Apple has been all but silent on 5G as Android device makers race to incorporate the new network technology into their phones. JPMorgan analyst Samik Chatterjee says that Apple is working behind the scenes to make a 5G iPhone happen. In fact, he expects four 5G-capable iPhones to launch in about a year. However, that may be the last time we see so many Apple smartphones launching simultaneously.
Chatterjee claims that an examination of supply chain activity points to four late 2020 iPhones. There will be high-end devices with 6.1 and 6.7-inch OLED screens. Meanwhile, Apple’s budget offering will split into 5.4 and 6.7-inch offerings. The smaller phone will probably appeal to fans of the discontinued iPhone SE, even though it’ll be a bit larger than that phone. The high-end phones will also add a 3D sensor on the back to enhanced augmented reality.
Luckily for Apple, it’s not missing much being “late” to 5G. Companies like Samsung have been pushing 5G hard, but the networks to run those 5G devices are still taking shape. The fastest 5G runs on millimeter-wave spectrum, but these networks have poor coverage. Carriers like Verizon are adding 5G antennas on every street corner in a handful of urban areas, but these signals won’t even work inside buildings right next to the cell sites. Meanwhile, T-Mobile has pulled the trigger on its low-band 5G network, which offers much better coverage but speeds just a little better than LTE. These “sub-6” networks are still rare, but T-Mobile wants Sprint’s 2.5GHz spectrum to augment its own.
Assuming this report is accurate, Apple will start its 5G journey with the benefit of more efficient 5G modems and a full understanding of how carriers will implement the technology. For example, it’s possible millimeter-wave support won’t be necessary on all the 5G iPhones. Chatterjee believes that only the “premium” 2020 iPhones will have both sub-6 and millimeter-wave 5G. The cheaper iPhones will just have sub-6 5G antennas.
Chatterjee says that Apple will change up its release cycle after launching the 2020 5G iPhones. Since 2011, the company has only released new iPhones in the fall. Starting in 2021, Apple will allegedly release two iPhones during the first half of the year and two during the second half. That would allow it to mirror the release cycles of Android competitors that can launch phones year-round. However, that would mean half a dozen new iPhones launching in the space of six months in late 2020 and early 2021. It’s unclear if even Apple could convince people to upgrade that fast.
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