Apple Unveils ‘New Era’ With 5G-capable iPhone 12

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple rolled out what CEO Tim Cook called “a new era” for its iconic iPhones, showing four new models at starting prices between $699 and $1,099, all tuned to work with high-speed 5G wireless networks. The company also unveiled a far cheaper and smaller smart speaker, the $99 HomePod Mini. 

The 68-minute pre-recorded presentation featured brief appearances by a procession of Apple executives and a few notable outsiders, all extolling the phones’ capabilities on 5G for such technically demanding uses as video production and multiplayer games. 

Riot Games Executive Producer Michael Chow announced that a new League of Legends multiplayer game, Wild Rift, would be coming soon to the new iPhones, taking advantage of their 5G and graphics capabilities.

“You get amazing details and fluid gameplay even in the most chaotic fights,’ Chow said  “Until now, in League of Legends to be competitive, you pretty much had to be tied to your desk. No more. Now you can play pretty much anywhere.”  

And Verizon CEO and Chairman Hans Vestberg, announced the official launch of Verizon’s Nationwide 5G network in 1,800 cities, which will use the fastest “millimeter wave” spectrum in urban areas and venues where normally population is densest and demand heaviest.

“This marks the start of a new era for iPhone,” Cook said. “Each generation of technology on the iPhone has enabled breakthrough innovations. 5G is the most exciting step yet.” 

The company announced two pairs of new iPhones, following its recent product-naming conventions. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini are smaller (as small as 5.4 inches diagonally), less expensive (as little as $699), and only have two front-facing camera lenses. They also come in five colors, including a (Product) Red version.

Both pairs of new models feature a new kind of durable screen glass, dubbed Ceramic Shield; a brighter and higher-resolution OLED-based screen called Super Retina XDR; and a new Apple-made processor, the  A14 Bionic, which the company said is its first using 5-nanometer technology that makes it 30% faster than the A13 predecessor. 

All the phones feature front-facing cameras, with 12-megapixel lenses featuring faster ƒ1.6 apertures that improve low-light photography in Apple’s Night Mode. This was previously available only in higher-end models.

All four new models also get new MagSafe technology, borrowing a name used for a few years for pull-away power plugs on Apple laptops. For the new iPhones, MagSafe enables a new family of magnetically attached accessories and cases to click onto the back, while also allowing wireless charging compatible with the widely used Qi standard. 

The Pro models have larger screens, up to the whopping 6.7-inch Pro Max. They include more photography and video capabilities, and feature a third lens, as with the Pro models of the iPhone 11 generation. Apple executives devoted a significant portion of the presentation to the new phones’ photography and videography capabilities, even for the most demanding creators.

Cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo" Lubezki – winner of three Oscars for his work on Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant – screened a short film he shot with the new Pros and endorsed their potential for high-level film and TV production. 

“Now you can really go out with one of these devices and make a movie,” Lubezki said. “They will allow filmmakers to go out and make films that were impossible because cameras were too heavy or too complicated.” 

Of course, filmmakers such as Stephen Soderbergh (High Flying Bird) and Sean Baker (Tangerine) have been using iPhones to make award-winning films for several years. But Lubezki and Apple’s presenters promised several new capabilities that should appeal for high-end industry use. 

Apple bragged the new Pro models are the first smartphones capable of recording in Dolby Vision HDR, and even can perform in-app editing and color correcting of the files, instead of requiring them to be offloaded to a dedicated editing suite. With 5G, those huge files also can be shared in the field far more quickly. 

The pro models can record high-dynamic-range video at 10 bits of color, at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second. The Pros’ 12-megapixel front-facing cameras include a 52-mm telephoto lens with a 4X optical zoom. 

The company also announced a new AppleRAW image format, available later this year, that combines the flexibility of RAW image processing with the iPhone’s well-regarded computational photography capabilities. The new functionality applies changes such as white balance as “instructions,” rather than modifying the image permanently.  

The Pros also feature new LiDAR sensors, which use infrared technologies for uses like mapping the dimensions of a room for Augmented Reality applications. LiDAR is also used to speed up the Pros’ autofocus for low-light photography. 

Separately, Apple also announced the launch of its second-ever smart speaker, the HomePod Mini. At $99, it’s a third the cost of the original HomePod, which was regularly regarded by critics as having both the best sound in the smart speaker segment, but among the highest prices. 

The Mini features deep integration with Apple’s HomeKit smart-home platform, and with its Siri intelligent assistant, and connects them in turn with the company’s other devices, including iPhones, iPads, Apple TV and even Apple Watch, and with Apple apps such as Calendar and Music. 

A new app, Intercom, will further extend the integration, allowing people to communicate from one Mini to other Minis and those other Apple devices.  

The Minis are available for order immediately, and most of the iPhones will be available for order later this month, despite previous concerns that the pandemic and lockdown would hamper production and delivery times. Only the iPhone 12 Mini won’t be available for order until early November. 

Anticipation for the potential impacts of the new 5G phones has been growing on Wall Street for months, even though Samsung and other Android phone makers have been selling 5G-enabled handsets for most of the past year.

But even with iPhone sales flattening the past three years, Apple remains the premiere mobile maker in the world. Now, analysts are betting the 5G phones will set off a “supercycle” of adoption among its loyal users, some 40 percent of whom haven’t upgraded in the past three years. 

Wireless companies, which have been spending tens of billions of dollars building out their 5G networks, are counting on a big adoption push that will help monetize their investments. Wireless equipment maker Nokia, though hardly a dispassionate observer, this week released a study suggesting 5G may set off $8 trillion worth of business-to-business innovation. 

Investor anticipation has been high, with Apple shares jumping 6% the day before the announcement. Shares today closed down 0.17%, at $121.10, after spiking above $125 ahead of the announcement.

David Bloom

David Bloom of Words & Deeds Media is a Santa Monica, Calif.-based writer, podcaster, and consultant focused on the transformative collision of technology, media and entertainment. Bloom is a senior contributor to numerous publications, and producer/host of the Bloom in Tech podcast. He has taught digital media at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and guest lectures regularly at numerous other universities. Bloom formerly worked for Variety, Deadline, Red Herring, and the Los Angeles Daily News, among other publications; was VP of corporate communications at MGM; and was associate dean and chief communications officer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Bloom graduated with honors from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.