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Incremental iPhone 15 Improvements Focus on Photography and Connectivity

At its Wonderlust event on 12 September 2023, Apple unveiled the iPhone 15 lineup with primarily incremental improvements. In keeping with last year’s approach, Apple introduced the 6.1-inch iPhone 15 and 6.7-inch iPhone 15 Plus along with the 6.1-inch iPhone 15 Pro and 6.7-inch iPhone 15 Pro Max. The third-generation iPhone SE, iPhone 13, and iPhone 14 remain available to provide lower-cost options. The iPhone 13 mini disappears from the mix, seemingly marking the end of Apple’s 5.4-inch iPhones.

2023 iPhone lineup

Apple started accepting pre-orders for the new iPhone 15 models on 15 September 2023, and they’ll be available on 22 September 2023.

iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus

Although Apple continues to innovate more on the Pro end of the lineup, the basic iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus improve on their predecessors in various ways, some in part due to the adoption of the A16 Bionic chip from the iPhone 14 Pro.

  • USB-C: The most apparent change, shared by the Pro models, is the replacement of the Lightning port with USB-C for charging and data transfer. Unsurprisingly, Apple focused on the benefits of USB-C and made no mention of the EU’s requirement that all electronics use a common charger starting in 2024.
  • Dynamic Island: The iPhone 15 gains the Dynamic Island that debuted last year in the iPhone 14 Pro. It’s a subtle but effective way to display alerts and Live Activities in the area surrounding the camera and sensor package at the top of the screen, disguising the need for a distracting notch much of the time.
  • 48-megapixel camera: In a significant jump, the iPhone 15 gets a 48-megapixel camera that promises better photos than the previous generation’s 12-megapixel camera. By default, it combines pixels for a 24-megapixel image bolstered by computational photography. It also provides an effective 2x telephoto option by using just the 12 megapixels in the center of the sensor, giving the iPhone 15 optical-quality zoom levels of 0.5x, 1x, and 2x.
  • Computational photography improvements: The camera now detects people, dogs, and cats, and it captures depth information for Portrait mode, which can be applied, removed, or adjusted after the fact. Other changes improve photos taken in Night mode and using Smart HDR.
  • Roadside Assistance via satellite: This expansion to Emergency SOS via satellite enables iPhone 15 users suffering car problems in areas without cellular coverage to call for assistance. Access to satellite services is included for 2 years, and American Automobile Association (AAA) membership in the US covers the roadside service. Those who aren’t AAA members will be able to purchase service separately.
  • Second-generation UWB chip: Apple’s second-generation Ultra Wideband chip enables Precision Finding at three times the range as before when used to locate other devices with the second-generation chip. That makes Precision Finding with Find My Friends practical in crowds.

iPhone 15 spec card

The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus will be available in pastel shades of pink, yellow, green, blue, and black in 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB storage capacities, starting at $799 and $899, respectively.

iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max

As much as many people bemoan the cost of Apple products, Apple does very well selling premium products at premium prices. Nowhere is that more evident than with the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, where Apple charges $200 more than the base model for innovative features. Along with Roadside Assistance via satellite and the second-generation Ultra Wideband chip, the Pro-only features this year include:

  • A17 Pro chip: The latest version of Apple’s iPhone (and likely iPad) chip offers 10% faster CPU performance (than last year’s A16 Bionic), twice the Neural Engine performance, and a new 6-core GPU design that’s 20% faster. There’s also a dedicated AV1 decoder for better streaming video experiences. If you do things on your iPhone that seem slow now—video streaming or mobile gaming, perhaps—you’ll appreciate the new chip. Either way, it will quickly become the new normal.
  • USB-C with USB 3 speeds: Although all iPhone 15 models have a USB-C port, the iPhone 15 Pro models support USB 3 transfer speeds of 10 gigabits per second, which will radically speed up transferring large quantities of data—photos, audio, video—to a Mac or storage device.
  • Wi-Fi 6e and Thread support: For those needing maximum wireless performance, Apple says the iPhone 15 Pro’s support for Wi-Fi 6e can provide up to twice the bandwidth. Thread support could enable future opportunities for Home app integrations, though it’s unclear what that means.
  • Titanium exterior: I’m not one to gush about different materials, mainly because most phones end up in protective cases, but Apple made a big deal about how the iPhone 15 Pro features an aerospace-grade titanium exterior and aluminum interior for strength, durability, and reduced weight. Both models are only 19 grams lighter—about the weight of four credit cards—and while that’s welcome, it doesn’t seem game-changing. (But it may be more noticeable than it seems.)
  • Action button: Apple replaced the Ring/Silent switch with a customizable Action button, activated by pressing and holding. By default, it still puts the iPhone into silent mode, but you can set what you want it to do, such as activate Voice Memos, set Focus modes, access the camera or flashlight, enable Accessibility options, or launch a Shortcut. It features haptic feedback and shows visual cues in the Dynamic Island.
  • Better photos: Both models of the iPhone 15 Pro get an even better 48-megapixel camera and receive the same computational photography upgrades as the base models that provide 24-megapixel default photos, better low-light photos in Night mode, more vibrant images with Smart HDR, and automatic Portrait mode. But the iPhone 15 Pro Max gains a 5x Telephoto camera thanks to a tetraprism design—the rumored “periscope” camera.

iPhone 15 Pro spec card

The iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max will be available in four finishes: black titanium, white titanium, blue titanium, and natural titanium. The iPhone 15 Pro starts at $999 for 128 GB, with 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB storage options. The iPhone 15 Pro Max starts at $1199 for 256 GB, with 512 GB and 1 TB storage options. Last year’s iPhone 14 Pro Max started at $1099, but that was for 128 GB, which is no longer an option, so the prices are comparable. Or, if you take inflation into account, lower.

Upgrade Decisions

Last year, we suggested that there wasn’t much reason to upgrade to the iPhone 14, but the iPhone 14 Pro, with its 48-megapixel camera, Always-On display, and Dynamic Island, was more compelling. This year, I think the reverse is true.

Because the iPhone 15 gains the A16 Bionic chip, 48-megapixel camera, Dynamic Island, and computational photography improvements, it’s an easier upgrade decision if you’re coming from an iPhone 12 or iPhone 13. It’s harder to recommend upgrading from an iPhone 14 that’s only a year old, but even that jump is likely something you’ll notice.

However, the improvements in the iPhone 15 Pro over the iPhone 14 Pro are likely to be appreciated mostly by professionals. Most people won’t notice the increased performance of the A17 Pro, USB 3, and Wi-Fi 6e. As always, the camera improvements will gain a wide fan base, but the 5x Telephoto camera is available only on the iPhone 15 Pro Max, and many people (like me) who would otherwise appreciate it would never consider such a large phone.

As such, I can’t recommend most people upgrade from an iPhone 14 Pro, and only the camera improvements and Action button tempt me to trade mine in. If you’re using an iPhone 13 Pro or anything older, it’s an easier decision because you’d also gain the features that set the iPhone 14 Pro apart.

Where do you come down on the upgrade decision?

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Comments About Incremental iPhone 15 Improvements Focus on Photography and Connectivity

Notable Replies

  1. I’m disappointed iPhone 15 Pro does not have the 5X zoom. On the bright side, I guess I won’t be upgrading my iPhone 14 Pro.

  2. Actually, the price difference between the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max is only $100 for the same amount of storage. The Pro has a 128GB version, while the Pro Max starts at 256GB.The price difference for the 256GB, 512BG and 1TB versions is still only $100.

  3. I did think about getting the 15 Pro Max. I’m not so much concerned about the price difference between the Pro and Pro Max as I am about the size.

    Since the iPhone 14 Pro is the perfect size and fits nicely in my pants pocket, I’m not too sure about lugging a much bigger phone although a larger screen may help with my aging eyes.

    As the saying goes, it’s the size that counts.

  4. Frankly, most people with a working iPhone whose battery health condition is 80% plus really don’t need to upgrade. Few need the latest Pro flagship product. Budget minded folks will choose a prior year or two model saving $100 - $200. Many could go 5-6 years without upgrading even if they swap the battery in the middle. At year 7-8 you’ll find yourself unable to run the latest iOS. Perhaps one final year after that you won’t be receiving security patches. Apps won’t be compatible.

    My iPhone XS is five years old and still has 86% battery health. It still lasts most of the day on a charge. I don’t stream or video game and only charge at night or while commuting. Therefore I haven’t worn down the battery lifespan. Apple offers a trade in of only $140.

    I am thinking about the 15 vs 15 Pro but I could also go another year before I replace the XS. Then again the cost of a Pro plus AppleCare+ isn’t that much divided by 5 years and 12 months. Decisions decisions. Should I stay or should I go now. :musical_score::notes::musical_note:

  5. I will upgrade to the 15 Pro Max from my 6 year old iPhone X. I contemplated upgrading last year but decided to hold off for the reported additional features in iPhone 15 including the A17 chip and the USB-C port.

  6. Yes. Of course Apple knows this. Interestingly, on their page for the iPhone 15, they compare the GPU performance of the A16 with the iPhone 12, a three year old model.

  7. If you’re referring to this sentence in the article:

    Nowhere is that more evident than with the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, where Apple charges $200 more than the base model for innovative features.

    Then I was unclear—entirely possible on such a long day. My intent was to point out that the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max are $200 more expensive than the comparable iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus and thus that Apple is in essence charging $200 for the new features in the Pro line. There may be a little wiggle on those numbers with storage amounts.

  8. My iPhone 11 (which despite the model designation is shy of 3 years old because of purchasing downline last time) is reporting 82%… :slight_smile:

    If I discern this correctly, the 11’s represented the pinnacle of a line that started around iPhone X. It takes terrific photos and incorporates many (but not all) of the technical improvements that come with later versions of iOS. It’s good enough for some video production and still feels like a “fast” iPhone.

    But I take a lot of photos, and I’ve found that low-light performance without insanely slow shutter speeds is wanting. (They’re only “insane” because iPhone is intrinsically a handheld camera that is there for the moment…I have mounted mine on a tripod but that’s not a regular practice for me and, I suspect, almost all users.)

    It’s going to be really tempting to trade in my 11 some time this year while I can still get some value for it.

  9. There was no mention of whether Apple had expanded its removal of physical SIM support beyond the US, so I went and checked the specs on Apple UK’s site. Somewhat puzzlingly, it lists both physical SIM+eSIM and dual eSIM support:

    iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus - Technical Specifications - Apple (UK)

    I wonder what this means? Are there two models to choose from when ordering? Or does a single phone allow both SIM+eSIM and eSIM+eSIM combinations? If the latter, that is a great feature!

    Adam, my one quibble with your advice in the article is this:

    If you’re using an iPhone 13 Pro or anything older, it’s an easier decision because you’d also gain the features that set the iPhone 14 Pro apart.

    Except that you also lose a major feature if coming from an iPhone 12 or 13 mini, namely the ability to have a reasonable sized phone that can also be used one-handed. Until Apple makes another non-massive phone, I think there will be a certain set of people who see the easy decision is to stick with ‘older’ phones.

  10. It is the latter. :slight_smile: There is only one model (per country). In the rest of the world it supports either dual eSIMs or nano-SIM+eSIM. In the US, we don’t get the SIM tray and the nano-SIM support. We get just dual eSIM support. I’m not a fan (I would be if they had put that saved tray space to use, but they didn’t), but that’s just the way it is.

  11. Indeed. It seems @ace agrees with you though, since his article did say explicitly:

    The iPhone 13 mini disappears from the mix, sadly marking the end of Apple’s 5.4-inch iPhones.

    RIP iPhone mini 2020-2023.

    It’s a true shame that while for so many products Apple is willing to sell a variant that appeals only to a small segment, when it comes to fancy iPhones, apparently it’s only BIG or HUGE that they deem worthy.

  12. With USB-C finally coming to iPhone, it was clear to me I was going to update my 12 mini.

    Unfortunately, Apple has decided to release only cutting board size iPhones, so rather than choosing a fancy device, I’m going to be getting the cheapest low-end USB-C iPhone they sell. If Apple wants to get more of my money, they’ll have to make an iPhone I actually crave.

    So regular iPhone 15 with 128GB it is for me.

    I look forward to a better camera (the 12 mini’s is fine for most of my use, but I do wish it had better zoom), a new lighter color (boy does this blue 12 mini get hot just lying face down in the sun) and a brand new battery. My 12 mini was at 83% health and its battery life had clearly deteriorated compared to when it was new.

    Usually, I would have just had the battery replaced and kept enjoying this for me near-perfect form factor. But USB-C is a must in my book. It’s 2023, I can no longer stand Lightning.

    Now why Apple thinks it’s OK to sell top-$ “premium phones” but then equip them with 480 Mbps transfer speeds across their wired USB-C is beyond me. USB2 was introduced in early 2000! That was over 23 years ago!

    Talk is cheap. Apparently, unless forced by Android competition (or government regulators), these days Apple sees little reason to push the envelope with iPhone (advertising water resistance on a $800+ phone in 2023 LOL). I guess they’ve become too big, too comfortable, and too lethargic. Indeed, it’s surprising to me that even expensive Androids will often only support 480 Mbps data transfer speeds. Only very few devices clearly spec their USB-C as 10 Gbps (or at least 5). It’s preposterous. An iPhone 15 has at minimum 128 GB storage. At these paltry transfer speeds, you’ll be watching your iPhone transfer data for at least 2-1/2 HOURS just to fill that memory ONCE (and actually I have yet to see a Mac do data transfer over USB2 with anything near the promised ~48 MB/s, usually it’s closer to ~25-30 MB/s → so add another hour). And if you get a 512 GB model, you might as well take a vacation because it’s going to take at least 10 hrs (or 5+ more depending on how bad that USB2 transfer actually is). Just fathom how such a level of colossally uber-lame transfer speed is what you just plunked down >$800 for. In 2023! :rofl:

    Fun fact: USB-3’s 5 Gbps throughput came to market in 2008. 14 years ago! :flushed:

  13. I really like my first generation SE (2016) for its size. While I don’t have the latest system software, my original battery still shows 90% max capacity. I was really hoping for another small phone. Sigh…

  14. On Apple’s website, I compared my iPhone xxx Max Pros (where xxx is 13, 14 & 15) and the new telephoto lens needs a shake down trial plus CPU changes mid year. Side by side I can stay with my iPhone 14 Pro Max for another year. Wife likes my iPhone 13 Pro Max and it has a SIM card slot for her UK number. I hope the screen will stay blank unless I tap it to view it.

    Also staying with my iWatch Ultra. Don’t want screen on all the time with it as well. Not enough changes

  15. Yep, if you’re using an iPhone 12 mini or iPhone 13 mini, I can’t see much reason to upgrade. But that was true last year too. Very sad, and Tonya remains bitter about the fact that the iPhone SE is still larger than she’d like.

  16. I’m still ok with my iPhone 13 Pro. It’s still under AppleCare+ warranty until December, and I’ll go monthly after that. I had an accident a few weeks ago, and got my slightly cracked screen replaced for just 3,700 yen (about $25). I do like camera improvements. And the idea of a lighter titanium sounds nice. As does the USB-C port and some other things. But really, I see no reason to upgrade now. I’ll wait for the 16. Or 17.

  17. I am boycotting because there is no Mini. When the battery gets old in my 13 Mini, I will pay for a new battery. I will do that repeatedly until it no longer can keep up processor-wise. Until then, Apple you are not getting a dollar from me for a new phone. Getting rid of a mini size version is… just stupid. I have an iPad already. I am a guy. I have pants with pockets. I am one of your core life long customers. Come on, man.

  18. Welcome to my world. That’s the way I treat all of my phones, without any protesting anything. When a replacement costs several hundred dollars and a new battery costs less than $100, it’s a no-brainer for me. Eventually, something will fail or some app I really like will demand an upgrade, but until then, I’m going to stick with what works until it stops working.

  19. Wife and I are upgrading from XS and XS Max respectively and from Series 5 watches. Her battery is worse than mine (she’s got the smaller size) but mine is in the needs replacement soon section of battery health…both still mostly last from morning to night but she has had to turn off the always on display to get that. The new sensors and fresh batteries along with the newer faster processor make both of these upgrades Time for us although the iPhones still make it through the day on battery but both of us want the improved cameras as well. Five years is our longest iPhone upgrade time yet though.

  20. I’m getting the 15 Pro to upgrade my 12 Pro. Key points for me are a better camera, the always on display, the dynamic island, and the ability to capture spacial video. I plan to get a Vision Pro asap and like the idea of capture anywhere. My 12 pro will rotate into a role as an underwater camera inside the Oceanic+ housing together with my Apple Watch Ultra and the Oceanic+ dive app.

    Additionally, I tried out FaceTime on the Apple TV 4K today after the tvOS and iOS updates. This truly is a killer app. Having FaceTime on my 83" OLED 4k TV and using my iPhone as a camera produced an amazing result. With my phone/camera just propped up under the TV center stage tracked incredibly well and with the large viewing screen the results are game changing for family get togethers. The FaceTime app for Apple TV is very nicely done.

  21. I have an iPhone 13pro. I’m a casual photographer so any camera improvement doesn’t mean much to me. I have a Pixel 7 that I use for photographs most of the time. It takes better pictures IMHO. YMMV.

  22. So how do you transfer from an iPhone with a SIM card to one that only accepts eSIMs? Is it done when you restore your new iPhone from the old iPhone backup?

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