With Apple’s 2020 iPhone 12 launch now fully behind us, and 2021 coming up fast, key industry analysts have now been turning their attention to Apple’s plans for next year’s “iPhone 13.”
While we’ve already heard a few reports on what the next iPhone may be packing in, the good news is that it looks like by next year Apple fully plans to get back on track for a September release, according to veteran Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
Although this year’s iPhone 12 lineup was pushed into October due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s expected to be less of an issue next year, not only due to the hopes that the development of vaccines will move us toward the end of the crisis, but also simply because Apple and its supply chain partners have had much more time now to adjust for the new reality.
There’s a lot of preliminary prototyping, development, and testing that goes into releasing a new iPhone model each year, and a lot of this has to happen before Apple can ramp up for mass production. In the case of the iPhone 12, it’s fair to say that Apple and its suppliers were caught somewhat off guard as lockdowns began occurring, preventing critical engineering teams from traveling between Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino and its partner factories in China to conduct many of the final engineering validation tests required to produce the new iPhone models.
The result was the Apple’s mass production didn’t even begin to ramp up seriously until September, and even then the company was only able to get the two 6.1-inch models ready for a late October release, with the smaller iPhone 12 mini and larger iPhone 12 Max not arriving until November 13.
According to Kuo, however, Apple is positioned to return back to its normal schedule next year, likely not only announcing its entire A15-equipped “iPhone 13” lineup in September, but likely having all four models available right away.
Of course, this year wasn’t the first time that Apple has delayed the release of at least one new iPhone model — the iPhone X in 2017 and iPhone XR in 2018 faced similar delays, however these also used unique new technologies, and at this point Apple appears to be falling into more of a stride, with all of the iPhone 11 models released simultaneously in 2019.
Even this year’s delay was clearly more about manufacturing capacity than technology, since although some rumours suggested that both the iPhone 12 Pro models would delayed until November, the reality was that the release schedule differed merely by size, suggesting it was simply easier for Apple to produce the two 6.1-inch models first, which makes sense since they use the exact same casing, display, and many other identical components.
iPhone 13 120Hz ProMotion LTPO Displays
That said, there could be some new technology in the works for next year, with Apple expected to not only adopt a new and faster 120Hz “ProMotion” display, but also new low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO) display technology, which consumes significantly less power than traditional OLED displays.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard either of these reports, of course. The faster 120Hz displays are almost a given next year, considering that multiple sources suggested the new display technology was planned for the iPhone 12; Apple only chose to nix the 120Hz display after it discovered it couldn’t source enough driver chips — a problem that it should almost certainly be able to solve by the time next year’s iPhone is released.
The move to LTPO also seems all but completely certain at this point; as we noted last month, Korean publication The Elec had already tagged LG as ramping up production to build LTPO displays to meet demands for future iPhone models, beginning with the so-called “iPhone 13,” and reputable display analyst Ross Young, who has already predicted Apple’s display lineup for next year, has basically said that LTPO displays are a necessity for supporting ProMotion on OLED screens without killing battery life.
Keep in mind that the 120Hz ProMotion displays on Apple’s iPad Pro still use LCD technology, and as advanced as Apple’s Liquid Retina LCD displays are, they still work on entirely different principles than OLED displays.
Now another report from Korea’s The Elec is backing up these earlier claims by adding Samsung to the mix as another supplier for the LTPO technology, also confirming that while all of Apple’s “iPhone 13” models will continue to feature OLED displays from a few different manufacturers, the “iPhone 13 Pro” are expected to gain the faster 120Hz ProMotion LTPO displays.
iPhone 13 Always-On Displays?
What’s particularly notable about LTPO displays, however, is their ability to drop the refresh rate down to extremely low levels; it’s this feature that makes them so battery-friendly, but it’s also the same feature that powers the always-on display on recent Apple Watch models, and analysts have been predicting that Apple will eventually do the same for the iPhone.
The secret to making this kind of always-on display technology work is in reducing the refresh rate down to bare minimum, since with OLED it’s updating the screen that makes up for the bulk of the power consumption from running the display — leaving it on with a static image is considerably more efficient.
In the case of the Apple Watch, the always-on display means that you’re only getting updates about once per minute, rather than once every second — on an analog watch face, you’ll actually notice the second hand disappears entirely when you lower your wrist and the display goes into low-power mode.
So an always-on display on an iPhone would still have similar limitations — it would be enough to show an always-on clock face, as well as display notifications and other relatively static information, but it wouldn’t be suitable for animating your lock screen in real-time, and actually watching movies would still require the display to operate at more normal power levels.
So just like when the Apple Watch Series 5 is released, don’t expect an LTPO display to actually improve the battery life on the iPhone 13; what it’s intended to do is pave the way for newer and better technologies without sacrificing battery life in order to achieve them.