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Apple’s USB-C controversy, and more tech news you need to know today

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Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Wednesday, 14 October 2020.

1. What Apple announced, with a few odd surprises

Apple’s iPhone 12 announcement was eye-catching in part from the new design Apple put on show yesterday, a throwback of sorts to the iPhone 4.

Apple did go with the iPhone 12 mini (5.4-inch, $729), iPhone 12 (6.1-inch, $829), iPhone 12 Pro (6.1-inch, $999), and Pro Max (6.7-inch, $1,099) lineup, and there are some eye-catching new features.

The headline specs include:

  • 5G, with mmWave and sub-6GHz support across all-new models
  • The A14 Bionic chipset which Apple detailed again, the 5nm process chipset promising performance and battery-life efficiency.
  • All displays are now OLED, with higher resolutions and superior contrast. (iPhone 12 mini has the highest pixel density of any new iPhone, but even the pricey Pro Max doesn’t get up to a 1440p display)
  • Better camera system including some big gains in the Pro series, and the inclusion of magnets in the body of the phone for MagSafe-type accessories. (The good old Palm Pre had magnets for alignment too, back in 2009!)
  • There’s also “Ceramic Shield” glass, which Apple says improves hardness and drop protection, variables that don’t usually go together in glass strength improvements. (Apple has invested around $450M in Corning over the years, so it may get exclusive glass).
  • The Pro and Pro Max both feature LiDAR sensors. It’s likely all the best applications for this technology are still to come, but Apple mentioned 6x faster autofocus in low-light and dark environments, which has long been a problem for smartphone shooters.

On the design front, some big changes:

  • Gone are curves and rounded sides, with a flat, boxier design and flat display, no curves.
  • There’s now an almost chrome-like shine to the outer edges, made from stainless steel.
  • The notch at the top remains, and there’s no reversion back to Touch ID from Face ID.

Apple's USB-C controversy, and more tech news you need to know today 4apple iphone 12 pro blue aa

5G:

  • Apple gave 5G a huge push, and gave time on stage to Verizon to plug its own network (well, it wasn’t a stage, but you know what I mean). Did Verizon pay for that advertorial? Or a better question: how much did it pay?
  • Despite Apple being late to bring 5G to its device, 5G networks in the US still aren’t even close to being there. Coverage and speeds can be great, but only in certain locations in bigger cities. mmWave connectivity for both high speeds and true low latency has even less availability.
  • I can’t help but think there’s going to be some disappointment. That said, I remember when I had a 4G capable device and limited 4G options: I blamed the carriers, not Samsung at the time.
  • Anyway, one side announcement here: Verizon said it is rolling out its ‘nationwide’ 5G network, which it says will reach 200 million people. This means more than mmWave options, rolling out the sub-6GHz bands used by networks around the world.

And the controversial moves:

  • Apple isn’t including a charger or earbuds in the box anymore, as flagged a few months ago.
  • Apple is keeping the Lightning charging port on the iPhone 12 series.
  • But Apple has switched the Lightning cable included in the box from Lighting to USB-A, to Lightning to USB-C.
  • That is a strange move! Apple’s argument about not including a charger because we all have a dozen lying about at home is true, but for most people, they’ll be USB-A chargers.
  • These won’t work: you’ll need a charger with USB-C ports. Even my house only has one or two spare of these: all the others are USB-A.
  • Apple should’ve moved to an entire USB-C world years ago. The iPad Air uses USB-C. It’s just odd, now.
  • A lot of people are going to add a $19 20W USB-C from Apple to their purchase, or might try and charge from their MacBook chargers, which are USB-C to USB-C as well.
  • Better USB-C chargers are out there that are GaN devices, and might well be discounted as Amazon Prime Day keeps going. Most likely they’ll supply more power at the same price, so you can use them for your phone and your laptop.
  • Android manufacturers will follow. First, new devices released now will smugly include marketing noting everything is in the box. Then, they’ll phase it out too, and pretend it never happened. Oh look, it’s already happening (Xiaomi/Twitter).
  • Also a milder controversy: pricing. Apple lists the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12 at $699 and $799 respectively. But those prices are only with a $30 carrier-specific discount, from AT&T and Verizon. Buying it outright, SIM-free, leaves you paying more. Odd.
  • So, starting MSRP is $729 and $829 on both, with 64GB of storage only.
  • One last thing: it’s a shame only the Pro devices have better cameras, and that to get Apple’s best camera, you can only choose the Pro Max: a 6.7-inch device; too big for too many people.
  • More: Breaking down Apple’s three new iPhone 12 camera systems (The Verge).

Questions/misssing:

  • Apple still didn’t offer a higher-refresh rate display panel on any of its new iPhones. Some speculate that’s down to supply chain issues: just getting enough of the 120Hz or 90Hz OLED panels from the likes of Samsung wasn’t possible.
  • Battery life demands are going to be interesting. 5G isn’t integrated into the A14 Bionic chip, so additional silicon will cause more battery drain, as we’ve seen from Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 865 range, with 5G modem on the side draining battery faster.
  • Still no Apple headphones, or AirTags! One day…

HomePod Mini:

  • Apple also announced a cheaper and smaller version of the HomePod, the HomePod Mini. At $99 it’s much more friendly pricing, but at just 3.3-inches tall it may be a little down on audio power.
  • Absolutely no mention of support for Spotify with this device, making it… well, overall it does less, and sounds worse, and forces you to use Siri. Too harsh?
  • Still, at $99 it’s much much more attractive and may be useful as a smart home device for people who like HomeKit functionality.

2. Xiaomi is eyeing the ability to store earbuds inside your smartphone. Nice idea, another example of innovation, but not sure it’ll go anywhere (Android Authority).


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