As a rule, Apple doesn’t talk about its future plans. Chief executive Tim Cook dodges questions about the company’s upcoming products and new iPhones are closely guarded until they’re revealed to the world.
But Tuesday’s reveal of the iPhone 12 was a signal of Apple’s future and gave analysts a clear idea of the technologies which Apple sees as crucial to the iPhone.
The most obvious technological leap in the new iPhones was adding 5G connectivity across all of the new devices.
Apple certainly isn’t first to make a 5G smartphone but adding 5G across the range of devices shows that Apple is gambling on the improved download speeds and bandwidth of 5G to hook in customers wishing to use data-intensive apps everywhere they go.
The company is increasingly reliant on revenue from its stable of services such as its music streaming and Apple TV subscriptions. Adding 5G allows customers to stream wherever they are, depending on if 5G networks are available.
“If anyone can kickstart consumer demand for 5G, then Apple can,” says Paolo Pescatore, an analyst at PP Foresight. “The iPhone remains a core product and gateway to the Apple universe.”
Customers will be forgiven for having a vague idea of the benefits of 5G, but Cook’s statement that 5G connectivity is “the beginning of a new era for iPhone” rings true. Apple is hoping that customers will share Apple’s vision of a world where they’re consuming large amounts of data on their iPhone wherever they are.
“The introduction of 5G technology to the iPhone range gives people a meaningful reason to upgrade and makes buying an iPhone this time around a future-proof purchase,” says CCS Insight chief of research Ben Wood.
A second new technology added to iPhones for the first time is a LiDAR sensor, the same type of technology used by self-driving cars to detect the world around them.
Apple has added LiDAR sensors to the back of the two more expensive iPhone models, squeezing it into the valuable real estate alongside the cameras.
It might seem like a niche sensor to include, but Apple has for years been working on improving its support for augmented reality apps that use your iPhone to create virtual worlds based on your surroundings.
Augmented reality isn’t yet a mainstream technology, with most iPhone customers unlikely to use their smartphones to place virtual objects into the living room. But Apple’s addition of a LiDAR sensor shows the company is unafraid to bet that an increasing number of app developers will take advantage of the technology.
“There are lots of avenues it can pursue with this, be it enhancements to photography, allowing faster focus in low light conditions, or mapping spaces to deliver futurist augmented reality applications,” Wood says. “A quick look into the crystal ball could suggest this is something we might see in future in the oft-predicted Apple iGlasses.”
Another running theme throughout Apple’s presentation was an increasing reliance on machine learning technology to speed up software. The form of artificial intelligence has become a vital underpinning of many pieces of software and Apple made sure to display on screen a message that its new A14 Bionic chip offers the “best machine learning platform in a smartphone.”
Optimising the iPhone’s components for this technology sets up Apple to benefit from advances in machine learning in years to come, not just improving its speed today.
Similarly, Apple presented its decision to stop selling its iPhones with chargers as an eco-conscious decision with future benefits. Consumers might disagree, but Apple’s increasingly reliance on wireless charging is another gamble on an emerging technology.
The iPhone 12 will include new MagSafe connectors, letting the iPhone magnetically “snap” to charging pads as well as accessories like wallets and cases.
Many consumers still use wired cables to charge their phones, but Apple’s decision to create what it called “a whole new ecosystem for MagSafe” shows the company believes wireless charging is the way forward. Indeed, it has been rumoured for years that Apple is keen to drop the charging port entirely and has experimented with wireless charging iPhones through the air.
Apple’s decision to pack the iPhone 12 with support for emerging technologies such as 5G, improved support for augmented reality and wireless charging is more than just a marketing tactic designed to persuade customers to upgrade their smartphones.
The iPhone 12 may attract criticism that its embrace of 5G and choice to commit to wireless charging are decisions designed for the future, but Cook is hoping that jumping on board these technologies now will set Apple up to benefit from their growth in the coming years.