Today was Apple's annual announcement: the latest iPhone and Apple Watch hardware, and details on when the new versions of software for all Apple devices will be released.
I'll spoil the surprise: if you have an iPhone 14 or a Series 8 Apple Watch, you probably won't find too much to be excited about this time around. Still, there's all that new software to get excited about. The release dates are:
- iOS 17: September 18
- iPadOS 17: September 18
- watchOS 10: September 18
- tvOS 17: September 18
- HomePod Software 17: September 18
- macOS 14: September 26
Apple is releasing four new iPhones, as we've come to expect: iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro, and iPhone 15 Pro Max. The smaller two have 6.1-inch screens, and the Plus-sized ones are 6.7 inches. From what I can tell, all are similar in design to iPhone 14, though the edges are slightly more curved (Apple calls it "contoured"). This isn't curved like an iPhone 11, just less sharp corners around the frame.
The biggest physical change is the replacement of the Lightning port with USB-C. With Apple releasing a new USB-C charging case for AirPods Pro 2, this nearly completes the transition away from Lightning. The port can be used for audio, data transfer, and charging, just like Lightning. Data speeds are slow on the cheaper iPhone 15 models, but the Pro phones have 10GBPS ports. They are so fast that iOS will support recording video footage straight to an external drive.
All models gain a new option for satellite communication in the form of roadside assistance. Apple is partnering with Triple A to make this happen (yes, this is only in the U.S. for now). If you get stuck somewhere without cellular service, but you don't need emergency help, you can use your phone to text an operator. You describe your problem, and Triple A will dispatch the equipment you need. Every iPhone 15 comes with two years of this service for free, and it's included in Triple A membership plans. It can also be purchased separately after the free trial period expires.
There's also support for Qi 2 across the line. We don't know a lot about this yet, but Qi 2 is the new, updated wireless charging standard that replaces Qi. It charges faster, and incorporates a magnet system very similar to MagSafe. This might give non-MagSafe charging a speed boost if you're using a Qi 2 charger. Again, though, more information and testing is needed.
Finally, all four iPhone 15 models gain a new ultra wideband chip. This can connect to other devices that have the same chip at up to three times the distance the U1 chip could manage. Apple demonstrated people finding each other in a crowd using their phones, for instance.
The Non-Pro Phones
Let's start with iPhone 15. Everything I'm about to write applies equally to it and its Plus counterpart. The only difference is, of course, that the Plus is bigger.
iPhone 15 gets the same chip that can be found in iPhone 14 Pro--the A16 Bionic. It also gets the dynamic island and OLED screen that was exclusive to the pro line last year, along with the expected bump in camera performance. It seems like iPhone 15 is basically a slightly re-designed copy of iPhone 14 Pro, which isn't a bad thing.
That said, there are some improvements. The screen can get up to twice as bright, there's improved noise cancellation when talking on the phone, and there are the camera changes I mentioned. Low light performance is better, portrait mode will come on automatically if it detects a person, cat, or dog, and photos will be twenty-four megapixels instead of twelve. Will any of this improve your OCR or AI image recognition results? Probably not, but you never know.
The available colors are yellow, blue, pink, green, and black.
iPhone 15 Pro
The Pro models (Pro and Pro Max) are more interesting. To start with, they use titanium instead of stainless steel, with an aluminum inner structure. This makes them eight to nine percent lighter than the iPhone 14 Pro models they replace. Apple first introduced titanium with Apple Watch Ultra last year, but this is the first time it's been used in the shell of an iPhone.
The mute switch has been replaced by an action button, similar to Apple Watch Ultra. You can press and hold it to toggle mute, or press it to open an app or run a shortcut. This opens up a lot of options, such as toggling mute automatically, opening the camera or starting a voice memo recording with the press of a button, and a lot more.
The chip got some pretty significant upgrades, at least for certain use cases. The A17 Pro includes a lot of improvements in graphics and gaming, such as hardware-accelerated raytracing (it basically makes games look more realistic) and hardware AV1 encoding. The A17 is the world's first smartphone processor to use a 3nm (3 nanometer) architecture, which lets it produce less heat and use less power while being faster than the 5nm processor it replaces. You might not feel the changes day-to-day, but it's quite an impressive technical achievement.
Apple spent a lot of time on this phone's camera upgrades, but don't worry, I won't. Basically, it has 5x optical zoom, a really cool mechanism to extend how far light travels inside the lens assembly so the camera can focus at different lengths, and better stabilization. There are a bunch of other features, but as often happens when Apple gets into camera details, I didn't really understand what was going on. The cameras are amazing, even more than last year. That's the takeaway for our community. Again, will this update be better for AI recognition of images? Almost certainly not.
iPhone 15 Pro comes in raw titanium, white, blue, and black. The Max model now starts at 256GB instead of 128GB, though the cheapest model costs the same as what an iPhone 14 Pro Max with 256GB of storage would have cost. That is, Apple dropped the 128GB option completely and kept all other prices the same.
Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2
Apple is upgrading both watch variants. We'll talk about them together, because the changes are mostly the same for both.
This year's Apple Watch update finally introduces a new chip, the S9. The Series 6, 7, and 8 all had basically the same processor, so this is a welcome upgrade. The chip is faster, and includes a four-core neural engine that allows for on-device AI tasks. Siri can now run common commands right on the watch instead of needing to talk to the cloud, and dictation, predictive text, and other machine learning features should be improved. Not only will this make Siri faster, but it lets Ultra users do things like set waypoints with their voice, even when they have no cellular service. Speaking of Siri, a future update will let users log and check health data with their voice.
Both watches gain the new ultra wideband chip found in iPhone 15. Thanks to this, your watch can now precisely locate your phone if you ping it. It can also pop up playback controls or media suggestions if you move near a HomePod.
The Series 9 and Ultra 2 will both get storage increases. They now come with 64GB instead of 32GB. Sadly, there's no increase to battery life. The stated usage times on a single charge remain the same as the Series 8 and first-generation Ultra.
The screens are brighter now. The Series 9 screen gets brighter in light, up to 2000 nits, and can dim as low as 1 nit. This should make it even less visible in theaters, bed, and other situations when you don't want a glowing square to stand out. The Ultra 2's new display peaks at 3000 nits, and can toggle night mode based on ambient light now.
I've buried the lead, though. The big new feature this year is Double Tap, where you tap the thumb and index finger of your watch hand together twice. This will act similar to the two-finger double tap most VoiceOver users know and love. If you have a Now Playing screen open, the gesture will play/pause. If your watch is ringing with an incoming call, this will answer it. During a call, it will hang up. If an alarm is going off, it stops the sound. You get the idea. The important thing to note is that you don't need to use your other hand. If you're walking along and want to hang up a call, but your cane is in your right hand and your watch is on your left wrist, you can simply perform this new gesture with your left hand. This is similar to the gesture controls watchOS has included for a couple years, but it's enabled by default and doesn't include the full set of gestures/commands. It's unclear whether this feature is exclusive to the Series 9 and Ultra 2, given that gesture control works all the way back to the Series 5 (maybe earlier).
The Series 9 Sport model (that's the aluminum one) comes in pink, red, starlight, midnight, and silver. The stainless steel Series 9 comes in gold, silver, and graphite. The Ultra 2 comes in raw titanium, like last year's Ultra, and a new black color. Prices are unchanged from the first Ultra and Series 8. The latest Apple Watch SE remains in the lineup, unchanged.
Apple made a lot of its efforts toward lessening its environmental impact. From renewable energy powering its corporate centers and stores, to using all recycled aluminum in the Series 9, to all the recycled copper and cobalt in the newest phones, and more. In fact, Apple claims that the Series 9 watch is its first-ever carbon-neutral product. It even pledges to invest in renewable energy to offset the expected energy use for every Series 9 it sells. The packaging is also smaller, letting shipments of these watches fit 25% more boxes, and Apple is on track to remove all plastic from all its product packaging by the end of 2024.
One change I didn't expect was the replacement of an entire material. Apple is no longer in the business of leather. It replaced its leather watch bands and phone cases with a new material it calls FineWoven. Don't worry, FineWoven accessories are still expensive.
There you have it. Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2, iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro, and the release dates for all the big software updates. Let us know what you thought, and what your upgrade plans are.
Personally, I'm sticking with my iPhone 13 Mini. However, I'm eying that Series 9 watch. While it's not much of an improvement over a Series 7 or 8, there are some nice-to-have features that my Series 6 lacks. What about you?