It's only a few months since Apple unveiled the iPhone 12, but we're already looking forward to what our favourite tech company has in store when it updates the iPhone again in late 2021. That's right: we're talking about the iPhone 13.
In this article we round up everything we know so far about the iPhone 13 - or perhaps the iPhone 12s, if Apple has a more cautious iterative upgrade in mind - including its likely release date, new features, price, design changes and tech specs.
The latest news concerns the inclusion of an always-on screen in 2021, and the development of the foldable iPhone Flip (which won't appear for a few years, we're afraid). We're also hearing that the notch will be smaller - but not necessarily in the way you'd want.
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 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 we see a few outliers, such as the iPhone X and XR which launched in November and October respectively (although they were announced in September)... and then there's the iPhone SE range that has so far been a spring fixture. But mostly 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 a good deal of disruption in the Apple supply chain, delaying the launch of the iPhone 12 and its stablemates until October 2020. (Two of the models, 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.
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 it's entirely possible that Apple is spreading misinformation to mislead rivals or flush out leakers - 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 a single bound. 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 sounds like the word for suffering.)
Aside from the number, we expect the four models released in late 2021 to have similar branding to the previous generation: a vanilla iPhone 13 or 12s, and then a mini, Pro and Pro Max version at varying price points below and above the base model. The 12 mini may not have sold as well as Apple would have liked, but we still expect to get an iPhone 13 mini.
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.
Which isn't to say that change isn't possible in this area. Indeed the evidence is piling up that Apple is working on a redesign that is very radical indeed: 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.
The analysis company Omdia has also predicted that Apple will launch two foldable iPhone models in 2023.
In other words, change is coming, but not for a few years. Catch up on the latest rumours in our foldable iPhone news hub.
Changes to the screen
According to the trusted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, we will get the same screen sizes next year: 5.4in, 6.1in and 6.7in. But what new features will Apple add to the iPhone display in 2021?
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 their 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 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.
Energy-efficient LTPO displays
There's a recurring rumour 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.
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.
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 suppler 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. Ice Universe has an image to explain:
Face ID is fast and secure, but in a post-COVID world where masks are a regular part of most people's wardrobes, there are many occasions when Touch ID would 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.
The big jump in terms of processors, however, is 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.
Sources say the iPhone 13 will have much better cameras than the iPhone 12. At this point sceptics will be shouting at their laptops a) that's both extremely vague and extremely obvious and b) exactly how much better do cameras need to get?
Let's get a bit more specific.
Based on news that Apple has come to an agreement with Sony for the latter company to provide LiDAR scanners for the next three years it is 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 probably for AR (e.g games and interior design), and for photography improvements (e.g focusing in the dark or 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 story, read iPhone 13 camera lenses will be same as 12.
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 look like iPhone 12 with smaller notch (and bigger camera).
And looking further afield there are already rumours about the iPhone 14, with analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claiming that by 2022 the iPhone will have 10x optical zoom. For the full story, read Analyst: In two years iPhone will have 10x optical zoom.
US iPhone 12 models 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. Read about the 5G coverage problems faced by the iPhone 12 in the UK.
1TB of storage
Well-known technology leaker Jon Prosser has indicated via his Twitter account 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 that no new evidence has appeared to make him doubt the idea. It's usually a good sign when rumours remain consistent over a period of months: leakers love to stand out, and would rush to contradict a popular theory if they felt it was inaccurate.
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 most Apple products now use USB-C. Ah, but we didn't say there would be a replacement port. Instead 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.)
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 next 12 months, read our guide to the New Apple products coming out in 2021.