Wednesday, 14 October 2020 07:24

MUST-WATCH iPhone 12 and HomePod Mini launch event - the best just got better Featured


Let the upgrade supercycle begin anew! From a new HomePod Mini that sells for $99 in the US and $149 in Australia, through to four new 5G-equipped iPhone 12 models that will set off the biggest upgrade cycle for Apple and its customers yet, Apple is proof that the best is always yet to come.

Apple has launched its 5G smartphone and HomePod mini smart speaker salvo for 2020 at last, aiming to win the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers wanting to bring the 5G iPhone experience into their lives.

Couple this with the world's fastest mobile processors, along with what is arguably the very best cameras in the industry and what promises to be the very best 5G speeds a smartphone can muster, coupled with the biggest screens yet - and more - and even in the midst of the ongoing global pandemic and economic downturn, this upgrade super cycle is going to be massive.

Apple's marketing pages for its products are of the highest quality, as you'd expect, and handily demonstrate and explain all of the new features. You see this style of site copied by all of its competitors, but Apple still does it best!

You can see Apple's iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max info here, its new iPhone 12 and 12 Mini info here and then new HomePod Mini info here

It's also worth noting right here that the iPhone 12 Mini is smaller in size than the 4.7-inch screen equipped iPhone 6, 7 or 8 but has a bigger screen at 5.4-inches, and for all those who wanted a smaller iPhone but with the full-screen display that was pioneered by the iPhone X, the iPhone 12 Mini is the answer to your prayers!

So, what's new?

Let's start off with what Apple says is a "superior 5G experience".

Promising the most 5G bands of any smartphone in the world, which means it would eclipse Nokia's 8.3 5G smartphone launching tomorrow that also made this claim in a pre-iPhone 12 world, Apple has also explained that it has carefully engineered what it says is "a superior 5G experience".

Apple explains its four iPhone 12 models "deliver an advanced 5G experience on a global scale, engineered with a seamless integration of world-class hardware and world-class software.

"5G on iPhone boasts improved speeds for faster downloads and uploads, higher quality video streaming, more responsive gaming, real-time interactivity in apps, FaceTime in high definition, and much more. Customers will also be able to enjoy a secure, fast connection, reducing the need to connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots.

"Featuring the most 5G bands on any smartphone, [all of the iPhone 12 models] offer the broadest 5G coverage worldwide. Models in the US support millimetre wave, the higher frequency version of 5G, allowing iPhone 12 Pro models to reach speeds up to 4Gbps, even in densely populated areas. iPhone 12 Pro models also feature Smart Data mode, which extends battery life by intelligently assessing 5G needs and balancing data usage, speed, and power in real time".

Now, we know that Telstra and Ericsson in Australia recently "smashed the 800Mhz mmWave 5G speed record" by reaching 4.2Gbps speeds, and with mmWave spectrum due to go to auction in Australia next year, it won't be long before we too can enjoy even faster speeds than regular 5G enables, but we might have to wait until iPhone 13 is launched before we get Aussie mmWave frequency support as the US models support US mmWave frequencies only, with mmWave spectrum not yet auctioned or available in Australia, which won't happen until next year.

But superior 5G is just one part of the iPhone 12 story - there's so much more that has been upgraded, as you would naturally expect.

Before we get there though, here's Apple's official launch event in full - it goes for just over a hour, and is so much better to watch than those edited versions you'll see online that attempt to cut it all down to just a few minutes.

Next up is the A14 Bionic processor.

In its advertising on Apple's home page, Apple notes that the only thing that comes even close to the A14 Bionic's performance is 2019's A13 Bionic processor.

Because Apple has been designing its own silicon for more than a decade, it isn't forced to use the same "off the shelf" processor designs from Qualcomm as everyone else, but actively creates designs that are demonstrably far superior to competitors, with the same ultra-premium processor in all four iPhone 12 models.

Compare this with Google's Pixel 4a with 5G and Pixel 5 with 5G, for example, and you have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 processor, which isn't even the flagship 800-series model.

Now it has to be said that no-one is expecting either Pixel to be slow, they'll have more than enough power for all the tasks you'd expect them to be able to do, it's just that the A14 Bionic can power the most cutting edge AR and other gaming, machine learning, 4K editing and other experiences while also running everyday talks with ease.

Apple explains it this way: "Generations ahead of the competition, A14 Bionic is the first chip in the smartphone industry built on 5-nanometer process.

"Faster and more efficient than ever, A14 Bionic has the fastest CPU and GPU by up to 50% compared to the fastest competing smartphone chips, enabling console-quality gaming experiences, powerful computational photography, and more, while delivering great battery life. Pushing the limits of machine learning (ML),

A14 Bionic features a 16-core Neural Engine — for an 80% increase in performance — that is capable of completing 11 trillion operations per second, enabling improved performance on even the most intense ML models".

Well, those are claims the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 just can't make, and with mid-range smartphones having even less performant processors, the difference between the high end and everyone else just became starker.

Of course, Apple also has more affordable smartphones, starting with the iPhone SE 2020 edition, which comes with last year's A13 Bionic, along with the iPhone 11, and even the iPhone XR which is still part of the line-up has the A12 Bionic, a six-core processor that still smokes mid-range competitors into fine dust.

Cameras on iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max

While the iPhone 12 Pro Max talks of a 5x zoom range, what this really means is an increased zoom in from 2x to 2.5x, while the zoom out goes to the same 0.5x that it did on last year's models, which gives it a "5x zoom range". On the iPhone 12 Pro this is a "4x zoom range".

However the lenses and sensors got big upgrades, allowing for night mode shots on all the cameras in 2020 iPhone 12 models, a new ProRAW file format on both iPhone 12 Pro models.

Apple says "ProRAW is coming later this year" and "combines Apple’s multi-frame image processing and computational photography with the versatility of a RAW format. Users can experience full creative control over colour, detail, and dynamic range natively on iPhone or with other professional photo editing apps" - so when Apple effectively says the Pro models are the new standard for smartphone photography, they really do mean it!

As for the iPhone 12 Pro, Apple proudly boasts it "features the new seven-element lens Wide camera with an ƒ/1.6 aperture, the fastest ever on an iPhone, for 27% improved low-light performance in photo and video; the Ultra Wide camera with a 120-degree field of view, perfect for capturing more scene in tight spots or epic landscapes; and a 52 mm focal length Telephoto camera, great for framing portraits, bringing the optical zoom range to 4x".

We're told the "iPhone 12 Pro Max takes the pro camera experience even further. The new ƒ/1.6 aperture Wide camera boasts a 47% sensor with 1.7μm pixels for a massive 87 per cent improvement in low-light conditions. It also includes the expansive Ultra Wide camera and a 65 mm focal length Telephoto camera for increased flexibility with closer shots and tighter crops. Combined, this system offers 5x optical zoom range".

There are improvements to Night Mode which feature on all three cameras, while 4K HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 60fps and "even better stabilisation" make this a smartphone you truly can create cinematic Hollywood experiences on, with a cinematographer in the keynote giving us a taste of how he did just that.

You can read about the iPhone 12 and 12 mini cameras here.

Thinner! Stronger glass!

Apple has made its iPhones thinner, and with the iPhone 12 Mini, it claims "the world's smallest, thinnest and lightest 5G phone". All the iPhone 12 models are thinner than their iPhone 11 counterparts, even with the new flat edges of the phone that mimic the iPad Pros and new iPad Air, which in turn are the same type of flat edges we saw with the iPhone 4, 4s, 5 and 5s.

All four iPhone 12 models have a new transparent nanoscale ceramic crystal coating into glass, dubbed a "ceramic shield", with Apple explaining that these crystal are harder than most metals.

We're told that even though it "sounds simple", it's "incredibly difficult because ceramic isn't transparent".

We're told that "by controlling the type of crystals and degree of crystallinity, we developed an exclusive formula that maximises the toughness of the ceramic while remaining optically clear. This was the breakthrough that made Ceramic Shield ideally suited for the display. It’s a first in any smartphone, and it’s tougher than any smartphone glass", and this combined with other features delivers "4x better drop performance".

Personally, I'll still be buying a case and a screen protector, but for those crazy brave people that live life without a case or screen protector, well, you can continue living life on the edge.

Executive quotes

For the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini, Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing said: “The arrival of 5G marks the beginning of a new era for iPhone and we’re thrilled to bring these impressive new capabilities to our customers with iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini.

“We’re once again pushing the boundaries to deliver incredible computational photography advancements, Super Retina XDR displays, and the biggest leap in durability in iPhone history with the new Ceramic Shield front cover.

"Available in two great sizes, iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini take design to a new level in a new form factor that’s as beautiful as it is durable, and makes it easier than ever for customers to find the perfect iPhone to fit their lifestyle.”

For the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, Joswiak said: “This is a huge leap for iPhone, bringing the best 5G experience in the market and delivering our most advanced technologies to users who want the absolute most from their iPhone.

“Each generation of iPhone has changed what we expect from a smartphone, and now with 5G, iPhone 12 Pro provides a new generation of performance. Our tight integration of hardware and software enables incredible computational photography features like the expansion of Night mode to more cameras, and introduces support for HDR video with Dolby Vision.

"A state-of-the-art LiDAR Scanner means users can experience AR like never before, and also offers benefits to the camera with faster autofocus in low light and the introduction of Night mode portraits. These experiences and so much more make this the best iPhone lineup ever.”

No headphones or charger but all iPhone 12 models get a USB-C to Lightning cable

As rumoured, Apple is not including wired headphones or an 18w charger in the box. Apple said this was for "environmental reasons" and that plenty of people had numerous headphones and chargers already. Of course, people might have only the older 5w chargers, which will charge an iPhone very slowly, but with third-party 18w USB-C chargers widely available and cheaper than Apple's pricing, you'll just have to buy one of your own. 

Also, many laptops now come with a USB-C port and you can charge that way. There are also GaN or Gallium Nitride chargers out there with Belkin the first to bring them to Australian retail stores.

As for Lightning port headphones, there are Apple's own models and third party ones out there. Again, you'll have to use ones you already have, buy new ones separately or go wireless.

Apple says its packaging is now smaller as a result, and can fit 70% more iPhones into the same shipping space as it could last year.

There's criticism that Apple has taken these things away but "kept the price the same", but when you consider the stronger glass and the more expensive 5G technology, let alone the 128GB starting size of the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, Apple has had to make changes to not have to raise prices, something that would be harder to stomach during the pandemic and downturn. 

Being able to ship 70% more iPhones in the same shipping space as last year lowers logistics costs, and with headphones and charges something millions genuinely already have extras thereof, well, it's a tradeoff that Apple has made that we just have to live with. Apple has done this for years anyway - it did just this with its iPod Touch models years ago, so it's not new.

It's a shame it had to happen but with the world's governments spending trillions and either printing this out of thin air or borrowing heavily, along with ongoing China trade tensions and logistics issues... we're lucky prices are still the "same" even if you will spend extra on a new USB-C charger to enjoy those faster charging speeds. 

It will also encourage many to charge wirelessly or to get Apple's new MagSafe charger than can charge at 15w wireless charging speeds, a doubling of the 7.5w wireless Qi charging speeds that the iPhone 8 and up offered. 

Just some of the rest

Look, there is plenty more, much much more, from the advanced AR experiences that the LIDAR sensor on the iPhone 12 Pro models delivers, through to the new MagSafe magnetic charging option that can deliver up to 15W of power while accommodating Qi-enabled devices, as well as magnetically attaching accessories. All the new MagSafe accessories are here

Watching the keynote above shows you many more innovations, right through to all of the advanced ecologically friendly environmental measures that Apple has committed to, far beyond any of its competitors.

There isn't time to go through it all here, but if you take a look at Apple's iPhone 12 Pro page, and its iPhone 12 and 12 Mini page, you will learn a heck of a lot more than you can in reading this article. 

Let's finish with the new $149 HomePod Mini, which the keynote event starts with, and which you can find out more about here

Promising "impressive sound, the intelligence of Siri to get things done, and a smart home experience that offers comfort and convenience without complexity", the HomePod Mini is "just under 8.5 centimetres tall" and is "packed with innovative technologies and advanced software that together enable computational audio to deliver breakthrough audio quality wherever it is placed".

There is so much more to learn about HomePod Mini, but a great new feature is the new Intercom system.

Here, Apple tell us that this new Intercom feature "offers a quick and easy way for family members to connect with each other at home. One person can send an Intercom message from one HomePod to another — whether in a different room, a specific zone, or multiple rooms throughout the home — and their voice will automatically play on the designated HomePod speaker."

"Intercom works with iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, and CarPlay, so everyone in the household can get Intercom notifications and send Intercom messages from the backyard or on their way home".

Bob Borchers, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing said: "HomePod mini has everything customers want in a smart speaker — amazing sound for listening to music, a world-class intelligent assistant that delivers a personal experience to each member of the household, and like every Apple product, it’s designed with privacy and security in mind.

“HomePod mini is the ultimate smart speaker for anyone with an Apple device. It works effortlessly with iPhone to hand off music, answer calls, or deliver personalised listening suggestions, elevates the sound from Apple TV, plays music from a Mac, and so much more. There’s a lot of Apple innovation packed into such a small speaker, all at an affordable price."

Additional Features:

  • Siri Shortcuts created on iPhone and iPad are accessible on HomePod mini, so users can ask Siri on HomePod mini to start a pot of coffee, control a robot vacuum, add milk to the grocery list, and more.
  • Ambient sounds, including rain, a fireplace, a stream, and more, offer the perfect background noise to focus, relax, or fall asleep. Siri can set a sleep timer so the sounds automatically stop playing.
  • Find My helps locate a misplaced iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or Apple Watch by playing a sound to pinpoint its location.
  • Web search results from HomePod mini can be sent directly to the user’s iPhone for easy viewing.
  • Music alarms let users wake up to a favourite song, playlist, or radio station from Apple Music.

Pricing and availability of all the new devices:

iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max will be available in four stainless steel finishes, including graphite, silver, gold, and pacific blue. Pre-orders for iPhone 12 Pro begin Friday, 16 October, with availability beginning Friday, 23 October. iPhone 12 Pro Max will be available for pre-order Saturday, 7 November, and in stores beginning Friday, 13 November.

  • Phone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max will be available in 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB models in graphite, silver, gold, and pacific blue starting at RRP A$1,699 inc. GST and RRP A$1,849 inc. GST, respectively.

iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini will be available in five beautiful aluminium finishes, including blue, green, black, white, and (PRODUCT)RED. Pre-orders for iPhone 12 begin Friday, 16 October, with availability beginning Friday, 23 October. iPhone 12 mini will be available for pre-order beginning Saturday, 7 November, and in stores beginning Friday, 13 November.

  • Phone 12 and iPhone 12 mini will be available in 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB models in blue, green, black, white, and (PRODUCT)RED starting at RRP A$1,349 inc. GST and RRP A$1,199 inc. GST, respectively.

HomePod mini will be available in white and space grey with pre-orders beginning at 12:00 a.m. AEDT on Saturday, 7 November, with availability beginning the week of 16 November.

  • HomePod mini will retail for RRP A$149 inc. GST.

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Now’s the Time for 400G Migration

The optical fibre community is anxiously awaiting the benefits that 400G capacity per wavelength will bring to existing and future fibre optic networks.

Nearly every business wants to leverage the latest in digital offerings to remain competitive in their respective markets and to provide support for fast and ever-increasing demands for data capacity. 400G is the answer.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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