The iPhone 12 could set these trends for smartphones in 2021

The iPhone 12 could set these trends for smartphones in 2021

I recently wrote about how Apple finally jumping on board the 5G bandwagon will make people care about 5G in ways they didn’t before, because as much as it pains me, an Android geek, to say, the reality is when Apple does something, the rest of the mobile industry usually follows.

But 5G is not the only thing the iPhone 12 will make a thing. There are several other changes Apple has made with the iPhone 12 series that I think will lead to Android brands following suit. Here are potential trends to watch for in 2021.

No charger in the box

When Apple removed the century-old headphone jack from the iPhone 7 in 2016, it led to backlash from consumers and media. Rival smartphone brands even took jabs at Apple for it. But ultimately, Apple had its way, and now virtually all Android flagships — including those from brands that initially poked fun at the idea — don’t have the 3.5mm jack.

The same thing could happen with Apple’s controversial decision to no longer ship chargers with its iPhones. Apple claims it’s an effort to reduce e-waste. Whether you believe that or not is a topic for another day; the thing to note here is that we may see Android brands follow suit.

In fact, rumors coming from South Korea indicates Samsung is already considering the move. Samsung, OnePlus, and ASUS have already posted ads mocking Apple for its decision, but how long will it be before they do the same?

Mini sized flagships

The iPhone 12 Mini is really small. Like, funny-looking if held by a large-sized adult small. Just look at Apple’s official marketing images below.

But despite its petite size (131.5 x 64.2 x 7.4mm), the iPhone 12 Mini is not lacking in power, because it runs on the same 5nm A14 Bionic SoC as its bigger brothers. Its 5.4-inch screen is still an FHD AMOLED panel, too. It’s a flagship phone in a compact size.

Judging by the responses from North American tech media, it seems like the Mini is going to be a hit, because let’s face it, modern day Android flagships have gotten a bit too big in recent years. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, for example, has a 6.9-inch display and measures 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm. The OnePlus 8 Pro has a 6.8-inch screen and measures 165.3 x 74.4 x 8.5 mm.

It’s okay for phones to get bigger as there is proven market interest in them, but somewhere along the line, Android phonemakers seem to have adopted a “the smaller phone should have inferior components” mantra. To its credit, Google has been pretty good throughout the years by providing a small Pixel that still packs a punch, but as much as we Android enthusiasts may love the Pixel, it’s ultimately a niche brand with little mainstream exposure. It’s the Samsungs and Huaweis that set the trends for Android.

The success of the iPhone 12 Mini would show Android brands there is a demand for a smaller form factor — without sacrificing power.

Shooting in Dolby Vision

The last few iPhones have, in the opinion of many reviewers (including myself), the best video camera in smartphones in terms of stabilization and dynamic range. The iPhone 12 brings another huge upgrade in that it is the first smartphone to shoot in Dolby Vision, which is like a superior, more technologically advanced version of HDR 10+. Considering that every recent Android manufacturer namedrops HDR 10+ in marketing copy and spec sheets, it’s likely that Dolby Vision won’t be far behind.

Dolby Vision samples on the iPhone 12

Sample Dolby Vision footage shot by the iPhone 12 shown off during the Apple event.

Dolby Vision beats HDR 10+ because it encodes data dynamically in real-time, and these data instructs the video to adjust color and temperature and exposure as the scene shifts. HDR 10+ receives only static metadata, meaning whatever enhancements are made to the video is a one-time application and applies for the entire video without accounting for shifts in lighting condition. There are other advantages to Dolby Vision, as RTINGS points out.

So why haven’t other phones been able to shoot in Dolby Vision? Well, for one, you need a really powerful, bleeding-edge SoC to handle all that processing in real time. Of the available Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs, only the Snapdragon 865 currently supports video capture in Dolby Vision. More importantly, it costs money to license the encoding tech from Dolby. However, if big Android brands like Samsung and Huawei want to compete, they’ll likely have to jump on the Dolby Vision train too.

LiDAR sensor for better AR

Remember a few years ago when Android brands were pushing virtual reality (VR), while Apple pivoted to augmented reality (AR)? While neither tech has gone mainstream on mobile, it appear AR is faring a bit better on smartphones, with more practical use cases, while smartphone-based VR platforms are virtually dead.

There are AR apps in Android, but they mostly pale in comparison to what’s been available for iPhones and iPad for years. And Apple is adding to it this year by introducing the LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor from this year’s iPad Pros, to the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. LiDAR is sort of like the TOF (time-of-flight) sensor that some Android phones have used, in that they both shoot beams to create a radar effect to “map” an area and objects in it.

Let’s take the Measure app that comes pre-installed in all recent iOS devices, for example. It’s arguably the most practical reason to justify AR’s existence — it allows users to measure things in the real world using their smartphone or tablet. My iPad Pro with a LIDAR sensor can correctly identify surfaces including not just the floor and walls, but also my television. On Android, I tried Google’s own Measure app and a third-party-app named ARuler, and neither could correctly identify my TV.

Of course, for AR to grow, it will require third-party app makers to step up. Now that the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max have LIDAR scanners in them, that gives third-party app makers plenty of incentive to build AR apps. If Android phones want in, they’ll have to do a bit better than 2MP depth sensors.

Of course, these are just my predictions. There’s always the chance Android brands don’t follow any of these. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a fair share of trends Google (or Android) started that Apple followed suit, like computational photography and widgets on the home screen. As fans of smartphones, we should want competitors to adopt what works – even if the idea came from the other side.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.