In many respects, the recent release of the iPhone 15 underscores a consistent theme we’ve observed in Apple’s design philosophy over the past few years. At a cursory glance, the iPhone 15 seems remarkably similar to its predecessors, the iPhone 14, iPhone 13, and the iPhone 12. A rectangle with a flat edge. A design that is almost indistinguishable from the one before it and the one before that and so on. The most notable design variations being the larger camera, a more refined screen resolution, and weight changes. In fact, I’d venture to say that if someone were to emerge from a 15-year coma, after getting over the shock of our last president, if you handed them the last half dozen iPhones, they might assume that these phones were all launched simultaneously.
Which means many people are asking themselves (and a lot of people have been asking me): Do I really need to upgrade to something that looks almost exactly like the thing I just got last year? My answer is, yes and no. First, it’s important to understand why the last four iPhones look like quadruplets. It’s largely due to the current design philosophy at Apple, which is less “let’s change it for the sake of changing it” and more “we think this is perfect and we ain’t changing…” You get the point. Sure, Apple could venture into producing foldable or sliding screens, emulating the designs of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold or the TCL Slider. However, these innovations, while futuristic and gimmicky (and also give me anxiety that I’m going to break something while answering a text message), simply don’t feel like directions Apple would ever go in.
I’d venture to say that the iPhone’s design, much like the consistent shape of the Coca-Cola bottle since 1915 or the minimal changes to the Porsche 911’s form since 1963, has seemingly reached a pinnacle. It’s not about reinvention anymore, but now about honing a signature style. As we anticipate future models, it wouldn’t be surprising if the iPhone 16, 17, and several subsequent versions after that continue to bear strong resemblances to their predecessors. This design philosophy might only truly change when technology takes a significant leap forward, perhaps to the point where we have Apple computer chips embedded directly in our brains.
Which brings us back to our questions: Do you need to upgrade to the iPhone 15 or 15 Pro? The answer is, it really comes down to you as a consumer and how you use your current phone. If you’re seeking a groundbreaking change in design, it’s evident that the iPhone 15 Pro might not be the answer. However, if you want enhanced performance, longer battery life, upgraded camera capabilities, and a few new features that weren’t in your last phone, then an upgrade is justifiable.
There are definitely new features that are worth the jump for a lot of people. For example, the iPhone 15 Pro comes with a new A17 Pro, the industry’s first 3-nanometer chip, the science of which means nothing to us mere mortals, but which translates to faster speeds, higher graphical performance, and better battery life. In a practical sense, this means you will be able to play more graphic-intensive video games, like Assassin’s Creed Mirage or Resident Evil Village. Throw in a Backbone controller, and voilà, your phone is now a handheld game console. Which translates to Apple taking on other game consoles from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Then there’s the camera, which now has the equivalent of “seven lenses.” These upgraded lenses include a macro camera and a whole range of zooms—up to five-times depending which model of the new phone that you get. If that stuff doesn’t matter to you, then stick with your old phone.
That being said, perhaps the biggest feature of the new iPhone though is one that we all won’t be able to even take advantage of, or see, until sometime next year. The company introduced a new way of capturing moments called “spatial video,” which can record video in what feels like 3D. Earlier this year I had the chance to try out the Apple Vision Pro, which blew me away on so many levels (more on that at a later date); one of the most impressive new features was spatial videos. In a demo, I watched a clip of a kids birthday party that felt like I was actually there. When I moved my head from side to side the space changed, as did the angles I could see. It was truly like reliving an actual moment. The fact that you will soon be able to use your iPhone to capture those clips and then go back and watch them later on your Vision Pros, will make it feel like you just walked into one of those amazing “reach out and touch someone” AT&T phone commercials from the 1980s. If you’re going to get a Vision Pro when released sometime next year (which, trust me, you will once you try it) you’re going to upgrade to the new iPhone, guaranteed.
It’s not just the design of the iPhone that remained the same in form and shape. The new Apple AirPod Pros, which Apple also released last week, look exactly like their predecessors, but come with an impressive new feature that quietens sound when you begin speaking. Then there’s the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 which looks almost identical to the Apple Watch Ultra before it—twinsies! The screen is definitely brighter, and the watch is faster and more responsive, but it’s exactly the same as the one before it. Same rectangular and curved edges. But for me, there is one tiny little feature of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 that I think is among the biggest announcements the company made with its new product lineup.
Like the iPhone, the new Apple Watch has a new chip too: the S9 SiP. It enables a new feature called “double tap,” which lets you interact with the device by simply tapping your watch-hand thumb and index finger together. So imagine you have groceries in your right hand and your watch (which is on your left wrist) rings with an incoming call, rather than put the groceries down or use your nose to answer (yes, I’ve done this many times) you simply tap your fingers together and voilà, it answers. Now it’s true that this was a feature in Assistive Touch, an aspect of Apple’s iOS that helps people who have difficulty touching the screen, who could use this feature to do endless tasks on their watch, from pay with Apple Pay to access the notifications center. But the fact that Apple is showcasing this to the masses is indicative of a much larger theme the company is about to embark on.
Every once in a while, Apple’s innovations reveal themselves as a kernel, and then become an entirely new way of interacting with technology, often changing society writ large. For example, the pinch-to-zoom on the first iPhone announced in 2007 created an entirely new way of interacting with every device we own. That way of talking to screens became an entirely new language, given that prior to that innovation, phones and tablets were just us prodding with our fingers. The company’s iMessage platform (you know, the blue bubbles) started out as just a simple feature in the iPhone and transformed itself into an entire ecosystem that has filled the same needs as social media for some people. And Apple’s App Store, which was almost an afterthought when it opened in 2008 and had only 500 apps in the store. Today, there are over 1.6 million apps available for download on the iPhone (3.5 million on Android) and that little innovation changed software development forever. The new double-tap gesture isn’t just going to be on the watch, but will also be added to the new Vision Pros next year. It’s the entire way that you interact with the device: looking at an object with your eyes, and then tapping your fingers together to interact with the user interface. What you’re seeing with that little tap gesture on the Apple Watch, is the beginning of a new era of interacting with your devices.
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