Should you get an iPhone 11 now or wait and get an iPhone 12 later this year?
I’m Rene Ritchie and that’s the question you all started asking me pretty much immediately after I posted the video last week on Intel Mac now vs. Apple Silicon Mac later.
And it makes sense, because it’s the same type of problem. Want vs. need. Immediate vs. delayed gratification. A phone in the hand vs. a potentially better one in the future.
So, let’s break it down.
Now, Apple hasn’t released the iPhone 12 yet. They haven’t even announced it. It’s basically a non-existent product. But, Apple has been releasing new iPhones every year since the first one in 2007, so releasing another one in 2020 is just about the safest bet in consumer tech.
Sure, what with the shut downs and all, they could be later than usual, which has typically been September to October for the last few years, but still, we can assume they’re coming.
And based on trends and rumors, at least a partially new design could be coming with them.
The current, rounded iPhone design began with the iPad mini, iPod touch, and iPhone 6 over half a decade ago.
Two years ago, though, the iPad Pro brought back the more squared off sides of the previous iPhone 5 and original iPhone SE design and, rumor has it, the iPhone 12 will follow its lead. The iPhone 12 Pro, maybe even the stainless steel version of the beloved iPhone 4 design.
You know, all retro-future chic, techno-nostalgia, everything old is new and oh so very hot again.
Now, some people loved those squared off sides because they found the way they dug into their hands made for a better, tighter grip.
Others hated them because of the way they dug in and find the more recent curves very much more comfortable.
So, if you like the current curvy design, the iPhone 11 has it ready and right now available for you.
If you prefer the flatter, more retro look, the iPhone 12 may be worth waiting for.
The iPhone 11 has a 6.1-inch LCD display and the iPhones 11 Pro have 5.7- and 6.5-inch OLED display.
Apple is so good at color management, from a complete wide-gamut pipeline to individual calibration at the factory, that both look as identical as the very different technologies allow.
The more expensive OLED displays, though, do have deeper blacks, more detailed highlights, and much wider contrast ratio.
But, some people don’t like the way OLED color-shifts off-axis or uses pulse width modulation at lower brightness levels.
Now, rumor has it, the iPhone 12 lineup will be all in on OLED.
Also, that there’ll be a smaller 5.4-inch model and a bigger 6.7-inch model.
So, if PWM bothers you or you just prefer LCD, and you’re fine with the current iPhone 11 size, you may want to stick with that iPhone 11.
If you prefer OLED, and especially if you want a smaller or larger iPhone than what’s currently offered, you’re going to want to wait on the iPhone 12.
Current iPhone 11 models all have Intel modems that, despite AT&T’s so-shady-they-should-be-illegal 5Ge labels, absolutely all cap out at 4G LTE.
Speed is decent. Coverage is decent. But there are still a lot of people, especially outside big cities, that don’t get a lot of signal in a lot of places.
The iPhone 12 is supposed to be getting Qualcomm modems back and ones that can run on the new fangled 5G networks.
The iPhone 12 Pro models are expected to support the fastest standard, mmWave. But it has such trouble penetrating things like walls and, you know, leaves and rain, that I still think it may never become a real consumer facing technology.
All of them, though, are expected to support Sub 6/7/8/9 or whatever the low-to-mid-band standard ends up settling on.
While nowhere nearly as fast, it’s far more robust, and as the networks roll out, should finally give everyone outside big cities all the bars they’ve been promised for all these years.
So, if you’re fine with LTE speeds and connection quality, you’ll be fine with an iPhone 11.
But, if you’ve been waiting for something not just faster but way more reliable, waiting on 5G should have you covered. Like literally.
The iPhone 11 already has beyond industry leading performance and efficiency with the A13 Bionic chipset as well as really good battery life, and will likely get software updates for another 4 years at least.
I mean, the 2015 iPhone 6s is getting iOS 14 this year, in 2020, and that tends to be the rule more than the exception.
But, the iPhone 11 is expected to get an even higher performance, higher efficiency, even more silicon-feature packed A14. What that means for battery life we just don’t know yet, but it should mean updates for another 5 years at least.
If you don’t really care about an extra year of chipsets or updates, then the iPhone 11 will still be better than any other phone you can get for 12-24 months still.
If you want the most advanced silicon you can get and updates for as long as you can get them, the iPhone 12 will give you that.
If there’s one thing you can count on, year after year, iPhone after iPhone, is that the camera is going to get better and better.
The iPhone 11 added better sensors, a new ultra-wide angle camera to the system, and Night Mode and deep fusion to the computational models.
It doesn’t have the big glass of Samsung or Huawei, or the big algorithms of Google, but it has better algorithms than the first two and way better glass than the last one, making it capture photos as good as anything else on the market and video arguably best of all.
The iPhone 12 should be more of the same and then some.
Rumors focus on LiDAR, the same depth-sensing scanner the iPad Pro got this spring, going onto the Pro-level iPhone 12s this fall. That’ll be big for augmented reality. Basically like getting a TrueDepth camera on the back.
But we should also see improvements across the board for all the cameras, the image signal processor in the A14, processes like Smart HDR and Night Mode, just… everything.
So, if you’re perfectly fine with the iPhone 11’s state-of-the-2019-art camera system, then you’re perfectly fine with the iPhone 11. Especially the Pro with its telephoto.
If you want the absolute latest and greatest, though, especially if photos and videos are the most important part of your phone to you, then you’ll want to wait on the iPhone 12.
When it comes to pricing, Apple’s strategy may be to try and maintain average selling price and margins over time, but they’ve also proven kind of canny at how they go about it.
Most recently, they’ve been pushing premium prices up with redesigns and more expensive technologies, like OLED and TrueDepth cameras. But, they’ve also been pushing technology down to offer more compelling, less expensive entry levels.
The iPhone XR was more expensive but the iPhone 11, less expensive and the new iPhone SE less expensive again.
Now, normally, OLED displays and 5G are more expensive technologies and both of those are supposed to be making their way to the base model iPhone 12.
But, rumor has it, the new 5.4-inch will be slightly less expensive again, with the 6.1-inch gets slightly more expensive, while the Pro models stay the same. Dropping the cost of entry but balancing everything out overall.
So, unless you want the next, smaller iPhone, you won’t lose any money getting an iPhone 11 now.
If you do want that smaller iPhone, and OLED on it, you can save a few bucks waiting for the iPhone 12.
Also, Apple may keep the base model iPhone 11 around for $100 less once the iPhone 12 is announced, if that’s meaningful for you.
I’m going to repeat my always advice here, because it’s still my best advice:
Wait as long as you possibly can to buy, then buy when you absolutely need to buy, buy the best you can afford at the time, and then enjoy the hell out of it, because there will always be something new and something next.
In other words, if you really need an iPhone now, get an iPhone 11 or even iPhone SE now. If you don’t, wait and see what the iPhone 12 models have to offer and, when you need to buy, buy the one that best suits your needs.
Then enjoy the hell out of it, because there will always be something new and something next.