Apple iPhone 12 Follow-Up

Posted on October 24, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, iOS, Mobile with 20 Comments

Now that I have about a day’s worth of experience using the Apple iPhone 12, here are some more notes and comments about this new device.

First and most obviously, I’ve already taken numerous photos in a variety of conditions and I’m mostly happy with the results, which include great detail and realistic colors. You don’t get the surrealistic HDR color pop found in Samsung or Huawei flagships, and I’m curious why that’s not even an option you can enable.

But for the most part, the pictures I’ve taken—snapshots, really, since I’m doing nothing particular configuration-wise—are quite good.

I’ve noticed two worrying issues, however.

First, the ultra-wide lens wildly distorts the edges of photos. For example, consider the tilted edge of the house and the sweeping clouds in the far left of this photo. Ugh.

Second, I’m not sure about low light photos quite yet, though I’ve only taken a few. Here, there’s a weird pattern of lights in the sky that weren’t really there, though I did notice them in the viewfinder while I took the shot. Curious.

Beyond that, the photos mostly withstand close examination and some of them, like this night/cloud shot, are downright impressive. I’ll keep testing.

This is kind of a goofy observation, but I’ve been experimenting with minimalist home screen layouts as part of a broader rethink of how I interact with my smartphone each day as a tool. This is what part of makes a lackluster phone like the Pixel 5 curiously attractive to me; everything about it is minimalist, from its bland design to its simple software, and I wonder if that reality would make me treat it more like the tool that it is.

Anyway, it’s possible the iPhone could fulfill this role as well, and so I went to great lengths to minimize the number of app icons that appear on the single home screen I’ve configured. I’ll need a few days to figure out if this is sustainable and even possibly efficient, but two recent improvements in iOS 14—home screen widgets, which can be used to push icons closer to the bottom of the display where they are more easily reached, and the App Library—really help.

The way iOS handles notifications is different enough from Android that it can be confusing. For example, the Duolingo app is displaying a “1” in a red bang over its icon, and in Android you could long-press on the icon to see what’s up; in iOS, long-pressing only displays the normal app options. And if you open the app, the bang disappears from the icon but you never learn what triggered it.

Now, iOS does of course have a Notification Center—you swipe down from the top left of the display to see it—and then you can manage individual notifications and configure how each of the underlying apps handles notifications. But those options aren’t as granular as what we see on Android, though they end up being just as tedious to manage when you first set up a device from scratch like I did. I guess it’s just different.

I’m also struck—and not in a good way—by how many of the apps I use regularly don’t fill the iPhone 12’s display but instead appear smaller in the center of the screen with large black borders at the top and bottom. I’m told that this is the fault of the app developers, because they need to specifically target the iPhone 12’s (and iPhone 12 Pro’s) new and unique screen dimensions and resolution. But I’m surprised this is even an issue; it seems like a problem that should have been solved a decade ago. And in at least one case—the presumably terribly-written Samsung Galaxy Buds app—the problem is so severe I can’t even select a link to get past an informational blocker and access the actual app.

I’ve been surprised to see the iPhone report a 5G connection in various places near my home, both last night when we headed out to a restaurant, and this morning when I drove back and forth from the gym. As you may know, I’m using Mint Mobile, which is based on T-Mobile, and they do offer free 5G for subscribers. But I’d never seen 5G pop-up on, say, the Note 20 Ultra, which is 5G-compatible, though I did see it during a trip to North Carolina. I haven’t tested the speeds anywhere yet, but I will. I’m curious. (But realistic: This is T-Mobile, so it’s just Sub-6 5G and not the faster but more elusive mmWave 5G that Verizon also offers and you might find in a handful of locations in New York City or whatever.)

And here’s something truly weird but wonderful and, to be clear, very specific to my own use case.

We use Sonos smart speakers in the sunroom, kitchen, living room, and bathroom, and you can interact with them in one of two ways: Using the Sonos app, which connects to various third-party services, or using certain third-party apps—like Spotify and Audible—that “know” about Sonos and can cast to these speakers outside of Google’s Chromecast/Google Cast ecosystem.

Sonos may make great speakers but its software isn’t as good, and I very much prefer to use the third-party apps when possible. The problem is that I use Google’s music service. When this was Google Play Music, all was well: It could “cast” to Sonos speakers just like Spotify can. But with the transition this year to YouTube Music, that feature was lost. YouTube Music cannot “cast” to Sonos, and so I need to play music from the Sonos app instead.

Enter the iPhone 12 or, more appropriately, iOS. Apple’s platform(s) offer a third way to interact with newer Sonos speakers, AirPlay 2, which one might think of as Apple’s version of Chromecast/Google Cast. Google doesn’t natively support AirPlay 2 or whatever because it doesn’t have to: It’s a system-level feature that lets you direct the audio output of any app from the device’s speakers to one or more AirPlay 2-compatible speakers.

My Sonos speakers are all AirPlay 2 compatible. Thus, I can use the YouTube Music app I prefer with those Sonos speakers, bypassing the Sonos app. To do so, I just open the YouTube Music app, select the music I want, press Play, swipe down from the top right to display iOS’s Control Center, and then select the Now Playing tile, which has an AirPlay 2 icon.

When you select that, I see all the AirPlay 2-compatible speakers on my Wi-Fi network. Including those Sonos speakers. Nice!

Now, I know that few people are using this combination of a Google music service, Sonos speakers, and Apple devices. But it’s still somewhat fascinating to me that the three can be made to work together in this fashion.

More soon.

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Comments (30)

30 responses to “Apple iPhone 12 Follow-Up”

  1. Leslie Moor

    I too prefer a simple home screen with only the apps I use regularly. Trouble is there are too many to fit on one screen, especially now that I'm using the new iOS widgets for weather and photos on my home screen as well. My workaround is to have a lot of apps in folders on the home screen so everything fits. The good: everything I use regularly is on the home screen. The bad: apps in folders are less obviously "there" and it takes two taps instead of one to launch them. Not convinced that I've found the best solution...

    • derekaw

      In reply to Leslie_Moor:

      iOS now has a Siri Suggestions widget that puts 8 suggested apps on your home screen, they look like apps that you personally arranged but they update automatically based on use. I hope this solves my too many apps problem and that I can mostly just use the one screen and not have folders.

    • Paul Thurrott

      I wondering if having them in folders will lead to less idle usage and maybe more awareness about which apps are really necessary multiple times throughout a day. But still testing this theory.
  2. snow.steve22


    Regarding the "weird pattern of lights in the sky" in one photo, it looks as if there are reflections in the lens. You can see they appear to be repeating toward a single point off in the distance. I think the brightness of the actual lights seen in the picture have been "dialed back" by the software since at that level of light they would be obnoxiously bright if they were uncorrected. The repeating reflections aren't dialed back like that so they are probably seen as separate items by the software rather than artifacts. A future software update may fix this but I wouldn't make any bets on it.

  3. wright_is

    Ultra-wide: That is how ultra-wide photos have always worked, the wider the lens, the more distorted the edges are, it is basic physics. and has been a phenomenon since before I started SLR photography with a wide-angle lens in the late 70s.

    My guess is that until now ultra-wide modes on most phones aren't using the whole lens or haven't been as wide as they could be - or Samsung/Huawei do a better job at AI correction of physical lens distortion.

  4. jedwards87

    "You don’t get the surrealistic HDR color pop found in Samsung or Huawei flagships, and I’m curious why that’s not even an option you can enable."

    Paul, have you tried selecting the Vivid option with the Creative Controls in the camera app ? That makes the colors pop a little more.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yeah, I literally set that as the default (you can make settings stick in the Settings app) after writing this. It's still not where I want it, but it's better.
  5. marctsawwassen

    Im a heavy user of apple products and homekit. (By heavy I mean it’s the only devices I use, particularly iPad OS and I have over 30 lights connected to homekit from a variety of manufacturers.) I have multiple Homepods and also Sonos One.

    I can tell you from personal experiences:

    Airplay2 is 98% solid with multiple Homepods (i have 5 of them)

    Airplay2 is 75% solid when connecting to Sonos One concurrently with Homepods

    iOS/iPadOS 14 reduced the reliability of Homekit. Devices don’t connect quickly, and reconnect. It was super solid with iOS13 and I hope for bug fixes

    Contrary to reviews Sonos One has better overall sound than HomePod. The reason is that It is more musical in the mid-high range - very important. I suspect this is not because Homepod has insufficient drivers/amplifiers but rather is tuned a certain way (to have a certain sound profile for “pop” music). That being said, Homepod outperforms Sonos One in multiple other ways (bass, stereo imaging, microphone performance). Oh, and Homepod will be able to “simulate” Dolby Atmos. Im curious about this.

    • sammyg

      In reply to MarcTsawwassen:

      AirPlay2 is amazing.

      We are a iOS household, 5 people.....5 iPhones, 5 iPads, 4 Apple TV's, 2 Home Pods, 5 sets of "Apple" air pods (4 air pod pro's, one powerbeats pro), Apple Music family edition, and 5 Apple watches. The Apple TV's are the only thing plugged into the TV's, all content comes through them from various subs.

      The stuff just works. Two much noise going on when trying to watch something on Apple TV, send the output to your AirPod's and enjoy. The HomePod in our finished basement is favorite when people come over. Anyone can tell Siri what to play.

      The kids are getting Home Pod mini's for their rooms this Xmas. Music alarm coming through that vs a phone is going to be an improvement.

  6. filipvh

    The Siri App Suggestions widget is great for a minimalist home screen. It uses some sort of machine learning algorithm that uses both time and location to display the 8 apps you're most likely to use at that time and place in a two-row widget that looks just like two normal rows of icons

    It's not perfect, but I've found that this plus a few icons I want all the time has me mostly using just a single home screen. Search finds everything else.

  7. jlmerrill

    AS far as minimalist is concerned, the Pixel 4A is good enough for me and it takes great pictures. 5G isn't here yet and probably won't be good for a couple of years. I like it better than my iPhone SE 2020.

  8. sykeward

    One good way that I’ve found to keep the Home Screen tidy is to put semi-commonly used apps in a folder and then place the folder on the dock. It’s functionally a Start menu at that point, and even looks like one if you name it something like “☰”

  9. fishnet37222

    Regarding the apps not filling the screen. I thought Apple was using a constraint-based layout system where you design the top of the view to snap to either the top of the screen or the bottom of the status bar and the bottom of the view to snap to the bottom of the screen. It was my understanding that they did this so apps would automatically resize to fit the device they're running on.

  10. yoshi

    I’ve found the ultra wide lenses on the S20 line to be much better. iPhone tends to blur and distort. S20 line holds it together better before you hit that distortion point.

  11. 02nz

    "[C]onsider the tilted edge of the house and the sweeping clouds in the far left of this photo." That's because you pointed the camera upwards. When you do that, lines will slant inwards. This is common to all camera lenses. There are other forms of distortion peculiar to ultra-wide-angle lenses, of course.

  12. sarenberg

    I also use Airplay2 instead of Sonos app. It’s magic. As for the dots in the sky...the Verge video review of iPhone 12 Pro mentioned something similar, if you want to check that out.

  13. north of 49th

    Paul, a couple of questions: Did Mehedi get his iPhone 12 and how are the low light shots? Also, how do you find the size/weight of the phone (font size readability/pocket-ability/typeability) compared to others on the market?

    • Paul Thurrott

      I need to catch up with him on that, will do so. iOS has good font options which makes things readable for the most part. I usually enable bold fonts, which no longer requires a reboot, and bump sizes up a bit.
  14. robincapper

    Still find it amazing that both the phone OS makers have done so little to make the UI of smartphones smart. My current happy place is Niagara launcher on Android because it makes the 8-10 apps I use often immediately available, what I don't one seamless swipe away no matter how many apps there are installed

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