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The iPhone 12 Is a Smartphone Made for Our Terrible Times

At last, some good news! It’s been a difficult few months, but Apple is ready to help lift your spirits. On Tuesday, the company finally introduced the iPhone 12, in four different variants and a smattering of delightful colors. Could this be the best thing that has happened in 2020? Maybe!


This was a very special Apple event. Because it's still not safe to gather in crowds, the usual hoopla was abandoned in favor of a series of prerecorded videos. But you didn’t need to be there to understand that this is the most dramatic iPhone release in years. The new model uses Apple’s new A14 Bionic system on a chip, which has 11.8 billion transistors spread across six cores and powers a whole slew of cool new features.

The Big Picture

The feature that will have the biggest day-to-day impact for most users is the improved set of cameras. When you’re living through history, you really want to have the best possible image capture at your fingertips. The sky can now turn bright orange because of how much of the planet is on fire, and the iPhone 12’s Deep Fusion computational photography system and Smart HDR 3 system will help you catch every last surreal hue. Future generations may not believe it was ever blue, so now is the time to take your final beautiful shots of the horizon using the new 12 megapixel f/1.8 "wide" camera. Kudos, as always, to Apple’s hardware engineers for designing the devices we’ll need in this previously unfathomable future.

Some have speculated that the front-facing cameras’ FaceID unlocking feature may be significantly faster on the new phones. This is all a bit theoretical for now, given that your face will always be covered by a mask. Still, it’s nice to know that the feature will be waiting for us if we do ever manage to develop a vaccine. Also, credit where it’s due: Apple’s is one of the only widespread facial-recognition technologies on the market that helps people instead of surveilling them.

In the meantime, the stress of long-term isolation has made it more important than ever to keep in touch with your support network, particularly if your terrible health insurance doesn’t include mental health benefits. This is still technically a phone, after all, even if the unchecked proliferation of spam callers makes it nearly impossible to use it as one. Tools like Facetime are absolutely vital when you can't safely see your friends and family in person, and on the iPhone 12 you’ll always look great no matter how you’re actually doing. FaceTime is end-to-end encrypted, too, so your conversations will be private—although if you’re really worried about that you should probably just switch to Signal.

The Silver Lining

The iPhone 12 does its part to keep up with the breakneck pace of life in 2020. Connectivity speeds have been dramatically upgraded, with the new models all operating over high-speed 5G networks and delivering data at up to 4 gigabits per second. That’s especially welcome given that most of the mainstream internet is now bloated with ads that are difficult to block from mobile device operating systems. I guess you could try to solve that problem by addressing the underlying economic forces, but as usual Apple has a more elegant solution: Just move everything to higher speeds!

At this week’s unveiling event, Apple CEO Tim Cook pointed out that faster connectivity also helps improve your personal security, since you won’t need to connect to the internet as often via sketchy Wi-Fi hot spots. He’s right: You really can't afford to trust foreign networks anymore. At the very least, you have to use a VPN service anytime you connect to the internet through a network that you don't personally control. In fact, it may even be wise to just use a VPN all the time, even over your own connection, now that the FCC has explicitly allowed ISPs to undermine net neutrality and the FBI doesn’t need a warrant to examine your browsing history. Whether you pay for an extra layer of protection or not, 5G is a big deal.

And not just for cell phones. The new technology’s antennas may also disrupt our ability to predict the weather. Fortunately, Apple’s recent acquisition of the hyperlocal weather forecasting app Dark Sky will help iOS devices keep you as up-to-date as the iPhone 12 allows. Day-to-day weather predictions may become a toss-up, but at least we’re all clear that the overall climate is changing, which does still give some measure of certainty to the hurricanes that we’ll no longer be able to forecast. Should circumstances require it, the new iPhones are now water-resistant down to 6 feet for as long as 30 minutes.

Screen Time

The iPhone 12 comes with a new ProMotion OLED display, which Apple is calling the "Super Retina XDR" screen. It’s the biggest visual upgrade since the original Retina screens a decade ago, and it’s crafted out of a new material called ceramic shield, which is vastly stronger than regular glass—one-fourth as likely to crack when you angrily throw it across the room. Whether you’re watching news anchors debunk political misinformation or trying to catch up with the incomprehensible meme cycle, this brilliant display is the tool for the moment, your perfect window for the end of the world.

The most unusual feature is a new lidar sensor, which uses lasers to scan subjects in three dimensions. As Apple puts it, "iPhone understands the world around you," which frankly is more than can be said for most of us. This will do more than any other consumer hardware release in history to establish new uses of augmented reality—an exciting prospect as the real world we’ve ruined finally collapses! The lidar scanner is only available on the more expensive models, however, so if a better world is possible, it's only for the people who can afford it. The sensor can also be used for depth detection when the camera is used in low-light environments. These are dark days, but the new iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max can help.

Lasts Forever

The most important change to the iPhone was barely mentioned during the release event at all. The new battery now delivers up to 20 hours of video playback on the higher-end models, suitably equipping them for even the most extreme device addictions. You can now spend literally every waking moment staring at your phone and only bother to recharge while you’re sleeping. Awful things are just going to keep happening forever, no matter how hard we try to stop them; you don’t want your phone to die in the middle of it all.

With the unemployment rate soaring, absolutely everything is too damn expensive, including these phones. The iPhone 12 Mini starts at $699, and the iPhone 12 Pro starts at $999; both will be available for preorder on October 16 and will begin shipping on October 23. The iPhone 12 starts at $799, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1,099; those will be available for preorder on November 6, with plans to ship starting on November 13 … unless something goes horribly wrong.

Updated, 10/16/2020, 5:28 pm EST:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the iPhone's new display has a 120Hz refresh rate.

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