Apple’s “Hi, Speed” event last week marked the unveiling of the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and finally, what many TidBITS readers have been clamoring for, the iPhone 12 mini. We have all the details and try to break them down so you can understand all the differences and choose the right iPhone… if you need to upgrade at all. Apple also announced the $99 HomePod mini, a smaller and more affordable sibling to the HomePod. If you’ve been having Apple Watch battery life problems, try upgrading to watchOS 7.0.2, which promises to fix them, along with ECG bugs. Also new last week was BBEdit 13.5, a free update that provides a variety of efficiency refinements. Finally, if Apple’s announcements have been keeping you up at night, Adam Engst evaluates the new sleep tracking features in iOS 14 and watchOS 7 to see if they might help you get a better night’s sleep. Notable Mac app releases this week include GraphicConverter 11.3, Microsoft Teams 1.3, Yojimbo 4.5.1, Carbon Copy Cloner 5.1.22, and Coda 2.7.6.
It’s not uncommon to see reports of poor battery life after an update to one of Apple’s mobile operating systems. In most cases, those problems die down on their own after the device in question clears its caches or finishes rebuilding indexes. Or, sometimes a restart is necessary to fix the problem. In the most extreme situations, erasing the device and restoring it from backup (or unpairing and repairing, in the case of an Apple Watch) may make the difference. If you find yourself in such a situation, wait a few days to see if the battery life recovers, and if not, try the restart and reset procedures.
Sometimes, however, the update is itself responsible for batteries draining more quickly than they should. That appears to be the case with watchOS 7. Apple has now released watchOS 7.0.2 to fix a bug “that could cause the battery to drain more quickly,” along with another problem that prevented some users from accessing the ECG app in regions where it should be available. watchOS 7.0.2 doesn’t include any security fixes with published CVE entries, and no other Apple operating systems received updates.
To install the watchOS 7.0.2 update, which was 81 MB for an Apple Watch Series 5, open the Watch app on your iPhone and go to My Watch > General > Software Update. It’s a quick update but does require that the watch be on its charger and charged to at least 50%. watchOS 7.0.2 is available for the Apple Watch Series 3 and later.
If you’re not experiencing problems with battery drain or accessing the ECG app, feel free to delay installing this update until it’s convenient in the next week or so.
Apple’s release notes say nothing about missing Workout GPS routes or Health data, but a separate Apple support article suggests a fix if you’re not seeing data that should be there after updating to iOS 14 and watchOS 7. The fix isn’t difficult, but it will be time-consuming—one TidBITS reader suffering from this problem reported that it took about 90 minutes. You’ll need to unpair your Apple Watch, make an iCloud backup of your iPhone, erase all content and settings from the iPhone, and restore both the iPhone and the Apple Watch from backup.
As Amazon and Google have steadily broadened and augmented their smart speaker lines in recent years, Apple’s competing HomePod has remained stagnant. The smart speaker was released nearly two years ago and has been shown little public love since, with the original $349 price dropping to $299, and a typical street price now hovering around $199.
Apple has, at last, expanded its HomePod line. At the company’s “Hi, Speed” event, Apple led off with the $99 HomePod mini, which is essentially just a smaller, cheaper HomePod.
The new speaker stands just 3.3 inches (8.4 cm) tall and 3.9 inches (9.9 cm) wide, compared to the original HomePod’s 6.8-inch (17.2 cm) height and 5.6-inch (14.2 cm) width. It’s wrapped in a similar mesh fabric in white or space gray.
Unlike the cylindrical HomePod, the HomePod mini has more of a spherical shape, albeit with a flattened top where you’ll find familiar touch controls and Siri waveform color animations. Coincidentally, Amazon also recently went spherical with the fourth generations of its Echo and Echo Dot speakers.
The HomePod mini incorporates an S5 chip that uses “computational audio” to process and adjust sound 180 times per second. (Apple also uses the S5 in the Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch SE.)
The HomePod mini also benefits from a U1 chip that enables a short-range radio technology called Ultra Wideband. (The HomePod lacks such a chip.) The U1 appears to be the key ingredient in an upcoming change to the haptic feedback you get on an iPhone when handing off audio to or from a HomePod mini. The handoff feature isn’t new, but visual, audible, and haptic effects during a handoff will be—assuming this happens with a newer, U1-equipped iPhone, such as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models. In addition, personalized listening suggestions and user controls will appear on an iPhone when it’s near a HomePod; this feature also requires the U1 on both devices. Apple said a future software update would enable these features.
The original HomePod retains some advantages over the HomePod mini. It’s bound to have better sound, based on its hardware specs. Apple says the HomePod mini has a “full-range driver and dual passive radiators” while the HomePod packs a “high-excursion woofer and (an) array of seven tweeters.”
Like the HomePod, the HomePod mini can be combined in a stereo pair (and even used as stereo speakers for a TV), but it appears that you can’t pair a HomePod with a HomePod mini in this way.
The HomePod has a couple of features the HomePod mini lacks. These include “spatial awareness,” a capability that lets the HomePod judge a room’s characteristics relative to its position and adjust its audio accordingly. Also, the HomePod has a “home theater with Apple TV 4K” capability. As Jim Dalrymple explains:
A new feature is coming … only for the HomePod that will add an immersive home theater experience when paired with an Apple TV 4K. To get the 5.1, 7.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos, you need to pair one or two HomePod speakers to the Apple TV. This feature requires the spatial sound support of HomePod, so it isn’t available for the HomePod mini.
Apple announced a new feature for both HomePod speakers and other Apple devices: Intercom. This capability, mimicking ones long offered by Amazon and Google speakers, allows users with multiple HomePod devices to communicate across a residence—one speaker to one speaker, or one speaker to multiples. Intercom should prove useful for announcing to a household that dinner is served, for instance. You can send also Intercom messages to an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and even a CarPlay-equipped vehicle.
On the audio-service front, and also not unique to the HomePod mini, Apple will soon provide support for additional third-party music services, including Pandora and Amazon Music—but, glaringly, not Spotify. (Spotify and Apple are still having a bit of a tiff.)
For a bit of context, the HomePod line is still audio-only while Apple’s competitors have been offering “smart display” products with screens and videoconferencing cameras for a while now. Siri also is a bit of a laggard in many ways compared to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
The HomePod line does have tight Apple integration going for it. For instance, Siri works with HomeKit-compatible home automation devices. And with a more enticing $99 price tag, the HomePod mini is bound to be a hit with those who are invested in the Apple ecosystem, even if entry-level smart speakers from other vendors cost less. We’re curious to see how the HomePod mini’s sound quality will compare to the original HomePod, which is excellent.
You can pre-order the HomePod mini starting on 6 November 2020, with the product shipping beginning the week of 16 November 2020.
For many people, text editing means BBEdit, which has decades of thought encapsulated in its feature set and interface. But there’s always room for improvement, as the latest update to BBEdit 13.5 makes evident with over 100 new features, refinements, and fixes.
The change that’s simultaneously the most significant and the least impactful for today’s user is that BBEdit now runs natively on Apple silicon. Until Apple ships the first Mac with Apple silicon, the only people who can take advantage of this code migration are developers using Apple’s Developer Transition Kit, which is a Mac mini tricked out with an A12Z Bionic chip. Plus, it’s impossible to know how differently BBEdit will run on the eventual Macs with Apple silicon—we can hope performance improves, but it’s not like BBEdit is a slouch on Intel-based Macs today. Only the version of BBEdit 13.5 available directly from Bare Bones Software is universal; the Mac App Store version remains Intel-only because Apple isn’t yet accepting universal apps.
More interesting to the dedicated BBEdit user are the refinements that Bare Bones Software has integrated into this latest free update. Here are a few of the most notable:
- Rescue “Untitled” documents: An ohnosecond is the fraction of time between doing something slightly wrong and realizing that your mistake has major consequences. Imagine creating a BBEdit document, working in it for quite some time in a difficult-to-reproduce fashion, and then accidentally closing it without saving. “Oh, no!” BBEdit 13.5 aims to eliminate the ohnosecond by saving copies of untitled documents such that when you close and click Don’t Save, you can get them back (via Window > Rescued Documents). The feature is on by default, but you can disable it and adjust how long rescued documents stick around.
(As a public service announcement, if you have BBEdit’s backups feature turned on, it’s worth checking and cleaning out
~/Documents/BBEdit Backupsevery so often. I haven’t done it since 2016, so I’m using 1.88 GB for 5466 files. We hope Bare Bones will add an option to automatically remove backups after some period of time as well.)
- Markdown Cheat Sheet: The Markdown text markup language is easy… once you’re familiar with it and assuming you use it regularly. For those getting started with or using Markdown infrequently, BBEdit 13.5 adds a Markdown Cheat Sheet that provides an interactive quick reference window. Choose Window > Palettes > Markdown Cheat Sheet, and double-click any entry to insert the associated tag set. It’s not as necessary for most as BBEdit’s Grep Cheat Sheet, but it’s still welcome.
- Randomize Order and Ignore Empty Lines: One of BBEdit’s most useful features is its capability to work with large text files on a line-by-line basis with a collection of commands in the Text menu. (We use these all the time.) New in the Sort Lines options is a Randomize Order checkbox that randomizes the selected lines, something we could have used when we were choosing the winners of our DealBITS drawings from long lists of entries. In Process Duplicate Lines, a new Ignore Empty Lines prevents empty lines from being deleted, which could be useful in some situations.
- Add line breaks after inserted files: If you’re regularly merging the contents of a set of files into a single file, you don’t have to do the open-copy-switch-paste-switch-close dance repeatedly—BBEdit has an Edit > Insert > File Contents command that works with a multi-file selection for just that purpose. A new “Ensure line break after each inserted file” checkbox accessible once you click Options in the Open dialog allows you to avoid pre-processing each file to make certain each ends with a line break so they don’t run together.
- New Text File command and sidebar options: In apps like BBEdit, you generally make a new document window, add some text, and then save. But in some workflows, you might want the file created on disk before you add text to it. BBEdit 13.5’s File > New > New Text File command does just that, much like the Unix
touchcommand. Also, the + button in the bottom-left corner of the sidebar of editing and project windows is now a pop-up menu that lets you create a new document window or a new text file on disk, or open an existing file.
BBEdit 13.5 retains the same system requirements as BBEdit 13, requiring at least macOS 10.14.2 Mojave and preferring 10.14.6 or later. It works fine in 10.15 Catalina, and the fact that it’s native on Apple silicon likely means it will run fine in 11.0 Big Sur as well.
It’s also a free update for all users of BBEdit 13, and I see no reason not to upgrade. If you subscribe via the Mac App Store, you’ll get version 13.5’s features apart from the support for Apple silicon automatically as soon as you update.
If you don’t already own BBEdit 13, a new license costs $49.99. Upgrades from version 12 cost $29.99, or if you own BBEdit 11 or earlier, the upgrade will be $39.99. Mac App Store users can subscribe for $3.99 per month or $39.99 per year.
You can use all of BBEdit’s features for free for 30 days. After that, the core features remain available for free, but you won’t be able to use any menu items marked with a star (Web authoring tools and other advanced features) without paying for a license.
Are you getting enough sleep? All too many people don’t. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that applies to 35% of American adults, and another 2018 survey pegs the number at 51%. Sleep experts say that the vast majority of adults need 7–8 hours of sleep per night for optimal health and wellbeing.
The numbers are even worse for high school students. Adolescents need 8–10 hours, but nearly 69% are failing to get that much, according to the CDC’s data. Unfortunately, teens also have skewed biological clocks that encourage them to stay up late and sleep late, almost guaranteeing conflict with both what’s healthiest and what society expects.
There are of course numerous clinical sleep disorders, ranging from sleep apnea to restless leg syndrome, but for many people, sleep problems are largely a condition of modern life. Many of us blur the lines between work and home hours, spend too much time staring at brightly lit screens that can block the sleep hormone melatonin, and compulsively check stress-inducing social media and news sites before bed.
In an effort to address these problems, numerous companies have developed sleep tracking technologies and gizmos. Apple hopped on the bandwagon with iOS 14 and watchOS 7. I’ve been testing Apple’s sleep tracking with my iPhone 11 Pro and Apple Watch Series 5 since it came out and have come to some conclusions.
How to Sleep Better
First, will sleep tracking technology improve your sleep? On its own, no. Sleep experts know how to help you sleep better, and their advice isn’t rocket science:
- Avoid large meals late in the evening, particularly with spicy foods or lots of liquids.
- Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, especially late in the day.
- If you take naps, don’t take one within six hours of bedtime.
- Wind down for at least 30 minutes before bed, preferably with a set routine.
- Avoid using digital devices in bed, particularly for any brain-stimulating activity.
- Wear comfortable clothing, dim the lights, and make sure the bedroom is a cool, comfortable temperature.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.
- Exercise regularly, though not right before bed. Better sleep is just one of the many benefits of exercise.
- Follow a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.
Also, although this may be just something that works for us, Tonya and I have—nearly every night for the past 16 years—listened to 15 minutes of a non-fiction audiobook or iTunes U lecture to help us fall asleep (see “iPods Defeating Insomnia,” 28 February 2005). It works tremendously well to shut off the voices in our heads that otherwise keep us spinning on the big project in the works, what’s happening tomorrow, how we’re going to deal with some family situation, or whatnot. I can’t recommend this approach highly enough. If you’re looking for a title to start, we found Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything to be the perfect combination of fascinating and fun but not edge-of-seat compelling. Nowadays, we get all our audiobooks from the New York Public Library via Libby (see “Skip the Library Trip, Borrow Ebooks and More at Home,” 14 September 2020).
If, after following all that advice, you still find yourself having difficulty sleeping, keep a sleep diary to help identify trends or lifestyle choices that might be causing problems. This is where sleep tracking technology can play a role. Each day you record when you went to bed at night, when you got out of bed in the morning, and how many times you woke up in the night and for how long. Most sleep trackers can answer those questions for you automatically by detecting movement, sometimes in combination with other biometric measurements. Sleep diaries ask lots of other questions as well, such as what you ate and when you ate it, how many caffeinated drinks you had and when, and so on. Assembling those answers is up to you, although there are apps that help you do so.
For those who know what they should be doing to sleep better but have trouble actually making it happen, sleep tracking technology can also help nudge you to maintain a regular sleep schedule and to wind down properly before going to sleep.
Apple’s Sleep Tracking Technology
For some time, iOS has had a Bedtime feature built into the Clock app. It let you set a time you wanted to go to bed and a time you wanted to get up, and tracked sleep only to the point of subtracting time if you used your iPhone in bed during the night or adding to it if you snoozed the Wake alarm. Bedtime is now history, and Apple has moved its new sleep tracking capabilities to the Health app, with Apple Watch-specific settings in the Watch app.
Setting up sleep tracking for the first time is more involved than many other Apple features, with a nine-screen assistant that walks you through setting up a sleep schedule with a wind-down period and enabling a connection with an Apple Watch. Happily, it’s largely self-explanatory.
You’ll also want to make a quick trip to Watch > My Watch > Sleep, where you can configure a few additional settings. I’m not entirely sure why you’d turn off any of these options, if you’re planning on wearing your Apple Watch for sleep tracking. In particular, charging reminders are essential to ensure your Apple Watch doesn’t run out of power at an inopportune time.
When it comes time for bed, your iPhone will alert you at the time you’ve specified for a wind-down, at least in theory. I’m not entirely sure that happens on a reliable basis, although now that I think about it, my wind-down reminder might have been set to trigger after my Do Not Disturb schedule kicked in. As far as I can tell, there’s no automatic way of setting an alarm to tell you when to stop winding down and actually go to sleep, but you can easily set a wake-up alarm to go off at the time your schedule specifies for waking up.
Once you’re winding down, your iPhone screen displays a gray sleep screen (left, below). If you want to use the iPhone, you must first tap Dismiss and then unlock it normally. If you have a Do Not Disturb schedule set to eliminate distractions, it will take over from the standard Lock screen as well (right, below), as you can see when I checked it in the middle of the night.
The Apple Watch also adjusts its normal display behavior during your sleep schedule. It’s worth noting that this alternative interface and the sleep tracking data collection work even if you forget to unlock the Apple Watch that you’ve just put back on your wrist after charging before going to sleep. (If you fail to wear the watch entirely, Health seems to record your “in bed” time as starting when you stop using your iPhone and ending when your sleep schedule would have you wake up. It may not be accurate, but it’s at least a guess in the right direction.)
By default, the Apple Watch’s screen is entirely off, which does wonders for battery life and prevents extraneous light from disturbing your sleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, you don’t have to worry about the screen lighting up. To see the time, tap the screen firmly. A slight tap won’t necessarily do it, which makes sense since you don’t want it coming on inadvertently. You can’t do anything else on the watch without unlocking it, which requires turning the Digital Crown. In the morning, once your sleep schedule is over, the Apple Watch wishes you a good morning, shows the date and time, and provides both a battery level and a weather forecast. It’s well done.
Then you just sleep, like normal. I have the Nylon Sport Loop band for my Apple Watch, which is almost entirely soft, with hard plastic only on the end of the band. I’ve found it sufficiently comfortable to sleep in, which might be a problem with stiffer bands, particularly those made of metal.
In the morning, you can see how you did in the Health app. (It’s easiest to do this if you tap Edit in the Summary screen and tap the star next to Sleep so it appears alphabetically in the Summary screen—see our quick video for a demo.)
The Sleep summary shows how long you spent in bed and how long you were asleep, and it marks when your sleep is interrupted enough for you to get up (those little white lines in the teal bars below). By default, you see the week view, which you can swipe to scroll back in time. Tapping a day’s line reveals your precise times. A tap on the M button switches to month view for a broader perspective. As you can see, we’ve decided to go to bed and get up a little earlier in the past few days. Tapping Show More Sleep Data gives you basically the same information with a slightly different presentation.
For more data, scroll down past the schedule boxes to Highlights, and tap Show All. There you can see your heart rate readings for the night and some simple analysis of your sleeping patterns.
Scrolling down past Highlights on the Sleep summary screen reveals a couple of articles on why sleep is important and how to get a good night’s sleep. They seem entirely sensible.
What’s It All Mean?
We’re drowning in data, and tracking your sleep will only add more. Data for data’s sake is worthless; it’s only worth recording and storing it if it will usefully inform some future action. That’s my quibble with Apple’s sleep tracking capabilities. At least as far as I can see, all it’s telling me is what I already knew, which is that I have decent sleep habits.
Unfortunately, I also know that—to a certain extent—the data is wrong. It’s uncommon for me not to have to go to the bathroom once per night, yet if you look back at my graphs, you can see that it didn’t notice an interruption for three of the seven nights. Worse, there have been several nights when I couldn’t get back to sleep after getting up and instead read several chapters of a book in Libby on my iPhone. Apple’s sleep tracking code never even noticed, even though the iPhone itself was in use, and recorded those hours as sleep time. (Even the old Bedtime feature could figure that out.) And there have been several mornings when I’ve been awake in bed in the morning and talking with Tonya, all while still racking up additional sleep minutes. So you have to take it all with a grain of salt and pay more attention to trends than to the specific numbers.
To see if another app might offer more insight, I downloaded SleepWatch, which relies on the same data from the Apple Watch. It has a more detailed dashboard that supposedly distinguishes between interrupted, light, and restful sleep and provides additional metrics like sleeping heart rate dip and average sleeping heart rate variability.
You can tap any of those tiles to learn more, and SleepWatch explains more about the metric, why it’s worth tracking, and how to improve it. Once again, the problem is that the only way to improve these metrics is to follow the advice earlier in the article. Get more exercise, eat right, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, and so on.
In the end, although I certainly don’t want to minimize the problems anyone might have sleeping and the benefits this technology could bring to a sufferer, I also don’t believe you should pin your hopes on sleep tracking technology making a big difference on its own.
At best, it can help provide data that you can combine with further introspection to identify and change the well-known lifestyle factors that hamper sleep. At worst, it could cause additional stress about aspects of your body over which you have little direct control, like heart rate variability. You don’t want your sleep tracking technology to keep you up at night.
Personally, I’m going back to data-free sleeping. All the technology I need at night is 15 minutes of an audiobook when falling asleep and the occasional hour of middle-of-the-night reading to quiet the voices in my head.
At its “Hi, Speed” announcement, Apple did what industry watchers were expecting and introduced not one, not two, not three, but four iPhone 12 models. In addition to the expected iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max, Apple unveiled a diminutive iPhone 12 mini that at long last acknowledges that not everyone has large hands or pockets.
Apple’s pre-recorded event was jam-packed with hero shots and technical specs, all edited with such quick cuts that taking notes was nigh-on impossible. The details are all now available, but when managing editor Josh Centers and I talked it through, we didn’t see any way that we could convey that information as well as Apple. So, instead of a traditional “speeds and feeds” article, we’re going to take a slightly different tack.
First, let’s get you the numbers you’ll want to pore over to evaluate the four models. Check out these pages:
- iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro main pages
- iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini tech specs
- iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max tech specs
- iPhone comparison tool
- Apple trade-in values
Now, here’s what you need to know about the iPhone 12 lineup.
Industrial Design: It’s Hip to Be Square
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the iPhone 12 lineup is that it passes the Goldilocks test: you can finally choose from three different sizes. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the Papa Bear, with a 6.7-inch screen. That’s a hair taller than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which had only a 6.5-inch screen. In the Mama Bear spot, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are identical twins, featuring a 6.1-inch screen that’s the same size as last year’s iPhone 11, but in a case that’s a bit shorter. But the gold star goes to the new Baby Bear model, the iPhone 12 mini, which shoehorns a 5.4-inch screen into a case that’s just 8 mm taller and 6 mm wider than the first-generation iPhone SE that had a 4-inch screen and was the last truly small iPhone.
With the iPhone 12 models, Apple has also returned to the squared-off industrial design last seen in the first-generation iPhone SE. That’s a huge deal in its own right, since that industrial design was widely praised for being easier to hold and less slippery. I never used an iPhone case during that era because the design made me so much less likely to drop my iPhone. If you do drop one of these new iPhones, it will be up to four times more likely to emerge with the screen intact thanks to a Ceramic Shield glass that Apple developed with Corning.
The similarity in materials ends there. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini have a glass back and aluminum design, and they come in five colors: black, white, green, blue, and Product(RED). The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max sport a textured matte glass back and a stainless steel design. Their colors include silver, graphite, gold, and a snazzy new Pacific Blue.
Finally, it’s worth noting that all the iPhone 12 models have the notch on the screen and rely on Face ID for authentication. The notch isn’t a big deal—you get used to it quickly—but Face ID isn’t a win when you’re wearing a mask. We had hoped that Apple would bring the Touch ID sensor that it integrated into the top button of the recently announced fourth-generation iPad Air to the iPhone 12 (see “Apple Redesigns iPad Air, Updates Base-Model iPad,” 15 September 2020). It may not have been technically feasible, or Apple may not have had time to revamp the internals once it became clear that we’d be wearing masks while out and about for the foreseeable future.
5G: Bandwidth Game Changer or Spectrum Snake Oil?
Apple made a big deal of the fact that all these models support 5G wireless connectivity, even bringing in Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, to talk about how wonderful it will be. The specs are impressive, with up to 4 gigabits-per-second download speeds under ideal conditions, although Apple admitted that typical conditions would see only 1 gigabit per second. Upload speeds could be up to 200 megabits per second. Verizon claimed that “5G just got real,” in part thanks to its 5G Ultra Wideband service and its use of millimeter-wave spectrum. Plus, the company said it is now turning on its 5G Nationwide Network (which presumably doesn’t use the millimeter-wave spectrum), claiming that it will reach 200 million people across 1800 cities and towns.
Color us skeptical. We have doubts that 5G will produce the kind of real-world performance that Verizon is touting. Coverage is also a question—Verizon says 5G Ultra Wideband is in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and will be expanding to 60 cities around the US by year-end. We’re not sure what Verizon’s 5G Nationwide Network entails in terms of technology—is it something real or just rebranded LTE? Regardless, what are the 5G plans for AT&T and T-Mobile in the US, or for carriers throughout the rest of the world? And given the short range of 5G, which requires more base stations, we strongly suspect it will be a long time in coming to people who don’t live in dense urban areas. No 5G service, no 5G benefits.
Even if you can get 5G, will you care? More bandwidth is always welcome, but apart from those who stream video regularly, we’re betting most people won’t notice. Don’t misunderstand—we’re always in favor of better networking, and there will undoubtedly be uses for it in the future, like augmented-reality glasses, but for now, we’d suggest that most people shouldn’t upgrade for the 5G alone. Regardless of its networking utility, 5G won’t give you cancer (see “Worried about 5G and Cancer? Here’s Why Wireless Networks Pose No Known Health Risk,” 6 December 2019).
Cameras: Pro Means Pro
We’ll admit to glazing over somewhat during Apple’s explanation of just how amazing the cameras are on the iPhone 12 models. So many numbers, spoken so quickly! The practical upshot is that the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini have a dual 12-megapixel 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 are essentially Apple marketing terms for computational photography features that provide better photos, particularly in low-light situations. Night mode and Deep Fusion are also now available on the front-facing camera. For video, they offer 1080p and 4K recording at up to 60 frames per second and introduce HDR video recording with Dolby Vision at up to 30 fps. Again, that just means higher quality video, particularly in challenging lighting.
We’re feeling intimidated by the iPhone 12 Pro model cameras. Like last year’s iPhone 11 Pro, they feature a triple 12-megapixel camera system with ultra wide, wide, and telephoto cameras. Along with everything the plain iPhone 12 models can do, the Pro cameras boast a better optical zoom: the iPhone 12 Pro has a 4x zoom range from 0.5x to 2x, whereas the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 5x zoom range from 0.5x to 2.5x.
A new LiDAR Scanner gives the iPhone 12 Pro models faster autofocus in low light, Night mode portraits, and improved AR experiences. They also support a new Apple ProRAW format that provides professional photographers with the benefits of Apple’s computational photography combined with the flexibility of a raw image format. In terms of video, the Pro models bump that HDR video with Dolby Vision to 60 fps. The iPhone 12 Pro Max also features something Apple calls “sensor-shift optical image stabilization for both photos and video—which is supposedly better than the regular optical image stabilization in the iPhone 12 Pro.
Finally, I’m going to slip another significant fact in here—all the iPhone 12 models use Apple’s new A14 Bionic chip, which the company announced with the fourth-generation iPad Air last month (see “Apple Redesigns iPad Air, Updates Base-Model iPad,” 15 September 2020). Apple geeked out on its many capabilities, but in the real world, I suspect the main utility of the A14 comes in powering the computational photography capabilities behind every image taken by a modern iPhone. It’s probably good for fancy gaming too, if small-screen games without physical controllers float your boat, or for editing those snazzy HDR videos with Dolby Vision.
So let me put all that in context. The iPhone 12 Pro model camera system is almost certainly the best iPhone camera ever. If you’re a pro or want pro-level photos and videos from your iPhone, buy one right away. The harder questions come if you’re not a pro and need to choose between models, with some attention paid to cost. How does the iPhone 12 camera compare to the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max cameras? And how do they stack up against the iPhone 11 Pro? We’re not pro photographers, so we’re not even going to attempt such an evaluation. We’re sure photo sites and photography-involved Mac sites like John Gruber’s Daring Fireball will be publishing side-by-side comparison images soon enough.
Magnets and Batteries, Oh My!
Magnets feature heavily in the iPhone 12 with the return of Apple’s MagSafe name. Previously, MagSafe referred to the magnetic break-away charging cables Apple laptops relied on before the move to USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. (We will all now pause for a minute of silence to mourn the passing of MagSafe in laptops.)
The new MagSafe is a magnetic coupling and charging technology built into the back of each of the iPhone 12 models. It’s a ring of magnets inside the case, coupled with a magnetometer and an NFC sensor. An Apple MagSafe Charger (sold separately for $39) snaps onto the back for wireless charging at up 15 watts. Qi wireless charging is still supported as well, at up to 7.5 watts. Ironically, MagSafe could eliminate the positioning problems that caused Apple to cancel its AirPower wireless charging mat (see “Apple Cancels AirPower, Can’t Take the Heat,” 29 March 2019).
On the wired charging front, all the iPhone 12 models have Lightning ports and are fast-charge capable, which means they can achieve a 50% charge in 30 minutes with a 20-watt or higher charger. But don’t expect that 20-watt charger in the box. The new iPhones will include a Lightning to USB-C cable, but say goodbye to included wall chargers and earbuds. Speaking from the rooftop of Apple Park (and looking just a touch nervous about the height), Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives Lisa Jackson spun this as an environmental change that will spare the world from some electronic waste and make shipping more efficient, which is undoubtedly true and good, but it also saves Apple a lot of money that it’s not passing on to the customer. A win-win for Apple, if not the rest of us.
The MagSafe technology also enables an entire ecosystem of accessories. Apple sells several cases that rely on it, along with a leather card wallet that just snaps onto the back. If I left the house more frequently these days, that would be compelling. We expect to see lots of other accessories—Apple previewed a MagSafe combination charger that could charge an iPhone 12 and an Apple Watch at the same time and noted that Belkin has several MagSafe charging accessories in the works as well. We hope MagSafe is a huge hit and Apple builds it into the iPad and MacBook lines in the future.
Finally, it’s worth noting that although we expect all the iPhone 12 models to have decent battery life in real-world use, the iPhone 12 mini has the shortest estimated battery life, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max the longest. Apple’s benchmarks give only relative impressions, since it’s unhelpful to know that the iPhone 12 Pro Max could play video for up to 20 hours, whereas the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 could do so for only 17 hours, and the iPhone 12 mini for only 15 hours. If you regularly binge the full 15.5-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz in one go, I apologize for my presumption.
Pricing and Availability
Here’s where numbers matter, since everyone understands dollars and cents. It’s worth noting that the second-generation iPhone SE, iPhone XR, and iPhone 11 remain for sale to provide an even ramp-up on price points, so we’ve included them for comparison’s sake.
|Model||64 GB||128 GB||256 GB||512 GB|
|iPhone 12 mini||$699
|iPhone 12 Pro||–||$999||$1099||$1299|
|iPhone 12 Pro Max||–||$1099||$1199||$1399|
What’s the deal with the two prices for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini? It turns out that Apple has swung some sort of deal—initially with AT&T and Verizon, and shortly after launch with T-Mobile (which merged with Sprint)—such that the price is $30 less if you activate the iPhone with one of those carriers. Apple says that all iPhones are still unlocked, except for those sold on AT&T installment plans. Nevertheless, this is being widely seen as a sneaky price increase, especially since there’s no word on whether the $30 discount is a limited-time offer or permanent.
It’s worth noting that the iPhone 12 is $100 more expensive than last year’s iPhone 11—the iPhone 12 mini has taken over the $699 price slot. Nevertheless, we like the 128/256/512 GB storage levels for the iPhone 12 Pro—they’re more sensible than the iPhone 11 Pro’s 64/256/512 GB approach and mean that the base-level iPhone 12 Pro has twice the storage as the equivalently priced iPhone 11 Pro Pro from last year.
Pre-orders for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro started at 5 AM Pacific on 16 October 2020, with delivery and in-store availability beginning on 23 October 2020.
The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max will be available for pre-order at 5 AM Pacific on 6 November 2020, with delivery and in-store availability on 13 November 2020.
Based on what we could see during Apple’s announcement, along with the published specs, I can confidently say that the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are the fastest, most capable iPhones ever. This is an unsurprising assessment, given that it has also been true of every top-of-the-line iPhone model Apple has ever announced. But if you want the best, buy one of those two, with the choice between them based on physical size, optical zoom, battery life, and price.
For those for whom small size is the key variable about an iPhone, it’s an easy decision to get the iPhone 12 mini, which at long last fills the hole left by the first-generation iPhone SE as a phone for those with smaller hands and pockets. Thank you, Apple!
It’s harder to provide upgrade advice from other older iPhones. For instance, what about the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro? There’s no question the new models are more capable, but are they enough more capable for the price? Neither Josh nor I currently plan to upgrade from the iPhone 11 Pro because there just doesn’t seem to be enough bang for the buck. The iPhone XR and iPhone XS might fall into the same category, although the iPhone X could be old enough for an upgrade to be attractive.
The iPhone 8 and the second-generation iPhone SE certainly don’t have the processing power or camera capabilities of the iPhone 12 models, but they have one key advantage that might give some people pause when pondering an upgrade: Touch ID. Given that the earliest estimates I’ve seen for widespread availability of a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus are the middle of 2021, people with Touch ID-based iPhones might want to stick with them until mask-wearing is no longer necessary in public spaces.
Nevertheless, everyone’s decision will be driven by combinations of variables, and I sincerely doubt that anyone who can afford the upgrade will feel let down by any of the new iPhone 12 models.