Last week, Apple announced its latest “new” iPhone — if “new,” of course, means a “yellow.” But that’s not unusual for the company, which has taken to adding a new shade to its phones about halfway through the model year.
Still, if you’re waiting for a brand new iPhone to hit the market, you still have six months to go. This obviously means that the rumors about the upcoming iPhone new new iPhone, if you will – starting to take off. But is this year’s update likely to be a major change from its predecessor? Or will this just be on par with a yellow iPhone 14? Let’s take a run through what are likely to be some of the more significant changes.
Make me a solid
The latest rumor circulating about this year’s iPhone models is the replacement of the sleep/wake and volume buttons as well as the ring/mute switch with solid-state alternatives.
Solid-state buttons are a sort of middle ground between traditional physical controls and touch controls. Think of the Home button starting on the iPhone 7, which still appeared as a distinct control but had no moving parts. (Recent Mac trackpads have also used similar technology for some time.) While they respond to touch, they also provide haptic feedback that tricks you into thinking you’ve pressed a button.
While it certainly makes sense from the perspective of the sleep/wake and volume buttons—getting rid of moving parts that can get dirty, stuck, or jammed—the ring/mute switch is a bit more cumbersome for me. Reports suggest that it will be replaced with a button, but it is unclear how it will provide different tactile feedback to indicate the mode. (It could be as simple as a vibration when turned to silent and a beep when turned to ring mode.)
One thing I wonder: is this a change Apple is likely to spend a lot of time announcing? I’m not sure it will get a significant mention in the keynote, which makes sense since most users probably won’t notice the difference. But removing physical buttons means fewer moving parts to break – and that’s always a good thing.
Now USB-C me
Rumors of Apple changing the plug on the iPhone have been around for years, but finally this is the year. Really, this is it. We are sure.
It seems the stars have finally aligned for Apple to switch ports: namely the combination of regulatory pressure from the EU and USB-C’s increasing adoption. If the Siri Remote’s recent switch to USB-C is any indication, Apple is going all in on the transition.
Besides getting closer to being able to charge all your Apple devices with a single cable, USB-C also opens up some additional options for iPhones, if the iPad is any indication. Connecting external storage and additional peripherals via USB-C can be useful in some situations – although some less exciting rumors suggest that Apple may lock the port to approved accessories. (Make me more skeptical about that part.)
No, your iPhone isn’t going to have a little camera popping out of it. One of the challenges of putting a telephoto lens with a long focal length in smartphones is simply the available space. To be able to get a larger zoom, you need a combination of lenses and set at distances that, if assembled using the traditional smartphone camera layout, would result in an absurdly large camera bump.
So instead, the periscope design uses mirrors – like a periscope – to allow these lenses to travel lengthwise along the phone, instead of being limited to it depth. That means the potential for a telephoto lens that could zoom closer to, if rumors are to be believed, 6x, improving on what’s available in current models.
But this may not be a general improvement. Some rumors have the periscope lens limited to, say, the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max, given the amount of space available in the device. It’ll be a bummer for those who simply don’t want a bigger phone, but it wouldn’t be the first time Apple has put its best camera in only its most expensive model.
Speaking of which, another lingering question about the iPhone 15 lineup is how Apple will differentiate its Pro and non-Pro models. For the past year, the company has for the first time only put its latest chip – the A16 – in the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max, opting to leave the standard iPhone 14 and 14 Plus for 2021’s A15 Bionic. Presumably, the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus will get the A16 in the fall, while the 15 Pro and Pro Max will move up to the new A17.
But between this and the possibility that some functions, such as the periscope lens, only coming to the Pro Max/Ultra model, Apple is certainly making its line-up more complex. Colors, processors, case materials, and even software features are now all ways that Apple has chosen to differentiate the Pro phones from their non-Pro counterparts.
That’s not surprising, though, given that the company still sees significant headroom at the top of the iPhone market; as Tim Cook said during Apple’s latest financial earnings call, “I think people are willing to really stretch to get the best they can, they can afford in that category.”
Is this iPhone 15 poised to be a significant update over this year’s models? The smartphone has certainly matured as a product, with year-on-year changes that feel more evolutionary than revolutionary these days, but most people don’t replace their phone every year, so for those trading in a device that’s a few years old, the iPhone 15 line may very well feel like a big step up.