After talking up 5G for years, the mobile industry is poised to make it real. Apple revealed Tuesday that it’s packing its latest iPhone 12 models with the next-generation cellular technology along with Verizon’s nationwide 5G rollout.
“Every decade, there’s a new generation of technology that provides a step change in what we can do with our iPhones,” said Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook, in a virtual online event. “The next generation is here. Today is the beginning of a new era for iPhone. Today, we’re bringing 5G to iPhone.”
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For the uninitiated, the advanced cellular connectivity promises faster speeds, more stability and more bandwidth.
The public will have a chance to judge it for themselves, now that Apple is supporting 5G for the first time with all four of its new iPhone 12 models — the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max and the new iPhone 12 mini, which introduces a new size to the lineup.
Fundamentally, the mini version is the same as the iPhone 12, except fitted into a smaller package. The former features a 5.4-inch screen and smaller footprint than the latter’s 6.1-inch display, and it shaves $100 off the iPhone 12’s starting price of $799.
The Pro model — with a more advanced three-camera array and “computational photography” intelligence — also comes with LIDAR, a laser-based technology that can more accurately judge distance and contours and comes in two flavors, the standard Pro for $999 and a Pro Max version starting at $1,099 up to $1,399.
On the outside, the phones look a bit like throwbacks to Apple’s iPhone 4 from 10 years ago, morphing from the rounded lines in recent versions to the flatter, more squared-off edges of the old model. It’s not just an aesthetic choice. Apple used the aluminum framing around the rim for its new 5G antennas. The Pro phones feature stainless steel. And more durable glass, which Apple calls “ceramic shield,” should help protect the device.
All of the models slated for the U.S. will support the fastest version of 5G, known to the industry as “millimeter wave 5G.” Notably, some smartphones that promote 5G speeds actually operate in lower-frequency bands.
Whether that delivers on Cook’s promised “step change” is unclear. For all the buzz about 5G, the U.S. is still years from being able to live up to the promised speed boosts for most people — which means end users may not notice a huge difference. The carriers seem to understand that, and they’ve been working hard to tout the tech for sectors from manufacturing and logistics to retail.
Other major changes seem designed to please consumers, including feats like enabling night mode in the selfie camera and offering machine learning to drill into a photo’s details, along with faster and better performance in low light situations.
But for developers, particularly of fashion and beauty applications, what may be more interesting is how the sum total of the upgrades apply to work like remote fitting, virtual try-ons, skin health detection and other areas.
The LIDAR scanner will make for more accurate body measurement readings, and the faster connectivity, better display resolution and Apple’s latest A14 “bionic” processor chip may boost augmented reality applications — a major pre-pandemic trend that has since catapulted, as homebound consumers look for immersive digital experiences.
Apple also showcased how companies could use AR for things like equipment or office planning, a scenario that could apply to stores as well. Another example featured the new Verizon 5G Super Stadium experience in the NFL app, which lets fans soak in the action from up to seven camera angles. Designer brands could take a cue from that for virtual fashion runways and other shows.
While the bulk of Apple’s virtual event focused on the iPhone, the company hasn’t given up on other its projects, such as its voice assistant-equipped smart speaker — which has a younger and more compact sibling.
The new HomePod mini answers critics that found the original HomePod’s $349 price point too expensive. The wee mesh-covered spherical appliance, priced at $99, offers consumers a lower-cost proposition, and its neutral white or space gray options mean it should blend into most decor.