We’ve been hearing for a while that Apple plans to release its first 5G iPhone next year, but it’s been less clear how much of the 2020 iPhone lineup will get the 5G treatment. In fact, a reliable report earlier this year suggested that 5G would be exclusive to the higher-end models.
Although that earlier report came from well-respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is more often right about such things than not, it seems that he’s now revised his earlier predictions. According to 9to5Mac, Kuo now says that all three 2020 iPhones, which are also expected to feature a significant redesign, will be gaining full high-speed 5G cellular support.
This doesn’t appear to have been a mistake in Kuo’s earlier analysis, but is instead as result of a change in plans due to Apple’s recent acquisition of Intel. As Kuo explains, this now gives the company more resources to support 5G on more models sooner.
In addition, with low-cost Android devices supporting 5G expected to be on the market by the time Apple releases its 2020 iPhones, the company is also concerned about remaining competitive with its lower-cost iPhone models. Restricting 5G to only the premium iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max successors would undoubtedly drive even more customers to eschew the iPhone in favour of devices from competitors like Huawei, and could even result in the iPhone being denied carrier subsidies in some cases.
5G Modem Chips
Although Kuo talks about Apple having Intel’s resources available now, it’s almost certain that he’s referring to the 2,200 engineers that Apple picked up as part of the acquisition, and not the intellectual property that will help its efforts in designing its own 5G modem chip. Even with Intel’s resources, Apple’s first-party 5G chips are likely years away.
In other words, there’s little doubt that Apple’s 2020 iPhones will continue to use Qualcomm chips, but it still takes a lot of engineering to integrate those chips into the rest of the hardware, especially with a device as tight and compact as the iPhone, and Apple’s resources were probably stretched thin before it gained all of Intel’s talent.
Flavors of 5G
Kuo also notes that Apple is working to ensure that its 5G iPhones sold in the U.S. support both of the major 5G frequency bands: mmWave and sub-6GHz. This is important as it will be necessary to allow a single 5G iPhone model to connect to the 5G networks being deployed in the U.S., since carriers are using both frequencies throughout the U.S.
However, Kuo adds that Apple is apparently also planning a sub-6GHz only model for the Chinese market, since that’s the only 5G system that’s used there, and it would allow a lower-priced iPhone to be released in that country. Despite rumours that Apple might be working on a significantly different iPhone for China, however, Kuo notes that the Chinese iPhone in this case would be identical except for the difference in 5G radios. This would actually not be a big change for Apple, which has traditionally released differing iPhone (and even iPad) models with different cellular technology for various countries, although it would be the first time we’ve heard about it being done specifically to reduce the selling price of an iPhone in another market.
What about a 5G iPad?
Kuo says nothing in this most recent report about a 5G iPad. We’ve heard a variety of reports about Apple’s plans in this area, ranging from the possibility that a 5G iPad could debut even before a 5G iPhone, or might not come until 2021 or beyond. With the amount of flux in Apple’s 5G efforts, it’s hard to pin down where the truth is, but we’d bet that with Apple’s acquisition of Intel, a 5G iPad Pro can be expected sooner rather than later.