Apple unveiled its upcoming trio of new iPhones today, covering the iPhone 11 and the new iPhone Pro product family. The company is retiring the confusing “XR” and “XS” brands that it deployed last year, in favor of a simplified structure. The iPhone 11 is just the iPhone 11, while the professional model will come in two flavors: iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max.
As expected, these devices make camera features and technology a major component of their own value propositions. But the iPhone 11, at least, subtly nods to the fact that Apple’s price increases were anything but well-received last year. The base model iPhone 11 will be priced at $699, $50 less than last years’ iPhone XR. While this doesn’t make the device ‘entry-level,’ (new or not, $699 is not an entry-level price), it at least shows the company is responding to consumer’s refusal to buy its higher-end devices — at least, a little. The iPhone 11 Pro still starts at $999, while the iPhone 11 Pro Max is a $1,099 device. Pre-orders begin on September 13, with shipments to start on September 20.
The iPhone 11 has a 6.1-inch screen and will be offered in a variety of colors, including black, green, purple, red, white, and yellow. Features like haptic touch, a True Tone LCD, and a dual-camera are all standard. According to Apple, the new A13 Bionic will offer up to an hour of increased battery life over the iPhone XR, which already had the best battery life in the iPhone family.
As for the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, these two devices are 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch, respectively. They have what Apple is calling a “Super Retina XDR” OLED display with support for the P3 color space, which is a wider color gamut than a standard SDR monitor or phone display. Dolby Vision and HDR10 are both supported on the iPhone Pro family, and the display can handle up to 1,200 nits of brightness. Both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro advertise features like Dolby Atmos support and supposedly offer better spatial audio performance.
All of these new devices run on Apple’s A13 Bionic SoC, about which relatively little is known at this juncture. Apple claims the new chip offers up to 20 percent faster performance and its neural engine is supposedly more efficient as well. Apple claims the iPhone 11 Pro will get four hours more battery life than the iPhone XS, while the iPhone 11 Pro Max will last five hours longer than the iPhone XS Max. These claims seem unusually large, and I’m wondering about the workloads Apple used to test them. Battery life on smartphones is highly situational depending on what, exactly, you are doing. We’ve absolutely seen these kinds of battery life improvements before — but they’ve typically arrived when a workload that was previously being handled in software (like video decoding) is transferred to fixed-function hardware blocks (like a GPU’s onboard video decoder).
We’re not saying Apple can’t deliver a 4-5 hour battery life improvement, but that improvement may be very workload-dependent. A 4-5 hour improvement in battery life in all heavy use scenarios would be the equivalent of a major leap forward in battery technology. That’s a bit farther than we’re willing to go until device characteristics have been thoroughly tested.
Apple is clearly staking the iPhone 11 on its camera tech. When you visit the landing page for the iPhone 11, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d actually dropped into a product page describing the advances in Apple’s camera technology as opposed to the general landing page for the phone. The iPhone 11 has a new camera system with one 12MP wide camera and a 12MP ultra-wide camera. The first supports optical image stabilization, while the latter has a 120-degree field of view. The Camera app has been updated to allow you to you see outside the framing of the photo for when you need to take a shot in tight quarters.
The iPhone 11 Pro includes a triple-camera system with a 12MP wide camera with an equivalent focal length of 26mm and an f/1.8 aperture. There’s also a 12MP ultrawide camera (13mm focal length, f/2.4 aperture) and a 12MP telephoto camera with a 52mm focal length and an f/2.0 aperture. Much of Apple’s live event and its webpages are filled with glossy demonstrations of the kind of photos you can take with the new iPhone Pro and professionals extolling the benefits of the new device compared with previous models.
David Cardinal is our resident photography expert, so I’m going to defer to him as far as any professional comparison between professional DSLR cameras and the integrated models present in phones. I expect that this focus on the iPhone’s camera technology will at least help the device close the gap between itself and standalone DSLRs in some cases, particularly thanks to the new Night Mode, but that there will continue to be specific times and places where there’s an advantage to having a standalone professional product. It has been my observation that smartphones have gotten steadily better at providing a very good default, but there are intrinsic challenges to matching the benefits of a DSLR in such a limited amount of space.
The iPhone Pro, at least, includes a fast charger in the box. The iPhone 11 continues not to do so. All of these devices are rated for IP68 water-resistance, commonly referred to as being waterproof.
The iPhone 11 Pro’s landing-page is even more photo and video-centric. It’s basically devoted to a demonstration of all the new device’s photo and video-editing features, or shots that claim to show the benefits of the new cameras. These sorts of claims will have to be evaluated to see how they hold up in objective testing, so I don’t actually have a lot to say about them, other than observing the fact that Apple is trying to push customers towards new products almost entirely on the basis of camera tech.
This may not be the worst approach. There are rumors that the company is planning a fairly major overhaul for the iPhone next year, with new features like 5G support set to be introduced at that date. Customers, meanwhile, tend to respond well to visual improvements — the original introduction of Retina displays was a huge win for Apple, and smartphone cameras are one of the few areas that have continued to improve at a fair pace even as overall device performance and battery life improvements have slowed.
There have been rumors that Apple will re-launch a new iPhone SE in 2020. If it intends to unveil such a device, it will do so at a later date. There was no mention of a new lower-end product. The iPhone 7 has been removed from sale; the iPhone 8 is now Apple’s lowest-end entry-level model at $449.