It’s become an annual September tradition in Cupertino, as tech giants Apple unveiled their newest version of their iconic iPhone this week. This year was one of Apple’s “off” years, as instead of announcing a brand new device, they mostly offered slight upgrades to their existing flagship phone and gave it the “S” nickname — longtime Apple users will remember this process began with the iPhone 3GS and continued up to the iPhone 7S.
However, Apple still had a few tricks up their sleeves. There’s a new, larger version of the iPhone X, a cheaper version called the iPhone XR, and a substantial upgrade to the Apple Watch. There were also some hotly anticipated items that Apple did NOT announce, and we’ll touch on those too.
But let’s start the important things that actually were announced, kicking off with the new mobile device that is sure to be a hot seller when it hits the market in a matter of weeks.
The iPhone Xs is an upgraded version of the iPhone X that Apple revealed a year ago. Like its predecessor, the Xs forgoes the home button in favor of a fill screen with minimal bezels. And before you ask, yes, the notch at the top still exists. It’s the same size as the iPhone X, but includes some beefier hardware inside. Apple claims that Face ID is now faster and more reliable and the OLED screen should be crisper, especially when viewing HDR photos.
The real crown jewel in the Xs is the new A12 Bionic processor. It’s a six-core fusion architecture chip, which Apple claims will make the Xs 15 percent faster than previous phones. We’re getting into some techno babble here, but a four-core graphics processing unit is also included (allegedly 50 percent faster) and an eight-core Neural Engine that can compute five trillion operations per second. The A11 chip, in comparison, could handle 600 billion operations per second. So what’s this all mean? The Xs is fast as hell.
The camera — already arguably the best mobile camera ever made — also received some upgrades, includng two new 12-megapixel sensors and a True Tone flash module. The average user might not notice the difference, but the Xs camera is now marginally better than it was before — and it was already excellent.
The Xs comes in three colors — space grey, silver, and gold — and is available in 64GB, 256GB, and a new 512GB model. Prices start at $1,000.00 USD (and go up from there). Pre-orders start on September 21 and Apple promises devices will start shipping a week later.
iPhone Xs Max
This wasn’t really expected, but for people who love a REALLY big phone, Apple now has you covered. The iPhone Xs Max (which is kind of an awkward name, but whatever) has all the same upgrades of the Xs, but comes with a 6.5-inch display instead of the standard 5.8-inch one. It’s the largest iPhone ever offered, just barely topping the iPhone 8 Plus by account of losing the home button.
The Xs Max does have one notable feature that the Xs doesn’t — a larger battery. Because the phone is physically bigger, Apple could cram a larger capacity battery inside, one they claim is the biggest battery ever offered in any iPhone. If you struggle with always running out of juice, the Xs Max could be the phone for you.
Wait, what the hell is this thing?
Apple surprised everyone by also unveiling this “budget” version of the iPhone (relatively speaking), which they are calling the iPhone XR. It’s roughly the same size as the iPhone Xs (but technically slightly bigger), but it’s cheaper and comes in a larger variety of colors. So what’s the difference?
The XR has an LCD screen instead of the OLED one, and only a single camera on the back. While Apple claims to have been able to salvage cool features like Portrait Mode using software instead of using the dual camera, the XR is a good option for people with less cash to blow on a brand new phone.
The XR starts at $750 and is available in six different colors — white, black, blue, red, yellow, and coral. It won’t be available for pre-order or shipping until mid-October, though.
Apple Watch 4
If you’re into wearable tech, Apple once again has spent a lot of effort into making their smart watch a must-have item. The new Series 4 Apple Watch was announced, featuring a thinner case, a larger screen, and heavily upgraded heart rate sensor that can apparently so electrocardiograms. It also contains sensors that know if you’ve fallen down, basically acting a fancy new version of those lifeline bracelets that gave birth to the “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” memes from the 90s.
The new watch is focusing on fitness, and the heart rate monitor is a big step up. It’s been certified by the FDA and you can actually print out your heatbeat history and take it to your doctor if need be. Granted, this feature might not mean a lot to the majority of Apple Watch users, but for anyone with a history of heart issues, it could be a life saver.
The new watch starts at $400 and increased to $500 if you want it to include cellular service (making it less dependant on always having your phone on you). It comes in sliver, gold, or space grey, and will start shipping September 21.
With shiny new models of the iPhone and Apple Watch being announced, the older models will all receive a price drop. If you’re not willing to blow a grand (or more) on the new iPhone Xs, the iPhone 8 now starts at $600 and the iPhone 7 dropped to $450. The Series 3 Apple Watch is now $280 for the cheapest model.
Remember when everyone cried foul over Apple ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack? Well, it didn’t stop them from selling a boatload of iPhones. Naturally, the new devices are also missing the headphone jack. The small (but maybe important) difference this year? Apple will no longer ship the iPhones with the lightning-to-3.5mm dongle that previous jackless models included. The dongle is still available for $9, and if you happen to have an old one lying around it will still work fine, but Apple is definitely pushing users towards wireless headphones — perhaps even their own AirPods, for example.
Apple announced their annual upgrade to iOS will be released to the public next week. Officially known as iOS 12, the new software will support devices back to the iPhone 5S and claims to be faster and more responsive. It also comes with handful of minor tweaks and some cool new features, but nothing game changing. The Apple Watch also gets a software upgrade, known as WatchOS 5, on the same day.
If you have an Apple HomePod, their version of the Amazon Echo or Google Home, it gets a software boost next week too. The new firmward for the HomePod will include features like making calls, setting multiple timers, find my iPhones, and Siri shortcuts.
What Wasn’t Announced
Apple didn’t offer anything about a new iPad, which was a surprise since many people were expecting an iPad Pro with Face ID to be announced. There were also no updates about a cheaper MacBook model. Most frustrating of all, Apple kept quiet about AirPower, their upcoming wireless charging technology.
AirPower was announced at the 2017 iPhone event, but it has barely been mentioned since. Both the 2017 and 2018 models of iPhone support wireless charging, but at this point users who want to take advantage of the feature are still stuck buying third-party charging mats. It’s an odd move by Apple, and makes us wonder what is taking so long.