Last week, Apple announced its latest “new” iPhone–if by “new”, of course, one means “yellow.” But that’s not uncommon 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 truly new iPhone to hit the market, you’ve got another six months to go. This means, naturally, that the rumors for the upcoming iPhone–the new new iPhone, if you will–are starting to pick up. But is this year’s update likely to be a major change from its predecessor? Or is this just going to be on par with a yellow iPhone 14? Let’s take a run through what will likely be some of the more significant changes.
Do 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/silent switch, with solid-state alternatives.
Solid-state buttons are kind of the 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 featured no moving parts. (Recent Mac trackpads have used similar technology for some time as well.) While they respond to touch, they also provide haptic feedback, tricking you into thinking you’ve pressed a button.
While that certainly makes sense from the perspective of the sleep/wake and volume buttons–getting rid of moving parts that can get dirty, stick, or jam–the ring/silent switch is a little iffier to me. Reports suggest it will be replaced with a button, but it’s unclear how it will provide different tactile feedback to indicate the state. (It could be as simple as a vibration when turned to silent and a beep when turned to ring mode.)
One thing I do wonder: is this a change Apple is even likely to spend a lot of time advertising? I’m not sure that it will get a significant mention in the keynote, which makes sense given that most users probably won’t notice the difference. But removing physical buttons means fewer moving parts that can break—and that’s always a good thing.
Now USB-C me
Rumors of Apple switching the connector on the iPhone have persisted for years, but finally, this is the year. Really, this is it. We’re sure.
It does seem as though the stars have at last aligned for Apple to shift ports: namely, the combination of regulatory pressure from the European Union and USB-C’s increasing adoption. If the Siri Remote’s recent switch to USB-C is any indication, Apple’s about to go 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 possibilities for iPhones, if the iPad is any indication. Connecting external storage and additional peripherals via USB-C could be useful in some situations—though some less exciting rumors suggest that Apple may lock the port to approved accessories. (Color me more skeptical about that part.)
No, your iPhone isn’t going to have a little camera that pops out of it. One of the challenges with putting a long focal length telephoto lens in smartphones is simply that of available space. To be able to get a larger zoom, you need a combination of lenses and set at distances that, if they were 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 those lenses to run lengthwise along the phone, rather than being limited to its depth. That means the potential for a telephoto lens that could feature a zoom closer to, if rumors are to be believed, 6x, improving on what’s available in the current models.
But this may not be an across-the-board improvement. Some rumors have the periscope lens limited to the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max, for example, given the available amount of space in the device. That will be a bummer for those who simply don’t want a larger phone, but it wouldn’t be the first time Apple put its best camera only in its most expensive model.
Speaking of which, another lingering question about the iPhone 15 line-up is how Apple will differentiate its Pro and non-Pro models. This past year, for the first time, the company only put its newest chip—the A16—in the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max, choosing to leave the standard iPhone 14 and 14 Plus on 2021’s A15 Bionic. Presumably, the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus will get the A16 this fall, while the 15 Pro and Pro Max move up to the new A17.
But between this and the possibility of some features, like the periscope lens, only coming to the Pro Max/Ultra model, Apple is definitely making its line-up more complex. Colors, processors, case materials, and even software features are now all ways that Apple has chosen to separate 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 most recent financial results 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 definitely matured as a product, with year-over-year changes feeling 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 couple of years old, the iPhone 15 line may very well feel like a big step up.