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Apple touted 5G as one of the biggest features in its new iPhone 12 lineup. But here's why 5G shouldn't be the only reason you upgrade.

  • Apple's iPhone 12 lineup marks the company's first smartphones to come with 5G.
  • While it's an important step for the iPhone, 5G support alone isn't enough of a reason to upgrade.
  • The fastest 5G networks operate at a short range and are only found in very limited areas around the US.
  • But bringing 5G to the iPhone 12 ensures that the phone will remain relevant in the future as 5G networks develop over the coming years.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage on Tuesday to unveil the iPhone 12 — which just went up for pre-order on Friday — the first upgrade he highlighted was its ability to support 5G.

"Each generation of cellular network technology on iPhone has enabled breakthrough innovations and entirely new opportunities for our developers and our users," Cook said during the virtual event. "And 5G is the most exciting step yet." 

For months, analysts have anticipated that Apple's first 5G iPhone will result in a "supercycle' of upgrades that could make this Apple's biggest smartphone launch in years.

But if you're thinking about upgrading to the new iPhone, don't do it just because of 5G.

While it's true that Apple is one of the last major smartphone makers to bring 5G to its devices, there's a good reason why. Next-generation 5G networks are far from being the standard when it comes to mobile data usage in the US.

That means when you unbox the iPhone 12, there's a good chance you'll experience speeds that are similar to those offered by the 4G LTE phone you already own. And it's going to take some time before 5G networks offer phenomenally faster performance.

If you choose to upgrade to the next iPhone, do it because your current device is running slow, or maybe because you have an older model that doesn't have Face ID. Or perhaps because you're looking for a boost in camera performance or battery life. 

"Every year it's [5G] going to get continually better," Gordon Smith, CEO of telecoms solutions provider Sagent, said to Business Insider. "It's just not a light switch like people are thinking. It's not going to work that way."

To understand why you shouldn't purchase any new phone just for 5G, it helps to know how the technology works. There are three different types of 5G: low-band, mid-band, and millimeter wave.

RootMetrics, a mobile analytics firm owned by IHS Markit that has conducted numerous studies on the state of 5G in the US, describes the different spectrum types this way:

  • Low-band networks can travel far and easily penetrate buildings, but they offer significantly slower speeds than other network types.
  • Mid-band networks are faster than low-band and easier to deploy more widely, but there's a limited supply of this type of spectrum available.
  • High-band, or millimeter wave, networks offer incredibly fast speeds that are a notable improvement over 4G LTE, but they can only operate at a short range and have difficulty penetrating buildings. 

AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile all offer nationwide 5G networks, but none of them are based on that high-band ultrafast spectrum that offer the top speeds many associate with 5G.

Ultra-fast millimeter wave networks operate at a very short range and are only available in small areas of select cities across the country. Verizon, for example, offers its Ultra Wideband 5G service in small parts 55 cities across the US. AT&T's 5G Plus network is live in parts of 35 cities in 17 states. 

T-Mobile's millimeter wave network was available in six cities as of last June, but the carrier has instead been heavily promoting its mid-band 5G network, which it says will be available in thousands of cities by the end of the year. 

That's why carriers like Verizon are focusing more closely on implementing millimeter wave 5G in congested areas like stadiums, where it's traditionally difficult to get a signal because of all the congestion. 

It's unclear precisely how much better performance on these widespread networks will be compared to 4G LTE. Verizon's nationwide low-band network, for example, will be comparable to a strong 4G network at first, a carrier executive recently told CNET. 

A RootMetrics report from March 2020 also indicated that 5G speeds on AT&T's network were similar to or slower than its 4G speeds in Indianapolis and Los Angeles. The report also found that T-Mobile's 5G speeds were slower in Indianapolis and Washington D.C. 

The bottom line: A lot of factors can affect cellular network speeds, meaning you shouldn't expect to see blazing-fast 5G speeds right away. 

"There's no black-and-white answer because it can depend, down to every individual cell tower, as to what speeds your going to get," Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, said to Business Insider.

With all this in mind, you may be asking why Apple has made such a big deal about putting 5G in the iPhone 12. For one, it's a necessary move to remain competitive with rivals like Samsung and Huawei, two of the world's biggest smartphone makers, which already offer a number of 5G phones.

"If they didn't have that technology available, it would be a bad statement to the market that they're behind Samsung by what is now a year, could be two years, if they don't launch now," Smith said.

The addition of 5G is probably more important for the iPhone's longer-term future than it is for immediate sales of the iPhone 12. By bringing 5G to the iPhone now, Apple is ensuring that the iPhone 12 will remain relevant two or three years from now — when networks are more fleshed out and users can take advantage of the better performance it can offer in dense areas like stadiums.

Plus, Apple tends to keep certain iPhones in its lineup for years following their launch. The iPhone XR from 2018, for example, is still included in the company's 2020 offerings. Adding 5G to all models of the iPhone 12 gives Apple the flexibility to keep certain iterations of the phone in its lineup two or three years from now without asking customers to compromise by sacrificing 5G.

5G may not change the way you use your phone in 2020, and it certainly isn't the only reason you should consider upgrading your phone. But many experts believe it could eventually pave the way for the next generation of apps, much like 4G LTE set the stage for services like Uber and Instagram. And no tech company wants to be left sitting on the sidelines when it comes to laying the foundation for what's to come.

"I don't really know what those apps are yet,"Wood said. "But I can assure you that over the next 10 years, as 5G technology rolls out and becomes the standard technology in the world, some amazing new applications will appear."

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Apple's iPhone 12 Mini is the small phone everyone has been waiting for after years of giant screens

  • Apple's iPhone 12 Mini comes with a 5.4-inch screen, making it the smallest phone Apple has released in years.
  • The announcement sparked excitement on both Twitter and Reddit following the event.
  • Smaller-sized phones have become rare in recent years as smartphone makers have shifted to larger screens.
  • Some analysts also predict that the iPhone 12 Mini will be among the most popular of Apple's new iPhone models. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Forget 5G — Apple is bringing back the smaller-sized smartphone.

Apple unveiled the iPhone 12 Mini earlier this week, a new version of the iPhone 12 that comes with a 5.4-inch screen. That makes the iPhone 12 Mini the smallest iPhone Apple has released in years, even tinier in size than the iPhone SE — even though the iPhone 12 Mini has a larger display than the SE. (The iPhone SE has bezels around the screen that add to its size.) Apple has called the iPhone 12 Mini the smallest 5G phone on the market.

It represents a significant shift in approach for Apple, which along with the rest of the industry has gravitated toward bigger screens in recent years.  

"Finally, we believe the lower priced iPhone 12 Mini (the smallest, thinnest, and lightest 5G phone in the world) is somewhat of a needle mover, as we believe a portion of the install base is looking for a smaller phone after several years of screen size increases," Piper Sandler & Co. analysts Harsh V. Kumar and Matthew F. Farrell wrote in a research note following the announcement.

The new size option certainly sparked some excitement. On Reddit, a post titled, "As someone who misses small phones, I'd like to thank Apple for the iPhone 12 mini" sparked a thread with hundreds of comments. Similar remarks have been circulating on Twitter in recent days.

There's a simple reason why people are so excited for the iPhone 12 Mini: there isn't much selection when it comes to smaller-sized phones. Or at least not if you're looking for a phone that's quite as compact as the iPhone 12 Mini.

Google's recently launched Pixel 4a comes with a slightly larger 5.8-inch screen, and the body itself is also bigger than the iPhone 12 Mini. The Pixel 4a is 5.7 inches in height, 2.7 inches wide, and weighs 143 grams. The Pixel 5 is slightly bigger.

The iPhone 12 Mini, by comparison, is 5.18 inches tall, 2.53 inches wide, and weighs 135 grams. 

Samsung also launched the miniature Galaxy S10e last year, but that phone is larger than the iPhone 12 Mini, too. The Galaxy S10e is about 5.6 inches high, 2.75 inches wide, weighs 150 grams, and comes with a 5.8-inch screen. 

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact comes close to the iPhone 12 Mini in terms of height and width, but Apple's phone still has it beat. Sony's device has an even smaller screen than the iPhone 12 Mini at 5 inches, but measures about 5.31 inches high and 2.56 inches wide, and weighs 168 grams.

But most importantly, Sony's phone is also much older than the iPhone 12 Mini, Pixel 4a, and Samsung Galaxy S10e considering it's from 2018. That means its powered by an older processor, doesn't support 5G, and runs on older software, while the iPhone 12 Mini has all of the same features as the larger iPhone 12. 

Unless you own a phone from around 2013 or earlier, it's probably been years since you've used a smaller-sized phone. That's because many phone makers began shifting to bigger displays around 2014.

For example, Apple's iPhone 6 Plus, its first larger-sized phone, with a 5.5-inch screen, debuted in September 2014. Samsung, meanwhile, has been somewhat of a pioneer when it came to increasing the size of the smartphone's screen thanks to its Galaxy Note line, which debuted in 2011.

One of the key trends that drove growth in the smartphone industry back in 2014 was larger screens, according to a report from market research firm The International Data Corporation at the time. By the end of 2014, sales of larger-sized smartphones — known as "phablets" back then (a portmanteau of "phone" and "tablet") — began to cut into the tablet market, as research firm Canalys reported at the time. 

The demand for bigger phones makes sense when you look at the shift that was occuring in the industry around that time. Although the first iPhone had launched seven years earlier, smartphones were only really starting to take off around that time. In fact, they outsold feature phones for the first time in 2013. As more people made the shift to smartphones and have come to rely on them for daily tasks, it made sense that there would be a need for larger screens.

"I understand the movement to bigger screens, but I think there's a group of people over the last seven years that have felt left out," Gene Munster, a managing partner at Loup Ventures, said in a previous interview with Business Insider. "So I think there is pent-up demand for a latest and greatest in a smaller form factor."

Now, in 2020, smartphones have reached a point at which they can't really get any bigger. Instead, companies like Samsung, Microsoft, and Huawei have started developing foldable phones with screens that can expand when needed but are also able to fold up into a more compact device.

It's an interesting time for a smaller-sized phone, considering many people are still likely spending much of their day at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic and may not fully appreciate the iPhone 12 Mini's pocket-friendly design. Still, the reaction alone shows there's at least some excitement around the return of a smaller iPhone. 

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Apple is expected to launch the iPhone 12 next week at its most important event of the year. Here's everything we plan to see.

  • Apple is holding a big event on October 13, and its new iPhone 12 lineup is expected to be the main attraction.
  • It's shaping up to be a major launch for Apple, as some analysts say this could be the company's biggest upgrade cycle in years.
  • Several other products are rumored to be in Apple's pipeline, but this event is expected to squarely focus on the iPhone.
  • The one exception may be the introduction of a cheaper new HomePod speaker. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Apple announced two new Apple Watches last month, but it's far from being finished when it comes to new product launches for the year.

The company is holding an event on October 13, where it's widely expected to unveil four new iPhones and possibly a new HomePod.

The iPhone 12 launch is expected to be the main attraction during Apple's big event. Apple typically unveils its new smartphones in September, but had to delay its iPhone debut because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year's release is expected to be a particularly big one for Apple. Some analysts are expecting this to be a major upgrade cycle as the millions of iPhones in use around the world continue to age — meaning they're ripe for upgrades.

Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives estimates that 40% of Apple's active installed base hasn't upgraded their iPhones in 3.5 years.

"So you have a massive pent-up demand in the installed base going into a 5G transformational product cycle," Ives told Business Insider. "That's why I kind of view it as, really it's almost the perfect storm of demand for Apple."

Here's a closer look at what we're expecting to see from Apple's upcoming launch event. 

The iPhone 12 lineup

The star of the show will be Apple's new iPhone family, which is expected to consist of four models: a 5.4-inch iPhone 12 "mini," a 6.1-inch standard iPhone 12, a 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro, and a 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max. That's according to various leaks and reports that have emerged over the past year from TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman and Debby Wu, and most recently, a leaker known as "Kang."

All models are expected to support 5G connectivity and will reportedly feature a fresh new design inspired by the iPad Pro's flat, stainless steel edges. Each phone will also come with screens that use OLED technology, which provides richer contrast and deeper blacks. Such screens are usually reserved for Apple's high-end Pro iPhone models only.

Apple may also add a LiDAR sensor to the iPhone 12 Pro Max, a sensor that better enables the iPhone to understand its surroundings and provide improved performance in augmented reality apps. This sensor is already present on Apple's most recent iPad Pro.

Apple's stance on 5G

Apple CEO Tim Cook said as recently as January 2020 that 5G was still in its early stages.

"With respect to 5G, we're in the early innings of its deployment on a global basis," Cook said to analysts on the company's earnings call in early 2020.

Although phone makers like Samsung have launched several 5G-enabled phones, the network is still far from being widespread. Verizon's 5G network, for example, is only available in a little more than 30 cities across the United States. And even in those cities, 5G can only be found in certain areas. There are also large chunks of the US that are left uncovered by AT&T's 5G network, as the company's coverage map shows. 

When introducing 5G as a key feature of the new iPhone, Apple will have to communicate the technology's benefits while also managing customer expectations, says Gene Munster, a longtime Apple observer and managing partner at Loup Ventures.

"Consumers aren't going to be running out to buy new phones because they're 5G," Munster told Business Insider. "They will be going out to buy new phones because a lot of them, the pool of really old phones, continues to grow."

Possibly a cheaper new HomePod 

There are several new products rumored to be in Apple's pipeline, including a pair of premium over-ear headphones and a Bluetooth tracking accessory called AirTags. Apple also previously said it planned to introduce its first Mac computer running on Apple silicon, its proprietary processor, before the end of 2020.

But analysts don't expect these products to hold a strong presence at Apple's October 13 event, as the company will likely want to keep the focus on the new iPhones.

The one exception may be a less expensive new version of Apple's HomePod smart speaker. The leaker Kang, who is said to have a strong track record when reporting on upcoming Apple products, recently said the company may introduce a $99 HomePod during its October 13 event.

Bloomberg previously reported that a smaller, more affordable HomePod is in the works, also saying that both the HomePod and over-ear headphones could debut as early as this month. Still, the report didn't say whether these devices could debut at the event.

All told, Apple's new iPhone lineup is expected to be front and center.

"They could hint at some of the innovation on the horizon," Ives said. "But they don't want to take anything away from this event."

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