The tech rumour mill went into overdrive last week after Apple sent out invitations for its next major product event.
The event, which will kick off at 5pm UK time tomorrow, is expected to host the unveiling of the eagerly-awaited iPhone 12, which was originally scheduled for September but was pushed back due to the outbreak of coronavirus.
Apple’s invitations teased tech fans with the phrase “Hi, Speed”, which many have taken as confirmation that the new smartphone model will boast 5G capability.
So as Apple boss Tim Cook prepares to take the stage in Cupertino, here’s what analysts are predicting.
“The iPhone 12 is the first 5G-capable handset from Apple, and its arrival opens up almost half of the UK’s smartphone market to the new technology,” says Ru Bhikha, mobiles expert at Uswitch.com.
“Some 16 per cent of consumers say they are planning to upgrade to a fifth-generation phone in the next year, and the iPhone 12 could be the shot in the arm that 5G needs.”
Telecoms analyst Paolo Pescatore says people are waiting with “bated breath” for the new iPhone, “more so now as telcos are heavily reliant on Apple and have been preparing their networks for the first iPhone 5G”.
“If anyone can kickstart consumer demand for 5G, then Apple can,” he adds.
‘Enough models for a 90s pop band’
In recent years Apple has unveiled three new variations for each new generation of iPhone, but reports suggest the tech giant could now offer consumers even more choice.
Bhikha says the new series is expected to “contain enough models to form a Nineties pop band”.
The new iPhone 12 could consist of four or five versions, he adds, including the base model, a mini, a Pro, a Max and a Pro Max.
The smallest of these is expected to have a 5.4-inch screen – similar in size to the popular iPhone SE – while the largest would hit 6.7 inches – the largest iPhone screen ever.
Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, says: “With the introduction of four new models together with the already announced iPhone SE, Apple has a very clean portfolio of devices that offer a ‘good, better, best’ choice for consumers.
“This is well suited to online purchase too. Most people are familiar with what an iPhone looks like and what it offers – all they need to do is visit the website, decide what their budget is, and then make the purchase,” he says.
“It’s not so straightforward with rivals’ products, where there are vast portfolios with lots of tiny differences and a variety of designs and features.”
The price is right
Every new iPhone launch sparks speculation over prices, and tomorrow’s event has proved no exception.
Price tags for the latest iPhone have been rising at eye-watering rates over recent years, as Apple and rivals such as Samsung battle it out to capture the top end of the market.
Bhikha predicts the smallest model could cost under £700, but warns the top-of-the-range iPhone 12 Pro Max is likely to come in at more than £1,000.
Apple may have a tough time convincing people to fork out for the phones, with the coronavirus pandemic likely to further stunt consumer confidence.
However, CCS Insight’s Wood says Apple could get an “unexpected boost from those fortunate people who have come through the pandemic with a bit more cash in their pockets”.
“Cancelled holidays, less eating out, no commuting costs, deferring buying a new car and other pandemic-related savings may result in people taking the plunge and treating themselves to a new phone, and the iPhone still maintains a premium position in the market making it a valued purchase,” he adds.
One of the major challenges for the smartphone market in recent years has been a growing reluctance to upgrade to new models.
Smartphone sales have dipped across the industry as people shrug off the marginal improvements with each new generation and opt to hold onto their existing models for longer.
But the mooted introduction of 5G on the iPhone 12 has led some analysts to predict a so-called supercycle, with millions of iPhone users choosing to upgrade.
“People are now more conscious than ever and want the best connections, devices and services at an affordable price,” says Pescatore.
“These new generations and supercycles represent a window of opportunity to further differentiate over rivals.”
But Martin Guerriera, global BrandZ research director at Kantar, warns the new iPhone faces a “tougher and more competitive market than its predecessors”.
“The Apple brand is losing some of its phenomenal power in both the US and China,” he says. “In particular, consumers no longer see the brand as being ‘different’, one of the most important indicators of brand success, as in the past.”
The golden gateway
While the latest iPhone will undoubtedly be the star of the show at Apple Park tomorrow evening, it’s unlikely to be the only new product.
Apple has previously used these events to unveil new upgrades to other products and accessories such as the iPad and the Apple Watch.
Speculation has mounted over potential new products, including a mini version of its HomePod smart speaker.
“The HomePod currently costs £279, but a smaller version potentially priced under £100 would give it a chance of competing with cheaper rivals and could bring an army of new fans into the Apple ecosystem,” says Bhikha.
In recent years Apple has also shifted its focus towards services such as Apple TV Plus as it looks to reduce its reliance on the iPhone.
But Pescatore insists the iPhone is still a “core product” and a “gateway to the Apple universe”.
“For sure, there are areas in services and in the home that are still work in progress. Apple has the assets and is slowly putting all of the pieces together.”
Wood adds that Apple no longer only relies on the margin it makes from selling iPhones.
“The device is a ‘gift that keeps on giving” for Apple as it becomes increasingly successful at selling services such as Apple Music, iCloud storage, Apple Care, Apple Pay and more that result in an ongoing revenue from consumers long after the phone is first sold.”