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iPhone 12: Apple announces newest smartphones — with 5G

Smartphones with 5G capability will eventually have stronger wireless connections, though industry analysts expect the benefits to appear slowly.
iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini introduce powerful new innovations and a beautiful design to the world's best smartphone.
Apple released the iPhone 12 on Tuesday.Apple

Apple announced its new iPhone 12 on Tuesday with access to 5G wireless networks, providing a preview of a faster wireless internet.

But the company is ditching something else: charging cables, which will no longer come automatically with iPhones as Apple moves toward wireless charging by default. Headphones also won’t come in the box, in what the company described as part of an environmental push.

CEO Tim Cook unveiled the new generation of iPhones in a virtual event, saying that all new phones from the company would have 5G capability.

“Every decade, there’s a new generation of technology that provides a step change in what we can do with our iPhones,” Cook said. “This is a huge moment for all of us.”

The company said the iPhone 12 would start at $799, with a mini version available starting at $699. The higher-end iPhone 12 Pro with advanced photo capabilities will start at $999 and larger iPhone 12 Pro Max at $1,099.

Smartphones with 5G, or fifth generation, capability will eventually have stronger wireless connections, allowing for faster downloads and uploads and improved gaming and other features.

Industry analysts expect the benefits of 5G to appear slowly, though, as phone carriers build out their networks. One expert has described 5G-enabled smartphones as the equivalent of driving a Ferrari on a village road.

Apple's HomePod mini.
Apple's HomePod mini.Apple

“We’re really right at the start of the 5G era. We’re seeing different U.S. carriers lead with one part of the 5G service,” Ian Fogg, vice president of analysis at analytics company Opensignal, told CNBC.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said at the Apple virtual event that consumers may first notice the 5G networks at spaces for large events such as sports stadiums. Apple said 5G speeds would vary by carrier and region.

Apple played up the improved gaming capacity of iPhone 12 with 5G, announcing a new game from the League of Legends franchise — at the same time that Apple is currently locked in a fight with another gaming company over Apple's App Store rules.

The removal of charging cables has long been predicted by Apple analysts. The company said Tuesday the change was driven by environmental concerns and the minerals needed to make charging cables.

iPhone buyers will still get a USB-C cable to connect to other devices and potentially to charge their phones, but not a cable that can plug into an electrical socket.

Apple likewise had foreshadowed the end of cable-based headphones, killing off the iPhone headphone jack and launching wireless-but-pricey AirPods in 2016.

The annual launch of Apple’s latest smartphones is significant for gauging the thinking of one of America’s largest and most influential technology companies, as well as a sign of what consumers may be shopping for ahead of Christmas and other winter holidays.

But the coronavirus pandemic altered Apple’s usual fall product rollout. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company unveiled a new subscription fitness service and updated versions of its watch and tablets at a virtual event in September, and then waited on its iPhone announcement until this month.

iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini.
iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini.Apple

Tuesday’s event, like the one in September, was entirely virtual, without the usual in-person crowd of cheering employees and curious analysts at Apple’s headquarters.

The pandemic and economic slowdown led to a worldwide slowdown in smartphone sales this year, with Apple the lone exception to see a year-over-year increase, research firm Canalys said in a July report.

Apple’s iPhones have about 47 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, according to a Canalys analysis of shipments in the second quarter of this year. That’s about double the share of No. 2 seller Samsung.

Besides the new iPhones, Apple launched a new miniature version of its HomePod for managing electronics at home and playing music, starting at $99 and going on sale next month. That announcement came the same day that Amazon is pushing its rival Echo devices as part of its annual Prime Day event.