This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022, CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice around Apple’s most popular product.

When Apple executives exhibit the iPhone 14 in California next week, as is broadly anticipated, you most likely will not discover many modifications to the telephone. Rumors counsel the notch the place the selfie digicam sits could also be smaller, and Apple will possible tout digicam enhancements or newly launched always-on display expertise. However the characteristic the corporate will likely be betting on most to draw clients would be the one launched two years in the past: 5G wi-fi.

Positive, for some individuals, 5G is yesterday’s information. For others, it is just a bigger number than 4G that got here earlier than. However more and more, information is piling up that signifies 5G wi-fi is changing into practically as vital in at this time’s iPhones as battery life and storage, the 2 options individuals be careful most for when shopping for their telephones. The present wi-fi normal, which has been accessible for a number of years now from all the main US carriers, can also be the second-most cited motive individuals instructed researchers on the consultancy Deloitte that they’d switched cellular suppliers, behind “better value for the money.”

It is a far cry from how 5G was perceived at launch and within the early years, when the service switched on with numerous fanfare but little actual coverage. However the carriers have poured billions of {dollars} into the infrastructure and airwaves to help it, which has resulted in higher service in lots of locations. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook dinner is one among 5G’s largest boosters, citing it practically each time he is mentioned iPhones in public since first providing the expertise with the iPhone 12 in 2020. “5G has been an accelerant,” he said in July when discussing future prospects for his firm’s handset, regardless of rising inflation and a looming recession. “I feel there’s motive to be optimistic.”

Learn extra: How to Watch the iPhone 14, Apple Watch Series 8 Launch Event

Yearly appears to be a test of the iPhone’s continued popularity, and that’ll proceed with good motive this 12 months too. The iPhone is the corporate’s singular most vital product by practically any measure. Apple rang up greater than $191.97 billion in iPhone gross sales final 12 months, which was greater than half of its total income. A lot of the iPhone’s expertise has seeped into the remainder of its enterprise as effectively, with associated merchandise just like the Apple WatchAirPods headphones and iPad tablet changing into multibillion greenback companies unto themselves. 

It is also helped to push Apple’s worth to greater than $2.5 trillion, up from the $60.7 billion Wall Avenue valued the corporate at simply earlier than the gadget was first announced 15 years ago. Now, Apple is essentially the most valued firm on the planet, adopted by oil large Saudi Aramco, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Amazon and electrical automobile maker Tesla.

The massive image

Some 5, 10, and 20 dollar bills

The economic system’s turn out to be a key concern for many individuals since inflation started its speedy rise final 12 months.

James Martin/CNET

This 12 months, although, the iPhone’s success will not simply be a measure of gross sales that add to Apple’s earnings. It’s going to even be a bellwether for the bigger economic system, giving some sense of whether or not persons are prepared to spend at a time when our collective confidence within the economic system has fallen to its lowest point in decades. Companies giant and small have slowed new hiring or begun to put off workers, as Snap, the smaller social networking competitor to Fb, did last week.

But 5G, as yawn-worthy as it’s inside the tech trade, could also be Apple’s key to success navigating the souring economic system all of us appear to be dealing with. Wedbush Securities estimates about 240 million of the 1 billion iPhones getting used worldwide have not been upgraded prior to now three-and-a-half years and thus aren’t operating on 5G networks.

These house owners of older iPhones will possible improve in some unspecified time in the future, notably as wi-fi carriers pack on perks like free subscription movie and TV services to entice individuals to improve. “The stickiness of the iPhone improve cycle continues to be being underestimated,” Wedbush analysts wrote in a message to traders earlier this summer time. “This continues to stay Apple’s distinctive benefit over different expertise stalwarts.”

Dream a bit of 5G dream

Tim Cook announcing Apple's first 5G iPhone

Although 5G wi-fi networks had been accessible earlier than Apple launched its first 5G-capable iPhone in 2020, many individuals noticed it as one of the crucial vital launches for the service.


An odd side of the 5G improve cycle could also be that whereas persons are shopping for in — as in, they do not wish to purchase new non-5G telephones — 73% of respondents to Deloitte’s surveys mentioned they needed a “higher understanding” of what 5G affords, and 30% mentioned they’re upset by “a perceived lack of progressive apps and providers that leverage 5G.”

When carriers started selling 5G a number of years in the past, they talked of next-generation wi-fi expertise that might usher in a brand new sci-fi-device-laden future. The promise of 5G confirmed up in all places, from self-driving cars to remote medical care to smart cities.

Learn extraEverything We Know So Far About the iPhone 14

Up to now, 5G has largely delivered on its guarantees of higher speed and increased reliability, however that is about it.

Carriers, in the meantime, have satisfied individuals 5G is critical partly by turning off older 3G service, successfully pushing some individuals to improve and not directly placing 4G customers on discover that they, ultimately, will likely be subsequent.

Now, with financial uncertainty on the horizon, persons are having to suppose extra rigorously about gadget purchases they could not improve once more for a number of years.

“If you are going to purchase a smartphone, you are going to purchase the very best you’ll be able to at a sure value level,” Maribel Lopez, longtime trade watcher and head of Lopez Analysis. “Folks need to make severe selections after they’re 30% will increase in meals prices and doubled gasoline costs.”

“Nobody, except you want a worth telephone, would purchase a 4G telephone at this time,” she added.

Shiny Apple

an iphone 13 pro and iphone se on a yellow background

Apple notched its highest gross sales in earnings ever after releasing the iPhone 13 final 12 months.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

All these developments do not imply Apple’s iPhone is a assured hit, with or with out an unfolding financial disaster taking place world wide.

To sweeten the iPhone 14’s introduction, Apple’s groups are working laborious to supply software program updates with its iOS 16 software update, like a brand new “widgets” so as to add data to the lock display, undo-send in Mail and heightened security

They’re additionally rumored to be sprucing new options just like the always-on show, which might permit iPhones to point out restricted data on the display even when it might be usually turned off, and emergency satellite texting, which might turn out to be useful in the event you’re stranded on a desert freeway or in the middle of the ocean.

Learn extra: Every iPhone 14 Feature I Want to See at Apple’s Next Event 

For some individuals, that every one could seem to be pointless options simply to have one thing new on the field this 12 months. However Artistic Methods analyst Carolina Milanesi mentioned Apple must be cautious to introduce options that matter to early-first adopters and premium purchasers, who’re “crucial to the model notion.”

“You may’t go away that high-end consumer feeling neglected or forgotten,” she mentioned. And for everybody else, she’s anticipating carriers to offer subsidies and other give-aways to persuade folks that the true large modifications will likely be to the worth they get out of the telephone. 

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