Rumored 2021 iPhone Lineup
We're nowhere close to the launch of the 2021 iPhone lineup, which will presumably come in the fall of 2021, but we've been hearing leaks about the devices coming in 2021 while we were still hearing rumors about the iPhone 12 models.
The 2021 iPhone lineup will look similar to the 2020 iPhone lineup, with four devices in sizes that include 5.4-inches, 6.1-inches, and 6.7-inches, with two of the iPhones being higher-end "Pro" models and two positioned as lower-cost, more affordable devices.
Major design changes are not expected, and 2021 iPhones will have the same feature set as the 2020 iPhones, but we can likely count on camera improvements, a faster A-series processor, and a new 5G chip from Qualcomm.
Though we're not counting on a significant design overhaul, there could be some tweaks. Rumors suggest at least one iPhone in 2021 could feature a portless design that relies entirely on wireless charging rather than a Lightning port, though it's not clear if this will pan out. Apple could also shrink the notch in 2021, with one rumor suggesting a shallower notch with a reduced height rather than reduced width will be added to the iPhone lineup.
Apple is also considering adding an in-display fingerprint sensor to the iPhone 13 models, which would be used in addition to Face ID as an alternate biometric authentication method.
When it comes to improved camera technology, rumors suggest we could see the larger sensor in the iPhone 12 Pro Max extend to other models, plus there may be improvements to the ultra wide-angle lenses on the "Pro" iPhone 13 models. As for display technology, 2021 could be the year that Apple finally adopts 120Hz ProMotion displays for the iPhone lineup, made possible by a shift to low-power LTPO OLED technology.
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Ever since the iPhone 8 launched alongside the iPhone X in 2017, Apple's naming policy has been somewhat convoluted because we never had an iPhone 9. After the iPhone X we went to the XS, XS Max, and XR, and then the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max.
Below are the names that Apple has used since the iPhone first launched in 2007.
2007 - iPhone
2008 - iPhone 3G
2009 - iPhone 3GS
2010 - iPhone 4 (new design)
2011 - iPhone 4s
2012 - iPhone 5 (new design)
2013 - iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c
2014 - iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (new design)
2015 - iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus
2016 - iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
2017 - iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X (new design)
2018 - iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max
2019 - iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max
2020 - iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max
Apple's iPhone 12 lineup features the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Based on past naming conventions, the 2021 iPhone lineup could be iPhone 12s or iPhone 13, and we should learn more closer to the launch of the new devices.
Apple is expected to continue offering four iPhones in 2021, with no changes to the sizes. So we can expect a 5.4-inch iPhone mini, a 6.1-inch low-cost iPhone, a 6.1-inch Pro model, and a 6.7-inch Pro Max model. Rumors have suggested the iPhone 12 mini has seen lackluster sales, but Apple is still planning for an iPhone 13 mini.
The 2021 iPhone models are not expected to feature major design changes because the 2020 iPhone models marked a significant technology and design overhaul. According to Bloomberg, Apple engineers consider the 2021 iPhones to be an "S" version of the 2020 models. Apple has in the past used the "S" nomenclature in years where iPhone models featured more minor updates.
According to Japanese site Mac Otakara, the new iPhones will be the same size as the iPhone 12 models, but thickness could increase by approximately 0.26mm.
The iPhone 13 models may also feature stronger magnets inside and a different matte finish on the outside, though these rumors come from a source that does not have a solid track record.
Apple's longtime goal has been an iPhone with no external ports or buttons for a clean, streamlined device. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in 2019 that Apple would release a high-end iPhone in 2021 that offers a "completely wireless experience" with the removal of the Lightning port.
Such an iPhone would presumably charge solely using Qi-based wireless charging, but that would require some significant enhancements in wireless charging speed. One rumor has also indicated the possibility that Apple could perhaps adopt a Smart Connector for the 2021 iPhone, which would allow for charging, data transfer and syncing without a Lightning port.
At the current time, Smart Connectors have been limited to the iPad models and have been restricted to powering accessories like the Smart Keyboard.
Bloomberg says that Apple is mulling removing the Lightning port on some iPhone models in favor of wireless charging.
Japanese site Mac Otakara in June shared a mockup of a 2021 iPhone featuring a USB-C port and a notch-free design, but it's not clear if it's an accurate depiction of what we can expect, nor do we know if Apple plans on slimming down or eliminating the notch in the 2021 devices. A USB-C port is not in line with rumors of no ports at all.
Japanese site Mac Otakara has also said that the TrueDepth camera will be shallower because the receiver at the top of the display is being relocated to the edge of the case. This will allow for a design that's thinner rather than shorter.
The thinner notch design has also been echoed by a leaker that believes Apple will introduce a smaller notch in the 2021 iPhone lineup. Rather than being shorter in width, the notch may have a reduced height to make it less noticeable and better able to blend in to the top of the iPhone.
DigiTimes believes the notch on the iPhone 13 models will "shrink" in size, becoming smaller. A new camera design is said to integrate the Rx, Tx, and flood illuminator into the same camera module to allow for the smaller size.
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes Apple is working on an iPhone with both Face ID and an on-display fingerprint sensor for launch in 2021, which suggests that one of the 2021 iPhones could perhaps have both Face ID and Touch ID.
According to Bloomberg, Apple is is testing an in-screen Touch ID fingerprint reader that would mark a major change to the biometric systems that Apple has used for flagship devices since the launch of the iPhone X.
The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern has also suggested that Apple is working on an in-display fingerprint sensor that could use optical technology, but Kuo believes that Apple will use ultrasonic technology from Qualcomm and other suppliers. Ultrasonic technology, which uses sound waves to map the fingerprint, is more secure than optical technology and it works in more conditions, but Apple could use a more robust optical/capacitive hybrid instead.
If Apple does implement in-display Touch ID, The fingerprint sensor would be made available in addition to Face ID, and would be convenient for iPhone users who cannot unlock their iPhones with facial recognition when using masks.
120Hz ProMotion Display
There were multiple rumors ahead of the launch of the iPhone 12 lineup that suggested the high-end iPhone 12 models could feature 120Hz ProMotion displays, but later in the rumor cycle, it became clear that this feature was delayed until 2021 due to battery life concerns.
To implement a 120Hz refresh rate on the iPhone, Apple needs to adopt LTPO display technology, which is rumored to be happening in 2021. At least two 2021 iPhone models will use OLED displays with low-power LTPO backplane technology, which will pave the way for 120Hz refresh rates. LTPO offers a more power efficient backplane, which turns the individual pixels on and off on the display, and allows for better battery life. The two models with LTPO may be the Pro models, which are the ones that are rumored to adopt ProMotion technology.
Samsung will supply the LTPO OLED displays that will allow Apple to implement the 120Hz refresh rate in the 2021 iPhone models, and BOE may also provide Apple with some displays set to be used in iPhone 13 models.
Max Weinbach, a leaker with a mixed track record, claims the iPhone 13 will feature an always-on display that will look like a toned down Lock screen with the clock and battery charge level available. Notifications will be displayed but the screen will not entirely light up. He also says that the iPhone display will feature a 120Hz refresh rate.
Apple will allegedly use a 5nm+ A15 chip for the 2021 iPhones, with the chip set to be manufactured by TSMC.
5G Chip and WiFi 6E
Qualcomm's Snapdragon X60 is built on a 5-nanometer process, offering higher power efficiency in a smaller footprint than the X55 chip used in iPhone 12 models. It also allows for the aggregation of 5G data from mmWave and sub-6GHz bands simultaneously for improved speeds and coverage.
Rumors indicate that some 2021 iPhones may feature single 5G band support, working on mmWave or sub-6GHz networks, but not both, allowing Apple to save money in countries where mmWave 5G networks are unavailable. Faster mmWave 5G technology could also expand to additional countries.
Apple in 2021 will allegedly continue to cut iPhone costs to better accommodate the expense of 5G chip technology, adopting a soft battery board design that will drop costs 30 to 40 percent compared to the iPhone 12 board price.
Barclays analysts believe the iPhone 13 models will support WiFi 6E, which offers the features and capabilities of WiFi 6 extended into the 6GHz band. WiFi 6 provides higher performance, lower latency, and faster data rates, while the additional spectrum of WiFi 6E offers increased bandwidth over the existing 2.4 and 5GHz WiFi bands.
A rumor from display analyst Ross Young has indicated the entire 2021 iPhone lineup will feature the same camera sensors as the iPhone 12 Pro Max, bringing improvements to the lower-end models.
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo does not expect to see significant upgrades to the iPhone camera lenses through at least 2022, suggesting no major hardware updates are coming in the iPhone 13 lineup, though there may be an improved Ultra Wide lens. Apple could still offer increases in camera performance through software enhancements.
When it comes to camera design, the rear camera unit may increase in size by 0.9mm on all iPhone 13 models. The camera bump is expected to remain, but individual lenses may protrude less with the new design.
DigiTimes says that the Ultra Wide lens in the iPhone 13 models will be upgraded to a six-element lens, and the iPhone 13 Pro models will feature a larger CMOS Image Sensor for the main lens, resulting in "resolution improvements." The non-Pro models will get the sensor used in the current 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.
Barclays analysts believe that all four iPhone 13 models will feature an upgraded Ultra Wide camera lens with a wider f/1.8 aperture. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, however, has also suggested we'll see Ultra Wide cameras with improved apertures, but only for the iPhone 12 Pro models, with the upgrade coming to all models in 2022.
A wider aperture allows for more light, which would bring much improved low-light performance to the Ultra Wide lens.
Barclays also believes that the upgraded telephoto lens used exclusively in the iPhone 12 Pro Max will expand to the standard iPhone 13 Pro model in 2021.
Max Weinbach claims the iPhone 13 models will have astrophotography camera capabilities for capturing the sky. There's said to be a special mode that activates when the iPhone is pointed at the sky, allowing the device to detect the moon, stars, and other artifacts and adjust exposure. He also says the new iPhone models will be able to take Portrait Mode videos. Weinbach is not a reliable source so this should be viewed with some skepticism until confirmed.
The LiDAR Scanner that was added to the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max could expand to the entire iPhone lineup in 2021, included in both Pro and standard models.
The LiDAR Scanner measures light distance and pixel depth of objects in a scene to map out the area up to five meters away. It allows for more realistic AR experiences and improves autofocus in low-light scenes.
Apple's 2021 iPhone lineup will be unveiled in the fall of 2021, with the company likely aiming to return to its traditional September launch timeline. Apple's iPhone 12 lineup did not launch in September as expected due to production delays caused by the global health crisis, but iPhone 13 models will not face the same production delays.
2022 iPhone Camera Improvements
The 2021 Pro models are expected to gain improvements to the Ultra Wide camera, and according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, all 2022 iPhone models will get the same upgrade.
Future iPhones, such as those coming in 2022, are expected to include a periscope lens for much improved optical zoom, but that's not a feature that's been rumored the 2021 devices. It's not clear which 2022 iPhones will feature the new periscope lens, but Apple is rumored to be seriously pursuing the technology.
Apple has allegedly run into trouble developing its own periscope camera system because much of the technology is guarded by other patents, and thus is instead exploring purchasing the components from the patent holders instead. Samsung, for example, owns the "ball-type actuator" technology used in many periscope lenses. A periscope lens could allow for optical zoom up to 10x.
New Cooling Technology
Starting in 2022, high-end iPhone models are likely to adopt a vapor chamber thermal system, which Apple is "aggressively testing," according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. The VC thermal system will be required for the high-end iPhones due to their stronger computing power and faster 5G connection speeds. There are already smartphones from companies like Samsung, Razer, and LG that use vapor chamber cooling technology, which is used to keep a device cooler when it is under heavy stress.
It is unclear if the vapor chamber thermal system will meet Apple's high requirements, but Kuo is optimistic about the reliability improvement schedule and expects at least high-end models to adopt it in the near future.
Qualcomm in February 2021 introduced the Snapdragon X65, which is the world's first 10 Gigabit 5G modem and antenna system for smartphones. Apple isn't set to use the X65 in its 2021 iPhone lineup, but this modem is slated for use in 2022.
Further in the future, Apple could potentially introduce some kind of foldable iPhone, based on various rumors and patents the company has published, as well as competition from companies like Microsoft and Samsung, which have developed foldable smartphones.
According to Bloomberg, Apple has started "early work" on an iPhone with a foldable display, but the company has not yet committed to releasing a foldable device.
Apple in November 2020 allegedly started sending foldable iPhones to Foxconn for testing purposes, according to sources from the Chinese supply chain. The testing involves evaluating the use of OLED or micro-LED as well as the use of bearings (the foldable component). Foxconn will be stress testing the device with more than 100,000 opening and fold actions.
For details on what we know about Apple's work on folding devices, make sure to check out our foldable iPhone guide.