Why lawyers will love the iPhone 12
Yesterday, Apple introduced its new iPhone 12 line, and one of the taglines used was: “It’s a leap year.” Give the marketing folks some credit; I agree with that one. Apple introduces a new iPhone every year, and every few years it releases a model that is a major improvement. For example, when I reviewed the iPhone X in 2017, I said that it had advanced so much from the prior year — thanks to the large screen and thin bezels — that it felt futuristic. In 2020, I think that Apple has once again taken a great leap forward. Here are the features of the iPhone 12 line that I think that lawyers will love.
Four new models
Apple introduced four different models of the iPhone 12 yesterday. The flagship model is the iPhone 12, which starts at $799. If you want the same design in something smaller, the iPhone 12 mini starts at $699. If you want the same design and size as the iPhone 12 with more professional features, you can get the iPhone 12 Pro, which starts at $999, or you can get the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the largest iPhone that Apple has ever made, starting at $1099.
Apple is still selling the entry-level iPhone SE (second generation) that it introduced earlier this year at $399, the 2019 iPhone 11 at $599, and the 2018 iPhone XR for $499. Apple showed this slide during yesterday’s presentation to show the range of prices and sizes:
Note that, for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini models, the price reflects a $30 discount provided by AT&T and Verizon. If you purchase an unlocked version or a version for Sprint, T-Mobile, or other carriers, you’ll have to pay an additional $30. The prices for the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are the same for any carrier or for an unlocked version.
That’s seven different iPhone models that you can currently purchase from Apple, four of which were introduced yesterday. The variety is impressive.
In the rest of this post, I’ll discuss the differences between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro. The other two models are essentially the same, except that they are smaller or bigger.
For example, the iPhone 12 mini has all of the same features of the iPhone 12 in a smaller package. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are 5.78″ x 2.82″. At 5.18″ x 2.53″, the iPhone 12 mini is the smallest iPhone that Apple has introduced since the 4.87″ x 2.3″ iPhone 5 design that Apple first introduced in 2012. (That same design was used again in 2013 for the iPhone 5s and in 2016 for the iPhone SE (first generation)).
Similarly, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has almost exactly the same features as the iPhone 12 Pro except that it is bigger at 6.33″ x 3.07″. (There are some minor differences in the camera, discussed below.)
There are lots of great features in the iPhone 12 line, but I strongly suspect that my favorite new feature will be the shape. One of my all-time favorite iPhone designs was the iPhone 4, introduced in 2010, because of its flat sides. Unlike the curved sides that Apple used before and afterwards, a flat side is easier to hold securely in a hand. Apple used the same design in the iPhone 5 introduced in 2012 except that the screen was taller, and I loved that design too. The iPhone 12 is larger than the iPhone 4/5, but my hope is that the flat sides will feel just as good.
When I reviewed the iPhone 6 in 2014, I noted that the curved sides felt nice, but I warned that “as good as those curved sides feel, the one downside is that it makes the iPhone 6 (without a case) more prone to slipping out of your hand.” And sure enough, I’ve been using a case on my iPhone since 2014. My hope is that the iPhone 12 feels more secure in my hand, much like the iPhone 5, and that as a result, I won’t feel the need to use a case all of the time.
The iPhone 12 comes in blue, green, red, white, or black. The iPhone 12 Pro comes in Pacific Blue, Gold, Graphite, or Silver.
There’s another reason that I may be more comfortable not using a case on my next iPhone. Apple is introducing a new technology that it worked on with Corning called Ceramic Shield. Here is how Apple’s website describes this new technology:
It’s made by introducing nano-ceramic crystals — which are actually harder than most metals — into glass. Sounds simple, but it’s incredibly difficult because ceramic isn’t transparent. By controlling the type of crystals and degree of crystallinity, we developed an exclusive formula that maximizes the toughness of the ceramic while remaining optically clear. This was the breakthrough that made Ceramic Shield ideally suited for the display. It’s a first in any smartphone, and it’s tougher than any smartphone glass.
The Ceramic Shield certainly sounds good, but another difference in the iPhone 12 line is that the screen sits flush to the edge of the phone, which protects it even more. Put it all together, and Apple says that the new iPhone 12 line has 4x better drop performance, which Apple says is the largest ever year-over-year improvement for the iPhone.
Although I do not plan to test this new feature myself — at least, not intentionally — I’m sure that professionals will run scientific drop tests and many folks seeking YouTube stardom will run unscientific drop tests. Assuming that their experiences are consistent with what Apple claims — and I seriously doubt that Apple would make this claim if it couldn’t back it up — then this will be a significant improvement in iPhone durability.
The iPhone 12 line follows a trend that started with the iPad Pro in 2018: a smaller bezel with a squared-off edge. This has been a fantastic improvement to the iPad, allowing the device to be smaller and easier to hold while the usable screen size is larger.
For the iPhone 12, the usable screen size (measured diagonally) stays at 6.1″, the same as the iPhone 11, but the phone itself is smaller, 5.78″ high instead of 5.94″, and 2.82″ wide instead of 2.98″. It is also a better screen; unlike the LCD display used on the iPhone 11, the iPhone 12 gains a Super Retina XDR OLED display (just like the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro).
For the iPhone 12 Pro, the usable screen size increases from 5.8″ to 6.1″. There is a slight increase in the size of the device, but hopefully it won’t be very noticeable. The iPhone 12 Pro is 5.78″ compared to the 5.67″ of the iPhone 11 Pro, and the width is only a tiny bit larger at 2.82″ versus 2.81″. You are more likely to notice in your hand a change in width versus a change in height, so that’s why I hope that the iPhone 12 Pro will feel essentially the same as the iPhone 11 Pro while also providing more usable screen space.
For the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the usable screen size increases from 6.5″ to 6.7″ — getting even closer to the 7.9″ screen size of the iPad mini. Once again, there is a slight height increase of 6.33″ for the iPhone 12 Pro Max versus the 6.22″ iPhone 11 Pro Max, but the width is very similar: 3.07″ for the iPhone 12 Pro Max versus 3.06″ for the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
More usable screen space is always appreciated. In the past, I’ve taken advantage of increases in screen space to see more of a document on my screen, to see more items in a list at a single time (such as more emails in an Inbox or more items on a to-do list). And all of this allows me to be more productive in my work. Providing just a little more screen size while making an iPhone a little smaller and easier to hold seems like an improvement that many lawyers will appreciate.
Apple designs its own processors and as a result, for many years now, has had the best smartphone chips. This year, the iPhone 12 line gets the A14 Bionic.
For folks interested in the technical aspects, the A14 is certainly an improvement. It is the first smartphone chip built on a 5-nanometer process, and since the chip itself is so small, it can do more while using less power. It also has a faster CPU and GPU, a better neural engine for faster machine learning, and much more. This is the same chip that Apple showed off last month in the new iPad Air (4th generation).
But most folks don’t care about the technical aspects. They will just notice that the new iPhone is more responsive, performs tasks even more quickly, and can do things that simply were not possible with the prior models of the iPhone.
5G cellular networking
When Apple introduced the new iPhones yesterday, the first thing that Apple emphasized is that this is the first 5G iPhone. From a marketing standpoint, it certainly sounds good to have the latest-and-greatest cellular technology. But I’m reserving judgment until I see how it works. 5G has been available in other smartphones for a while now and the reviews have been rather meh. If you are in the right spot, it has the potential to offer much faster communications, but often at the cost of running down your battery much more quickly. And 4G LTE is more than fast enough for most tasks.
Moreover, not all 5G is the same. For example, AT&T (my current carrier) touts that it has nationwide 5G, but what AT&T calls 5G is not much faster than 4G LTE. AT&T also has 5G+, which is closer to what most folks think of when they say “5G” because it uses millimeter wave (mmWave) technology, which can provide much faster speed. But AT&T’s 5G+ is currently only available in 35 cities (Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, King of Prussia, Las Vegas, Louisville, Los Angeles, Menlo Park, Miami, Miami Gardens, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, Oklahoma City, Ocean City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Raleigh, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Waco, and West Hollywood). Verizon calls its version of mmWave “Ultra Wideband,” and it is currently available in 55 cities, 43 stadiums and arenas, and seven airports. Note that the iPhone 12 line only supports the mmWave type of 5G in the United States.
If you are in a location in the United States where mmWave technology is available, it can in theory offer 4 Gbps of performance, and in practice can often deliver 1 Gbps, which is as fast as the fastest consumer Internet available in many parts of the country. That’s fast. However, you only get that speed when you are close to a cell tower and have a relatively clear line-of-sight to the tower. Even rain can significantly interfere with performance, and it often does not work well when you are indoors. During yesterday’s presentation, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said that some NFL football stadiums will feature 5G, and I can imagine that being an environment in which your iPhone might be able to make a good connection with a milometer wave antenna. Vestberg explained that this much higher speed in a stadium means that you could watch up to seven camera angles on your phone at the same time.
Although 4G LTE is often fast enough for lawyers and other professionals, even faster networking can be useful in some situations. For example, if you are using remote access software to access your computer from your iPhone while you are out of the office, you want to have the fastest connection possible. If you are downloading huge exhibits or documents, it is nice to minimize delays. But in light of all of the current uncertainty about how well 5G works and how much it can drain your battery, perhaps my favorite part of Apple’s description of 5G in the new iPhone is that Apple is using something it calls Smart Data Mode. This means that the iPhone 12 models will normally stay in 4G LTE mode and only switch to 5G if it is going to make a noticeable difference. Hopefully, this will mean that battery life won’t suffer too much as a result of the new iPhone supporting 5G.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that at some point in the future, not having 5G will seem archaic. Thus, it is nice that the iPhone 12 is more future-proof than earlier models. But I’m not going to get too excited about 5G until I test it, and I’m not expecting much.
The camera on the original iPhone was pretty pitiful, but Apple has improved the camera every year to the point where it is now one of the best cameras you can buy. For many years, the iPhone has been my favorite device for taking video, and it is getting even closer to making my big and bulky SLR camera absolute — all in a package that I can slip into a pocket. I love taking pictures to preserve memories, so I’m always a big fan of the annual improvements to the iPhone camera.
The default lens on the iPhone 12 line (which Apple calls the Wide lens) features an f/1.6 aperture. (Last year it was f/1.8, which is smaller.) The larger aperture in the iPhone 12 line means that the sensor gets even more light, which reduces the shutter speed time. That means that there is less blur when objects are moving and less noise when you are in a low-light situation. Apple says that it is a 27% improvement in low-light conditions.
All of the iPhone 12 devices have both a Wide lens and an Ultra Wide lens. Just like last year, the Pro models add a Telephoto lens. (In this post from 2019, I showed you why it is nice to have the three different lens sizes.) If you get the iPhone 12 Pro Max, you get an even better telephoto lens — 2.5x versus the 2.0x that the 2019 pro models offered and the 2020 iPhone 12 Pro offers.
The iPhone 12 Pro models also include a LiDAR scanner, which uses lasers to scan the outside world so that the iPhone can sense where objects are located around you. This improves the camera by providing faster autofocus, especially in low-light conditions.
Because of the power of the A14 Bionic processor, all iPhone 12 models are even better at taking video. All models offer 4K HDR video with Dolby Vision — a first for a smartphone camera. The iPhone now captures 700 million colors, a 60x improvement. And by recording in Dolby Vision, Apple says that each frame of the video looks more true to life.
Finally, if you like to take digital pictures using the RAW format — which gives you more ability to manipulate the photo after you take it to make it look just right – later this year, Apple will add Apple ProRAW in a software update, but only for the Pro models.
MagSafe wireless charging
All of the new iPhones support a new version of wireless charging that Apple is calling MagSafe. The new wireless MagSafe charging is twice as fast as last year, supporting 15w charging. Also, MagSafe supports magnetic attachments. For charging, this is a good idea because it helps to ensure that the wireless charger is lined up correctly to get the best possible charge.
Additionally, other accessories can take advantage of a magnetic connection. Apple introduced new cases that attach with magnets to the back of the iPhone. Additionally, a new leather wallet accessory from Apple will probably be very popular, allowing you to store a photo ID, credit card, etc. in a small sleeve attached to the back of the iPhone.
Third parties can also take advantage of MagSafe to create their own magnetic attachments.
Although the new iPhone 12 line looks great, there are some items that will be missed. First, the new iPhones don’t include a button with Touch ID, like the new iPad Air. That will be fine when the pandemic is over, but it would have been nice to be able to unlock my iPhone while wearing a mask without having to type in my passcode.
The new iPhones come with a Lightning-to-USB-C charging cord, but not the charging brick that plugs into a wall. Apple hopes that folks already have a bunch of those, and said that it wants to protect the environment by not including unnecessary items in the box. But if you need one, you can buy one from Apple for only $19. Similarly, the iPhone no longer comes with wired EarPods headphones. Again, if you need another pair, you can buy them for $19. Both of those items cost $29 before yesterday, so it’s nice that Apple slashed $10 off of the price. Of course, there are many other options from other companies that are cheaper and/or have additional features.
Which to get?
Although the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max won’t go on sale until November 13 (pre-orders on November 6), you can pre-order an iPhone 12 or an iPhone 12 Pro this Friday, October 16, and those devices will be available a week later on October 23. If you are ready to get a new iPhone, which one should you get?
The first decision is size. If you want a really small phone, get the iPhone 12 mini. If you want a really large phone, you’ll need to get the iPhone 12 Pro Max. If you want the medium size, then you need to decide between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro.
The second decision is the camera versus cost. Although you can purchase an iPhone 12 with only 64GB for $799, that’s not a lot of space for an iPhone. I encourage you to get at least the 128GB model so that you have ample space for photos, videos, documents, etc. The 128GB model is $849 for an iPhone 12 and $999 for the iPhone 12 Pro. (Add $100 to either model for 256GB.) The extra $150 is worth it if you care about iPhone photography, but if that isn’t important to you, then just get the iPhone 12. With the more expensive Pro model, you gain a Telephoto lens, LiDAR to improve autofocus (especially in low-light conditions), ProRAW (when it comes out later this year), and a few other camera improvements.
For me, the decision is pretty easy. The mini is cute but the screen is too small. The Pro Max would be great to use, but I think I would find it too big to carry around all of the time. And iPhone photography is important to me, so I want the better camera on the iPhone 12 Pro. I cannot even count the number of times that I’ve used the telephoto lens on my current iPhone to take a better picture or video of my daughter playing soccer, volleyball, etc., not to mention all of the other interesting pictures I’ve taken with the telephoto lens. And I’m curious to try ProRAW. Although I’m tempted to get the largest 512GB size to be able to carry around even more of my photos and videos, I don’t think I can justify the additional $200 for that, so it will most likely be the 256GB iPhone 12 Pro for me.
I’m very excited about the new iPhone 12. It includes the types of improvements that we expect to see every year, such as a better processor and camera. It adds a new design with flat sides, something that we haven’t seen on an iPhone in a long time, and this may be the new feature that I notice the most. And MagSafe is not only a wireless charging improvement but also a new way to add accessories. I can’t wait to try out this new design, and if it is as good as I think it will be, I suspect that this is what iPhones will look like for many years.