By John Gruber
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I’ve been using the new iPad Air for the last week, and, as is my wont with iPad reviews, I’m writing this on it. My personal iPad has been an 11-inch iPad Pro from late 2018. This new iPad Air looks and feels like the current 11-inch Pro’s spiritual sibling.
The 2018 and 2020 11-inch iPads Pro (1st and 2nd generation) are precisely identical in size and shape, camera systems aside. The new 10.9-inch iPad Air, with its single-lens rear camera system, is nearly identical to the 2018 11-inch iPad Pro, and uses the same basic industrial design: flat sides, round “edge-to-edge” displays, no home button. A glance at Apple’s iPad Compare page shows that the new iPad Air and both generations of 11-inch iPad Pro are the same height and width right down to the tenth of a millimeter. The one minute difference in size is that the new Air is 0.2 mm thicker. Hence, the new Air fits perfectly in the same Magic Keyboard as the 11-inch iPad Pros.
Side-by-side with an 11-inch iPad Pro, you can see that the bezel surrounding the display of the new 10.9-inch Air is slightly wider. It has to be — with the same size body but a slightly smaller (and, I presume, slightly less expensive) display, the bezel has to be ever so slightly thicker. In practice, when you’re not looking at them side-by-side, it’s not noticeable.
The only obvious-at-a-glance difference is that the new Air is available in colors that the iPad Pro is not — green, blue and rose gold — in addition to silver and space gray. Apple provided me the green one — it is charmingly minty.
Comparing the displays of the new iPad Air to the iPad Pro, the 0.1-inch diagonal size difference is not significant. The maximum “typical” brightness (500 nits vs. 600 nits) doesn’t seem that significant to me either. But one difference is significant: the iPad Pro offers ProMotion — Apple’s name for dynamic refresh rates up to 120 Hz — and the iPad Air does not.
Apple introduced ProMotion to the iPad Pro over three years ago, in June 2017 — so long ago that those original ProMotion iPad Pros had home buttons. iPads Pro are still the only devices Apple makes with ProMotion, to the consternation of folks who were hoping to see the technology make it to iPhones this year.
With iPads, ProMotion offers two tangible benefits: smoother motion content (most notably scrolling and slow-motion videos) and lower-latency Pencil input. In addition to higher refresh rates (above 60 Hz), ProMotion also allows for lower refresh rates to save battery life. E.g. while playing a 30 FPS video, a ProMotion display should drop to 30 Hz.
Side-by-side I can definitely tell the difference. Scrolling is just nicer and smoother on the iPad Pro than the new iPad Air. And I think I could take the Pepsi Challenge and identify which iPad has ProMotion and which doesn’t from Apple Pencil latency alone.
There’s nothing bad about the iPad Air’s 60 Hz refresh rate or Pencil latency. But the Pro models are definitely nicer. That niceness is a significant part of what you’re paying for with an iPad Pro instead of the new Air. Here’s the pricing:
|iPad Air 10.9″ (2020)||iPad Pro 11″ (2020)|
It is unclear to me why cellular networking incurs a $150 charge on the iPad Pro but only $130 on the iPad Air, other than the fact that in addition to professional and premium, “Pro”, in Apple’s parlance, also simply means “more expensive”.
Storage upgrades across both the iPad Air and iPad Pro are $50 per 64 GB of additional capacity — except for the 1 TB iPad Pro, where 512 GB of additional storage costs just $200, only $25 per 64 GB. A veritable bargain. Comparing models with 256 GB of storage — the only storage tier available on both the Air and Pro iPads — shows that the iPad Air costs $150 less than the iPad Pro for non-cellular models. Color options aside, the decision between a new iPad Air and new iPad Pro clearly comes down to the ProMotion display, Face ID, and the higher storage options available only on the Pro. But, in a genuine oddity of product update scheduling, the iPad Air (with the same A14 SoC as the new iPhones 12) is in most cases a slightly faster-performing computer than the iPad Pro (with the A12Z).
Geekbench 5 scores, averaged over two runs, with all devices running iPadOS 14.1:
|iPad Air (2020)||A14||1,580||4,240||12,530|
|iPad Pro (2020)||A12Z||1,120||4,680||12,000|
|iPad Pro (2018)||A12X||1,120||4,370||10,930|
Browserbench Speedometer 2.0 scores, which aim to measure real-world web application performance:
|iPad Air (2020)||A14||213|
|iPad Pro (2020)||A12Z||146|
|iPad Pro (2018)||A12X||146|
The iPad Pro’s A12Z still wins on multi-core CPU tests, which isn’t surprising — the A14 is a 6-core chip; the A12X has 7 cores and the A12Z has 8. But single-core performance — which in my opinion has more real-world utility, especially for consumer usage — is noticeably faster on the A14, and even the GPU (as tested by Geekbench’s “Compute” benchmark) is faster on the A14. Presumably, new iPad Pro models based on the A14 (“A14X” would be a smart guess for the name) will appear next year.
As for why the new iPad Air scores slightly higher than the iPhones 12, both in Geekbench tests and Speedometer, I don’t know. Comparing phones to tablets is a little apples-to-oranges-y, I suppose, in terms of power management. The differences aren’t enough to worry about.
While using it, the only time I notice that this is the new iPad Air and not my trusty iPad Pro is when I need to use Touch ID instead of Face ID. That’s a hard habit to break. When you go from using a Touch ID device to a Face ID one — whether iPhone or iPad — it’s a pretty easy transition, because Face ID generally kicks in without you doing anything. The whole point of Face ID is that the device recognizes you just by your looking at the device, and when you’re unlocking it, you’re generally looking at it. Whereas with Touch ID, you need to take action. You need to put a finger on the sensor.
When I’m hand-holding this iPad Air, I’m kind of used to the Touch ID sensor already, but I still miss Face ID. You can just tap-to-wake the screen, but when you do, you need to authenticate by resting your finger on the Touch ID sensor to unlock the iPad without entering your passcode. You just get used to waking the iPad by putting your finger on the power button, or even just picking it up with a grip that puts your right index finger on the button.
But when the iPad Air is connected to the Magic Keyboard (as it has been throughout my writing of this piece) — I just can’t get used to not having Face ID. With an iPad Pro in the Magic Keyboard, you just press any key on the keyboard (I’m a space bar man, personally) or wiggle a digit on the trackpad and boom, Face ID recognizes you and the iPad is unlocked. With the iPad Air, you’ve got to reach your left hand up and rest your finger on the power button for a moment. Every. Damn. Time. While writing this very section, specifically about the fact that I can’t stop expecting Face ID to unlock the iPad Air while it’s connected to the Magic Keyboard, I sat here stabbing at the space bar on the keyboard wondering why it’s not unlocking.
The good news is that anyone who already has a 2018 or 2020 iPad Pro, and thus is already habitually acclimated to the experience of Face ID, is not in the market for a new iPad Air. But for those who are eying a new 11-inch-ish iPad and are planning to get a Magic Keyboard (or use their new iPad with any other Bluetooth keyboard/trackpad combination, now that iPadOS has excellent support for such things), the relative obtrusiveness of using Touch ID versus Face ID with a keyboard is the single biggest difference between the iPad Air and iPad Pro.
If you plan to never or seldom use your iPad with a hardware keyboard and trackpad, I don’t think you’re missing that much with Touch ID instead of Face ID. If you do plan to use a keyboard and trackpad, however, you’re missing a lot. Face ID is what puts much of the magic in the Magic Keyboard experience.
Will this Touch ID sensor in the power button ever make its way to iPhones? I think not. I know many people were vaguely hoping it would make a surprise appearance in the iPhones 12 after last month’s announcement of the new iPad Air, but adding Touch ID to the iPhone power button doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
Yes, across the world, many of us are wearing face masks whenever we venture outside the home, and Face ID doesn’t work with masked faces. (Some people report that it does work, sometimes, but it never works for me, and definitely is not officially supported.) But how would a Touch ID sensor on the power button work with an iPhone in a case? Most people use cases, and most cases cover the power button. That’s such a dealbreaker that I think the whole debate might end there. But even putting the issue of button-covering cases aside, how would Touch ID work alongside Face ID? Would they be alternatives — use either one in any situation requiring authentication? That’s how I would guess it would work. But would iOS add a new option to require both forms of biometric authentication for additional security? And if you’re allowed to use either of them in most situations, which one should you use? Practically speaking it would be nice to have Touch ID while wearing a face mask — trust me, I know — but conceptually it seems a bit mushy to have both Touch ID and Face ID on the same device. I think we’re more likely to see a better Face ID system that can identify us while we wear masks covering our mouths and noses than iPhones that have Touch ID sensors on the power button. If we, as humans, can recognize people we know while they’re wearing face masks, computers can do it too.
Touch ID that somehow works through the display, not the power button — that seems like an option worth pursuing, conceptual mushiness of dual biometric systems be damned.
The $600 64 GB iPad Air seems like a terrific device for anyone looking for a great modern iPad for handheld use. If you don’t need additional storage and don’t plan to use it with a Bluetooth keyboard or Magic Keyboard (where Face ID really makes a big difference convenience-wise), $600 is a lot less than the $800 starting price for a 128 GB 11-inch iPad Pro, and the new iPad Air is a lot nicer than the no-adjective regular iPads.
But I’m not sure who the $750 256 GB iPad Air is for. Are there people who would be better off with this iPad Air rather than the $800 128 GB iPad Pro? People who need 256 GB of storage instead of 128 GB, but don’t want Face ID or ProMotion or the lidar-equipped camera system? I don’t know who they are, if they’re out there. ★
I try to keep two distinct readers in mind with these annual reviews of new iPhones. First, you, today — you probably want insight to help you decide, to some degree, whether you should upgrade from whatever iPhone you currently own (and you probably do own an iPhone already) to one of this year’s new ones, and if so, which one? Second, me, in the future — I want to look back and use what I write now as a resource to remember what was new with the 2020 iPhones.
What’s worth noticing and knowing about these iPhones vis-à-vis the market today? What remains the same? What’s different? What stands out? What will be worth remembering about them in the future? When I get lost in a sea of disparate notes and observations, these are the questions I come back to for clarity.
But there’s just no way to write a definitive review of the entire iPhone 12 lineup today. There are four iPhones in that lineup, and the two that I’ve been using for the last week are the least novel of the bunch: the no-adjective iPhone 12 (in blue) and the iPhone 12 Pro (in pacific blue).
The iPhone 12 Mini (the smallest iPhone Apple has made since the 5 / 5C / 5S / SE) and the 12 Pro Max (the biggest iPhone Apple has ever made, with the most advanced camera system) are launching three weeks after the identically mid-sized 12 and 12 Pro, and reviews, if Apple follows form, will likely drop three weeks from today.1
If you really want to understand the gestalt of the whole iPhone 12 lineup, you have to wait. We all do.
But that’s not a complaint. I’ve struggled enough trying to review these two phones in a week. (They arrived last Wednesday. So, at publication, I’ve been using them for about six days.) I don’t know how much of the three-week split between the launches of the 12/12 Pro and the 12 Mini/12 Pro Max was dictated by the travails of production and manufacturing,2 and how much is purposeful strategy,3 but I’m glad to have the chance to just write about these two iPhones first, even if the 12 Mini and 12 Pro Max are ultimately more interesting.
“The creative act of determining and defining a product’s form and features” — that’s Wikipedia’s definition of industrial design, and that’s pretty good — and perfect for what I want to talk about here.
In the early small-screen era of iPhone, the logical progression of iPhone form factors was very obvious. The original iPhone, 3G, and 3GS were all basically the same size. The original was aluminum and the 3G/3GS were plastic, which was a big change — a change in the name of practicality but which in hindsight leaves the original as a much more compelling artifact, particularly after being well-used. But it’s also obvious that switching to plastic made the iPhone 3G/3GS cheaper to make and almost certainly more antenna-friendly.
The iPhone 4 and 4S introduced retina displays — to my mind, the single biggest change in personal computer displays ever. Apple didn’t incrementally increase the pixel density — they doubled it, which in terms of area meant quadrupling. Pixels instantly went from dots you could see with the naked eye to ones that you couldn’t, in one fell swoop. And the iPhone’s structural design changed completely, to a flat stainless steel antenna band sandwiched between two panes of glass. (What comes around goes around.) The iPhone 5 changed the aspect ratio, making the displays taller, but the display width stayed the same. Basically, in a certain essential sense — that sense being how an iPhone fit and felt in one’s hand — iPhones changed a lot in terms of style between 2007’s original and 2011’s 4S, but they stayed the same size. And even with the 5 and 5S, they grew only in height, not width. That was seven model years of same-width iPhones. It was very clear Apple’s designers knew what size they felt early iPhones should be.
In the era of the iPhones 6 through 8, Apple settled on and stuck with two larger sizes: 4.7-inch regular displays and 5.5-inch “Plus” displays. Camera bumps and color options aside, the essential industrial design of these phones remained utterly identical from the 2014 iPhone 6 through today’s second-generation SE. (And at the Plus size, perhaps from the 6 Plus through next year’s potential SE Plus?)
There’s a “measure twice, cut once” aspect to Apple’s consistency with those home-button-era iPhones. And, importantly, their display sizes could be used as shorthand descriptions of their relative device sizes. All of the 3.5-inch iPhones (original through 4S) felt the same size in hand. The 4-inch models (5/5C/5S/SE) felt only taller, not bigger per se. (And they got thinner, which helped keep them from feeling bigger, and replaced the glass backs with all-aluminum frames, which made them relatively lighter by volume.) All of the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch home-button iPhones are almost exactly the same size, shape, and weight as each other, respectively.
That’s not the case with the Face-ID-era iPhones.
In the first three years of the Face ID era, we saw three display sizes: 5.8-inch OLED (X, XS, 11 Pro), 6.5-inch OLED (XS Max, 11 Pro Max), and 6.1-inch LCD (XR, 11). These three display sizes corresponded to three device sizes. In hand, in pocket, and side-by-side on a table, these devices feel and look like what the diagonal measure of their displays suggest: regular (5.8″), large (6.5″), and split-the-difference (6.1″). One is tempted to say small, medium, and large, but that’s not apt at all. The 5.8-inch iPhones are not small. They feel regular sized. The new default. That’s why the one and only iPhone X — the phone that introduced the second conceptual design of the iPhone experience (no home button, edge-to-edge round-cornered displays, the slide-from-bottom gesture for getting to the home screen and multitasking) — was that size.
The 6.5-inch Max devices truly were large, but the 6.1-inch XR and 11 were something else. “Split-the-difference” sounds inelegant but I really do feel that’s what Apple was doing with them. It was a compromise to bring the iPhone X conceptual design to a more consumer-friendly price point, and one size that worked for everyone. The XR and 11 feel a little big in hand for those who, if price were no matter, would prefer the 5.8-inch XS or 11 Pro. And they look a little small for those who, if price were no matter, would prefer the 6.5-inch XS Max or 11 Pro Max. But it’s a good compromise size for everyone whose sensibility or budget steered them toward iPhones that started around $750 or so rather than $1000 or so.
So when you see that the new iPhone 12 and 12 Pro4 have 6.1-inch displays, 12 years of iPhone experience are going to make you think these are iPhone XR/11-sized devices. They’re not. In hand, in pocket, and to the eye, they feel and look like iPhone X/XS/11 Pro-sized devices. Display size is no longer a proximate metric for relative iPhone device size.
Consider a small table of specs quoted (and in the case of volume, computed) from Apple’s iPhone Compare page:
|12||12 Pro||11 Pro||11|
|Height||146.7 mm||146.7 mm||144.0 mm||150.9 mm|
|Width||71.5 mm||71.5 mm||71.4 mm||75.7 mm|
|Depth||7.4 mm||7.4 mm||8.1 mm||8.3 mm|
|Volume||77.6 cc||77.6 cc||83.3 cc||94.8 cc|
|Weight||164 g||189 g||188 g||194 g|
Note first that the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are precisely the same dimensions. This should be obvious from the fact that they share the same Apple-branded protective cases, but it’s worth emphasizing here because the 11 and 11 Pro are very different sizes (as were the XR and XS in 2018). And despite the fact that the 12 and 12 Pro have 6.1-inch displays — the same display size as the iPhone 11 — as devices they are much closer in size to the 11 Pro.
The iPhone 12/12 Pro are 2.7 mm taller than the 11 Pro, yes, but remain 4.2 mm shorter than the 11. In width they’re just a minuscule 0.1 mm wider than the 11 Pro. But because they’re thinner,5 the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are smaller by volume than the 11 Pro.
The 12 and 12 Pro give you an iPhone XR/11-sized 6.1-inch diagonal display in an iPhone X/XS/11 Pro-sized device. How is this possible? Apple has reduced the size of the bezel surrounding the display, and the flat sides of the 12 models are narrower than the rounded sides of the X and 11 Phones.
In hand, the width of a phone is much more noticeable than its height. That’s just self-evident based on how one grips a phone. With an iPhone 11 Pro in one hand and a 12 Pro in the other, they feel like different takes on the same size/weight device.
As someone whose daily carry for the last three years has been a X/XS/11 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro does not feel like a bigger device at all. Just different. I think nicer, because I think flat sides feel nicer than round ones, but one week into carrying iPhones 12 around and I don’t think the round-to-flat change makes that big of a difference to me in terms of preference. I expected to feel more strongly about this (in favor of the flat sides), but so far I don’t. I like the flat sides, but as I go back and forth between the 12 and 12 Pro and my trusty 11 Pro, I don’t feel grossed out by the 11 Pro’s round sides the way I expected to.
So here’s my theory on Apple’s design thinking. I don’t think they start with a display size and then design a phone around that. I think they start with a device size and then fit a display into that design. The foundation of the Face-ID-era iPhones is the feel of the iPhone X in hand. That basic size, that feel in hand and in pocket — that is the size of a regular modern iPhone. It’s the Goldilocks size that to most people’s taste isn’t big, and isn’t small.
The iPhone XR and 11 were compromise designs. Apple’s best attempt to bring everything they could about the expensive OLED iPhone X to a significantly less expensive LCD model. A one-size-fits-most design which, in hindsight, I think will look like a two-year blip on the historical timeline of basic iPhone form factors.
In the size/weight comparison table above, I highlighted one figure: the weight of the iPhone 12. The 12 and 12 Pro are the exact same size but the 12 is 25 grams lighter — about 13 percent. That is very noticeable. Apple’s silicone and clear cases for the 12 models both weigh about 28 grams, so the regular 12 is about the same weight with a case as the 12 Pro without.
Clearly some of the difference here is because the 12 Pro has camera system components the regular 12 does not: the telephoto third lens and the lidar sensor. But some of the difference is due to the 12 Pro’s stainless steel band (“surgical grade”, Apple will have you know) weighing more than the 12’s aluminum6 one. There’s no functional advantage to steel over aluminum here. It’s purely a stylistic choice. I get that with Apple Watch. I don’t really get it with iPhones. Watches are jewelry, but phones are tools. Especially phones-as-cameras, and feature-wise, nearly all of the differences between the 12 and 12 Pro are related to the camera and photography. If you’re buying the iPhone 12 Pro instead of the 12 on functional grounds, those functions are photographic — and I’ve never seen a camera made of stainless steel or other high-gloss metal.
The iPhone 12 Pro has glossy steel sides and a matte glass back that, to my fingers, feels exactly like the matte glass back of the 11 Pro last year. The iPhone X and XS had stainless steel bands too, but they had glossy glass backs. As a no-case aficionado, I can say definitively after a year with the 11 Pro that I prefer the feel of glossy glass backs. Glossy sounds like it would be more slippery than matte, but when it comes to glass, glossiness adds grip — it gives your fingers a bit of tack, like clean sneakers on a polished basketball court.
Subjectively I think the glossy glass iPhone backs look better too. Both of these blue iPhones look great, and I think both colors will prove very popular, but there’s no question to my eyes that the blue iPhone 12 pops in a way the staid pacific blue iPhone 12 Pro does not. The blue iPhone 12 strikes a remarkable balance between looking both fun yet unfrivolous simultaneously. If you were to go into the store thinking you’d like to buy a pacific blue iPhone 12 Pro, but they were sold out of that color, you might gladly settle for graphite. If you have your heart set on this vibrant blue iPhone 12, nothing else will do — you’ll wait until it’s back in stock or trek to another store.
I also find the matte finish of the aluminum band nicer to the touch. It looks great in blue, too, but it’s the feel I like best. While I’m on it, the shiny steel band of the 12 Pro is a fingerprint magnet — they wipe away easily, but the aluminum band of the 12 never shows any signs of having been touched. If I had my druthers, I would prefer the matte aluminum band and glossy back of the regular iPhone 12 and the three-lens-plus-lidar camera system of the 12 Pro. Of this, I am dead certain about preferring the glossy glass back over matte. I’m less certain about preferring the look and feel of the matte aluminum band and buttons. Saving a bit of weight, though, is a sure-fire advantage for aluminum over steel. So if I had the opportunity right now, as I type this sentence, to configure my ideal iPhone 12, that’s what I’d specify: the glossy back and aluminum sides of the regular 12 and the camera system from the 12 Pro.
In addition to introducing a rethinking of the fundamental iPhone conceptual design, the iPhone X also upped the ante for niceness. It was just nicer than the iPhones 8. That discrepancy in niceness was, arguably, more prominent comparing the XR to the XS, and 11 to the 11 Pro. The iPhones 8 were just an entirely different design. The XR and non-Pro 11 were the same design as the iPhone X, but with LCD displays instead of OLED and slightly thicker (but definitely thicker enough to notice) surrounding bezels, they just weren’t as nice. The XR and 11 were even a clumsier size — less elegant in hand than the XS/11 Pro, but yet not big enough to qualify as truly large display phones.
Camera system aside, the iPhone 12 is just as nice as the iPhone 12 Pro, and it costs $120 less for the same amount of storage.7
For all my consideration on the differences in look and feel between the aluminum and steel bands and glossy and matte glass backs, let’s face it — 90-95 percent of people keep their iPhones in cases all the time. Apple sent along their silicone (blue, natch) and clear cases with their reviewer kit.
The thing I noticed most about the new silicone case is that the lip extends all the way around. With the iPhone X through 11, Apple’s cases had a cutout along the bottom, which I found nice to use, because there’s no lip that gets in the way of your thumb as you swipe up from the bottom — and in the modern post-iPhone X paradigm, you swipe up from the bottom all the time. Apple’s new clear case still has a cutout along the bottom. I don’t know why they changed this for the silicone case but not the clear one. A difference in structural rigidity between the materials? Personally, I don’t care for either case — I don’t like the lip that goes all the way around the bottom of the silicon case, and I don’t like the feel of the buttons on the clear case (they feel squishy, not clicky). But I’m not a case person.
Apple has a rich history of reusing names. “iBook”, for example, was an iconic consumer laptop — and then it was an e-book platform. Apple removed our beloved MagSafe charging ports from MacBooks a few years ago, but now they’ve brought back the brand for iPhone, and it’s delightful.
Apple’s own cases have MagSafe built in. Primarily this is about charging — the magnets on the case allow the magnets on the MagSafe charging puck to snap into place just like when the iPhone isn’t in a case, and they pass through the same 15-watt charging speed. (The iPhones 12 still max out at 7.5 watts when using regular Qi chargers.) But the magnets on the case also help hold the cases in place on the phones. The magnets aren’t the only thing holding the cases on — the lips still do curl over the edges a bit — but the magnets definitely connect. When you put an iPhone 12 into a MagSafe case, or connect it to a MagSafe charger, the phone emits a delightful little bloop, and briefly displays a MagSafe indicator on screen. When connected to a charger, this circle acts as a gauge for the phone’s current charge. The size and location of this indicator on the display corresponds exactly to the size and location of the MagSafe connector attached to the back of the phone — nice. This sort of spatial awareness of the on-screen software and device hardware brings to mind the audio-volume meters that are aligned perfectly with the volume-up/down hardware buttons.
The reviewer kit from Apple included only the $39 MagSafe charger that’s available to purchase now. Apple has also announced an upcoming folding Duo Charger, with MagSafe on one side and an Apple Watch charger on the other, and we’ll probably soon see a slew of third-party docks.
I dig MagSafe charging. But it definitely is not a dock or a charging mat, like tabletop Qi chargers are. It sticks to the iPhone, so if you just pick up the iPhone while it’s charging, the MagSafe puck stays attached. It’s best thought of as a magnetic replacement for a Lightning cable, not a magnet charging pad. An iPhone attaches to the MagSafe puck, it doesn’t just rest on it. This is a feature — you can use your iPhone while it’s charging with MagSafe, just like you can with a Lightning cable. In fact, it’s even more convenient, because you can rotate the puck on the back to make the cable go in whichever direction is most comfortable.
At one point over the weekend, the 12 Pro stopped charging over MagSafe. No audio bloop, no on-screen connection indicator, no charge. Restarting the iPhone fixed it. This, I am reliably informed, is a known bug that has already been addressed in the iOS 14.2 beta seeded today. (Both of the reviewed iPhones came with iOS 14.1 installed.)
That glitch aside, I like MagSafe enough that I plan on buying MagSafe chargers for my bedside and travel bag. I greatly look forward to never again waking up with my phone in the red because I left it ever so slightly misaligned on my bedside Qi charger overnight.
You can put other Qi-compatible iPhones on a MagSafe puck and they will charge, treating the MagSafe puck as a 7.5-watt Qi charger. There’s no special bloop or on-screen animation, but it works fine. I put my Qi-compatible Pixel 4 on and it seemed to recognize it as a charger, but it didn’t actually charge. I’ve had trouble with the Pixel 4 and other Qi chargers too, so this might be weirdness on the part of the Pixel, not the MagSafe charger. Your mileage may vary using MagSafe to charge non-iPhone devices.
A lot of people are wondering about car mounts: are the magnets alone strong enough to hold an iPhone? Based on the MagSafe charging puck, I’d say no, at least not if you occasionally hit Philly-quality potholes. But maybe a car mount can and will use stronger magnets. My guess is that car mounts will combine MagSafe with some sort of clip or cup.
The glaringly obvious thing here is that in theory, MagSafe ought to be compatible with Apple Watch, but it’s not. They’re both magnetic inductive charging connectors, but MagSafe can’t charge a Watch and the Watch’s charger can’t charge an iPhone. AirPower, we shan’t forget thee.
Apple sent along a Verizon 5G SIM card for testing. (Two phones, but one SIM card — which is fine by me. But I’m sure some of you are curious about that.)
There are like a dozen or more different specific bands of 5G networking. You don’t need to worry about that. That’s like worrying about which channel your Wi-Fi connection is using. The basic story with 5G is that there are two primary flavors:
Juli Clover wrote a nice short 5G explainer last month for MacRumors covering the differences. If your carrier plan includes 5G service, you don’t need to do anything to use 5G.
Here’s Verizon’s 5G coverage map, and here is a screenshot showing their current map for Center City Philadelphia:
Here’s a zoomed out screenshot showing the greater Philly metro area:
Basically, Verizon claims to offer “5G Nationwide” — a.k.a. Sub-6GHz 5G — across the whole metro region except for the most densely populated area right in the heart of Philly. Which is where I live. I walked into areas that are red on Verizon’s map, but I never saw any regular 5G service. Only LTE. I pretty much live my life in Verizon’s pink zone.
But those dark maroon areas for “5G Ultra Wideband” — a.k.a. 5G mmWave — are for the most part very accurate on Verizon’s map. I went straight from LTE to 5G Ultra Wideband (the indicator in the iOS status bar changes to “5G” with a little “UW” next to it) without seeing a lick of normal 5G all week.
And — I’ll repeat — holy shit is Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband fast. Using Ookla’s Speedtest app for testing, my LTE service here in Philly is generally in the range of 50-120 Mbps down, 10-20 Mbps up. Not bad. With 5G Ultra Wideband, I typically saw 1,200-1,800 Mbps down, 25-70 Mbps up. At a few spots I consistently saw 2,300-2,700 Mbps down. Wowza. Apple’s and Verizon’s advertised maximum under “ideal conditions” is 4,000 Mbps. That’s gigabit speeds in real life over a cellular network.
But these mmWave coverage zones really are like Wi-Fi hotspots in terms of range. At some spots, the coverage is literally just half a city block. And it supposedly doesn’t penetrate walls or even windows well. It’s an outdoor technology, I guess? Which seems really limiting? It’s technically amazing, and I can vouch that it works and really does deliver downstream speed that’s 10 times or more faster than Verizon’s LTE. But if it doesn’t work indoors, I’m not sure when it’s ever going to be practically useful for me, other than when I’m at congested spots like airports, train stations, arenas, and stadiums — places I haven’t seen since early March and won’t see again until who knows when.
Data caps are another practical concern. Anything you do that can make use of these insane speeds can chew through 15-30 GB of data pretty quickly. Download Xcode once and boom, there goes 11 GB. But 5G will help you blow through your data cap really fast.
I can’t speak to Verizon’s regular 5G service, because I never encountered it.
As for testing 5G’s potentially deleterious effect on battery life: that’s beyond the scope of this review, alas. But I will point out that iOS 14.1 has three separate options in Settings → Cellular → Cellular Data Options → Voice & Data:
Apple’s description: “5G On uses 5G whenever it is available, even when it may reduce battery life. 5G Auto uses 5G only when it will not significantly reduce battery life.” 5G Auto is the default, and that’s where I left it all week. Overall daily battery life seemed about what I’d expect while using these devices pretty extensively.
There is also a section in Cellular Data Options for Data Mode:
On iPhones without 5G, this is just a toggle switch for Low Data Mode. Allow More Data on 5G, according to the descriptive text, “provides higher-quality video and FaceTime when connected to 5G cellular networks”. I think it more or less treats a 5G connection the same way it does a Wi-Fi connection. I don’t think this is a good idea. 5G may well be faster than LTE, but allowing more data over cellular should depend on your plan’s data cap, not the speed of the connection.
One last 5G note: iOS hotspot tethering will share a 5G Ultra Wideband connection. At a location where the iPhone 12 was seeing speeds of 1,200-1,700 Mbps down, a connected device using the personal hotspot over Wi-Fi was seeing speeds of 500-600 Mbps. Impressive! According to Apple, modern Apple devices will see faster hotspot speeds tethering over the air with Wi-Fi than using a USB Lightning cable.
A serious analysis of the A14 is far beyond the scope of this piece, but I did poke around with Geekbench 5 and the browser-based Speedometer 2.0 just to see what the basic gist was. In my brief testing, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro scored equivalently, so I’m not listing them separately. Geekbench does say there’s more RAM in the 12 Pro (6 GB vs. 4 GB), but that doesn’t seem to make any difference in these benchmarks, nor would I expect it to. In all of these benchmarks, higher numbers are faster, and are the average of three runs:
|iPhone 12||iPhone 11||% Faster|
Apple’s silicon team continues not merely to impress, but to amaze. The A14 runs rings around both Qualcomm’s best offerings for Android phones and the Intel chips currently in Macs. Emphasis there on currently.
Did I take a bunch of photos and videos this week? Yes, I did. Everything seemed as good or better than last year. The one thing that jumped out at me is that in low light, you can easily see the improvement year over year with the 1× main lens going from ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/1.6 on both phones. Relegating the entirety of photography to a bullet point under Miscellaneous seems silly, but really, it demands a feature-length review of its own.
Apple sent one of their new MagSafe leather wallets too. I actually use a small cards-only wallet, but I’m a wallet in one pocket, phone in the other person, so I have no interest in attaching my wallet to the back of my phone. But if you do, and don’t carry many cards, you might like it. The magnetic strength seems about right. The big question I’ve seen folks asking online is how many cards it holds. For me, no matter which combination of cards I try, the answer is very consistent: it holds three cards. I don’t know why Apple doesn’t just say that in the product description. If you put just one or two cards in, they’ll stay put, wedged into the bottom, but if you try adding a fourth card it’ll either be too tight or simply will not fit.
You know the protective sticker that covers the display on a new iPhone? The thing that’s so satisfyingly fun to peel off that Apple made an entire commercial about it for the new iPhone SE earlier this year? On the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro, this sticker is now opaque white paper, not clear film. It now has cute little icons indicating what the buttons do. It maybe doesn’t look as cool but it’s still quite satisfying to peel off, and, Apple tells me, this reduces the amount of plastic waste. I’m not sure there’s any plastic in the entire package other than the USB-C-to-Lightning cable and the de rigueur Apple logo sticker. Otherwise it’s all paper and cardboard. ★
Apple’s usual schedule is for review embargoes to drop in the window between pre-orders and shipping. I can’t think of a product that was an exception to this. ↩︎
Which, this year, have clearly been made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily shut down Apple’s supply chain in China earlier this year, and has severely restricted travel all year long. It’s impossible to overstate just how much of Apple’s usual process involves U.S. employees of the company flying back and forth to China to inspect and test components and oversee and approve assembly. It’s really quite remarkable that these new iPhones are debuting as close to the “normal” schedule as they are. ↩︎︎
In 2017, the iPhones 8 and 8 Plus went on sale in mid-September, the week after they were introduced. But the iPhone X didn’t ship until early November, with the first reviews dropping October 31. (My own iPhone X review didn’t appear until December 26.) In 2018 the schedule flip-flopped, with the not-yet-called-“Pro” iPhones XS and XS Max appearing “on time” in mid-September and the iPhone XR appearing five weeks later. Last year, the whole iPhone 11 family — 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max — debuted together in mid-September. ↩︎︎
That’s right — 1,200 or so words in, and I’m just now getting to the new phones. ↩︎︎
Apple’s depth measurements don’t account for the camera bumps, but the bumps on the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro don’t seem to protrude any more than on last year’s iPhones. ↩︎︎
I do miss hearing “aluminium” from Jony Ive’s voiceovers. And it occurs to me to wonder what he’s up to. ↩︎︎
Here’s a little detail where the iPhone 12 gets screwed on niceness. There are two tiny pentalobe screws next to the Lightning port on both phones. On the iPhone 12 Pro, they are color-matched to the steel band. On the iPhone 12, they’re not. Come on, Apple. ↩︎︎
Last month’s “Time Flies” event for the Apple Watch Series 6 and new iPad Air was about an hour long; this week’s “Hi, Speed” event ran just a bit longer at 70 minutes. Perhaps, if 2020 had gone as planned, all of these products would have been announced in one big two-hour event in early September. There’s a lot I miss about in-person events,1 but in terms of dosing the news, I like the digestibility of these shorter, more focused events. There’s more than enough to process considering just the new iPhone 12 models and the dessert course (served before the entrees) of HomePod Mini.
So there are four new iPhones this year. Is that confusing? I don’t think so, and if anything is confusing or complicated about this year’s lineup, it’s at the high end, with the camera system differences between the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. The addition of a fourth iPhone, the 12 Mini, doesn’t complicate the lineup at all, because its name completely describes everything there is to know about it.
Really, the product names tell you how to understand the lineup. The iPhone 12 is the new iPhone — almost certainly the best choice for most people in the market for a new-model-year iPhone. Unless they really want an iPhone that is smaller, in which case they should, with no hesitation, get the iPhone 12 Mini. In terms of features and specs, it’s exactly like the iPhone 12, just smaller. It’s also $100 cheaper — but the reason to buy a 12 Mini is the size, not the price. If a lower price is more meaningful to you than device size, you should probably either get an iPhone 11 or XR and save some money, or, for a smaller device, get an iPhone SE and save a lot of money.
Here’s a matrix with the new lineup, organized the way I think makes the most sense. In the bottom row, I compare all storage tiers to 128 GB as a baseline. Storage is priced very consistently this year: across all iPhone models, every 64 GB of additional storage costs $50.
|64 GB||128 GB||256 GB||512 GB|
|iPhone 12 Pro Max||—||$1,100||$1,200||$1,400|
|iPhone 12 Pro||—||1,000||1,100||1,300|
|iPhone 12 Mini||730||780||880||—|
|Δ from 128 GB||-50||—||+100||+300|
I think it’s useful to include last year’s prices for the then-new iPhone 11 lineup for comparison:
|64 GB||128 GB||256 GB||512 GB|
|(2019) 11 Pro Max||$1,100||—||$1,250||$1,450|
|(2019) 11 Pro||1,000||—||1,150||1,350|
|(2019) iPhone 11||700||750||850||—|
Zeroth, all prices I’ve listed are for unlocked phones. Apple’s promotion of the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini as starting (respectively) at $799/699 rather than $829/729 just because of some sort of marketing deals they cut with AT&T and Verizon for existing AT&T and Verizon customers is $30 worth of bullshit. (And now Apple has let T-Mobile join the club.)
First, comparing like-to-like models year-over-year, the regular iPhone 12 is $130 more expensive than the iPhone 11 was. The fact that the 12 Mini is just $30 more than the equivalent 11 was a year ago helps assuage that, but, again, I think the 12 Mini is best thought of as a variant for people who really prefer smaller phones, not as the base model.
Second, the Pro models are actually less expensive than they were last year. The base prices are the same, but base storage goes from 64 to 128 GB, which, to be honest, feels overdue. We can argue about how much the “Pro” in these iPhone product names means professional and how much it actually means deluxe, but 64 GB of storage in 2019 was neither professional nor deluxe. At the 256 and 512 GB tiers, prices are $50 lower this year.
But the main thing to take away is that the prices are much more continuous. Last year there was a gaping $300 chasm between the iPhone 11 and the 11 Pro; this year that difference is only $120. You don’t have to be Jeff Williams to figure out that OLED displays are expensive. 5G modems — exclusively available from Apple’s bitter frenemy Qualcomm — are probably expensive too, but with the Pro models going down in price year-over-year, it seems clear that the single biggest factor is OLED vs. LCD. When the iPhone 11 was LCD and the 11 Pros were OLED — and in 2018 when there was an LCD/OLED split between the XR and XS models — there was a gaping difference in price. This year, with all iPhone 12 models on OLED, there is no pricing gap.
When Apple introduced the “Max” moniker with 2018’s iPhone XS, the proposition was much like that of the 12 and 12 Mini this year: the only difference was size. That was true last year with the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, too. For me, someone who desired the very best camera system Apple makes but not the biggest-ass display size, that was great.
No such good fortune this year.
The 12 Pro Max has several camera advantages over the 12 Pro, harking back to the iPhone 6 / 6S / 7 era, when the Plus models had camera features their regular-sized siblings did not.2 Herewith, I believe, is the full accounting of the differences between the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, camera by camera:
Front-facing (a.k.a. “TrueDepth”, a.k.a. “selfie”): Same across all iPhone 12 models.
Ultra Wide (0.5×): Same across all iPhone 12 models.
Wide (1×): Same on iPhone 12, 12 Mini, and 12 Pro, with a new ƒ/1.6 lens that captures 27 percent more light than last year’s 1× wide lens. The 12 Pro Max has the same ƒ/1.6 lens, but also has an altogether different sensor that is 47 percent larger than the 1× camera sensor on the other models. This bigger sensor has the same number of pixels (12 MP = 4032 × 3024), but those pixels are bigger. The larger sensor combined with the new-to-all-models ƒ/1.6 lens means the 1× wide camera on the 12 Pro Max captures 87 percent more light than last year’s iPhone 11 models. And that’s not all: in addition to being bigger, the new Pro Max’s 1× camera sensor exclusively features sensor-shift OIS, stabilizing the sensor rather than the lens, which according to Apple is beneficial both for photos and video. This sensor-shift OIS is also what enables the 12 Pro Max’s ability to capture up to 2-second exposures handheld, which, if it works as Apple describes, is a breakthrough that would be impractical in non-computational photography. Bottom line: all iPhone 12 models have the same 1× camera lens, which is faster than last year’s models, but the 12 Pro Max also has a bigger sensor and sensor-shift OIS.
Telephoto: This is the lens that the non-Pro models do not have. On the iPhone 12 Pro, it’s a 2× ƒ/2.0 lens with equivalent field of view to a 52mm lens. On the 12 Pro Max, it’s a 2.5× ƒ/2.2 lens equivalent to a 65mm lens. The sensors, apparently, are the same or effectively the same. 2.5× is “better” than 2.0× because it’s longer, offering more effective optical zoom. But ƒ/2.0 is “better” than ƒ/2.2, because it lets in more light. But whatever low-light advantage the 12 Pro’s ƒ/2.0 aperture might have over the 12 Pro Max’s ƒ/2.2 aperture, in practice this is almost certainly effectively moot, because in low-light situations the camera system probably gets better results using the faster 1× camera and digitally zooming to a 2×/2.5× crop factor.
Apple has confused all of this by promoting “4×” (12 Pro) and “5×” (12 Pro Max) “optical zoom range”. How can you get 4× or 5× optical zoom out of 2× and 2.5× lenses? What Apple is talking about here is the full range of optical zoom from the ultra wide 0.5× lens to the telephoto 2×/2.5× lenses. I think they’re doing this because the marketing looks better to say 4×/5× rather than 2×/2.5×.
Despite my being both a prosumer-grade camera enthusiast and professional-grade iPhone nerd, even I continually get confused when Apple refers to the 1× back camera as “wide”. Here’s how Apple refers to the lenses:
Here’s how my mind thinks about the lenses:
To me, “1×” unambiguously implies “regular/default/normal”. (And yes, I know that in traditional photography, “normal” is lingo for a 50mm lens, roughly what the iPhone 2× lens offers. I’m using normal in the common sense of the word.) It just never fits my mental model to think of the 1× default lens as “wide”.
The biggest difference, most obviously, is the existence of a telephoto lens at all. Also, the existence of a lidar sensor, which the 12 Pro models use for faster autofocus in low light (6 times faster, according to Apple) and to enable Night Mode portrait shots.
All iPhone 12 models support shooting Dolby Vision 10-bit HDR video. But the 12 and 12 Mini only support Dolby Vision HDR at 30 FPS — the Pro models both support up to 60 FPS.
Apple’s upcoming ProRAW features — which will enable shooting RAW images using the built-in Camera app and a bunch of new APIs for third-party camera and photo-editing apps — are exclusive to the 12 Pro models. (Apple says ProRAW is coming “later this year” — I’m guessing that means iOS 14.2.)
When you consider the camera specs alone, that seems like pure marketing spite. All iPhone 12 models have the A14 SoC with the same CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine. But there might be a technical reason ProRAW is limited to the iPhone 12 Pro models: according to the latest version of Xcode, the 12 Pro models have 50 percent more RAM than the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini (6 GB vs. 4 GB). It seems reasonable to assume that ProRAW and 60 FPS Dolby Vision encoding are RAM-hungry features. But because Apple never ever talks about RAM in iOS devices, even in the small print of their advertised tech specs, this comes across as purely marketing-driven differentiation.
The iPhone 12 Mini is, by today’s standards, really small. It’s larger than the old 4-inch display models (5 / 5S / original SE) but noticeably smaller than the 4.7-inch display models (6 / 6S / 7 / 8 / new SE). Here’s an illustrative screenshot from Apple’s ever-excellent iPhone “Compare” page:
If you were holding out for a X-class iPhone significantly smaller than the 5.8-inch iPhone X, your patience has finally been rewarded. The iPhone 12 Mini seems like a fantastic device. You save $100 and pay no penalty in camera quality, performance, display brightness or color gamut. It’s just smaller. Battery life takes a hit compared to the regular iPhone 12, but, judging by Apple’s quoted numbers, the battery life difference seems commensurate with device volume. You can’t simultaneously clamor for a smaller device and a bigger battery.
So Apple now sells modern X-class iPhones in small, medium, and large sizes. But a truly complete lineup would have two additional models: a non-Pro iPhone 12 Max and an iPhone 12 Pro Mini. Given that there is now a technology gap between the regular-size 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max camera systems (see above), it seems unfair to assume a 12 Pro Mini with all the features of the regular 12 Pro is possible without undesirable tradeoffs. There may well not be room for all the 12 Pro camera system features in a Mini-sized device.
But a non-Pro 12 Max is obviously technologically feasible. That’s a product Apple simply chooses not to make. If you want a big 6.7-inch display, you have to pay Pro prices, even if you don’t care about any of the Pro features or accoutrements (extra camera lens, lidar, premium stainless steel finish, sleeker wallpapers, etc.).
My purely hypothetical non-Pro iPhone 12 Max would slot into the product line as follows, presuming the same $100 difference as the Pro models. I’ll toss in the also-hypothetical 12 Pro Mini to complete this theoretically-complete lineup:
|64 GB||128 GB||256 GB||512 GB|
|iPhone 12 Pro Max||—||$1,100||$1,200||$1,400|
|iPhone 12 Pro||—||1,000||1,100||1,300|
|iPhone 12 Pro Mini||—||900||1,000||1,200|
|iPhone 12 Max||930||980||1,080||—|
|iPhone 12 Mini||730||780||880||—|
Look at that chart. One reason both of these hypothetical missing models are unlikely is that they muddle the middle. It was a problem in the last few years that there was a gap in the middle of the price range; with a Pro Mini and non-Pro Max, we’d have a confusing glut in the heart of the price range, with at least 8 configurations between $880–1,000.
But I think a non-Pro iPhone Max model, in particular, would be really popular, because I think a lot of people desire big-ass phones solely for the display size. And I think Apple doesn’t make them because a lot of people who really care that much about having the largest possible display will just pay the premium for the Pro Max. This product strategy is true for the iPad and MacBook lineups, too — Apple’s biggest displays are only in its “Pro” models. A 16-inch MacBook Air and 12.9-inch iPad Air would undeniably both be popular, but would cannibalize sales of the more expensive Pro models with the largest displays.
But, along those lines, it thus seems to me that of the two “missing” iPhones — Pro Mini and non-Pro Max — we’re more likely to someday see the one that’s more technically challenging (the Pro Mini) because it’s a product that would sell at a higher price to people whose first concern is size. But my gut says we’ll never see either of them.
People are complaining about Apple pinching pennies by no longer including the power adapter and headphones with new iPhones, but to me, the most notable omissions across the board are entire products that don’t exist: non-Pro iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks with large displays.
I’m unequivocally in favor of no longer including headphones in the box. The move away from including power adapters is a little iffier, but I think it’s right. I think of it this way: they were never “free”. Whatever the price for the iPhone was, that price included the cost of the bundled power adapter. So if they’re included in the box, you might be (and in my case, personally, often were) paying for a power adapter and headphones you neither want nor need. And Apple has lowered the prices on their own peripherals: their Lightning earbuds and 20W power adapter (which replaces the 18W adapter they included with iPhone Pros last year) are each $19; they used to cost $29.
Not including the power adapter in the box also clearly nudges people toward spending the $39 for the new MagSafe charger (which does not itself include a power adapter), in the same way that removing the headphone jack nudged people toward buying AirPods. Cynically, yes, such nudging is in the direction of buying more stuff from Apple. But it’s also the direction of a better user experience. The future is clearly not iPhones with USB-C ports instead of Lightning, but iPhones with no ports at all, like Apple Watch.
If you want to argue that it’s a silent $38 price hike, fine, it’s a $38 price hike. But by that logic, savvy buyers who don’t need wired earbuds or yet another USB-C power adapter are getting a $38 discount. As a general rule in life, it’s better to pay for what you need.
Did you hear about 5G and Verizon’s 5G network? If you watched the event, you certainly did. If you didn’t, here’s a supercut of every mention of “5G”.
Apple once named an iPhone after a cellular network technology upgrade and somehow this 5G stuff felt more heavy-handed. I just don’t see 5G as all that meaningful, and mentioning “5G” several dozen times throughout the event doesn’t change that. Going from 2G “EDGE” to 3G was a breakthrough in performance. 3G to LTE was significant. But today, when it comes to complaints and wishes for your phone, is “LTE is not fast enough” even on your list?
Before introducing the iPhone 12, Tim Cook handed the stage (literally — this part was shot in Apple’s Steve Jobs Theater) to Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg for four minutes. Four very long, conspicuous minutes. Vestberg was fine — this was not a Stan Sigman fiasco — but it just felt so gratuitous. I don’t know what Verizon paid Apple for this slot in the event, but it must have been a fortune (probably in marketing, advertising, and in-store promotion, not necessarily cash). Good god would I love to be privy to the negotiations between Apple, Verizon, and AT&T for this. (I just presume T-Mobile was not in the running.)
Without delving deeply into details that, to be honest, I just don’t care about, there are two main types of 5G service. In Verizon’s parlance, these are “5G Nationwide” and “5G Ultra Wideband”. 5G Nationwide is best thought of as regular 5G — for most people in most places in most situations on most carriers, when their phone is getting 5G service, this is what they’re getting. 5G Ultra Wideband is faster, maybe way faster, but looking at coverage maps it’s sort of like Wi-Fi in scope — it’s only available outdoors and limited in range to specific streets. Ultra Wideband support on all iPhone 12 models is limited to the United States, and is the reason U.S. iPhone 12’s have a window on the side under the power button. (iPhone 12’s in Europe have their own ugly turds marring the side — stupid regulatory etchings that are mandatory over there.)
Looks cool, $99 sounds right, looking forward to hearing it in action. The upcoming Intercom feature seems neat, too.
As a watch nerd I get it, but it’s kind of funny that the HomePod Mini is the same price as some of Apple’s watch bands.
I’m fascinated by the degree to which so many of Apple’s new products are doing cool things with magnets, of all things. iPad covers and keyboards, Apple Watch band clasps, and now MagSafe chargers and cases for iPhones.
There’s a weird display brightness tech spec difference between the Pro and non-Pro models I don’t understand. On Apple’s Compare page, the display specs for the 12 and 12 Pro are identical — same size, same pixel count, same contrast ratio — except for brightness. The 12 Pro is listed as “800 nits max brightness (typical)”; the 12 says “625 nits max brightness (typical)”. Yet both have the same max brightness (1,200 nits) for HDR content. Are these different components?
I asked around, and a little birdie confirmed that Lisa Jackson really went up on the roof of Apple Park for her segment of the show. It looked breathtaking. This stunt reminded me of (now-disgraced) Steve Wynn’s introduction of Wynn Las Vegas in 2005 (which he reprised three years later for its sibling Encore).
Unsurprisingly, there’s no Touch ID in the power button like on the new iPad Air. Nor any mention of better support for face mask awareness with Face ID.
This was the first flagship iPhone introduction without Phil Schiller. Schiller, in fact, emceed the entire introduction of the iPhone 3GS at WWDC 2009 while Steve Jobs was on medical leave. He even told us what the “S” stood for!
The obvious thing I miss from in-person events is hands-on time with all of the announced products. I opened with this observation in my week-on-the-wrist review of the Series 6 Apple Watch. When it comes to color, material, and device size, you really need to see and hold and feel the products. But the bigger thing, really, is in-person nuance. I miss talking to my fellow hacks in the press, getting their impressions and thoughts. And I greatly miss talking to folks from Apple in person, both formally, through the official PR channel, and informally, simply by bumping into people I know. Like any meeting, in any sphere, the official product briefings are just higher-bandwidth in person than when conducted remotely. To me, the longer we go with this quarantine, the more glaringly obvious the endemic shortcomings of Zoom/Webex/whatever remote interaction become. It’s the difference between being able to chug straight from a cup and being forced to use an annoyingly narrow straw, despite being very thirsty. It sucks.
And the unofficial interactions — they just don’t really happen the same way at all if they’re not in person. I’m not talking about anyone spilling state secrets — the folks at Apple who have the most interesting things to say are also the people who are the least likely to ever reveal anything that shouldn’t be revealed. I’m just talking about little things. Color, in the figurative sense. Insight into Apple’s thinking. Sometimes just gossip. Why certain things are the way they are — or are not the way they’re not — that the company isn’t going to publish or advertise. Apple, as a company, does not like to explain itself. Folks who work there, however, sometimes do. Even just a little.
I miss it. ↩︎
2014’s iPhone 6 Plus had optical image stabilization for photos. In 2015 with the iPhones 6S, OIS remained Plus-only, but added support for video in addition to photos. In 2016, the iPhone 7 finally got OIS (for both photos and video), but the 7 Plus alone gained an entire second camera lens. ↩︎︎
Telegram CEO Pavel Durov has been writing about a controversy that I think is fairly summarized as follows: Pro-democracy protestors in Belarus have been using Telegram to (among many other purposes, of course) post information about those who stole the recent election for President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Apple asked Telegram to delete certain posts on the grounds that the posts revealed personal information contrary to App Store rules for “user generated content”.
Durov originally claimed Apple was asking Telegram to shut down certain channels; Apple says no, they’re just asking for specific posts to be taken down; but Durov says such posts are the entire point of said channels, so effectively Apple is asking Telegram to take down the channels. This whole issue of Apple injecting itself into the internal policing of a third-party social network is complicated, to say the least.
But at a second level, it’s not complicated. Durov:
Previously, when removing posts at Apple’s request, Telegram replaced those posts with a notice that cited the exact rule limiting such content for iOS users. However, Apple reached out to us a while ago and said our app is not allowed to show users such notices because they were “irrelevant”.
Similarly, when Facebook wanted to inform its users that 30% of the fees users were paying for online events went to Apple, Apple didn’t let Facebook do it saying this information was (once more) “irrelevant”.
I strongly disagree with Apple’s definition of “irrelevant”. I think the reason certain content was censored or why the price is 30% higher is the opposite of irrelevant.
This has nothing to do with relevance and everything to do with convenience. I’ve said it before and will adamantly say it again: it is prima facie wrong that one of the rules of the App Store is that an app is not allowed to explain the rules of the App Store. I’m hard pressed to think of an exception to this conviction, not just on Apple’s App Store, but in any sphere of life — whether a harmless game or the administration of the law. ★