Everything Apple Announced at the October Event

Apple pushed 5G, but that’s the least interesting thing about the new iPhone 12

Key Takeaways

  • Four iPhone 12 models run from $799 to $1,099.
  • The cameras on all the iPhones are amazing, and even better on the Pro and Pro Max.
  • There are no EarPods or USB charger in the box, but you can buy a new MagSafe charger and magnetic case.
The new iPhone 12.
Apple

Apple’s new iPhone 12 is a pretty radical new device. It’s fast, it has a whole new MagSafe accessory system, and the cameras are just insane. And then there’s the new HomePod mini. Let’s check out the highlights.

Apple’s big message is 'speed,' and it’s leaning heavily on the new 5G cellular connection to make the point. But 5G is not really widespread enough yet to be useful, and there were far more interesting features announced. The flat-sided design is great, but the real star here is the camera. It’s just plain amazing. 

"The engineering that Apple has put into both the new iPhone cameras and the post/computational photography is nothing short of mind-boggling," David 'Strobist' Hobby says on Twitter.

iPhone 12 Sizes and Differences

There are four iPhones 12: Two regular and two Pro. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro have the same 6.1-inch screen. The iPhone 12 mini is smaller, at 5.4-inches, and the iPhone Pro Max is bigger, at 7.7-inches. The Pro iPhones 12 also have brighter screens. All the iPhones 12 have the new flat-edge design, like the iPhone 4 and 5, and the latest iPads Pro and Air, and all now feature OLED screens. 

The only difference between the plain iPhone 12 and the mini is size. They both have the same features otherwise.

Then things get more confusing. The main differences here are in the cameras. All the iPhones 12 have Night Mode and Dolby Vision video (more on all the camera features below), and all have Ultra-Wide and wide lenses. The Pro models add a telephoto lens, but the bigger Pro Max has a more powerful telephoto, and can move its sensor to combat camera shake and vibrations. 

MagSafe and the Missing Charger

MagSafe is back! Apple’s magnetic, breakaway charger was removed from the Mac and replaced by USB-C, but now the name has been resurrected in the iPhone 12. The new MagSafe charger snaps onto the back of the iPhone using magnets, and can charge at 15 Watts, compared to a maximum of 7.5 Watts for a regular Qi contact charger. It’s like a big version of the Apple Watch charger.

Apple iPhone 12 With Mag Safe Charger.
Apple 

The MagSafe puck doesn’t come in the box, though. You’ll have to buy one for $39. Also not in the box is a USB power brick. This, says Apple, is to cut down on waste, and to make packages smaller.

I like this news a lot. Who hasn’t already got a bunch of USB chargers at home? Not everybody agrees, though. "I think at the time of buying a new iPhone 12, you should be allowed to add a power adapter for no extra cost," says UK-based software developer Chris Hannah on Twitter. "Imagine paying for a £1,399 phone and it not coming with a power adapter."

Oddly, the iPhone now ships with a USB-C to Lightning cable, which is not compatible with all those old chargers. And no more Lightning headphones. No headphones at all in fact. You'll have to use your old ones, or buy new ones. To be fair, I rarely see Apple’s white EarPods in the wild these days. It’s all Beats, Sony, or AirPods. 

MagSafe isn’t just for expensive chargers, either. The magnets let you stick on cases, and even a little card wallet, which is handy. The wallet is shielded to keep cards safe. 

Who Cares about 5G (Yet)?

The whole iPhone 12 event spun around 5G. It’s the next step in cellular wireless, with faster data and better connections in busy, congested areas (sports arenas, concerts, and all those places we used to visit). Apple made a big deal of announcing new 5G capacity on Verizon’s US network in Tuesday’s keynote event, but nobody really knows how it will perform until we start using it. And that’s just the US. 5G is also far from complete in the rest of the world. The iPhone 12 isn’t the only 5G handset, of course, but if the iPhone 12 sells in its usual huge numbers, it will certainly stress test the networks.

"Think about it this way," says Bloomberg’s Apple rumor reporter Mark Gurman on Twitter. "Apple could potentially double the amount of 5G phones on the US market this month alone. Should be… interesting to see consumers really being exposed to 5G for the first time."

The other downside of 5G is that it will drain your battery, fast. Apple mitigates this by only switching to 5G when you really need fast data transfer—streaming HD movies, for example. The rest of the time, it falls back to 4G or LTE connections automatically.

In short, don’t expect to see much from 5G for a while. Either you won’t have coverage or speeds will not be much better than with a solid 4G connection, or you’ll avoid it for battery purposes. In fact, 5G seems more useful for iPad because you use that more like a regular computer.

"To me it’s definitely an 'if you build it they will come' tech," former NYT tech columnist Kit Eaton told Lifewire via Twitter. "The speeds and latency will enable a bunch of things (innovations as well as new user habits) we haven’t thought of yet."

Those Cameras, Tho

The iPhone 11 was already a huge leap from previous iPhones, and the 12 consolidates that lead. Now, all cameras have Night Mode, which captures detailed, noise-free photos in almost total darkness. And the A14 chip that runs this year’s Apple devices has even more power for Apple’s 'computational photography,' aka insanely fast processing to get great photos in any conditions. 

Nighttime photography with the iPhone 12 camera.
Apple 

Also new in the iPhone 12 Pro is a LiDAR camera. This is a camera designed to capture depth information. LiDAR is used in self-driving cars to map the surroundings, and Apple has used it in the iPad Pro to augment its augmented reality. Now it is being used in conjunction with the regular cameras. LiDAR allows the iPhone to autofocus almost instantly, in very low light. It can also capture a 3D map of the scene and use it to take portrait photos in the dark. Those are the photos where the background is blurred, and the subject is sharp.

There’s more here, like an entirely different, larger sensor in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but we’re planning a separate article all about the iPhone 12 cameras.

HomePod Mini

The HomePod mini is a small, ball-shaped $99 version of the regular HomePod, and it’s much the same—only cuter.  If you buy two, then they detect each other and turn into a stereo pair. Also, if you have a phone with a U1 chip in it (introduced in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, the U1 chip tells your iPhone how close, and in what direction, other devices lay), it can detect when your iPhone is near, and offer personalized playlists.

A person holding an iPhone near a HomePod Mini.
Apple 

Also neat is Intercom, a new feature that lets you send short voice messages to other HomePods, and also AirPods, Macs, Apple Watches, iPhones, and iPads. I think this might be the sleeper hit of the whole event.

Apple’s new pre-recorded one-hour keynote format is great. It’s super-focused and you don’t have to sit through seemingly never-ending demos from gaming company CEOs. Then again, it’s pretty easy to come up with a compelling one-hour slot when you’ve got something as cool as the new iPhone and the cute little HomePod mini.