5 big takeaways from the iPhone 12 launch event

The Apple “Hi, Speed” event included the company’s most critical release of 2020: the much-anticipated iPhone 12 series. And a long-awaited cheaper HomePod too.

Here’s the most important takeaways from Tuesday’s event to put these new products in context.

1. Most people will upgrade to iPhone 12 for 5G

At today’s event, Apple started talking about 5G before it even announced any of the new iPhone models. (It’s even the basis for the name of the event.) That’s how important it is. And once Apple was through describing all the new features in the iPhone 12 series, 5G remained the standout feature.

That’s not to sell the latest iOS devices short. There’s a wider range of sizes that ever before. The new A14 processor is much faster than last year’s. Plus, the cameras have nice improvements. MagSafe is a significant enhancement to wireless charging.

But there’s only one feature that’ll benefit virtually all users: 5G. A super-quick wireless connection with lower latency will improve so much of what we do with the iPhone 12. Expect faster downloads and uploads, higher quality video streaming, more responsive gaming. And it will enable services we haven’t even thought of yet.

That said, it’s still early days for 5G. Many people buying the 2020 iPhone later this month won’t see much improvement. But as telecoms keep expanding the reach of their faster networks, expect to start enjoying the benefits.

2. Size matters

When the iPhone debuted in 2007, it was “one size fits all.” Those days are long gone. The iPhone 12 comes in three different screen sizes. And the already-available iPhone SE from earlier this year makes it four.

The middle-of-the-road option is 6.1 inches. That’s already been predicted to be the most popular. And there’s even two variants in this size: the basic iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro.

But there are larger and smaller options. Some people will absolutely buy the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 because it’s the smallest Apple handset in years. On the opposite end of the scale, the 6.7-inch model will find an audience for being the biggest ever.

Obviously, Apple has been listening to people who want a greater range in sizes.

3. Apple is ready to take on professional cameras

Phones killed the point-and-shoot camera years ago. And now Apple is taking aim at professional camera gear. The iPhone 12 Pro series includes features well over the head of the average user.

The ability to record HDR video with Dolby Vision is far more than is needed to record a child’s birthday party. And the new ProRAW format, which combines Apple’s computational photography capabilities with the RAW format, is obviously for professionals.

During Apple’s “Hi, Speed” event, Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki said, “The iPhone Pro will allow filmmakers all around the world to make films that are otherwise impossible.” He went on to gush, “The next great cinematographer or the next great film director is already making movies with one of these devices.”

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t improvement that benefit everyone in the iPhone 12 series cameras. Most notably, Apple put a lot of work into improving low-light photos. Night Mode uses the power of the iPhone’s processor to brighten selected portions of images without overexposing others. It debuted in the iPhone 11, and is even better in the latest models.

4. HomePod mini might make Apple a player in the smart speaker game

HomePod mini lives up to its name
HomePod mini is the cheaper Apple smart speaker so many people have asked for.
Photo: Apple

The original HomePod debuted in 2017, then Apple did nothing else in the product space for three years. The debut of the more-affordable HomePod mini at Apple’s “Hi, Speed” event shows Cupertino still sees real potential in the smart speaker market.

The device uses “computational audio” to improve music playback. But that’s just the start. Apple gave it intercom capabilities so families can talk to each other over multiple HomePods. And a U1 chip lets the smart speaker know when an iPhone is nearby so the handset can act as the screen for the speaker.

Best of all, the HomePod mini is $99. That’s a third of the price of the full-size version, which likely to spur sales — the original was out of reach of most buyers. And it puts this item more in-line with prices for rival smart speakers.

5. There’ll surely be at least one more 2020 Apple product-launch event

The October Apple event ended after 68 minutes without taking the wraps off products that we know are in the pipeline. Most notably, there was no mention of Macs running Apple Silicon. But in June, the company promised the first of these would be out before the end of the year.

And that’s just the start. New headphones, an updated Apple TV and AirTags top the list of items we didn’t get at Apple’s “Hi, Speed” event.

Rumors of an Apple November product-release event started circulating at least a week ago. It appears virtually certain one is in the offing.

Bonus: Apple “Hi, Speed” event is another virtual tour de force

COVID-19 forced Apple to make today’s product launch virtual, without an in-person audience. But it’s the third time the company had to go this route, and it’s be successful every time. The pre-recorded presentations are tight and slick, showing off the iPhone 12 to its best advantage. It makes the old way, in which company executives paraded across a stage to talk about new products, look slow and awkward.

Anyone who missed it can watch the presentation in its entirety, or read the Cult of Mac in-depth coverage.