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Apple Finally Brings 5G to its Flagships, but the iPhone 12 Remains Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary, with Limited Consumer Applications for 5G Remaining

Apple’s October event finally saw the vendor release its much-anticipated 5G range of handsets, with the company opting to bring 5G to its entire iPhone 12 portfolio in a bid to launch themselves into the next generation of smartphone devices. While several of Apple’s rivals have already released first and, in some cases, second generation 5G handsets, the consumer market for 5G smartphones, the global penetration rate of 5G handset shipments remains below 10%. Apple’s entrance into 5G will provide an inevitable uplift and will contribute significantly to the anticipated 303 million 5G handsets expected to ship in 2021.

One of the major take-aways from the event was Apple’s focus on the mobile gaming capability of its 5G handsets, with the vendor highlighting its relationship with esports-leading game League of Legends. This emphasis has implications on the wider gaming industry, with it becoming increasingly clear that Apple are continuing to propel themselves into the lucrative opportunities present within the gaming and esports industries. Clearly, this also begs the question: with the rising popularity of mobile esports, and 5G pushing the iPhone closer to console quality gaming, will Apple take the next step and tie in its wider ecosystem, bringing League of Legends and mobile gaming to Apple TV, encroaching on the console vendors even further? With services a rapidly growing segment of Apple’s business, it’s certainly possible and, while console vendors will prove difficult to dislodge, Apple certainly could pose an interesting threat as 5G network coverage expands across markets.

Nevertheless, beyond faster connectivity speeds, 5G continues to remain an evolutionary development and has yet to live up to its much-vaunted revolutionary capabilities. The ability of the iPhone 12 to switch between 5G and 4G LTE when the consumer needs, in order to preserve battery, does highlight that 5G connectivity clearly isn’t necessary 100% of the time for consumers, with 5G yet to provide a killer use-case for consumers – this has been the case for all smartphone vendors with 5G handsets, but given Apple’s expansion of its services business, it is perhaps somewhat disappointing that Apple have not brought a 5G-specific application to market alongside its iPhone 12.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of LiDAR in the Pro range likely points to its inclusion in the iPhone 13 range and builds on the AR applications and capabilities of these devices. The expansion of 5G will facilitate the expansion of AR, removing latency as a barrier and increasing the richness of the experience. This opens up significant opportunities for developers and may well provide momentum to other areas of XR, with AR glasses likely to follow once proof of concept (and consumer willingness) is achieved. This is arguably one of the most major developments expected to occur in consumer electronics in the 5G era, and it is likely that Apple will be at the forefront once again.

In terms of imaging and video capture capability, the inclusion of Dolby Vision could act as a real DSLR killer, and allows Apple to jump on the huge opportunity that is developing in the home producer and content creator market in relation to the TikTok phenomenon and expansive social media influencer market. Apple and other smartphone vendors have been a major threat to consumer and, more recently, pro imaging brands, and this generation of devices continues to put pressure on vendors in this space.

Across its portfolio Apple have remained cognizant of their price points in light of the challenges facing many consumers in 2020 as a result of Covid-19. The reasonable price points of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini will certainly not prove prohibitive to the majority of Apple consumers, and when considered alongside the SE released earlier this year, it’s clear that Apple are targeting growth in its active installed base to help facilitate further expansion of its increasingly important services. The Pro and Pro Max are also not pushing the price points any further, arguably providing a ‘value for money’ proposition, offering product improvements without a higher price point.

Apple’s announcements also had implications on other product areas. Apple has had huge success in the headphones market over the last couple of years, leading the true wireless earbuds market with its dominant AirPods product line. The decision by Apple to remove the free headphones bundled in the box, combined with a lack of lightning connector products in the market, will undoubtably force more consumers to enter the wireless earbuds market, with Apple being in prime position to capitalise.

Overall, the release of the iPhone 12 range will help to drive wider industry growth with the expansion of 5G handsets accelerating. Apple’s entrance will undoubtedly drive developers to create a wide range of applications that previously weren’t capable on 4G networks, and so while the consumer use cases for 5G remains limited now, it is almost inevitable that the coming years will see significant developments that make the promises of 5G a reality.

About the author

Stephen Mears

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Here at Futuresource Consulting we deliver specialist research and consulting services, providing market forecasts and intelligence reports. Since the 1980s we have supported a range of industry sectors, which has grown to include: CE, Broadcast, Entertainment Content, EdTech and many more.