Apple shrinks the iPhone, but not the price tag
The new phones do pack many improvements over the iPhone 11 to justify the price — including OLED screens (versus LCD on the iPhone 11) at significantly higher resolutions than previous non-Pro iPhones, 5G connectivity and the ability to display video in Dolby Vision HDR — but the higher prices come at a time when other smartphone manufacturers are looking to trim costs in the face of pandemic austerity.
This year, $999 has emerged as a sweet spot for premium devices, with Samsung and Google both looking to that price-point for their latest offerings. Data from Telsyte also indicated that around half of all iPhones sold during the first half of 2020 cost under $1000.
That’s not to say the iPhone 12 Mini is overpriced, rather that Apple — which has the largest share of the smartphone market in Australia at around 50 per cent — has stuck strictly to including its most premium components and materials across its entire range rather than diversifying as far as other manufacturers do.
For example Google’s Pixel 4a is a comparable size and has a comparable screen to the iPhone 12 Mini for $600 less, but the iPhone has the performance, cameras and glass-and aluminium build of a top-of-the-line phone where the Pixel pares all that back.
Even the upcoming Pixel 5, which adds a comparable camera array and body at $999, has a less powerful chipset versus the $1199 iPhone 12 Mini.
But while Apple maintains a high degree of polish and performance across its lineup that largely justify its high prices, it’s not averse to cutting its own costs.
This year’s iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini still have 64GB of storage in their least expensive iterations, while the wider premium smartphone market has moved to 128GB as standard. So for example the advertised price of the iPhone 12 is identical to that of the Samsung Galaxy S20 at $1349, but in fact the comparable-storage iPhone model is $1429.
Apple will also not be including power adapters or earbuds in the box with this year’s phones, which will add an additional cost for those who require them. And the Australian versions of the entire iPhone 12 range will have a limited implementation of 5G, which will work with current networks from the likes of Telstra and Vodafone, but will not be able to take advantage of the faster “millimetre-wave” 5G technology which will arrive in the coming years.
The iPhone reveal event on Wednesday was the first major launch to occur wholly online due to the pandemic, but despite the obvious change of atmosphere the company’s executives didn’t mention the COVID-19 crisis during the slick presentation.
Where other smartphone companies have moved focus to premium mid-range models or mask-friendly authentication features like fingerprint scanners, Apple’s event progressed through the list of upgrades like any other year and tactfully avoided the issue of its phones’ reliance on facial recognition`.
As for the ultra-premium iPhone Pro models, Apple managed to deliver lower starting prices compared to last year with the iPhone 12 Pro starting at $1699 and the 12 Pro Max at $1849. The two phones are also a bit more distinct than previously, with the larger model packing the biggest screen ever on an iPhone and featuring a slightly nicer main camera lens than the smaller Pro.
New survey findings from tech comparison website WhistleOut in Australia saw 50 per cent of respondents saying $1000 is too much for a new phone. But a third of the people who expressed interest in an iPhone 12 were happy to pay up to $2000.
Of course, in line with Apple’s usual strategy, older iPhone models have been discounted on its official store as new ones have been announced. So while the iPhone 12 starts at $1199, the full range of full-screen Apple smartphones covers the gamut from $849 to $2369. This includes last year’s iPhone 11, now at that magic price of $999.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.