There are five months to go until Apple releases a new iPhone for 2021. In this article we round up everything we know so far about the iPhone 13 - or perhaps the iPhone 12s, if Apple has a less radical upgrade in mind - including its likely release date, new features, price, design changes and tech specs.
The latest news is that Apple is looking at two new colour finishes (including an unprecedented orangey bronze), while the notch will be smaller, and we've got the exact dimensions to prove it. We also discuss why the failure of the iPhone 12 mini may influence the screen sizes offered for this generation, and look into rumours about the iPhone 14 - and yes, there are plenty already.
If you're wondering whether to buy now or hold out for the 2021 models, read iPhone 12 vs iPhone 13 for a summary of the reasons why the new phones should be worth the wait.
When will the iPhone 13 be released?
We expect the iPhone 13 to launch in mid-September 2021.
Up until this year, Apple has been quite consistent with the release dates of its iPhones. Usually, the new handsets are announced at the beginning of September and released a week or so later.
Occasionally there are exceptions, such as the iPhone X and XR, which came out in November and October respectively, and the spring-launched iPhone SE series. But more often than not it's September.
- iPhone 12: Released October/November 2020
- iPhone SE (2020): April 2020
- iPhone 11: September 2019
- iPhone XR: October 2018
- iPhone XS: September 2018
- iPhone X: November 2017
- iPhone 8: September 2017
- iPhone 7: September 2016
- iPhone SE: March 2016
- iPhone 6s: September 2015
- iPhone 6: September 2014
- iPhone 5s: September 2013
- iPhone 5: September 2012
- iPhone 4s: October 2011
- iPhone 4: June 2010
- iPhone 3GS: June 2009
- iPhone 3G: July 2008
- iPhone: June 2007
COVID-19 caused major disruption in the Apple supply chain, delaying the launch of the 12-series iPhones until October 2020. (Two of them, in fact, didn't go on sale until November.) But assuming that things return to a semblance of normality this year, the iPhone 13 should return to its traditional place in the calendar, with a September 2021 release.
The analyst Dan Ives expects the new iPhones to go on sale at the end of September 2021, which would suggest a mid-September announcement.
It's possible, of course, that we'll get the iPhone SE 3 before then... but we wouldn't bet on it.
What will the next iPhone be called?
iPhone 13 still seems the most likely branding, but Apple's own engineers have reportedly been referring to the device internally as the iPhone 12s.
If that turns out to be the name of the late-2021 iPhone - and bear in mind that Apple could be spreading misinformation to mislead rivals or flush out leakers, as some believe happened to Jon Prosser - this would represent an unexpected return to what always seemed like an odd policy.
From 2009 to 2015, the company followed a 'tick-tock' strategy with its phone releases, alternating between major, full-number updates in even years (iPhone 4, 5, 6) and minor, S-designated updates (4s, 5s, 6s) in the odd years. But this had the obvious effect of discouraging people from updating in the S years because Apple appeared to be admitting that not much had changed.
The iPhone 6s was the last of that sequence and the three generations afterwards were tagged with a full-number bump - indeed one of them, the legitimately radical iPhone X update, leapt forward two numbers in one go. We thought the S strategy was dead and buried.
But it rose again in 2018, when Apple launched the XS and XS Max, and following two consecutive full-number updates (11 and 12) it sounds like it may appear again in 2021. The S may now be an 'every third year' strategy: a sort of tick-tick-tock.
Equally, Apple might just be worried about the number 13's unlucky associations in some countries, and on that basis plans to skip from the iPhone 12s to 14 in 2022. (Similar concerns might also explain the jump from iPhone 8 to iPhone X; in Japan the number 9 is considered unlucky because it can sound like the word for agony.)
How much will the iPhone 13 cost?
The iPhone 13 is likely to start at a price of around £799/$799.
iPhone pricing can be something of a moveable feast. The past few standard models have come with the following price tags:
- iPhone X: £999/$999
- iPhone XS: £999/$999
- iPhone 11: £729/$699
- iPhone 12: £799/$799
Now, the introduction of the iPhone Pro range that coincided with the iPhone 11 does explain the sudden drop, as it marks a bifurcation of the lineup. But, as you can see, the price of the iPhone 12 jumps up by £70/$100 when compared to its predecessor.
At the moment the range has a pattern that we think Apple may be settling on, with the following tiers:
- iPhone SE - £399/$399
- iPhone XR - £499/$499
- iPhone 11 - £599/$599
- iPhone 12 mini - £699/$699
- iPhone 12 - £799/$799
- iPhone 12 Pro - £999/$999
- iPhone 12 Pro Max - £1,099/$1,099
This gives potential buyers choices all the way up the price scale, with clear separation between the available devices. With this in mind, we expect Apple to stick with this structure and bring in the iPhone 13 at around £799/$799 and any mini or Pro models directly replacing their older siblings.
What will the iPhone 13 look like?
Apple is one of the more conservative companies in the tech sector when it comes to phone design. Historically it tends to find one (extremely elegant) chassis it likes and then stick with that for three or four generations, before eventually and begrudgingly changing things up to something else it will stick with for a long time.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that, while it's still early days and nothing is set in stone, you probably shouldn't expect a radical redesign in 2021. The square-edged 12-series handsets represented, if not the total design overhaul we saw with the iPhone X in 2017, a reasonably major tweak by Apple's standards. And it would be out of character for the company to change things again the year after.
One thing that may change on the visual front is the arrival of some new colour finishes.
Let's do a quick refresh on the colours currently available:
- iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max: Silver, gold, graphite, blue
- iPhone 12 and 12 mini: White, black, blue, green, red
It's likely that most of those colours will reappear in the 13-series handsets: the 13 Pro is sure to come in silver, gold and some variant of grey/black, while the 13 will be available in white, black and red. But Apple will look carefully at sales of the blue and green options and may replace them.
We're hearing that Apple is currently looking at two replacement colours: matt black and orangey bronze. The iPhone 7 came in a matt-black finish back in 2016 (alongside a glossier Jet Black, which doesn't appear to be an option this time), and is a fairly safe option; the source of the rumour says the orange finish is less likely to happen, and currently looks like an experiment rather than a commercial reality.
The screen is the most important part of a smartphone. It's the bit you look at and interact with throughout your time with the device, and defines how you relate to it. A good screen is invisible, acting as a window into a digital world without interfering with your experience of it; a bad screen hinders you at every turn.
iPhones tend to have good-quality displays that provide a slick user experience, but often lag behind those offered by other companies on raw specs - resolution being the most obvious example.
Is that going to change with the late-2021 generation of iPhones? Here are the technical changes and new features we expect from the iPhone 13's screen.
According to the analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, we will get the same screen sizes this year as in the 2020 generation: 5.4in, 6.1in and 6.7in. That's the sensible and most likely outcome. But could Apple be tempted to withdraw the smallest of those options?
The iPhone 12 mini has been a failure by most metrics. In March we reported that Apple had to slash production orders for the 12 mini and its components after grossly overestimating demand. It hasn't sold well.
It seems surprising that Apple, with all its research and marketing resources, could have got this so wrong. But it's an understandable error, because we all thought the market was crying out for a small phone. You could hardly browse a fan site or use social media in 2019 and 2020 without stumbling across someone bemoaning the demise of the 4in smartphone and wishing they would make a return.
This wouldn't be the first time a vocal minority fooled the world into thinking it was more numerous than it really was. But there's another dimension to this misapprehension, which is that the nostalgics don't just miss the size of the first-gen iPhone SE; they also miss its price. The 12 mini is small but expensive, and the customers Apple was trying to appeal to were always more likely to compromise a little on screen size and buy the budget-friendly iPhone SE (2020) instead.
Based on this reasoning we feel that Apple should ditch the iPhone 13 mini and switch to a line-up of three iPhones this autumn: 6.1in iPhone 13, 6.1in 13 Pro and 6.7in 13 Pro Max. Or even add a new non-Pro model with the larger screen size.
But we suspect the company will give the mini design (at least) one more chance, and stick with 5.4in, 6.1in and 6.7in for another year. And Jon Prosser agrees that we can expect an iPhone 13 mini this autumn (or an iPhone 12 mini).
Another area of the display that needs work is the notch. While Apple users have grown used to the intrusion at the top of their screens, the notch remains a divisive feature; numerous Android phones manage to offer a true all-screen design without biting a chunk out of the top edge.
With this in mind, many iPhone users will be encouraged to hear that tech tipster Ice Universe reckons the notch on the iPhone 13 will be shorter than that of the iPhone 12, and Mac Otakara's sources in the supply chain agree - saying Apple plans to move the TrueDepth receiver from the front to the side of the phone to achieve a smaller notch. How much of a difference is still unclear, but anything that reduces the black box at the top of the display will be a welcome addition.
It's worth considering, however, that there are different ways for a notch to be smaller. This is subjective, but it's probably fair to say that most iPhone owners would like it to be narrower - but Ice Universe and, more recently, Jon Prosser have been suggesting that it will instead be shorter.
In March 2021, however, a leaked image did the rounds showing the iPhone 13 with a notch that is shorter and narrower - the best of both worlds (while still falling short of the no-notch ideal). Here's what it looks like:
And just to be really confusing, Mac Otakara's sources have since supplied exact dimensions of the new notch design, and they suggest it will be narrower but very slightly deeper.
The width of the notch will drop from 34.83mm to 26.80mm, the site claims, but its height will increase fractionally from 5.3mm to 5.35mm. An extra half a millimetre won't hurt, we'd say, although it's a disappointment that it isn't getting shorter.
At some point, of course, the notch will be removed entirely, and there is a huge weight of wishful thinking behind this idea: you should expect notch-free predictions right up to the iPhone 13 launch event. But it will probably have to wait until the launch of the iPhone 14.
One iOS developer has published a series of concept illustrations, giving an idea of what a notchless iPhone could look like. (That may seem absurdly easy to visualise - just imagine a full-screen display! - but it's valuable to get a sense of how much roomier such designs would feel to the user.)
@OliverJHaslam Sorry for the delay, I finally got around to those mocks. All of these remove the ambient light sensor and sub w/ induction speaker.
1st- Based on current notch layout— Cameron.swift (@CameronD_swift) March 4, 2021
2nd - Based on 11/12 camera module (my fav)
3rd - #2 with under display concept like ZTE Axon 20 pic.twitter.com/KPLJNwP3wv
ProMotion/120Hz refresh rate
Many thought the iPhone 12 - or at least the Pro models in the 12-series range - would feature an upgraded display refresh rate.
With a wide range of Android devices already boasting 90Hz or even 120Hz refresh rates, the 60Hz on Apple's displays seemed to be falling behind. This was surprising, given the company's iPad Pro range has taken advantage of these faster speeds for a while to enable the ProMotion feature.
It was disappointing, then, when the iPhone 12 range arrived with only 60Hz on offer. But of course, this leaves the door open for Apple to introduce the faster displays on the iPhone 13.
The consensus appears to be that Apple won't leave us hanging again, and that 2021 will finally be the year for the 120Hz iPhone. One source, indeed, has gone so far as to predict which partner will supply the 120Hz screens for this year's launch.
To see why this would be a big deal, read our coverage of why display experts say you should wait for iPhone 13.
The new iPhones this year will again be OLED displays - Apple has even recruited a new OLED supplier for the new phones. There's no danger that we will go back to LCD, despite the potential for cost cutting.
But there are other screen technologies the company could add to the package. There's a recurring rumour, for example, that Apple will use LTPO display technology, as found on the Apple Watch, for the iPhone 13. This could bring the advantage of lower power drain, boosting battery life in the new models. The technology can extend battery performance by up to 15%.
Sources have since added further weight to the LTPO rumour, and now say the energy-efficient screens are likely to be supplied principally by LG Display - although Korean site The Elec reckons Samsung will get the gig, and claims production of these screens will begin in the first half of 2021.
The YouTube channel EverythingApplePro has published a video discussing claims from leaker Max Weinbach about this year's new iPhones. Several of these claims are commonplace - 120Hz refresh rate, better ultra-wide-angle camera - but we're intrigued by his prediction that Apple will offer an always-on LTPO OLED screen.
Apple uses LTPO for the Apple Watch Series 5 and 6, whose always-on screens display time and a small amount of other essential information even when nominally 'asleep'; the displays update once per second. The iPhone 13, similarly, is expected to display the time, date, buttons for camera and torch and some (non-animated) notifications, all at low brightness.
There are rumours - based on a patent Apple applied for in February 2020 - that a future iPhone could have touch-sensitive sides. A kind of wraparound screen.
There's a concept video that looks into this idea. For more information, read Concept video shows iPhone 13 with touchscreen edges.
Face ID is fast and secure, but in a post-COVID world of face masks, Touch ID can sometimes be more useful. Apple is unlikely to bring back the Home button, where the fingerprint scanner used to live, but there are other ways it could equip the next iPhone with both face and finger recognition.
The most exciting option would be to embed the fingerprint scanner under the display. That's something we've seen on Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 and OnePlus 8T, and there are rumours that Apple will do likewise.
Prolific leaker Jon Prosser gave the nod to a tweet from fellow tipster @L0vetodream, who stated rather cryptically "MESA uts for iPhone". Apparently this is deciphered as MESA (Touch ID) uts (under the screen) for iPhone (well, we think you can work that one out).
In January 2021 both a Bloomberg report and the respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that the 2021 iPhone will have Touch ID below the screen (and no Lightning port), and the Wall Street Journal added its weight to the theory later that month. Apple has been granted a patent for an under-screen fingerprint scanner, so it's clearly something the company's engineers are exploring.
Of course, with the iPad Air 2020 embedding Touch ID in the power button instead, Apple may decide that this solves the problem in a neater fashion. But it wouldn't have the wow factor of under-screen scanning.
iPhone 13 tech specs
The next generation of iPhones will feature boosted specifications across the board, from upgraded processors to improved cameras. Here's what we've seen rumoured so far.
A15 Bionic processor
We don't know much about the A15 just yet, except that it will be faster than the A14 (obviously) and based on an improved 5 nanometre (5nm) production process from supplier TSMC. This will make it more efficient than the A14 chip you'll find in the iPhone 12 series.
In April news emerged from the supply chain that the A15 is likely to go into mass production as early as May, which suggests the iPhone 13's development is on schedule.
We don't yet know the capacity of the batteries in the 13-series handsets, but we're starting to get an idea of the comparative performance we can expect.
Apple won't yet have access to the potentially game-changing battery improvements that will be made possible by the 4nm A16 processor in 2022 (as outlined in the future of the iPhone section), but two other changes should see solid improvements. The 5G modem in this year's iPhone will support better battery life; as will the expected use of energy-efficient LTPO displays (discussed elsewhere in this article).
As ever, the question is how much Apple cares about battery performance. For every improvement in efficiency gained via tech upgrades, the company may choose to cut back on the size of the battery itself to create a slimmer phone, or increase energy demands by increasing screen resolution or adding power-draining new features.
Based on the frequency of customer complaints about iPhone battery life, however, we're optimistic that Apple will make this aspect of the phone's performance a priority.
Sources say the iPhone 13 will have much better cameras than the iPhone 12. But let's get specific.
Based on news of a three-year supplier agreement with Sony, it's thought that all iPhone 13 models will feature LiDAR. This technology is currently only offered by the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max models.
The LiDAR technology enables users to measure and map a 3D space. This can be used for AR applications (such as games and interior design), and for photography improvements (focusing in low light). Read our guide to LiDAR for more information.
The Taiwanese outlet DigiTimes, meanwhile, expects Apple to add sensor-shift optical image stabilisation across all models of iPhone 13. Again, this is something currently offered on the top-end model only.
In terms of glassware, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has floated the idea that the ultra-wide-angle lens (which we expect to appear in the two Pro models only) might have its aperture changed from f2.4 to f1.8. This will double the amount of light that can be admitted and improve low-light performance. The ultra-wide lens will also get autofocus, which should improve close-up work.
(Barclays analysts Blayne Curtis and Thomas O'Malley, meanwhile, argue that all four iPhone 13 models will be equipped with an upgraded ultra-wide-angle camera.)
However, in later guidance in January 2021 Kuo suggested we will not see new camera lenses in this autumn's iPhone update. For more detail on this, read iPhone 13 camera lenses will be same as 12. In April, he further predicted that there will be relatively few camera changes in the 2021 generation.
A January 2021 report suggested the cameras of the iPhone 13 could be about 0.9mm larger and be entirely covered with sapphire glass. Read more about that story here: iPhone 13 will have smaller notch and bigger camera.
We round up all the rumours about the cameras in the new handsets here: iPhone 13 camera features coming in 2021.
iPhone 12 models sold in the US offer mmWave, but elsewhere this form of 5G isn't offered. That may change with the iPhone 13. Apple is said to have made a large order for mmWave antenna - which should mean that the UK and other countries will get faster 5G with the iPhone 13.
The theoretical maximum speed for mmWave is 1-2 gigabits per second, compared to the 100-400 megabits offered by Sub-6 GHz. However, Sub-6 GHz offers a longer range, which is to the benefit of users outside the big cities. We have a separate article where you can read about the 5G coverage problems faced by the iPhone 12 in the UK.
At the end of February, analysts from Wedbush predicted that, based on supply-chain information, the iPhones for late 2021 will for the first time offer the option of a whopping 1TB of storage.
This is an idea that's been doing the rounds for a while. Back in October 2020, the well-known technology leaker Jon Prosser tweeted that the iPhone 13 could come with twice as much storage as current models.
hope y’all are ready for 1TB iphones— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser) October 28, 2020
While few users need that much storage space, those who film in high resolution may benefit. Read more here: iPhone 13 could get 1TB of storage.
Prosser repeated the 1TB theory in a video in January 2021, suggesting no new evidence has appeared to make him doubt the idea. It's a good sign when rumours remain consistent over a period of months, and it's an even better sign when 'serious' analysts fall in with a leaker's theory some months later.
No more Lightning port
One of the stranger rumours that seems to be picking up traction is that Apple will ditch the Lightning port on the iPhone 13.
"Well, what's so strange about that?" you may ask, as many Apple products now use USB-C. Ah, but we didn't say there would be a replacement port. Rather, the rumours from Jon Prosser and Fudge state that the iPhone 13 will have no ports at all.
Rather than rely on cables for charging, all power will be delivered wirelessly. This would instantly render many accessories and power banks redundant, but Apple has never been shy about making unpopular decisions in the past.
There's also an interesting sidebar to this issue, which is that the EU has been on the warpath for a while about proprietary charging standards, and it looks like a draft law forcibly standardising smartphone ports will happen in 2021.
In theory this could oblige Apple to produce a USB-C iPhone for sale in Europe - and even more theoretically, could encourage it to base all its new iPhones on USB-C so as to avoid the production inefficiency of making more than one design. But it's hard to see a company as large and powerful as Apple bowing to mid-level political pressure in this way, and our prediction is that either a cunning loophole is discovered, or the law never passes as a result of impassioned lobbying... or Apple just ignores the whole thing and releases a portless phone that relies entirely on wireless charging, as discussed above.
(Mind you, wireless charging standards are also under EU review at the moment, so that wouldn't entirely free Apple from political interference.)
Our suspicion is that the portless iPhone, discussed by fans for so long, will not become a reality for some time yet. (One Apple site has claimed, in slightly vague terms, that there will be, or even is, a portless 'variant' of the iPhone 13, but our impression is that this is more of a testing prototype for long-term development than a serious contender for commercial release.) One day it will happen, but we doubt that day will be in 2021.
And finally, there's just time for a quick mention of MagSafe. Not the MagSafe standard used by the iPhone 12 and family to attach wireless chargers to their rear, but a new magnetic cable standard that's far closer to the old MagSafe used by MacBooks.
Apple has patented "a plurality of magnets aligned with a linear configuration of the plurality of spring-biased pin assemblies..."
Actually, it's probably easier if you look at this illustration:
iPhone development won't stop in September 2021, and neither will the rumours. Plenty of leakers and analysts have theories about the direction of Apple's smartphone department in 2022 and beyond; quite a few have suggested that this year's will be a dull update by comparison with the ones to follow.
The portless iPhone concept, for example, is a radical reimagining of how the device can be constructed and used, but is unlikely to make this year's launches. And the removal of the notch is likely to wait until 2022: the iPhone 14 Pro will, according to Ming-Chi Kuo, have a punch-hole display design.
The big jump in terms of processors is also likely to come in 2022. The A16 in the iPhone 14 will be 4nm and we can therefore expect major gains in energy efficiency: this could mean a jump in battery life, a lighter device with a smaller battery unit, superior performance, or a combination of all three.
Many of the most intriguing updates on their way in the medium to long term are camera-focused. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims that by 2022, for example, the iPhone will feature a 10x optical zoom, while its big-zoom 'periscope' lens isn't expected to arrive until 2023.
In terms of design, the evidence is piling up that Apple is working on something very radical: more radical indeed than the iPhone X. An embryonic clamshell design currently known as the iPhone Flip is in development at Apple HQ.
Prolific leaker Jon Prosser says it's reminiscent of the Galaxy Z Flip, and will come in "fun colours". But he also warns that it won't launch in 2021 or even 2022.
One source of info for long-term Apple planning is the company's patent activity. In April, for example, news emerged of a patent describing methods of warning iPhone (and Apple Watch) users to charge up before the battery runs out. But always bear in mind that patents don't always lead to actual products: a huge proportion of patent activity is exploratory, and some is disinformation intended to mislead rivals.
For a deeper dive into the future, read Samuel Nyberg's analysis piece: The next 20 years of the iPhone.
We'll keep updating this article as more news and rumours arise, so be sure to keep coming back to see what we uncover.
In the meantime, if you don't want to wait until autumn to update your device, check out our iPhone buying guide and our roundup of the best iPhone deals so you can find the one that's best for your needs.
For more information about what Apple will launch over the course of the year, read our guide to the New Apple products coming out in 2021. We also do monthly prediction roundups: the most recent is New Apple products coming in March 2021.