Apple is betting on its four-model iPhone 12 5G series to kickstart an upgrade wave, while using the $149 HomePod Mini as a beachhead against low-cost smart speakers from Sonos, Google and Amazon.
A steady stream of reliable leaks over recent weeks meant few surprises remained by the time Apple's online-only virtual launch took place overnight.
The iPhone 12 Mini adopts a pocket-friendly 5.4-inch size, with the standard iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro taking this up to 6.1 inches, while the flagship iPhone 12 Pro pushes the boundary to 6.7 inches.
The iPhone 12 Mini starts at $1,199, with the iPhone 12 from $1,349, in blue, green, black and white.
The iPhone 12 Pro starts at $1,699, with the iPhone 12 Pro Max from $1,849, in graphite, silver, gold and 'Pacific Blue'.
As widely tipped, the iPhone 12 models will arrive in two batches: the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro land on October 23, while the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max touch down November 13.
All four sport updated cameras and sharper OLED screens, an improvement from the LCD panels of previous models.
As expected, Apple is quick to talk up the new iPhone 12 camera system, which adds a wide lens with a f/1.6 aperture for improved low light photography; the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max models gain 4x and 5x optical zoom through a dedicated telephoto lens.
While the front of the phones looks similar to last year’s iPhone 11 line-up, the metal edges are now flat instead of curved, and resemble the same industrial design language as popularised by the iPhone 4 in 2010.
The handsets also support a new magnetic version of wireless charging called MagSafe ($65) which lets the phones magnetically attach to new charging pads from Apple and other providers; Apple will also offer several new cases to support the new charging system, such as wallet-style attachments for carrying credit cards.
On the inside, all models run Apple's A14 processor – which may also appear in the first batch of Mac laptops and desktops powered by Apple-designed chips – and come with 5G cellular technology.
5G yes, but mmWave no
However, while compatible with the 'sub-6Ghz' 5G of Australia and other countries, only the US iPhone 12 models will support mmWave 5G, which offers ultra-fast speeds over short distances for high-capacity scenarios such as busy CBD areas, stadiums and airports.
Telstra and Optus have already tested mmWave, but the local mmWave bands won't be opened to telco bidding until early 2021, which means mmWave may not be added to the existing sub-6GHz 5G networks until late 2021 or early 2022.
And missing from all iPhone 12 devices is a charger and earbuds: Apple says people are likely to own many of the small white AC chargers already, along with a pair of their favourite headphones.
The company is talking up the ''environmental savings' from this move, both in producing less kit and moving to a smaller retail box, but it's equally true that this also makes for higher margins and lower shipping costs, as well as potentially boosting the sales of its wireless AirPods.
The only accessory supplied in the box is a Lightning to USB-C cable: while the iPhone 12 clings to Apple's Lightning connector, the cable lets you plug into chargers with a USB-C socket. Presumably, the thinking is that anybody with a charger from a previous model iPhone will also have the older Lightning to USB-A cable on hand.
Also unveilled overnight: the long-awaited HomePod Mini, which goes on sale in Australia the week of November 16 for $149.
This stylish shrunken version of the $299 HomePod – which looks rather like a honeydew melon with the top lopped off – comes in the same black and white mesh colour options as the original, but will be a better fit among modern decor and in smaller spaces.
It continues to have a touch panel on the top for audio playback, and can also sense when an iPhone is nearby so Apple users can more easily control the speaker.
To keep the costs and size down, it also has fewer speakers inside the devices, and runs the S5 chip from the Apple Watch rather than the iPhone A8 processor that powers the original HomePod.
An Intercom feature also let users send messages between HomePods scattered around the home.
Apple's aim is to not only see the HomePod Mini win new customers in a market where the original HomePod was overpriced and underfeatured, but to ensure the Mini's low price sees it gain a strong multi-room foothold and further entrench customers in the Apple ecosystem.
Earlier this year, Apple said it would add support for third-party music services. During the launch Apple mentioned the Mini would work with "popular music services including Pandora and Amazon Music," but did not mention Spotify.