The SARS-CoV-19 pandemic is hard on everyone, almost everywhere. The world’s most valuable company is no exception, as Apple has struggled harder than we’ve ever seen to ship new software and hardware features.
Outside of Apple Silicon Macs (which would admittedly be a big deal ANY year), Apple’s product and software slate has been a little more modest than we might normally expect. IPadOS really only got one significant new feature. iOS got some new widgets and a few other odds and ends, but it was still a modest update. The same can also be said of the Apple Watch.
As for hardware, there are several smaller devices that are rumored to be shipping soon, but several of them have been in the works for a while. And we still don’t know for certain that a new HomePod, AirTags and the AirPods Studio will arrive in 2020. I expected some or all of these accessories to be released this spring or summer, so their delay is another indication of how messed up 2020 has been.
This year’s iPhones 12 will have a design update and some interesting new features, but beyond a new iPhone 5-like frame and LiDAR, this is definitely more of an update than an upgrade for Apple’s flagship. Sure, this will be the first 5G iOS device, but how many of us will actually be able to take full advantage of that within the next year? Will it be even close to 50%? I probably won’t get a big boost from it for at least another 18 months.
One feature that many Apple fans, myself included, have been itching to see on the iPhone is ProMotion, or at least something close to it. While Apple was the first to pull this off in any meaningful way on a mobile device with the iPad Pro in 2018, the rest of the tech world has caught up and high screen refresh rates are now common among competing flagship smartphones.
Supposedly 120 MHz refresh rates and dynamic scaling were locks for the 2020 iPhone Pros until nature intervened. While most of the feature set for this year’s iPhones has been nailed down for a while now, this feature continues to be the drama point for the rumor mill as we move toward the point of no return. It’s interesting that there has been so much conflicting information and some of what was revealed a few hours ago sheds some light on why.
According to serial leaker Jon Prosser (and a couple of others, to be fair), Apple is still testing 120 MHz as we enter the two-minute warning before mass production of iPhones begins.
REAL hands-on video of iPhone 12 Pro Max, a look at camera settings (including LiDAR), display settings (including 120Hz) and more!
— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser) August 26, 2020
He showed still photos and video of a PVT (Product Verification Testing) version of the new iPhone 12 Pro Max that had High Refresh Rate toggles in settings. He also noted that not all PVT units have the high refresh rate capability, which indicates that this feature is not set in stone and that things could potentially go either way.
So Apple really is cutting this one really close. Typically this would just be testing and spit and polish time. It’s clear from the information that Prosser leaked today that Apple hasn’t given up on high refresh rates on the iPhone Pros, but man is this one coming down to the wire. It should make for some interesting leadup to Apple’s streamed Fall hardware announcement. Get ready for a lot of back and forth. Hey, I’ll take this over the Epic-Apple court clap-fight, any day.
High refresh rate on the iPhone wasn’t the only new Apple hardware feature mentioned as possibly being on the chopping block the last few days. I have always thought this was a stretch given the current constraints of the Watch hardware and health tech, but we have all heard that Apple as been working on adding blood pressure monitoring to the Watch for a couple of years. There were rumors that this could be the year a while back, but it looks like it isn’t ready for prime time yet.
According to up-and-coming Apple leaker @Komiya_kj, the company is actively working on Watch-based blood pressure monitoring. However, it isn’t there yet.
Apple is working on blood pressure detection on Apple Watch
But it’s inaccurate now
— Komiya (@komiya_kj) August 23, 2020
Count me as not being surprised by this. Blood Pressure monitoring without an inflatable arm cuff is notoriously inaccurate. Even wrist cuffs are known to be far less reliable than their bigger, bulkier counterparts. Blood pressure is likely second only to blood sugar as the Holy Grails of wearable health monitoring for a reason. These two are incredibly hard to do outside of traditional methods.
Samsung is trying to get this feature out the door first, but in typical Sammy fashion, it will probably be a mess for a year or two. That’s what they do. I do give them credit for pushing things forward, though. We need both their aggressiveness and Apple’s more polished approach in the tech world. As an Apple fan, I want a little pressure on them to keep moving forward.
Speaking of that polished approach, because of that, Apple isn’t going to release this feature to the public until its right. Their other health features have been reliable to the point of saving many lives over the last five years. They aren’t going to damage that rep to ship blood pressure monitoring before it’s truly ready. With that in mind, I don’t think this is any way a lock for the Apple Watch Series 7, either.
If high screen refresh doesn’t arrive for the iPhone this year, I will definitely count it as being due to the pandemic. Watch blood pressure monitoring may not have been held up, but I’m sure the missed time, remote work and separation of teams didn’t help.
As time goes on, it will be interesting to see if we get some behind the scenes information from Apple and other tech companies on how COVID-19 impacted them in 2020. Ten years on, we learned so much about how the original iPhone took shape, from the humble beginnings of its development to Steve Jobs’ iconic on-stage reveal. I know that this year’s devices aren’t that groundbreaking, but I wonder if we will eventually find out how work continued and difficulties were overcome as life suddenly changed for everyone in the US over the course of a few short weeks.