Note: This feature was first published on Sept 9, 2021.
1.) Four-model lineup
Apple introduced a four-model lineup last year which consists of the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max.
While the iPhone 12 is the most popular model and sales of the Pro models are "very strong", sales of the the iPhone 12 mini fell below expectations which led to speculation that it could be canned this year.
However, Apple is believed to be still releasing a "mini" iPhone this year due to the unique cirumstances of 2020.
2.) Notch not going away yet
The notch has always been a controversial feature of the iPhone since its introduction in 2017.
While Android phone makers came up with teardrop or punch-hole designs which are more aesthetically pleasing, Apple continues to use its notch design mainly due to the Face ID components.
This year could be different as rumours hint that the notch could be smaller.
A 3D-printed mockup of the iPhone 13 Pro dummy unit reveals a notch that is smaller in width, but a tad taller. Guess the notch is not going away anytime soon.
3.) 120Hz refresh rates and always-on display
Apple was rumoured to be introducing higher refresh rates for the iPhone 12 last year, but the feature was delayed due to concerns over its impact on battery life and Apple not securing sufficient 120Hz driver ICs.
As there are reports of Apple adopting LTPO displays for the iPhone 13, rumours are back again on seeing 120Hz displays on the new devices.
TheElec reported in November 2020 that the iPhone 13 Pro models could use LTPO display technology from LG Display. As LTPO displays are more power-efficient, they provide more battery headroom for 120Hz displays.
However, TheElec backtracked in January this year and claims that Samsung is the exclusive supplier of the LTPO OLED panels for the iPhone 13. LG Display reportedly is only ready to supply these panels in 2022.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo's investor note in March suggests that the 120Hz displays will be reserved for the Pro models.
This is later corroborated by TheElec when sources say LG Display will be making LTPS TFT displays for the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini while Samsung will be supplying LTPO panels for the Pro models.
4.) Major camera upgrades
Apple has been going big on the camera features of the iPhone in recent years and the iPhone 13 is no different.
Analyst Kuo wrote in November 2020 that "significant" improvements are coming to the ultra-wide camera on the iPhone 13 Pro. Its aperture is said to widen from f/2.4 to f/1.8 for better low-light performance.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max may come with a slightly wider aperture of f/1.5. The number of elements in the lens will also be increased from five to six which will help minimise distortion in ultra-wide shots.
In addition, the ultra-wide lens will get autofocus for sharper images.
For the Pro models, Portrait Mode will be enhanced through the use of the LiDAR scanner. The LiDAR scanner will be used for better edge detection and will combine data from the other lenses to deliver better portrait shots.
The rear camera module is likely to see some changes; 3D renders of the iPhone 13 show the rear cameras being placed diagonally acrossed each other.
It is unclear if the new arrangement is a result of the better ultra-wide camera used or a bigger main camera sensor. Leaked CADs also reveal bigger camera dimensions across the iPhone 13 lineup which should better protect the lenses from scratches or bumps.
Apple is believed to bringing sensor-shift stabilisation technology - currently exclusive to the iPhone 12 Pro Max - to all iPhone 13 models.
The sensor-shift stabilisation technology will help take better photos and videos in challenging conditions such as low light or bumpy conditions.
Aside from hardware upgrades, Apple is expected to introduce several software features on the iPhone 13.
These features are said to include a higher-quality video recording tool known as ProRes, Cinematic Video and a new filter system.
5.) In-display Touch ID unlikely this year
The in-display Touch ID has been touted as the Holy Grail for the iPhone in the past few years.
DigiTimes reported in 2015 that Apple was working on touch and display driver integration (TDDI) single-chip solutions for the iPhone where fingerprint sensors are integrated with the virtual home button.
Later that year, G for Games reported on five different iPhone 7 configurations with one having embedded fingerprint recognition technology in the display.
In 2016, it was uncovered that Apple filed a patent in March 2015 on optical, capacitive and ultrasonic fingerprint reading technologies.
A year later, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted Apple some patents with one describing an invention of a fingerprint sensor embeded within the touch display for authentication.
Analyst Kuo wrote in 2019 that he believes an iPhone with Face ID and in-screen Touch ID could arrive in 2021.
Bloomberg also jumped on the bandwagon and said that Apple is developing an in-screen fingerprint reader for use as early as 2020. In September last year, the USPTO granted Apple another patent for an in-screen Touch ID.
Earlier this year, Bloomberg wrote that a key feature of the 2021 iPhone could be the in-screen Touch ID which will work alongside Face ID as another authentication method.
The Wall Street Journal also made a similar claim in the following month. Barclays analysts followed up with their own analysis that the iPhone 13 would come with the in-display Touch ID and even tout it as the "security feature of the future".
However, hopes were dashed late last month when Bloomberg shared that the feature would not make the cut this year and Apple's long term goal is "to implement Face ID in the display itself".
6.) Bigger wireless charging coils
Apple introduced a magnetic charging system, MagSafe on the iPhone 12. The company utilises a ring of magnets on the back of the iPhone 12 to attach to accessories such as the MagSafe Charger.
Will Apple be upgrading the MagSafe system on the new iPhones?
Tipster Max Weinbach seems to think so. He claims that there could be a "slightly bigger wireless charging coil in the iPhone 13 models" for better heat management, higher wattage and stronger MagSafe magnets. In addition, he thinks it could pave the way for reverse wireless charging in the near future.
For wired charging speed, Chinese site MyDrivers expects the iPhone 13 models to support up to 25W and Apple may release a new 25W power adapter as an optional purchase.
The iPhone 12 currenly supports up to 20W wired fast charging speed.
The rumoured faster wired and wireless charging speeds could be a hint that bigger batteries are being planned for the iPhone 13.
Tipster @L0vetodream, who has a solid track record of leaks on Apple, shared that the battery capacities of iPhone 13 models are up to 18 per cent bigger than those of the iPhone 12 models.
For example, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is said to have a 4,352mAh battery, a significant boost from the 3,687mAh on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The bigger batteries could provide more juice for power-hungry features like 120Hz refresh rates and an always-on display.
7.) A15 chip, Wi-Fi 6E and mmWave
Every generation of iPhone will be powered by a new and more capable chipset. The A15 chipset, which is expected to debut on the iPhone 13, will be manufactured by TSMC on a 5nm+ process.
Production of the A15 chipset is said to have started in May although the global component shortage is likely to affect its supply.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri confirmed in a recent earning calls that there will be supply constraints for the iPhone and iPad in Q4.
Besides a more powerful chipset, the iPhone 13 is rumoured to come with Wi-Fi 6E connectivity.
Barclay analysts shared in December 2020 that the iPhone 13 will support Wi-Fi 6E for better Wi-Fi performance thanks to the availability of additional channels and the ability to use 160MHz for high-bandwidth applications such as AR and VR.
iPhones with 5G mmWave support is also believed to be coming to more markets this year. Analyst Ross Young wrote that the Pro models will support mmWave and sub-6GHz.
Analyst Kuo estimates that iPhone 13 models with 5G mmWave will grow to 55-60 per cent this year as Apple brings these devices to more countries such as Japan, Australia and Europe.
For those who are not aware, 5G is available in two forms: mmWave and Sub-6GHz. mmWave is a higher frequency version of 5G that offers ultra-fast speeds, but they are ultra-short range and can be blocked by trees, walls, doors and windows.
Sub-6GHz, which consists of mid and low-frequency bands, have a longer range and penetrate objects better. Fortunately, sub-6GHz speed is faster than what 4G LTE can achieve.
8.) Availability and pricing
According to most rumours to-date, Apple's iPhone 13 launch is likely to take place in the same week that the company has launched its past devices.
True enough, Apple has just confirmed the Sept 14 launch event. (In Singapore, this translates to 1am on Sept 15).
In terms of other key dates related to the launch, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives believes Apple will have pre-orders starting on Sept 17 and retail availability a week later on Sept 24. Chinese e-commerce site IT Home and tipster Jon Prosser also shared similar dates.
While the world suffers from a shortage in components and chipmakers increasing prices for the production costs, Apple is not expected to raise the prices of the iPhone 13 models according to TrendForce.
The market research firm believes the base prices of the iPhone 13 will be "relatively on par" with the iPhone 12.
Apple is reportedly optimistic about the demand for the iPhone 13. It has informed suppliers to build up to 90 million iPhone 13 units by the end of the year, which is a huge increase from the typical order of 75 million units.
This article was first published in Hardware Zone.