Apple's phone department had a stellar 2020 - in Macworld's end-of-year report nearly everyone awarded the iPhone an A grade - but there was one fly in the technological ointment: no 120Hz screens. We saw it coming some time before the October announcements, but there was still palpable disappointment among the company's fans when they heard that, once again, the top-end iPhone would be limited to a screen refresh rate of 60Hz.
Given the weight of frustrated expectation, it's no surprise that pundits and fans alike have lined up to predict that 120Hz ProMotion screens with dynamic adjustment, as we've seen before on the iPad Pro, will finally hit the iPhone line-up in 2021. Indeed one analyst focused on this specific upgrade as the principle reason users should skip the iPhone 12 and wait for the iPhone 13.
I would forgive a degree of scepticism at this point. After all, the punditsphere was wrong about this before, and wishful thinking is a hell of a drug. But even now, with roughly eight months to the launch, the evidence is starting to mount.
In a report yesterday, The Elec, a Korean industry news site, backed up the rumour with considerable detail. There will be four new iPhone models in late 2021, the site claims, and two of these will offer screen refresh rates of 120Hz. The screens will use LTPO OLED panels initially made by Samsung Display, although LG will join as a second screen manufacturer for the iPhone 13 in 2022.
None of the above requires much of a leap of faith. Amazing as it might seem to those who know only of Apple and Samsung's surface-level squabbles and rivalries, they have a long history of co-operation at the manufacturing level; indeed, Samsung currently makes OLEDs for the 12-series iPhones. What is more impressive - and to me, more convincing - is the detail The Elec offers in terms of Samsung's precise speed of manufacture and the number of panel it will be able to supply. I recommend reading the article if that is something that interests you.
Around the launch of the iPhone 12 there were a few hot takes claiming that 120Hz was overrated, that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference and so on. There is a degree of subjectivity in such things, but most observers who've actually tried 120Hz agree that it provides noticeably smoother video and animation; on the iPad it also improves the accuracy of Apple Pencil input, which is probably why Apple prioritised the tablet line. It's also something that's relatively widespread in the Android sector: there are multiple examples in Tech Advisor's chart of the best Android phones.
Update: A January 2021 Bloomberg report and Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo claim that the 2021 iPhone will have Touch ID below screen and no lightning port.