We’ve been hearing rumours for months that this year’s iPhones won’t be arriving on the same schedule as they have in most recent years, with reports ranging from a slight push into October to a much longer delay that could take at least some of the models into late November or early December.
This all received some subtle confirmation when Apple acknowledged during its quarterly earnings call that the new iPhones would come “a few weeks later than normal,” but of course it offered no clarity as to exactly what that means—neither a timeframe, whether some models may still be delayed further or any specific reasons for the delay.
Of course, the obvious reason is simply production delays due to the ongoing global health pandemic, which has slowed things down in a whole bunch of different areas, but it’s also possible that Apple faced many unrelated challenges.
Reports earlier this year suggested Apple may have also been struggling with 5G technology — especially for the ultra-fast mmWave 5G models, but again these reports just added to the confusion, which has left everything up in the air as to what Apple plans to release and when.
Now a new set of reports is suggesting another possible reason for the delay — Apple’s push to get a better and faster display in this year’s iPhone lineup.
We’ve been hearing since last summer that Apple was working on finally bringing the “ProMotion” display technology that’s long been available on its iPad Pro lineup over to at least some of this year’s iPhone models, and this report was seemingly confirmed this spring via multiple leaks, suggesting that as the standard iPhone model moved from the Liquid Retina displays found on the iPhone XR and iPhone 11 over to an OLED display, the “iPhone 12 Pro” models would gain the faster 120Hz display in order to help differentiate them and keep them a notch ahead in screen technology.
Of course, there are other ways in which Apple could distinguish its “Pro” displays, and late last year we also heard rumours that Apple may simply be considering more advanced OLED technology that could result in thinner screens that would leave more room for things like bigger batteries and advanced 5G wireless technology.
However, if Apple has indeed decided to go all-in on the 120Hz ProMotion technology, it may have found itself at a crossroads, according to new information shared by display industry analyst Ross Young (via MacRumors) who reveals that Apple could be facing supply chain issues with obtaining some of the necessary components.
Specifically, even though Apple doesn’t seem to be having any problems getting the actual 120Hz display panels, the chips that drive them appear to be in short supply.
This leaves Apple with the choice of deciding to delay the launch of those models to wait for the necessary components to become available in sufficient quantities or simply give up and a ship with the standard 60Hz display technology that’s found in the current iPhone lineup.
Young also notes that Apple could come up with its own workaround, but suggests that this probably isn’t feasible as it would be difficult and likely to take just as much time as waiting for the actual chips to become available.
Instead, Young says he’s hearing that Apple is leaning toward the path of least resistance here, opting to launch with 60Hz displays rather than push back the iPhone launch dates any farther, but that the decision hasn’t actually been made yet, and that perhaps Apple might still delay the launch in considering of the demand for 120Hz displays.
Leaker Jon Prosser has also confirmed this separately, saying in a video on Front Page Tech that the issue is still being hotly debated within Apple, and that it’s entirely a supply chain issue and not a technical one, adding that 120Hz is working just fine on the iPhone 12 Pro Max units being tested internally by Apple.
What Does This Mean (and Why Should You Care)?
Apple’s ProMotion technology has been available on the iPad Pro since the second-generation models were released in June 2017, and was designed to deliver a much smoother experience, especially for those working with the Apple Pencil, thanks to the combination of faster 120Hz refresh rates with a lower 20ms latency. In short, it made both drawing and scrolling much more natural — smoother, more fluid, and more responsive.
While doubling the refresh rate has an obvious impact on battery life, the key to the ProMotion display is that it dynamically adjusts the rate depending on what’s on the screen. For example, there’s no reason to run in full 120Hz mode when you’re simply reading web pages or books, or even watching videos, but it really shines for certain types of games and of course drawing, editing, and illustration apps.
By all reports, if 120Hz ProMotion technology does come to the iPhone this year, there will likely be a switch to give users the ability to disable it in order to save battery life. This option also exists on the iPad Pro, although it’s buried in the accessibility options, however, Prosser has suggested that the setting may be more prominent on the iPhone 12 Pro.
To be clear, reports on whether or not Apple was actually planning on adding 120Hz display technology to this year’s iPhones have been mixed from the beginning, so this could still be something that’s actually on the horizon for 2021 instead. Last month Young reported that he wasn’t able to get any of his display industry contacts to corroborate rumours of 120Hz iPhone 12 Pro models this year, with most of them saying that the technology wasn’t expected to arrive until 2021, alongside newer LTPO displays that would reduce the impact of the feature on battery life.
More recent reports, however, suggest that Apple may have tried to see if they could pull off adding the feature to the 2020 lineup, but even if that was the case, this latest report would seem to indicate that either way we’re not likely to see a 120Hz display in this year’s iPhone.