on constantly. For instance, when apps are updating themselves in the background or you're sending iMessages, 5G might not be used at all, since the speed difference between that and 4G wouldn't be noticeable. However, if you're downloading a large file, 5G would kick in to try to speed up the download. The goal seems to be to use 5G when you'd feel the speed increase, and fall back to (the far more power-efficient) 4G otherwise.
The last common feature is actually what's not present. Starting with Apple Watch Series 6, Apple stopped including a USB charging brick in the box. It won't surprise many people to hear that this practice now extends to iPhone. Starting this year, new iPhones won't come with a charging brick, though you'll still get a Lightning charging cable. In fact, the included cable is now a fast charge-capable USB-C one. The phones will also lack earbuds or headphones of any kind. As with the charging bricks, Apple says these changes are to help lessen the amount of e-waste its products generate.
iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini are, as usual, the lower end of the range. The mini has a 5.4-inch screen, while the non-mini version's screen is 6.1 inches.
If you go with iPhone 12, you lose the third lens and LiDAR sensor that the Pro has. You also can't record Dolby Vision video, and can't do a few other advanced image tricks. If you don't need all the Pro's photography features, you will probably be quite happy with iPhone 12. It has the same processor, MagSafe mounting magnets, glass with Ceramic Shield, cellular support, and so on that iPhone 12 Pro has. Apart from a frame made of aluminum instead of stainless steel, a smaller screen size option, and the camera hardware, the two models are quite similar where it counts.
There are some changes to the color options: iPhone 12 comes in white, black, red, green, and blue. The storage tiers are the same as last year, and include 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB. iPhone 12 mini starts at $729, and iPhone 12 starts at $829. Certain carriers are selling these phones for $30 less than the prices listed here.
iPhone Pro and Pro Max, are, as we just went over, similar to iPhone 12 in most ways. The major differentiator is the camera.
There are two headline features of the camera setup on the Pro. First, LiDAR is finally included. LiDAR allows for more accurate distance measurements, meaning that the camera lenses can adjust more precisely to focus a subject or perform other tricks. Instead of the phone using AI to analyze visual data, it can get precise numbers that will help it be more effective. Of course, LiDAR also has implications for mixed/augmented reality, which we should see even more of now that LiDAR isn't only present on modern iPad Pros, but has arrived on iPhone as well.
The other major improvement is a combination of changes in the three lenses making up the camera array, and the sensors behind them. Basically, the iPhone 12 Pro is capable of 4X optical zoom, while the Max can manage 5X optical zoom. The "optical" part of that is impressive, as it means there are no software tricks that might obscure or alter details in the image.
Together, all this adds up to some impressive photography and videography abilities. The Pro can record video in Dolby Vision, let you edit that footage, let you edit raw images with the enhancements iOS would have added automatically still saved should you want them, apply image affects to video recordings, get perfectly-focused shots in low light (thanks to LiDAR), and more.
iPhone 12 Pro is also getting some color changes. It will be offered in gold, silver, graphite, and blue. Storage options are 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB. The Pro starts at $999, while the Pro Max starts at $1099.
MagSafe Returns! Kind of
MagSafe used to be the technology that let a MacBook's charging cable snap into place when held near the charging port. Today, Apple re-branded the term. MagSafe is now a system of magnets found inside every iPhone 12, which enables some pretty neat possibilities.
First, MagSafe chargers are wireless chargers that include magnets and magnetic sensors. When an iPhone with MagSafe is placed on this kind of charger, it will automatically settle itself into the perfect charging position. Plus, MagSafe chargers offer 15W, which is twice as fast as older iPhones could handle. Don't worry, though: Apple promises that MagSafe hardware won't interfeer with iPhone 12's ability to use non-MagSafe chargers.
This system of magnets can do more, though. Apple showed off several accessories that use the technology, including some cases and a wallet attachment. All of these easily snap onto the phone, and seem to be easier to remove than traditional cases.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of MagSafe is that it's open to anyone. Accessory makers are free to come up with their own add-ons, cases, mounts, chargers, and anything else they can dream up. Apple sells its own cases, and that wallet, but mentioned that Belkin is working on MagSafe designs of its own. They seem confident that other companies will quickly follow.
Introduced in 2018, HomePod is Apple's answer to Amazon Echo or Google Home: a stand-alone smart speaker with Siri as its brain. Ever since the launch, Apple hasn't made a smaller, cheaper version of HomePod to rival similar offerings from its smart speaker competitors. At least, not until now.
HomePod Mini is a smaller, $99 HomePod. It uses the same chip as a Series 5 Apple Watch, and supports the same commands as its big brother. At about 3.5 inches tall, though, it stands less than half the height. It also has a more spherical shape, whereas its more expensive counterpart is a cylinder. HomePod Mini comes in the same colors--gray or white--as the full-sized HomePod, and shares the same cloth covering.
Don't expect the Mini to match the sublime sounds of the HomePod, but the difference may not be as big as you'd think. HomePod Mini samples its own audio a hundred and eighty times per second, constantly tuning the output to match not only the environment, but the kind of audio being played. It uses custom-designed drivers to pump out sound, and with AirPods and the bigger HomePod to draw from, you can't deny that Apple has a lot of experience getting big sound from small packages.
It's more than audio, though. Combining an onboard U1 chip, Siri, and its existing devices, Apple has ported many features from HomePod, and added some new ones.
An intercom system lets users send voice messages to each other. Messages will play on all HomePods (Mini or otherwise) in the house, as well as on the AirPods of anyone in the family. Apple Watches, iPhones, and iPads will show an alert, playing the audio when the user taps the notification. The demo showed this feature working to broadcast a message to everyone, but I imagine it can target a specific room or floor as well. It seems likely that HomePod Mini will integrate with HomeKit to let you tell it which room it's in for this kind of use.
HomePod Mini can play music from Apple Music, as you'd expect, but can (or will soon be able to) also use Amazon Music and Tunein as sources. All this music only sounds better from more speakers, though, and to that end, HomePod Mini can synchronize playback between whichever speakers you choose. It can also tell if there's another Mini in the same room; if there is, the two can automatically form a stereo pair. Add AirPlay 2 to this, and your options for playing music, podcasts, or other audio are quite broad.
Finally, Siri gets similar features as it has on the full-sized HomePod. It can recognize people by their voice, customizing its data sources and music recommendations to them, and do everything else Siri on HomePod can do. Apple stressed Siri's privacy features, including not associating commands with a specific Apple ID, not sending audio to the cloud until the wake word is heard, letting users opt out of having their recordings kept, and more. With Siri, calendars, messages, reminders, HomeKit commands, and more are all available. The Mini has two less microphones than the larger HomePod, though, so it remains to be seen whether voice commands will suffer.
HomePod Mini can be pre-ordered starting November 6. It will cost $99.
That's it for today, though if the rumors are true, we might be back here in November for yet another set of announcements.
Did anything grab your attention today? Does iPhone 12 mini look tempting, or maybe the HomePod Mini? Will you be upgrading anything this year? For my part, I was sad to see Touch ID fail to return to iPhone, so I'll probably keep my iPhone 11 for another year. However, I'm pre-ordering at least one HomePod Mini the second Apple opens the virtual doors. I haven't been this excited about an Apple product since I went from a Series 2 Apple Watch to a Series 4.