iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 12 mini, and HomePod mini available to order Friday

Featuring the best camera system ever shipped in an iPhone, the all-new iPhone 12 Pro Max boasts an Ultra Wide camera with a 120-degree field of view and a 65 mm focal length Telephoto camera that increases the total optical zoom range from 4x to 5x. The new Wide camera introduces sensor-shift OIS, a first for smartphones, for even better image stabilization, and with a faster ƒ/1.6 aperture, 47 percent larger sensor, and bigger 1.7μm pixels, enables an 87 percent increase in low-light performance for photos and videos, the biggest gain ever for iPhone. When combined with A14 Bionic, iPhone 12 Pro Max brings to life impressive computational photography features like Night mode, Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3, HDR video capture with Dolby Vision,5 and the all-new Apple ProRAW6 for creative control over color, detail, and dynamic range. And a new LiDAR Scanner delivers 6x faster autofocus in low light, unlocks Night mode portraits, and brings more realistic augmented reality (AR) experiences.

iPhone 12 mini

The smallest, thinnest, and lightest 5G smartphone in the world, the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini7 introduces a beautiful new design packed with innovative new capabilities. Available in five stunning finishes — blue, green, black, white, and (PRODUCT)RED8 — iPhone 12 mini fits all the technology of iPhone 12 into a delightfully compact size while still delivering an impressively large and immersive edge-to-edge Super Retina XDR display. iPhone 12 mini also features the new Ceramic Shield front cover, tougher than any smartphone glass ever made, and offers industry-leading IP68 water resistance.

New iPhones, new HomePod mini, and record-breaking Mac sales — October 2020 in review

It was the month we’d been waiting for, as the new iPhone 12 range was finally announced, and then was eventually shipped. Or half of it, anyway.

Announced on October 13, Apple’s new iPhone launch had very much that was unlike any previous year. That started with how the launch was done with another supremely well made video — seriously, the Emmys should add a category for Best Performance by a Tech Executive in a Launch Promotional Series or Mini-Series.

Then this time Apple launched four new iPhones instead of three. And perhaps most significantly in these coronavirus times, it carefully altered the usual mix of features and price.

While the new iPhones, together with the iPhone SE and how Apple retains last year’s iPhone 11 Pro, the company has again got a phone for just about every price point. What’s different is that the whole iPhone 12 range offers features that might previously have been reserved for the higher-end Pro models.

They all have 5G, they now all lack a power adapter and earbuds, and all have the new Ceramic Shield on their front display glass. Speaking of which, there are tiny differences between those displays, but every model has an OLED Super Retina XDR display.

All four new iPhones have the same design, too, which brings the iPad Pro’s flat edges to the phones. This has been so popular that Apple’s got to be wondering what it can do with the iPhone 13 to keep up.

With choice comes complexity

In making the new iPhone 12 range affordable, at least with some models, yet keeping major features across every phone, Apple has made it both simple and hard to choose what to buy. If you were brand new to the iPhone at all, you could now just buy any of them and be sure of getting an extremely good phone.

That’s great, and it’s especially great for the entry-level iPhone 12 model, but it means a lot more head-scratching if you’re comparing the iPhone 12 to the iPhone 12 Pro.

Things are easier with the iPhone 12 mini, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, although neither was actually available in October. The iPhone 12 mini is smaller than this year’s iPhone SE, yet it contains a bigger screen.

It’s also the lowest-cost iPhone 12, even though many would’ve paid more to get the small form factor. So that could make it even more appealing than the iPhone 12 or the iPhone 12 Pro.

Similarly, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is going to have the best cameras, and significantly better than the rest.

That does make these two iPhone 12 models the right choice for many people, but during October 2020 when they weren’t available, they made that buying choice harder.

Or rather, it’s made the specifics of the buying choice harder, as it made the overall decision to buy a new iPhone more attractive. And in October 2020, we learned just exactly how appealing it is.

A billion pockets, y’all

The analyst firm with the odd name but the good track record, Above Avalon, announced in October that it appears over a billion people are now using an iPhone. And that’s now as in right now, today, this moment.

So it’s not that Apple has sold a billion of them — we know it long blew past that number — but rather that at this moment, there are a billion people with an iPhone in their hand.

You can say that Android is more successful, and many people do, including Apple in its many 2020 legal cases. But there are countless different Android phones coming from myriad companies.

There’s only one Apple, and a billion iPhones.

Steve Jobs with the first iPhone ever seen in public. There are rather more of them today.

Steve Jobs with the first iPhone ever seen in public. There are rather more of them today.

This year, that’s at least in part down to how we reportedly have a deeper emotional connection to our Apple devices than most people do to most other companies. Surveyed specifically to see how brands were faring during the COVID-19 pandemic, MBLM asked people about emotional fulfillment from firms.

Apple came first overall. Using only results from men, Apple came second to Amazon, however as well as the top spot in total, it was also top of women’s votes and those of millennials.

Separately, research firm Piper Sandler claimed this month that 86% of teenage respondents to its survey said that they have an iPhone. Then 89% said they intend to buy one.

Finally, the iPad Air 4 ships

There are also quite a few iPads out there, and it does rather look as if those numbers are going to swell because of the iPad Air 4. Apple announced it in September but, quite unusually, both kept us waiting and didn’t specify a release date beyond next month.

Despite countless rumors pegging its release to every day you can think of in the month, Apple practically slipped it out in the end. Pre-orders began on October 16, exactly 31 days after announcement, and alongside the rather more hyped iPhone 12.

Just as with the iPhone 12, though, the iPad Air 4 came with issues that affected buying decisions — although this time, all for the good. Over and over, reviewers, testers, and customers were coming to the conclusion that the iPad Air was the best iPad to buy.

It’s such a good combination of features, and price, that it has become hard to see why many people would buy the 11-inch iPad Pro. Bringing the same design, very similar features, and better performance meant Apple was again offering far more than usual in the lower-priced option.

Which is also a fair description of the one other hardware product Apple revealed this month. The HomePod mini had us all wanting one, and then when it was announced at $99, we all wanted more than one.

Before anyone has even got one to test, the HomePod mini has somehow become much more desirable than the original, full-size HomePod.

Not everyone loves Apple

October may have seen surveys saying we love Apple devices, and it may have seen Apple earning incredible amounts of our money even before we could buy the HomePod mini. Yet it was also a month where the company continued to be rather battered by criticism.

The now tedious Apple versus Epic Games dispute has continued with neither side offering much of a new level, and Facebook continued trying to make itself appear to be the poor underdog.

This time, “No Discovered Security Breaches in 0 Days” Facebook was arguing against the ad-tracking block that Apple keeps saying it’s going to add to iOS 14. Facebook wasn’t alone this month, as a coalition of publishers and advertisers in France lobbied their government to investigate Apple over unfair competition.

They maintain that every advertiser except Apple will require users to positively elect to allow ad tracking. Apple says yes, but no, because it doesn’t sell its ad-tracking data to anyone else, so you can’t really say it’s the same thing.

October also saw the House Judiciary decide that Apple has monopoly-like power with the App Store. Apple objected “vehemently,” saying that, “our company does not have a dominant market share in any category where we do business.”

Or rather, Apple and its current management team objected. Ex-App Store manager Philip Shoemaker said that Apple had always used the App Store as “a weapon against competitors.”

The House’s examination of Apple — along with big tech firms such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook — was this month just one of the worldwide pressures facing the company. The EU in particular has Apple on what’s being called a “hit list” of tech companies that it wants to apply stricter rules to.

That said, the EU’s chief antitrust executive, Margrethe Vestager, is one of the voices speaking out against breaking up large technology firms. She’s pursuing the plan to implement these more stringent trading and taxation rules, and thinks breaking firms up is a remedy with potentially unintended consequences.

One area we’re looking at for consequences is how Apple may be affected by the Department of Justice deciding to sue Google. The DOJ argues that Google paying Apple billions every year to keep being the default search engine on iOS is a problem.

When 5G isn’t 5G

Talking of worldwide consequences that, if not unintended, were at least not predicted, it was during this month that we really learned how not all 5G is created equal. If you’re in America, it’s likely that you’re still waiting for mmWave 5G, basically the version that has all the speed everyone promises in 5G.

If you’re outside the US, you might be waiting, you might not, but you may as well whistle for mmWave 5G — if you want an iPhone. While it’s hardly Apple’s fault that 5G availability isn’t better, it is entirely Apple’s fault that it has reserved mmWave for only US iPhones.

Then even in the US, there were reports that Dual SIM users wouldn’t get 5G on either of their lines. That may or may not be true, and it may be that Apple can fix it with an update.

None of this seemed to stop many of us from buying the new Apple devices. Around the world, customers lined up outside Apple Stores, and those of us waiting on deliveries soon found that demand was so high that we were going to be waiting a lot longer.

A look into the future

All of which accounts for Apple’s earnings call, where the company revealed that it had earned more than expected this quarter. At $64.7 billion, that’s more than analysts predicted — but repeatedly, Apple said that the figures were better than their own internal estimates.

That probably didn’t include sales in China, which the earnings call tried hard to skip over as quickly as it could. However, it did include what turned out to be a record for Mac sales.

During the last quarter, Apple sold $8 billion worth of Macs. “[This] was an all-time high for Mac in the history of the company. And not just by a little bit, by $1.6 billion, so it was a substantial difference.”

Tim Cook kept using the word “bullish” like he’d just learned it, and maybe that’s why he also took the unusual step of speaking more about the future — even if only ever so slightly.

“Without giving away too much, I can tell you that this year has a few more exciting things in store,” he said.

He didn’t sound as if he were talking of things we already know about, such as Apple Silicon — and certainly didn’t drop any hint about the now expected A14T processor from Apple.

Nor did he seem to mean the MagSafe duo charger that’s been announced but isn’t shipping yet. He didn’t sound as if he were talking about Apple Fitness+, which perhaps some of us are covering our ears over and don’t wish to discuss at this time.

Perhaps he did mean all of this, though. What he definitely did not mean was Apple One — because he had already specifically announced that the bundle would just squeak into the month on the very last day.

Apple introduces HomePod mini: A powerful smart speaker with amazing sound

Designed with Privacy and Security in Mind

Security and privacy are fundamental to the design of Apple hardware, software, and services. With HomePod mini, only after “Hey Siri” is recognized locally on the device, or the user activates Siri by touch, will any information be sent to Apple servers. Requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID, and personal information is not sold to advertisers or other organizations. HomePod mini works with iPhone to complete requests for messages and notes on device without revealing that information to Apple.

Additional Features

  • Siri Shortcuts created on iPhone and iPad are accessible on HomePod mini, so users can ask Siri on HomePod mini to start a pot of coffee, control a robot vacuum, add milk to the grocery list, and more.
  • Ambient sounds, including rain, a fireplace, a stream, and more, offer the perfect background noise to focus, relax, or fall asleep. Siri can set a sleep timer so the sounds automatically stop playing.
  • Find My helps locate a misplaced iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or Apple Watch by playing a sound to pinpoint its location.
  • Web search results from HomePod mini can be sent directly to the user’s iPhone for easy viewing.
  • Music alarms let users wake up to a favorite song, playlist, or radio station from Apple Music.

HomePod mini and the Environment

HomePod mini was designed with the environment in mind and supports Apple’s plan to have net zero climate impact across its entire business, which includes manufacturing supply chains and all product life cycles, by 2030. HomePod mini utilizes 99 percent recycled rare earth elements, with the neodymium magnet in the speaker driver utilizing 100 percent recycled rare earth elements. The seamless mesh fabric is made with more than 90 percent recycled plastic, and all of the packaging wood fibers are from responsibly managed forests or recycled sources. HomePod mini is also free of mercury, brominated flame retardants, PVC, and beryllium.

HomePod mini uses power-efficient components and software that can intelligently power them down during periods of inactivity. For example, through optimized power management features and a high-efficiency power supply, HomePod mini has been designed to be efficient in its low-power mode, where the majority of time is spent. The result is that HomePod mini is energy efficient right out of the box. HomePod mini consumes 75 percent less energy than the stringent requirements for ENERGY STAR.

Everything you need to know about Ultra Wideband in the iPhone 12 and HomePod mini

Apple has added its U1 chip to even more products, and is clearly planning to make Ultra Wideband a major feature of its device ecosystem? Here’s a breakdown of UWB, what it does now, and what it can do for you.

Alongside the launch of its iPhone 12 range of smartphones, Apple introduced a number of other products over the course of multiple special events. The appearance of Ultra Wideband support in the HomePod mini, as well as the Apple Watch Series 6, generated more conversation about the technology and its potential future use by the company.

Some may still be bewildered by what Ultra Wideband actually does, and how it can benefit them down the line. Outside of Apple’s explanation that it can be used for some location tracking, the company hasn’t really offered much in the way of an explanation for Ultra Wideband in practice, outside of AirDrop prioritization.

In this article, we aim to demystify Ultra Wideband.

What is Ultra Wideband?

Commonly referred to as UWB, Ultra Wideband is a wireless protocol for communications, which functions using radio waves. At its most basic, it can be used to transmit messages between devices, making it somewhat analogous to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

As it has potential applications for personal area network communications, namely allowing devices on a person to communicate with each other, there is a lot of crossover with the more established Bluetooth. However, the way it operates means it can offer some more functionality the other two communications types cannot provide.

The main feature it enables is highly-accurate location tracking, with devices using UWB potentially able to identify the distance and even the location of other hardware relative to itself to within a few inches. This means it has potential uses for device tracking services, like an enhanced form of the Find My app.

Apple's iPhone 11 product page detailing the inclusion of the U1 chip in 2019.

Apple’s iPhone 11 product page detailing the inclusion of the U1 chip in 2019.

While it has some industrial purposes, including radar systems, medical imaging, and even tested to handle signaling on the New York City Subway, the main use of the technology for consumers is still likely to be inter-device communications and short-range location tracking.

As an idea, UWB has been around for quite some time. Only relatively recently has it risen in prominence, mainly due to Apple’s inclusion of the technology in the iPhone 11.

The FiRa Consortium, which includes Samsung, Oppo, Xiaomi, and other firms in its membership, was formed in 2019 to encourage the creation of UWB for consumer devices that works across platforms, such as between different models of smartphone. While the group exists, it so far doesn’t count Apple as a member, and it is unclear if Apple’s implementation will work with FiRa’s version in the future.

How does Ultra Wideband work for communications?

Like other radio-based communications systems, UWB relies on a combination of transmitters and receivers on devices. While Wi-Fi and Bluetooth use a relatively narrow frequency ranges to handle communications between devices, UWB does things completely differently.

As the “Ultra Wideband” name suggests, UWB does away with narrow ranges and instead transmits data across a far larger frequency band. While a typical Wi-FI channel width may be 20MHz, 40MHz, or 80MHz in size, UWB instead uses a bandwidth range of 500MHz or more for its transmissions.

UWB typically can afford to do this because it operates in a large band that isn’t typically used for other types of communications, which the FCC authorized the range of 3.1GHz to 10.6GHz for unlicensed use. For Apple’s U1 chip, which is used for Apple’s own Ultra Wideband applications, a teardown by TechInsights indicated it transmitted on two frequencies: 6.24GHz and 8.2368GHz.

The U1 chip in the iPhone 11 Pro Max [via TechInsights]

The U1 chip in the iPhone 11 Pro Max [via TechInsights]

An unusual characteristic of UWB is that it is a pulse-based system, one that repeatedly blasts out signals then turns off before repeating. While each pulse can take up the entire range of bandwidth assigned to it, the extremely short transmission times of each pulse, as well as the relatively low-power nature of consumer-oriented UWB, makes it highly unlikely for it to interfere with other systems in the same ranges.

The use of such large bands means the signal could easily be used to transmit data. Given that it is capable of transmitting over a billion pulses per second, and uses multiple pulses for each bit of encoded data, this can equate to a speed of hundreds of megabits per second under ideal conditions

This isn’t quite Wi-Fi network levels of speed. It is still quite a lot for communications outside of user-driven large file transfers.

The regulator-mandated low power levels for broadcast combined with the more fragile nature of higher-band transmissions means the general utility range isn’t far, typically up to 30 feet away, and so not ideal for such communications in the first place.

How does Ultra Wideband work for location tracking?

The pulse-based nature of Ultra Wideband lends itself to location tracking in a few ways. For a start, by regularly sending out a pulse of data, it can enable other nearby devices to know it exists, or vice versa if it receives a pulse from another device.

The use of UWB and its wide range of frequencies used also enables devices to perform Time of Flight (ToF) calculations, namely how long it takes to get a response, which provide a far more useful data point: how far apart the devices are located.

By using such a wide frequency range, this practically enables the system to beat multipath propagation, namely instances where radio waves take multiple paths to reach a destination, such as echoing off surfaces. Since some of the frequencies used in the pulse are highly likely to make it to the intended recipient directly with line of sight, calculations can be based on them and not the slower diverted signals on other frequencies, resulting in a more accurate calculation.

An Apple illustration of UWB being used for relative location-based gaming, in this case multiplayer Pong.

An Apple illustration of UWB being used for relative location-based gaming, in this case multiplayer Pong.

One iPhone sends a packet of data out to a second iPhone, in a task known as “ranging.” The second device receives it, and sends a response back to the first, which is then received, with all of the times of receiving and transmission recorded.

The first device can then send a third packet of data to the second, containing a device ID, the timestamp of sending the first packet, the timestamp of when the first device received its response, and the time the third packet was sent. This is enough data for the second device to determine how far away the two devices are from each other.

Since the second device has timestamps for receiving and sending packets, similar data points can be sent over, which informs the first device of the range as well.

As it is also possible for UWB radios to determine the angle of an inbound signal, this can also enable it to determine a direction the device is located in relation to it. Combine that with the distance calculation, and an overall relative position can be determined, and at a higher degree of accuracy than other methods.

For example, it is possible to determine the location of a device using Wi-Fi signals to within about 10 feet, while GPS with GLONASS can get to within 6 feet. Bluetooth can feasibly get to within about 10 feet for distance for devices using Bluetooth 5.0 or later, but Bluetooth 5.1 introduces more directional sensing capabilities that could enable location tracking to within a few inches, once the technology becomes more commonplace.

UWB’s accuracy can pin a device down to within a foot at worst, but generally to within a few inches. Accuracy will depend on a few factors, such as distance and line of sight between devices.

Apple’s UWB Support and U1

While the idea of UWB has been around for quite some time, it has only become a consumer concern since late 2019, when Apple included the technology in the iPhone 11 range, including the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. In those models, Apple introduced the U1 chip, which is used solely for UWB communications.

At the time, Apple offered a reason for its use in AirDrop, in that it could be used to prioritize the list of devices that a file could be shared to. By pointing the iPhone at another iPhone, that device jumped to the top of the sharing list.

The HomePod mini uses UWB for device proximity features.

The HomePod mini uses UWB for device proximity features.

Outside of iPhones, only two other devices in Apple’s range have U1 chips, with the Apple Watch Series 6 and HomePod mini both equipped with Ultra Wideband support. However, Apple hasn’t really outlined any reason for U1 to exist in the models. Though the HomePod mini enables proximity-based Handoff by drawing an iPhone close to it, this is also available without UWB on the HomePod, but Apple does say it is used specifically for “device proximity” functionality on the mini.

Apple’s future plans for UWB

In terms of what to expect from UWB in the future, Apple has been relatively quiet about what’s on the horizon, though unlike other elements of its ecosystem, it’s not been entirely silent.

In June, Apple introduced a “Nearby Interactions” developer framework for U1-equipped devices, enabling developers to create apps that take advantage of relative direction and distance data. As part of its documentation, Apple proposed a ride-share app that allows a driver and a passenger to find each other easily, and an augmented reality water balloon fight.

Apple is also believed to be considering some non-iPhone usage for UWB as well, with the often-rumored “AirTags” being a prime example.

'AirTags' are rumored to be a device-tracking tag powered by UWB [image via Jon Prosser/@CConceptCreator]

‘AirTags’ are rumored to be a device-tracking tag powered by UWB [image via Jon Prosser/@CConceptCreator]

Thought to be similar in concept to Tile tracking tags, “AirTags” consist of a small round disc that is equipped with Bluetooth and UWB radios. The idea is to attach them to items you want to track, then to use the Find My app to relocate them.

The Find My app is also believed to provide not only the geographical location of the tag, but also will take advantage of augmented reality to display the nearby location of the tag overlaid on a live video feed from an iPhone’s camera.

The idea is that an “AirTag” left in the world will repeatedly ping out using UWB, which could be picked up by nearby iPhones equipped with the U1 chip that happen to be in the area. These iPhones would share the location data for where it was when it detected the UWB broadcast, which can be provided to the tag’s owner via the app.

The existence of the U1 chip in the HomePod mini suggests there could be some form of smart home functionality on the way, potentially involving HomeKit. For example, Apple could enable a feature where UWB is used by a new HomeKit device to work out which “Room” it should be installed to based on the nearby presence and relative location of other products.

It could also be feasible to use a detection of an iPhone in a room to apply generic verbal commands such as “turn on the lights” to apply to just that room, and to automatically turn them on and off as the user moves between rooms. Such hyperlocal geofencing opens up a world of smart home interaction possibilities.

Of course, this does depend on Apple adding U1 to even more products and potentially enabling other devices to interact with its UWB implementation. Given the U1’s expansion from iPhones to the Apple Watch and the HomePod mini, it seems highly plausible Apple will be doing just that.

Apple’s HomePod lands in Japan on Aug. 23


Apple on Friday announced an immediate start to HomePod preorders in Japan, with shipments of the Siri-powered speaker scheduled to land in the hands of customers on Aug. 23.


The announcement, shared in a press release posted to Apple’s regional website, arrives more than a month after the company published an informational webpage stating HomePod would arrive in Japan this summer.

Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller in a prepared statement touted the speaker’s Hi-Fi capabilities, Apple Music integration and Siri smarts.

“We can’t wait for customers to experience how great it sounds in their home,” Schiller said.

The release namechecks popular local artists like singer Aimyon and band One OK Rock as potential streaming candidates for new users. Regional playlists like Apple Music’s Top 100: Japan, which debuted last September are also mentioned.

Apple goes on to list HomePod’s attributes, from a multi-microphone, multi-tweeter array that assists in location awareness and audio beam-forming to multi-room playback and stereo sound. The latter functions require two or more HomePods, which can be paired to achieve a simulated “stereo” effect or placed in different rooms of a house for synchronized streaming via AirPlay 2.

HomeKit support with Siri voice commands, as well as intelligent Siri Shortcuts, are also named as unique benefits. Apple notes all Siri requests and searches conducted on HomePod are anonymized, while personal requests like phone calls, messaging and calendar queries can only be enabled in the iOS Settings menu.

In Japan, HomePod sells for 32,800 yen (about $310) and is available in white and Space Gray. Alongside brick-and-mortar Apple stores, the speaker will be available at select mobile phone retailers on Aug. 23.

HomePod launched in Australia, the U.S. and UK in February 2018, some seven months after its unveiling at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2017. Additional markets gained access to the speaker across 2018 with launches in China and Hong Kong in January, Canada, France and Germany in June, and Mexico and Spain in October.

Apple’s smart speaker is due to receive significant upgrades with the launch of iOS 13 this fall. Notable enhancements include multi-user voice-recognition, song Handoff with iPhone and enhanced Shortcuts integration.