For the second time in less than a month, Apple has made a splashy announcement. In its “Hi, Speed” event, the company unveiled the expected iPhone 12 — four of them! — along with a new HomePod mini.
As Apple did in its event, let’s discuss the HomePod mini first. The HomePod mini is easy to grasp — it’s a smaller, cheaper HomePod. For $99, you get a flat-topped sphere that’s about half the height and two-thirds the width of the $299 HomePod. It works just like a HomePod, accepting commands via Siri and integrating tightly with the rest of your Apple and HomeKit devices. Like the HomePod, you can also combine two HomePod minis into a stereo pair.
The only technical advantage the HomePod mini has over the HomePod is Apple’s U1 chip. Apple promises that, later this year, the U1 chip will improve the handoff experience when transferring audio playback to or from an iPhone by holding it near the HomePod mini. Otherwise, as you might imagine, the larger HomePod has better sound thanks to its additional speaker hardware and spatial awareness capabilities.
Apple is also introducing an Intercom feature that makes it easy for family members to send voice messages from any HomePod to another. Intercom also works with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, and even vehicles equipped with CarPlay.
It may not be world-changing, but we’re happy about the HomePod mini — mostly due to its lower price. It will be available for pre-order on November 6th, with delivery and general availability starting the week of November 16th.
Given how important the iPhone is to Apple’s business, it’s not surprising to see the company pulling out all the stops with the iPhone 12 lineup, split between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro. It includes four different models, incorporates support for the emerging 5G cellular networking standard, introduces the MagSafe wireless charging and accessory ecosystem, and delivers the most advanced camera systems ever. And all that comes in a flat-edged industrial design — harkening back to the iPhone 4, and last seen in the first iPhone SE — that many people thought prevented accidental drops. (If you do drop an iPhone 12, its new Ceramic Shield front glass promises that cracks will be up to four times less likely.)
For those with smaller hands (or pockets), the biggest news may be the iPhone 12 mini, with a 5.4-inch diagonal screen. It’s the smallest iPhone in years, measuring in at just a bit bigger than that first-generation iPhone SE. We love this size and form factor, and the iPhone 12 mini would be our top choice — if we weren’t so into photography.
It’s joined by the larger iPhone 12 with a 6.1-inch screen, the similarly sized iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which boasts a 6.7-inch screen. Speaking of the screens, the Super Retina XDR OLED screens are stellar, and they all incorporate a notch for the TrueDepth Face ID cameras. Alas, the new Touch ID button (which would have been handy while we’re all wearing masks in public) is still only available on Apple’s new iPad Air.
The four iPhone 12 models have very similar specs. The key differences are the sizes, camera systems, storage options, and battery life. (Battery life will be fine for all of them, but the larger the phone, the longer the battery life).
They all support 5G cellular networking, which — eventually — promises much faster speeds than today’s LTE. However, what counts as “5G” varies between cellular carriers, coverage is weak in many parts of the world, and the real-world performance may be significantly less than promised. That’s not to say that 5G is bad, just that it may not make any difference to you in the near future. Further out, it will be a bigger deal, so it’s good that the iPhone 12 is ready for the future.
The most interesting innovation is MagSafe, a circular magnetic coupling and wireless charging technology built into the back of each iPhone 12 model. A $39 Apple MagSafe Charger snaps on to the back for fast wireless charging at 15 watts, and slower Qi wireless charging is still supported as well, at up to 7.5 watts.
In addition to fast wireless charging, MagSafe enables an entire ecosystem of accessories, including chargers, cases, car mounts, and wallets. Apple even briefly showed a dual charger that could charge both a MagSafe iPhone and an Apple Watch. You can still charge with a Lightning-to-USB cable, but Apple no longer includes a charger (or EarPods) in the box, having already shipped about 1.3 billion chargers, or one for every six people on Earth. Eliminating the charger saves Apple money, of course, and also reduces their environmental impact .
No matter which iPhone 12 model you pick, you won’t be making any performance tradeoffs. That’s because they all feature Apple’s newest chip, the A14 Bionic, for maximum performance and the most advanced computational photography.
The camera systems are what distinguish the iPhone 12 Pro models. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini have a dual 12-megapixel rear camera system with ultra wide and wide cameras with 2x optical zoom. They have optical image stabilization and support Night mode and Deep Fusion, which provide better photos in low-light situations. They offer 1080p and 4K video recording at up to 60 frames per second and introduce HDR video recording with Dolby Vision at up to 30 fps, which provides higher quality video in challenging lighting.
That’s impressive enough, but the iPhone 12 Pro models go even further. Their triple 12-megapixel camera system has ultra wide, wide, and telephoto cameras that provide better optical zoom among much else. A new LiDAR Scanner gives them faster autofocus in low light and allows Night mode portraits.
They also support a new Apple ProRAW format that provides the benefits of Apple’s computational photography combined with the flexibility of a raw image format, which professional photographers will appreciate. In terms of video, the Pro models enhance HDR video with Dolby Vision to 60 fps. Finally, the iPhone 12 Pro Max introduces a much larger sensor for the wide lens and promises better stabilization with what Apple calls “sensor-shift optical image stabilization” for both photos and video.
If you’re a pro photographer or videographer who’s already invested in the iPhone as a working camera, the iPhone 12 Pro models will provide the ultimate in camera capabilities. For others who are curious about how these new iPhones stack up against previous models, the photography sites will undoubtedly be publishing head-to-head comparison shots soon.
When can you get your hands on one of these iPhone 12 models, and for how much? You can pre-order the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro now, with delivery and in-store availability beginning on October 23rd. In contrast, the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max will be available for pre-order at 5 AM Pacific on November 6th, with delivery and in-store availability on November 13th. The iPhone 12 comes in five colors: black, white, Product(RED), green, and blue, while the Pro colors include silver, graphite, gold, and blue.
Here’s how the costs break down by storage level:
- iPhone 12 mini: $699/$729 (64 GB), $749/$779 (128 GB), $849/$879 (256 GB)
- iPhone 12: $799/$829 (64 GB), $849/$879 (128 GB), $949/$979 (256 GB)
- iPhone 12 Pro: $999 (128 GB), $1099 (256 GB), $1299 (512 GB)
- iPhone 12 Pro Max: $1099 (128 GB), $1199 (256 GB), $1399 (512 GB)
There are two prices for each storage level of the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 because AT&T and Verizon customers pay $30 less than everyone else. Apple hasn’t said why.
In the end, Apple has once again released new iPhones that advance the state of the art. The diminutive iPhone 12 mini is particularly welcome for smaller people, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max boasts the most capable camera systems available on any smartphone.
(Featured image by Apple)