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iPhone 12 launch day: Apple's big event was quite a whirlwind

The tech giant's biggest event of the year was today. The iPhone 12 made an appearance, and yes, it has 5G.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Ian Sherr
Shara Tibken
4 min read

Apple  set Oct. 13 as the date for its latest iPhone's debut, and the day finally arrived. Here's everything Apple announced on Tuesday, including four versions of the iPhone 12 and the $99 HomePod Mini. And here's how to preorder the entire iPhone 12 lineup.

Like Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference and the Apple Watch and iPad launch event earlier this year, the iPhone event took place entirely online, livestreamed on Apple's website. CNET also hosted a live watch party, which you can rewatch above.

Apple's fall product launch this year is expected to touch off a wave of upgrade purchases, analysts say, with fans eyeing the iPhone's new 5G capabilities and boxier look, similar to that of the iPad Pro . A "staggering" 53% of respondents plan to buy this year's iPhone, according to a survey by electronics reseller Decluttr. Flashier rivals -- such as Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2, with its foldable display, or Microsoft's Surface Duo , with two screens sandwiched together -- offer new spins on the standard metal-and-glass smartphone construction. But most consumers will likely gravitate toward what they know.

Read: Our first impressions of the iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max

And even if the new iPhone only offers a few new bells and whistles beyond a different exterior design and a new blue color option, it'll draw the lion's share of attention.

Apple's invitation, which often offers clues, had an Apple logo inside circles with hues of blue, orange and red. And there's a pun: "Hi, Speed." 


Look at Apple making a pun.


This didn't stop people from speculating about what other mysteries could be hidden in the invite's meaning. Apple was also expected to announce new over-ear headphones during the event, driving some people to ponder whether the circles have to do with audio sounds. (Apple had removed competing headphones from its store ahead of the event.) Alas, the AirPods Studio were not unveiled.

There were also increasing signs that Apple will show off a new HomePod Mini, offering a cheaper take on its $299 smart speaker to more directly compete with Amazon and Google's Nest

Apple also included an augmented reality trick on its website, as it did for last month's event, with circles on the invite turning into floating orbs that reveal the Oct. 13 date.

The new iPhone or iPhones will replace the $799 iPhone 11, the $999 iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max , which started at $1,099 when it launched in 2019. 

The prices were expected to largely remain the same, but Apple is expected to upgrade the features, including better cameras, faster chips and the company's newest software, iOS 14 . Apple confirmed rumors of an iPhone 12 Mini, possibly as a reaction to some people complaining smartphones are becoming less pocket-friendly.

When Apple jumps into the 5G market, it's expected to immediately become a huge player. This year, Apple likely will ship 50 million 5G iPhones, according to Strategy Analytics, which would make it the second biggest 5G vendor in 2020 -- and that would be in less than three months of sales. By comparison, Samsung shipped more than 6.7 million Galaxy 5G smartphones last year, after its first 5G phones hit the market in May 2019.

Strategy Analytics expects Apple to become the world's biggest 5G phone vendor next year.

A different iPhone launch

Apple hosting its event over the internet isn't the only thing that sets its iPhone announcement apart from those of previous years. The device is also arriving later in the year than it typically does. That's about a month later than typical iPhone launches, something Apple warned about in July when it acknowledged the new smartphones would arrive "a few weeks" later than normal due to supply issues related to the pandemic.

Apple's announcements also overlap with Amazon's rescheduled Prime Day shopping event, happening today and Wednesday. Typically, Prime Day takes place in July, but this year it was pushed back due to the pandemic.

Apple still held its annual September event, though, using it to announce new  iPads , a new Apple Watch and its new Apple One subscription service. The service combines its $5-a-month Apple TV Plus, $10-a-month Apple Music, $10-a-month Apple News Plus and $5-a-month Apple Arcade gaming efforts.

Watch this: Apple silicon-powered Macs: What to expect

Aside from its new iPhones, there was speculation that today's event would be the first time the company shows off its newest computer, powered by chips the company calls Apple Silicon.

Apple hasn't shared many details about its newest chips, which will replace the Intel processors Apple's relied on for 14 years with processors similar to the ones powering its iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs . Apple said it'll continue to sell Intel-powered computers for now, but the company said the performance improvements, battery life and easier connections with the iPhone and iPad are driving the change.

"Hardware and software is fundamental to everything we do," Apple's CEO Tim Cook said when announcing the effort this summer. "It will take Mac to the next level."

Still, people will likely be most interested in the iPhone, and with good reason. Analysts have been increasingly saying they expect this year's upgrade, with its new design and 5G wireless technology, will lead to much higher demand.

"Taking a step back we believe iPhone 12 represents the most significant product cycle for Cook & Co. since iPhone 6 in 2014 and will be another defining chapter in the Apple growth story looking ahead despite a softer consumer spending environment," Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note to investors shortly after Apple's announcement went out. Ives said he expects the iPhone 12's launch to be a "once in a decade" event, with or without the coronavirus.