The new LiDAR Scanner was possibly one of the most noticeable enhancements to come to Apple’s mobile devices last year, debuting first on the 2020 iPad Pro before its highly anticipated arrival on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, where it offered some nice photography enhancements, such as faster autofocus and Night Mode Portrait shots.
Although Apple’s lineup of “standard” iPhone models is a relatively recent development — it only began with the iPhone XR in 2018 — we’ve already seen a gradual trend of technology and features from the more expensive “Pro” models making their way down to their lower-cost counterparts, and if a new report is true, there’s a good chance the LiDAR Scanner could be next.
This year’s iPhone 12 didn’t gain too much in the way of camera improvements over its direct predecessor, the iPhone 11, so it’s arguably due for a bigger bump, but in an example of technology crossing over, it did gain the OLED screen that was previously the exclusive domain of the “Pro” lineup — the iPhone X, iPhone XS, and iPhone 11 Pro models.
Now according to supply chain sources that have been speaking with DigiTimes, Apple plans to add the LiDAR Scanner to the “iPhone 13” and “iPhone 13 mini” (or whatever they’ll actually be called), rather than reserving them only for the “iPhone 13 Pro” lineup.
There’s no word on what this means for the camera capabilities of the more affordable iPhone models, and there’s a good chance that the “Pro” versions will still stay a bigger step ahead in that area, but it’s easy to see why Apple would be interested in expanding the LiDAR Scanner across its entire lineup, since it not only enhances photography in some pretty meaningful ways, but it’s also a key component of delivering bigger and better augmented reality experiences.
In fact, when the new iPad Pro arrived early last year, its inclusion of a LiDAR Scanner was limited entirely to augmented reality; even though the new iPad models also delivered a slightly better dual-camera system, Apple clearly saved the photography features for the Pro iPhone, which has always been its flagship camera system, but the LiDAR Scanner is clearly just as much about AR as it is about photography.
Further, Apple has clearly been trying to bring more consistency across its entire iPhone lineup, with the “Pro” models having a relatively significant but narrow set of improvements over the more popular “standard” models that makes it much easier for users to understand what they’re getting. For instance, all four models now feature the same OLED screen technology, and even the same physical design, and despite rumours that only the “Pro” models would get the fastest 5G technologies, Apple didn’t make that distinction, bringing full mmWave 5G support across the entire lineup — at least for iPhone 12 users in the U.S.
That said, it does sound like Apple plans to improve the mmWave support this year as well, which only makes sense as more carriers in other countries begin rolling out the higher frequency — and faster — flavour of 5G.
With the iPhone 12 this year, only those models sold in the U.S. were capable of mmWave 5G, which is theoretically capable of speeds of above 1Gbps, provided of course you’re fortunate enough to be within a couple of blocks of an mmWave transceiver.
In the U.S., Verizon built its initial 5G rollout exclusively on mmWave, while AT&T has also been ramping up its mmWave efforts. In many other countries, however, the mmWave rollouts have been moving at a much slower place, and in some, like Canada, the necessary spectrum licenses haven’t even been issued yet, leaving carriers with only sub-6GHz 5G frequencies available right now.
So the lack of an mmWave-capable iPhone 12 outside of the U.S. hasn’t been a big deal right now, although it’s given some pause to consumers who want to keep their new iPhones over the longer term, since an iPhone 12 purchased right now outside of the U.S. won’t be ready for mmWave when it finally does show up.
According to most reports that we heard, however, Apple’s limitation of mmWave 5G models to the U.S. had more to do with challenges in building enough units to meet demand, since the mmWave antenna modules are more complex, and it’s likely the ongoing global health pandemic didn’t help either. We’re fairly confident that Apple would have included mmWave 5G support on every iPhone 12 sold around the globe if it could have, and it sounds like it will be able to solve these problems by the time the “iPhone 13” is ready to ship later this year.
According to Patently Apple, supply chain sources in Taiwan have reported a large new order for mmWave antennas with a relatively new Apple supplier known as Qiqi, effectively adding a second supplier to the mix, in addition to Japan’s Murata Manufacturing, which produced the antennas for last year’s iPhone 12 devices.
While some interpretations of the report suggest that this could simply represent a larger expansion of the technology to more U.S. iPhone models, the scope of the order with an entirely new supplier suggests there’s more to this development. Since every iPhone 12 model sold in the U.S. already supports mmWave, unless Apple expects to sell substantially more “iPhone 13” devices this year it’s far more likely that the higher-performance antennas will be included in more iPhone models sold around the globe.
The report also notes that Apple is working closely with several telecom companies in various countries to bolster the expansion of mmWave in those areas, since the various frequencies used around the world would require precise calibration of the iPhone antennas and hardware to guarantee optimal performance on various carrier networks.
However, even in countries where mmWave 5G won’t be widely deployed this year, it’s to Apple’s advantage to make the “iPhone 13” as future-proof as it possibly can so that users can be assured of better 5G support as it becomes available.