Apple’s iPhone 12: The Promise of Power and Speed

eWEEK NEW PRODUCT ANALYSIS: The new iPhone gets 5G and a faster processor along with a better camera and other new features.

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Apple announced four new iPhone 12 smartphones on Oct. 13. The event was about a month later than Apple’s usual mid-September iPhone announcement due to delays related to Covid-19. 

The four new phones consisted of two iPhone 12 models and two iPhone 12 Pro models. The Pro models, as has been the case in the past, offer more features and better cameras when compared with the non-Pro models, but they are also more expensive.

All of the iPhone 12 models share a number of important features, however. The most important from a technology basis is the inclusion of 5G wireless communications. Unlike some of the competition, the new iPhones support the entire 5G spectrum, ranging from low-band wireless at 600 MHz, to millimeter-wave 5G, which is the ultra-fast wireless you keep hearing about when phone commercials talk about 5G. 

New CPU shows promise

Each of the new iPhones also features Apple’s new A14 Bionic processor, which Apple contends is the fastest CPU in a smartphone. The new processor uses a 5-nanometer design, which effectively makes the components within the processor much smaller than previous designs, which in turn allows components to be packaged closer together. 

The smaller size allows faster operations and uses less power. According to Apple, the new CPU and GPU are 50 percent faster than previously. The CPU uses a six-core design with a 16-core neural engine. 

The iPhone 12 is about the same size as the iPhone 11, but the screen is now larger at 6.1 inches, which is enabled with smaller edge bezels. There’s also a smaller, less expensive version, the iPhone 12 Mini, which has a 5.4-inch screen. Apparently the smaller size of the iPhone SE has demonstrated to Apple that there’s a demand for a smaller, palm-sized device. The iPhone SE and the iPhone 11 will continue to be available as will some earlier versions of the iPhone.

List of new features

The iPhone 12 Pro includes a number of new camera features. Like the iPhone 11 Pro, the 12 Pro has a three-camera system on the back of the phone along with a front-facing camera for FaceTime and facial recognition. The iPhone 12 Pro is the same size as its predecessor, but the screen is now 6.1 inches. The screen on the iPhone 12 Max is 6.7 inches. 

The new cameras can use LiDAR, first introduced in the iPad Pro earlier in 2020, to accurately measure distances even in low or no light. This can make focus consistently good, and it can also be used with other features such as Augmented Reality, already available in a number of apps. The ability to focus in low light makes good use of the iPhone 12 Pro’s night mode.

According to Apple, the new iPhone’s video capabilities are improved, now enabling 60 frames per second with HDR (high dynamic range) Dolby Video. The cameras are stabilized and the auto-focus is improved. 

A major part of the iPhone announcement included a presentation by Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, explaining how Verizon’s 5G will allow fast communications with its new nationwide 5G coverage. However, a look at Verizon’s 5G coverage map shows its availability to be scant. Verizon’s millimeter-wave 5G covers a few sports stadiums and a few portions of city blocks in a few cities. Its nationwide 5G shows small pools of low and mid-band coverage in widely disparate areas.

New phones will work with multiple telcos

Fortunately, the iPhone 12 phones will work with T-Mobile and AT&T, both of which have substantially better 5G coverage. T-Mobile’s coverage really is nationwide, and AT&T’s is getting there. All three major carriers have coverage in all three ranges of 5G. Verizon’s claims of the fastest 5G are essentially meaningless because of its lack of coverage.

T-Mobile’s 5G, because it doesn’t require dynamic spectrum sharing, will provide faster, more complete 5G coverage than the others, and because it uses a combination of T-Mobile’s 600 MHz long-range coverage, and Sprint’s former mid-band frequencies that are already up and running will provide more complete 5G availability for the new iPhone.

One thing worth noting is what’s NOT in the box with the new iPhone 12 models. Explaining that the world already has billions of Lightning cables, iPhone chargers and earbuds, Apple’s Tim Cook announced that they would no longer be shipped with new iPhones. Instead, a USB-C to Lightning cable (but no USB-C charger) would be in the box. The iPhone 12 line will work with existing chargers and Lightning cables and with existing wireless chargers.

Support for magnetic chargers

The announcement did include new support for magnetic wireless chargers, similar to those on the Apple Watch, that ensure a solid, properly located, wireless charging connection. The new iPhones will support up to 15 watts of charging power to allow for much faster charging.

The new iPhones feature a new type of glass called Ceramic Shield on the front cover. The new glass includes nano-ceramic crystals to make it the toughest glass available, according to Apple.

The iPhone 12 and the 12 Pro will be available for ordering by the time you read this. The Max and the Mini will be available for ordering on November 6, 2020. Once you’ve done that, you get to go and try to find some 5G.

Wayne Rash, a former executive editor of eWEEK, is a longtime contributor to our publication and a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...