But Apple will find itself fighting from the back of the pack to take on the established competition.
First up is 5G, although I think Apple has an arguable case for waiting. 5G needs mobile carriers to be rolling out to customers to make a 5G handset practical. Although the availability of 5G is growing, it is not in demand by the average consumer. That the top of the line iPhone 11 Pro Max does not support 5G (in the way that say the Galaxy S10 family and the OnePlus 7 family both have 5G variants) is not a huge loss to consumers today.
But the expectation for 2020 is that most premium handset families will all be sporting 5G. Samsung will likely be the first out of the gate ahead of MWC Barcelona in February, and the competition will follow. Seven months later, Apple will launch the iPhone 12 handsets and the current information is that they will all sport 5G options.
Where Apple falls down here is future-proofing. Many consumers who are purchasing a high-end handset because they are at the cutting edge will be looking for 5G in the handset so it remains forward compatible. Presumably the belief is that iPhone users who are of this mindset are happy to partake in the annual update ritual so will get 5G with everyone else, but how does that help bring in new users to the platform that are looking for 5G right now?
The same can be said of the move to a 120Hz display. A faster refreshing screen has been key to gaming handsets over the last few years (notably the Razer Phone and the ASUS RoG Phone 2), and it is becoming a mainstream choice for many Android handsets this year as many moved to 90Hz this year, with many expected to upgrade to 120 Hz refresh next year for smoother UI and more immersive gaming experiences.
Finally there is the design. The current iPhone design has been used by Apple for three generations, and is ready to be replaced. Normally this would be a time of great curiosity and engagement, as the story is teased out through the usual sources. Not this time around. The story has already found its sound-byte, and that is ‘returning to the design of the iPhone 4’ (which lasted four years before it was replaced bu the iPhone 6 design language).
Again, Apple has a good line to take here. The more curves on a handset the less efficient the internal space is. By going for the boxier design, Apple can maximise the internal space of the new iPhone… and it’s going to need it to pack in the larger 5G antennae, the extra battery power, and the increased complexity of the screen.
Comparing the iPhone 12 to the Android competition is going to leave Apple on the losing side of many arguments around new technology, adoption, and implementation. But it’s going to be head and shoulders above the current iPhone. That’s great news if you are selling to the faithful, but makes the iPhone 12 a harder sell to convert new customers to Apple’s cloud.
Tim Cook and his team need to counter the idea that the iPhone 12 will be an old design, late to the 5G party, with old screen technology already widely supported by Android.