The iPhone 12 launch was one of Apple’s largest smartphone introductions to date, with four distinct models, 5G, and a significant redesign that even included a novel approach to wireless charging. How, then, does the company possibly follow up on that success with the iPhone 13?
From early indications, the answer could be simple: by ticking many of the checkboxes left empty from past years. Rumors suggest the iPhone 13 will represent a sizeable upgrade that tackles a few known shortcomings and might just put it ahead of the Android competition in some areas, or at least catch-up. Here’s what we expect to see from Apple’s new flagship phones based on early rumors and leaks, along with a few wish list items that might be longshots.
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iPhone 13 may focus on a 120Hz, always-on display
Ask many fans what they want the most from the iPhone 13 and they’ll likely point to an improved display. While iPhones are often fast and responsive, they’ve been stuck with 60Hz screen refresh rates while their Android counterparts have moved to 90Hz, 120Hz, and beyond. They haven’t had always-on displays, either. Apple may have had good reasons to pass on the technology before (high refresh rates and always-on tech often hurt battery life), but the omissions are more and more glaring with each passing day.
Thankfully, it seems increasingly probable that Apple will address these problems with at least some models. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, leaker Max Weinbach, and others have cited sources claiming the iPhone 13 Pro models will include 120Hz displays based on the battery-efficient LTPO (low-temperature polycrystalline oxide) technology found in phones like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The upgrade might enable an always-on display, too.
Like with some Android devices, the always-on iPhone 13 display would show the clock, battery, and notifications without having to wake your device. While Apple doesn’t appear to be trying anything radical, this could still be extremely helpful for spotting an important email or text at a glance.
Goodbye huge notch (and hello ports)
The iPhone 13 isn’t expected to involve a radical external redesign. Kuo and others still believe there will be four models, including an 5.4-inch iPhone 13 Mini, a 6.1-inch standard model, a 6.1-inch Pro version, and a 6.7-inch Pro Max. They might be slightly thicker and heavier than the iPhone 12, possibly due to larger batteries and cameras. However, the flat, machined look of the iPhone 12 series would remain intact.
However, there may be one conspicuous and arguably welcome change: a smaller notch. MacOtakara, iRepair, and other sources claim Apple is optimizing components to reduce the footprint on the front of the phone. It would move the speaker up to the edge while shrinking the area needed for the front cameras and sensors. There would still be a visible notch (no punch-hole or under-display camera here), but it would free up more screen real estate and give the iPhone 13 a more modern look.
The design might also be notable for what it leaves intact. Despite rumors, Apple is reportedly poised to keep the Lightning port and otherwise pass on the portless concept some had anticipated. That’s not completely surprising when wireless charging remains expensive and relatively slow. Even so, it might be a relief if you were worried that you’d have to lug around a MagSafe pad just to keep your phone alive.
Camera upgrades for everyone
The iPhone 12 series’ camera upgrades weren’t particularly democratic. You needed to buy at least the 12 Pro to get a telephoto lens and LiDAR, and you needed to buy the 12 Pro Max to get both the best sensors and most advanced stabilization.
See also: 8 things iOS does better than Android
The iPhone 13 may be a different story. Analysts believe at least the Pro models will receive improved ultra-wide cameras. They might get an automatic astrophotograhy mode as well. Devoted photographers would still have to buy the Pro Max for the best quality (the main lens would have a brighter f/1.5 aperture), but better image quality should be a common theme across the entire iPhone 13 range.
Kuo doesn’t expect 8K video recording and the requisite higher-resolution sensor to reach the iPhone 13, though. That might have to wait until 2022. Apple’s not exactly in a rush when 8K screens and content are still rare, but this will be something rivals like Samsung can crow about in the future.
More performance across the board
It wouldn’t be a major iPhone launch without new chips, and the iPhone 13 will be no exception. Virtually everyone expects Apple to introduce an A15 chip that delivers speed and battery life improvements. It’s not certain how much of an improvement A15 would represent, but the A14 was already faster overall compared to its Android counterparts.
The upgrades might not be limited to raw computing power, either. Apple currently uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 modem in the iPhone 12 line, and the iPhone 13 range is likely to use this year’s Snapdragon X60. Barclays researchers also predicted support for Wi-Fi 6E, which brings Wi-Fi 6’s technology to the faster and lower-lag 6GHz band.
The wish list: USB-C, a fingerprint reader, and iOS 15
All of these aforementioned rumored additions could make the iPhone 13 a welcome update, but there are a few items that would be desirable — although we’d consider these wildcards that aren’t likely to come to pass.
As you no doubt noticed earlier, you might have to forego hopes for an iPhone 13 with USB-C. Apple still appears set on keeping its nine-year-old Lightning connector. We’d love to see Apple adopt USB-C to embrace a truly industry-wide standard, and we can’t rule it out, but we’re not counting on a port change any time soon.
Murmurs at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal have also suggested Apple is testing an under-display fingerprint reader that would complement Face ID on the iPhone 13, but we wouldn’t raise our hopes for that, either. Testing doesn’t mean guaranteed use, and Apple has so far poured its energy into improving Face ID despite the pandemic. The recent iOS 14.5 update lets Face ID work with a mask if you have an Apple Watch, for instance. It would be wonderful if you had under-screen Touch ID as a backup, but a safer bet would be an improved Face ID system that works faster or recognizes you at sharper angles.
And then there’s iOS. It’s no secret that Android fans often have a mile-long list of things they’d change about Apple’s software before considering a switch, but we wouldn’t expect iOS 15 and the iPhone 13 to address many of those concerns. Bloomberg sources mostly expect iOS 15 to improve iPhone notifications, iMessage, and the lock screen. Don’t plan on sideloading third-party apps, changing all your app defaults, or installing custom launchers.
Apple is full of surprises, though, and it’s worth keeping some optimism. Remember, iOS 14 brought home screen widgets and limited app default changes that many thought would never see the light of day. If iOS 15 brings more changes like these, the iPhone 13 might tempt more Android fans even if the hardware is only a modest upgrade. We’ll hopefully learn more at WWDC 2021.