Apple has confirmed its iPhone 12 handsets will be its first to work on faster 5G networks.
The company has also extended the range to include a new “Mini” model that has a smaller 5.4in screen.
The US firm bucked a wider industry downturn by increasing its handset sales over the past year.
But some experts say the new features give Apple its best opportunity for growth since 2014, when it revamped its line-up with the iPhone 6.
“5G will bring a new level of performance for downloads and uploads, higher quality video-streaming, more responsive gaming, real-time interactivity and so much more,” said chief executive Tim Cook.
There has also been a cosmetic refresh this time round, with the sides of the devices getting sharper, flatter edges.
“Tim Cook [has] the stage set for a super-cycle 5G product release,” commented Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities.
“Although the soft macro-economic and Covid backdrop will clearly dent some demand, we believe the underlying growth drivers for the iPhone 12’s success are unparalleled.”
He added that about 40% of the 950 million iPhones in use had not been upgraded in at least three-and-a-half years.
In theory, the Mini could dent Apple’s earnings by encouraging the public to buy a product on which it makes a smaller profit than the other phones. But one expert thought that unlikely.
“Apple successfully launched the iPhone SE in April by introducing it at a lower price point without cannibalising sales of the iPhone 11 series,” noted Marta Pinto from IDC.
“There are customers out there who want a smaller, cheaper phone, so this is a proven formula that takes into account market trends.”
The iPhone is already the bestselling smartphone brand in the UK and the second-most popular in the world in terms of market share.
If forecasts of pent up demand are correct, it could prompt a battle between network operators, as customers become more likely to switch.
“Networks are going to have to offer eye-wateringly attractive deals, and the way they’re going to do that is on great tariffs and attractive trade-in deals,” predicted Ben Wood from the consultancy CCS Insight.
Apple typically unveils its new iPhones in September, but opted for a later date this year. It has not said why, but it is widely speculated to be related to disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Apple said the iPhone 12 has the same 6.1in (15.5cm)-sized screen as its predecessor, but the device itself is 11% thinner, 16% lighter and has smaller bezels.
It added that the screen was also higher resolution and used a “ceramic shield” to protect its display to offer “four times better drop performance”.
A new A14 Bionic chip – the first to be built on a five nanometre process – is being used to carry out more advanced enhancements to photos.
The firm said it would deliver night-mode selfies without using the flash, as well as better deal with colour, contrast and noise in challenging settings.
It showed off a forthcoming mobile version of League of Legends as an example of the “console-quality games” it now claimed to be able to handle.
And the addition of a magnet array in the phone’s back will allow compatible chargers to “snap on”, as well as accessories including a wallet to be held.
The iPhone Mini shares these features but in a smaller form.
The iPhone 12 will start at $799 and the iPhone 12 Mini $699.
Samsung first launched a 5G-enabled Galaxy S10 phone back in February 2019, and Huawei, OnePlus and Google are among others to have added the capability too.
But experts say there has only been limited interest in the feature to date.
“Apple is rarely the first to launch new technologies but waits for a technology to be mature enough to build new customer experiences on top of it,” commented Thomas Husson from the research company Forrester.
“I think we’re slowly reaching this tipping point.”
The UK was the second European nation to start rolling out 5G.
But while this has helped give it a lead, coverage remains sporadic.
In the US – Apple’s largest market – 5G speeds are particularly slow. In fact, according to one study, downloads over Canada’s 4G networks are typically faster,
And in some countries, 5G has not yet to become available to the public.
However, in China – Apple’s second-biggest market – the government has encouraged its rapid deployment, and recently announced both Beijing and Shenzhen had achieved “full coverage”.
“There’s no qu