Mark Gurman and Company at Bloomberg were back in a big way today, predicting the design of the coming premium iPhone 12 models, as well as delivering some additional details on AirTags and the HomePods 2. Several of these details have already been covered extensively elsewhere today, so won’t bother rehashing them again. I am only interested in one at the moment.
What I would like to talk about is the new industrial design that Gurman covered. According to today’s report, at least the higher-end iPhones, which I assume will retain the Pro name, will have an updated look. That makes sense, as we have now had two consecutive new models, the XS and 11 and 11 Pro, that have re-used the same design language as the iPhone X. Apple usually shifts their designs every two to three years. It’s the one they are choosing that interests me.
According to Gurman, the new design is reminiscent of both the current iPad Pro and the former iPhone 5. So we should expect a flush screen and flat back with flat metal sides, top and bottom and rounded corners, similar to the iPad Pro. Oh, and the notch should be gone. That is a big change, all on its own.
However, it’s the similarity to the iPad Pro design that got my attention and, not in a good way at first. The only significant complaint about the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro hardware design is how unstable it is. Unfortunately, the thin aluminum back and frame bend far too easily. If you have one and don’t keep it in a case, you probably know this already. If you haven’t seen one get folded in half yet, just do a quick YouTube search. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. So unnecessary.
I was immediately interested in the stability of the 12 Pro Max. At a rumored screen size of 6.7″, there is a bit more risk that it could also lack stability. However, if Gurman is correct, the new iPhones will have a distinct advantage over the iPad Pro. While the iPads have aluminum frames and bodies, the new iPhones should have a stainless steel frame. That has been the case from the iPhone X to the iPhone 11 Pro, so it makes sense that Apple would stick with it this year, as well. That should be far more stable than the iPad’s thinner and less-rigid aluminum.
Now is a good time to bring up Gurman’s comparison to the iPhone 5. While the look and the basic design are similar, the materials and size are completely different than what the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max should be. The 5 only had a 4″ screen, which seems quite small by today’s standards. That small size made the phone extremely hard to bend. The extra size of the 12 Pros requires added stability, lest Apple ends up with another Bendgate, as with the iPhone 6 Plus.
There are still questions about the new phones that Gurman didn’t answer. One is will Apple stick with the glass back that the last three premium iPhones have shared? That certainly makes wireless charging much easier to implement, so I think it’s likely. How will that help or hinder the stability of the new design? My current 6.5″ iPhone 11 Pro Max is extremely stable, but it also has a different external design than we expect on the 12. However, that stability will likely transfer to the new model.
Another question is whether Apple will potentially move away from an all stainless steel frame in an effort to cut down the weight of a larger device. There is no way for us to know this now, but the 11 Pro Max is already fairly hefty. Adding another .2″ to the size will inevitably add weight. If the changes in design make the iPhone body less stable, a more substantial frame may be required, as well. Making all of that out of stainless does have a cost when it comes to portability. Would Apple consider switching to a hybrid frame to cut the weight down a bit? I doubt it, but it is possible.
To answer the question in the title of whether these new iPhones will bend like an iPad Pro, I actually don’t think that will be an issue in the end. Once I re-read Gurman’s report and noticed the bit about the stainless steel, I felt better about this design. Between the smaller size in comparison with an iPad Pro, especially the particularly vulnerable 12.9″ model, and the more durable materials, these phones should hold up much better.
Who knows, maybe Apple can take a page out of this design to shore up the new iPad Pro that’s still supposed to be coming later this year. I hope so.