Updated

iPhone 12 rumors: 'Exquisite' box won't have room for earbuds or charger

Here's everything we think we know about the iPhone coming this fall.

iphone xr xs max pencils
Christopher Hebert/IDG

Reports about what will be in the 2020 iPhones are hitting the wire. We’ve compiled the most notable ones here, but take these with a big grain of salt. Even if these reports are accurate representations of what suppliers are saying, or come from moles within Apple itself, the company’s plans can and do change. There’s still plenty of time before the design and features have to be totally set in stone.

Update 07/01/20: According to numerous reports, the iPhone 12 won't include earbuds or a charger in the box this year.

No charger or earbuds in 'exquisite' box

If there's one thing we can count on with a new iPhone, it's that it will include a pair of Lightning EarPods and a charger in the box. That likely won't be the case with the iPhone 12. According to Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple will be dumping both accessories from its next iPhone to cut costs. And a follow-up report from mysterious but often-accurate l0vetodream on Twitter reports that "the new packaging box (will) become thinner and exquisite." Apple might offer discounts on AirPods for anyone who needs earbuds or cut the price of its existing chargers, but whatever tha case it looks like you'll be paying extra if you want one.

A possible October launch

After conflicting rumors about production delays, The Wall Street Journal has reported that the iPhone 12 will indeed arrive later than usual this year. Sources told the publication that the pandemic has weakened global consumer demand and disrupted manufacturing across Asia, which should delay the new phone by “about a month,” bringing it into October rather than its usual September timeslot. However, Apple has previously delayed iPhone on-sale dates due to production issues, most recently with the iPhone XR releasing in late October.

The pandemic has already shifted Apple’s spring release plans, with a purported March event being canceled and the iPad Pro and iPhone SE receiving quite unveilings. Apple’s WWDC is still due to be held in June but will have “an all-new online format.” The Journal confirmed reports that Apple will be launching four new iPhone models this year with 5G support.

A later report in Bloomberg features quotes from Broadcom, which supplies wireless technology for iPhones. Broadcom’s CEO Hock Tan is quotes as saying he expects a “major product cycle delay” at a “large North American mobile phone” customer (this is how the company typically refers to Apple). The delay is just from Q3 to Q4, which neatly fits into the previous rumors of a push back from September to October.

No USB-C for this year’s lineup

Ever since Apple introduced a USB-C port with the 2018 iPad Pro refresh, we’re been waiting for the iPhone to follow suit, eliminating the proprietary and somewhat limiting Lightning port once and for all. According to Twitter user @choco_bit, who previously leaked details about a smaller notch and LiDAR sensor in the iPhone 12, that won’t be the case. As they write: “Shame the USB-c prototype iPhone 12’s arent making it to production. 1 more year of lightning [sic].” So it seems that while Apple has explored USB-C, it will be sticking with the same connector it’s used since the iPhone 5.

Possible specifications for the iPhone 12 lineup

The iPhone 12 rumor mill is heating up. Front Page Tech’s Jon Prosser released a video on Monday morning with specifications on the upcoming iPhones. There are four models that will use Apple’s A14 processor and support 5G. Here are the specs Prosser is reporting.

  iPhone 12 iPhone 12 Max
Prices $649, $749 $749, $849
Display size 5.4-inches 6.1-inches
Display tech OLED Super Retina OLED Super Retina
Storage 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 256GB
Rear camera dual camera dual camera
RAM 4GB 4GB
Body aluminum aluminum
  iPhone 12 Pro iPhone 12 Pro Max
Prices $999, $1,099, $1,299 $1,099, $1,199, $1,399
Display size 6.1-inches 6.7-inches
Display tech OLED Super Retina XDR
ProMotion
10-bit color
OLED Super Retina XDR
ProMotion
10-bit color
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Rear camera triple camera and LiDAR triple camera and LiDAR
RAM 6GB 6GB
Body stainless steel stainless steel

As for that ProMotion display on the high-end iPhones listed above, EverythingApplePro posted a video on Sunday with a report from Max Weinbach that said that the 120Hz refresh rate is coming this year. The displays could have the ability to switch down to 60Hz when the display isn’t very active in order to save battery life. The report also says the battery will be bigger on the Pro models. The front notch will be smaller, with Face ID supporting a wider angle.

EverythingApplePro also says that the Pro cameras will still be at 12 megapixels, but have a bunch of improvements, including faster autofocus, improved low-light performance, more accurate portait mode, 3x optical zoom on the telephoto lens, and more. The phone’s microphone will have improved audio zoom and more precise beam forming.

Smaller notch

Jon Prosser, who has leaked information about the recent iPad Pro and MacBook Air releases, is back with rumors about the iPhone 12. This past weekend, Prosser posted images of the notch that could be on the next iPhone. The notch is much smaller than what it is now.

iphone 12 prosser notch front Jon Prosser
iphone 12 prosser notch internal Jon Prosser

Prosser also tweeted that the iPhone 12 will not have a smart conenctor and will (still) not have Apple Pencil support. Prosser also clarifies that there is no USB-C on the iPhone 12.

Another look at the camera array

iphone12 rumor camera conceptsiphone

Three cameras and a LiDAR sensor, with flash in the middle.

Instagram account Concepts iPhone has what is purported to be an image of the camera array for the iPhone 12, reportedly taken from iOS 14 (judging by the diagram style, either a repair guide or user guide).

It shows the same square cutout as on the iPhone 11, but with the three cameras arranged differently, with a fourth area for the LiDAR sensor—the same sensor Apple just released on the 2020 iPad Pro. The iPad Pro has just two cameras plus the LiDAR sensor, so this diagram clearly depicts new hardware.

Coronavirus fallout could delay the iPhone 12 launch by months

Even if the coronavirus pandemic has ended by September, the launch of Apple’s iPhone 12 might still be affected. While reports out of China are that manufacturing plants are beginning to return to normal, a source told the Nikkei Asian Review review that “Apple is concerned that the current situation would significantly lower consumer appetite to upgrade their phones, which could lead to a tame reception of the first 5G iPhone.” That could have disastrous results for Apple’s roadmap, as both 5G and, obviously, the iPhone key heavily into whatever future products may be on the way. Nikkei says Apple will make a final decision about the phone’s launch in May and “the fall launch is not completely off the table,” but it’s possible that we don’t get a new iPhone until 2021.

iPhone 12 Pro Max to receive “sensor-shift image stabilization”

It’s all but certain that the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s screen will grow from 6.5 inches to 6.7 inches this year, but now we’re starting to learn a bit more about it. As reported by Macrumors, Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is predicting that Apple’s flagship will include sensor-shift image stabilization, which could be a solution for the ultra-wide camera.

According to What Digital Camera, sensor-shift image stabilization in a DSLR camera “works by moving the camera’s sensor around the image plane using electrical actuators. If any shake motion is detected by the camera’s accelerometers, it calculates in real-time the direction and speed to move the sensor, so that it remains stationary in relation to the image being projected onto it by the lens.” On the iPhone 11 Pro’s triple-camera system, only the wide and telephoto cameras have optical image stabilization, so sensor-shift image stabilization could be a way to stabilize all three cameras. 

Kuo notes that Apple would look to bring the feature to other iPhone models in 2021. It’s not clear why Apple would limit the feature to the Max phone and not include it on both Pro models, though Apple could be trying to give buyers an additional reason to move to the higher tier.

Production on track for September

Despite earlier reports that the iPhone 12 could see delays that push the release into October or even 2021, a new Bloomberg report says that the struggles Apple and the rest of the world is facing due to the coronavirus “have yet to severely derail the 5G iPhone launch in the fall.” As Mark Gurman and Debby Wu explain, Apple generally shores up its next iPhone design shortly after the release of the current model and eyes April as a start date for mass production of the new cases. The report notes that Apple has already built “a limited number of test versions of the new models.” However, with so much uncertainly, it’s still possible that the timeline “could slip,” Bloomberg cautions. 

3D Time-of-Flight rear camera

A report in Fast Company says Apple will incorporate a 3D depth-sensing camera in the iPhone 12, citing “a source with knowledge.” 

We’ve heard this rumor before, both from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Debby Wu, and in a research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

VCSEL stands for Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser. It’s a type of semiconductor that emits a low-power laser (usually infrared, so humans can’t see it). It’s used in a lot of consumer devices today for simple range-finding; to assist in augmented reality, Apple would use a more complex chip that fires a big grid of lasers, then measures the time-of-flight for that light to determine distance. Effectively, this would produce a low-res “image” where each pixel has depth info rather than color.

It’s an efficient way to get a much more accurate 3D representation of the scene in front of the camera, which is useful in computational photography and especially in augmented reality.

Delayed ship date

2020 is the year of the coronavirus and how it is affecting everything, including the shipment of the new iPhone. DigiTimes reports that the next iPhone could see a ship date in October, about a month later than the usual September time frame. Apple recently put travel restrictions on its employees, which in turn affects production schedules. A report from Bloomberg states that a Bank of America analyst also believes the iPhone will be delayed.

Given the circumstances, a delay seems totally plausible, though a Reuters report says that there’s still time for Apple to get back on track with its iPhone schedule.

Refreshed Face ID

CNBC has a summary of a new report from a Barlcays analyst that corroborates some of the rumors we’ve already heard about the iPhone 12. But there’s one sort-of-new nugget in there: The analyst says the iPhone 12 will feature a “refreshed” Face ID system, but offers no clues on what that might mean.

The Face ID system has gone through a few minor upgrades already—with iOS 13 it got a little faster, and the iPhone 11’s TrueDepth module has an improved standard color camera, but not an improved depth-sensing system. The faster processor in the iPhone 11 helps make Face ID unlocking faster, too.

The report also says the high-end “Pro” models will feature a time-of-flight depth sensor on the rear camera array, which we’ve heard several times before. Finally, it furthers the claim that Apple might ditch the Lightning connector on the 2021 iPhone in favor of exclusively wireless charging. That idea seems a little dubious, to us: It would nearly kill the entire CarPlay market, as very few vehicles support wireless CarPlay and even if support for that feature improved dramatically, people don’t upgrade their cars that often. Apple would have to ship wireless chargers in the box, and let’s face it, as convenient as wireless charging is, it’s still too slow to be the only means of charging one’s phone. Apple would have to make wireless charging a lot faster.

New A14 processor

a14 preview 3dmark IDG

We predict a significant bump in graphics performance on the A14.

All models of the iPhone 12 are all but certain to have a new application processor, which Apple will likely call the A14. It is well-known that this processor is being produced by TSMC on its new bleeding-edge 5nm EUV manufacturing process. 

We’ve done some of our own analysis on Apple’s recent A-series processors and the capabilities afforded by the new manufacturing process to predict what we might expect from the A14.

Disputed 5G iPhone release schedule

If there’s one thing we’re certain of with the iPhone 12, it’s that it will be packing a 5G modem. The next-gen network will be much more robust than it was at the end of 2019, and the next iPhone will be ready for it.

Just how ready is up for debate, however. While previous rumors have suggested that 5G might be limited to the “pro” models, a new report says that the 5G iPhones will launch in phases. As reported by MacRumors, Susquehanna analyst Mehdi Hosseini “expects 5G-enabled iPhones to launch in two phases, including sub-6GHz models in September 2020 and mmWave models in December 2020 or January 2021.”  That means people who want the best possible iPhone 12 might have to wait months to get it.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, on the other hand, expects there to be four 5G models, all with both sub-6GHz and mmWave support, all launching at essentially the same time: late 2020. He said as much in a research note in December, and followed up with another note in January to say they’re still on track.

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