Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Leak may reveal a new iPhone 13 upgrade we’ve all been waiting for

Updated Apr 17th, 2021 2:42PM EDT

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

The second-generation iPad Pro delivered an exciting screen upgrade that wasn’t available elsewhere in Apple’s ecosystem of iOS and macOS devices. It also wasn’t available on any competing devices. We’re talking about the 120Hz refresh rate feature that Apple calls ProMotion. We’ve been waiting for ProMotion to make its way to the iPhone ever since, especially considering that most Android smartphone vendors have embraced higher refresh rates on their screens. It started with those gimmicky gaming phones with crazy specs. But then the 90Hz and 120Hz displays became mainstream and most Android flagships will now ship with high refresh rate displays. Some will say that Android needs the technology more than iOS, as Apple has managed a smoother software experience than Android. But there’s no denying that screens with higher refresh rates are appealing to buyers.

The problem with 90Hz and 120Hz screens is that they consume more energy than 60Hz panels, so they decrease battery life. Previous-generation phones like the Galaxy S20 and Pixel 4 proved that. Battery life is thought to be the reason the iPhone 12 series never got the ProMotion upgrade, although rumors around this time last year claimed that Apple was considering 120Hz screen tech for the handsets. More recently, iPhone 13 rumors claimed that Apple will use a new screen tech to bring 120Hz screens to the iPhone 13, but some of them said the iPhone 13 Pro Max might be the only handset to get it. Now, a new report says that more iPhone 13 devices might get the screen upgrade everyone’s been waiting for.

Short for low-temperature polycrystalline oxide, LTPO is a display acronym we keep seeing in iPhone 13 rumors that mention 120Hz screens. It’s a technology that Apple developed and introduced on the Apple Watch Series 4. It’s on the Apple Watch Series 5 that the LTPO panel shined, allowing Apple to offer an always-on display for the first time. The tech allows Apple to dynamically reduce the refresh rate all the way to 1Hz when you’re not looking at the screen. The Apple Watch Series 5 still got the same one-day battery estimate as its predecessors despite the new always-on display feature.

Apple will reportedly use the same LTPO tech on the iPhone 13 series. The software will adapt the refresh rate dynamically based on what the user is doing. Gaming sessions and other experiences that warrant a high refresh rate should be bumped up to 120Hz automatically. The refresh rate could drop for other activities, like reading text and perhaps always-on functionality like the Apple Watch.

We know the LTPO tech isn’t as taxing on battery life because Samsung is using its own version of LTPO screens for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The screen supports the same dynamic refresh rate, and battery life is much better than the Galaxy S20 versions. OnePlus has a similar feature on its new OnePlus 9 Pro.

Display tech analyst Ross Young has been reporting display details for various devices on Twitter, and the latest one concerns the iPhone 13’s LTPO tech:

Heard some rumors in the industry and media that there would only be one LTPO model from Apple later this year. Can confirm that is not the case. Apple fans can relax!

As with other leaks, there’s no way to verify this claim. But it would make more sense for Apple to add 120Hz displays to both Pro versions, not just the Max. The iPhone 12 Pro Max got one exclusive feature last year, sensor-shift optical image stabilization that’s reportedly coming to all iPhone 13 versions this year. Adding a 120Hz screen only to the iPhone 13 Pro Max would make the larger phone the only real “Pro” phone, but not all iPhone Pro buyers like the Max size.

We do have more circumstantial evidence supporting the idea that the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max will get a ProMotion screen.

First of all, a different analyst said in mid-March that the iPhone 13 phones are getting bigger capacity batteries — from Ming-Chi Kuo’s note to clients:

The new 2H21 ‌iPhone‌ models feature a larger battery capacity than the iPhone 12 series, thanks to the space-saving design of many components. Hence, the new 2H21 ‌iPhone‌ models are also slightly heavier than the ‌iPhone 12‌. The space-saving design includes integrating the SIM card slot with the mainboard, reducing the front optical modules’ thickness, etc.

Secondly, we saw purported 3D schematics leak for all four iPhone 13 models. They all indicate the four iPhone 13 phones will have the same overall design as their predecessors. All four phones will feature narrower notches, larger and thicker camera modules on the back, repositioned cameras (only for the non-Pro phones), repositioned buttons, and a repositioned SIM tray.

These leaks told us the regular iPhone 13 model will be slightly thicker than the iPhone 12, but just as tall and wide. Similarly, the iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max will all be slightly thicker than their iPhone 12 equivalents. That’s an extra 0.2mm in thickness, on average, for all four devices.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12
Comparison between leaked iPhone 13 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro Max schematics shows size differences. Image source: YouTube

The simplest explanation for the thickness increase is that Apple is looking to compensate for the increased rear-camera bump thickness. But any increase in thickness can also be used for increasing the battery capacity. The LTPO panels are more energy-efficient than the OLED panels in iPhone 12. But the iPhone 13 phones could benefit from larger battery packs to offer at least the same battery life estimate as their predecessors despite the 120Hz display upgrade.

Taken together, all these leaks seem to suggest that at least two iPhone 13 versions will have 120Hz displays, the ProMotion screen upgrade we’ve all been waiting for. But none of these leaks can be verified at this time. Kuo and Young have been accurate in the past, and 3D schematics are a common iPhone leak in the months preceding a new model launch. But all of these leaks are merely unconfirmed rumors at this point.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.