2020 iPhone rumors: 5G might be coming to all three models

Here's everything we think we know about next year's iPhone.

iphone xr xs max pencils
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The 2019 iPhone models haven’t even been officially announced yet, and we’re already starting to see reports about what will be in the 2020 iPhones. We’ve compiled the most notable ones here, but take these with a big grain of salt. Even if these reports are accurate representations of what suppliers are saying, or come from moles within Apple itself, the company’s plans can and do change. There’s still plenty of time before the design and features have to be totally set in stone.

Update 07/29/19: Well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reports that Apple’s acquisition of Intel’s modem business as well as stiff competition from Android phones could lead to an all-5G lineup in 2020.

5G for all

While 5G is practically a certainty for the 2020 iPhone, the first round of rumors claimed that the next-generation modem would be limited to the flagship models, meaning the XR (or whatever it’s called by then) would still slum it with LTE. Following the acquisition of Intel’s smartphone modem team for a cool billion dollars, those expectations have changed. Now, Ming-Chi Kuo believes that all three models will have a 5G modem on board.

The reason is simple: Apple doesn’t want to miss the boat. While 5G is limited to a few models of high-end Android phones this year, Kuo sees 5G becoming much more commonplace among Apple’s peers, leading the company to ramp up development of 5G. Specifically, he sees the prices of 5G Android smartphones “will decline to $249-349 USD in 2H20,” which will put pressure on Apple to deliver support for the speedy network in all three of next year’s iPhones. Kuo also feels that the new team of some 2,000 members of Intel’s smartphone modem division will facilitate Apple’s development of 5G.

For more on 5G and what it means for you, check out our 5G FAQ.

But it won’t come cheap. While most Android phones will feature support for so “sub-6Ghz” 5G, many will lack support for the higher bandwidth mmWave, meaning you’d need to buy a new phone when your network supports it. Apple’s iPhone modem will reportedly support both frequencies, essentially future-proofing it for the 5G rollout. But that likely means the iPhone will cost even more. Whether that means it’ll have a higher starting point or the 5G option will simply be another tier, isn’t clear, but you should definitely expect to pay more for 5G inside your iPhone.

ProMotion comes to iPhone

Apple’s iPad Pro models have had ‘ProMotion’ displays for a couple years now. It’s a special LCD with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz, along with adaptive refresh rate scaling. Thus far, the feature has not come to iPhone: All iPhones feature displays locked at a 60Hz refresh rate.

A well-known leaker of Samsung news on Twitter, Ice Universe, claims that Apple is in talks with Samsung and LG to provide a switchable 60Hz/120Hz display for the 2020 iPhones. One would assume that these would be OLED displays, as there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about variable refresh rate or high refresh rate LCDs.

ice iphone 120hz rumor @UniverseIce

Will iPhones get ‘ProMotion’ displays next year?

It’s also unclear if this display would have true adaptive refresh rates as the ProMotion displays on iPad Pros do, or if it would simply switch between 60Hz and 120Hz modes.

Time-of-Flight rear camera

A recent report from Digitimes claims that “Apple has reportedly asked its supply chain partner to supply VCSEL components for use in rear ToF camera lens in its mobile devices to be released in 2020, according to supply chain sources.”

We’ve heard this rumor before, both from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Debby Wu, and in a research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

VCSEL stands for Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser. It’s a type of semiconductor that emits a low-power laser (usually infrared, so humans can’t see it). It’s used in a lot of consumer devices today for simple range-finding; to assist in augmented reality, Apple would use a more complex chip that fires a big grid of lasers, then measures the time-of-flight for that light to determine distance. Effectively, this would produce a low-res “image” where each pixel has depth info rather than color.

It’s an efficient way to get a much more accurate 3D representation of the scene in front of the camera, which is useful in computation photography and especially in augmented reality.

Three models, new sizes, all OLED

As reported by MacRumors, oft-accurate analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reports that Apple will be sticking with the three-model lineup it introduced with the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR last September, but the sizes may be changing. According to Kuo, the new models will have 5.4-, 6.1-, and 6.7-inch screens, with all models getting the OLED treatment. That would bring the iPhone XR (or whatever it’s called by then) up to speed with the other models.

Along with the XR’s OLED upgrade, the other two iPhone models will also be getting new screens. The iPhone XS Max will be increasing from 6.5 inches to 6.7 inches, which is to be expected in the wake of the Samsung S10 5G, but the iPhone XS will actually be getting smaller. According to Kuo, the 5.8-inch iPhone XS will be going down to 5.4 inches, a significant downgrade from its current size. Kuo doesn’t offer an explanation for Apple’s decision, but presumably it would be to create even more space between the XS and the 6.1-inch XR. And it would throw a bone to people pining for the return of the iPhone SE.

5G modems on the way

As has been previously rumored, Apple will likely be adding 5G modems to the 2020 iPhone, though Kuo says the faster connectivity will be limited to the XS and XS Max, with the XR retaining LTE 4G for at least a year. He also notes that Apple is working on its own 5G modem, which the company hopes will be ready by 2022 or 2023. 

Now that Apple has settled it’s long-running feud with Qualcomm, it should be back on track to use the company’s second-generation 5G modem in 2020 iPhones. When Apple was exclusively using Intel modems, its 5G future was in doubt, as Intel reportedly kept missing important 5G development milestones.

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