Apple held its annual iPhone extravaganza at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino yesterday, and although there were some surprises, those of us familiar with Apple's rumor mill mainly saw what we were expecting. There was a new "Pro" version of the iPhone, as well as an always-on Apple Watch display, a new 10.2-inch iPad and a number of much-needed price and release figures for Apple's upcoming media services.
But Apple's performance was well-known and nowhere was that clearer than in its simple smartphone setup. Last year we saw Apple stick to the & # 39; X & # 39; naming scheme with the XS, XS Max and XR. This year it was back to numbers, with the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. The Pro name may sound like a daring departure, but the structure of Apple & # 39; s line-up follows last year's established pattern of a slightly cheaper model and two flagships of different sizes.
That means that interested consumers are in the same boat as last year: should you get the $ 1199 iPhone 11 or the more expensive $ 999 iPhone 11 Pro? If you want a fully equipped iPhone 11 Pro Max, it will cost you $ 1,449, as is now the case with the largest, most storage-rich, premium Apple handset. To make the decision easier, it is best to understand which phones contain which hardware and software and whether the iPhone 11 Pro is an upgrade that is substantial enough to earn at least $ 300 extra.
We have emphasized the three striking aspects of the Pro and its larger Max version, as well as the three most disappointing functions of those phones. That way you know what you get when you're looking for the more expensive iPhone, and you can decide if it makes sense to get the standard 11 instead or postpone the upgrade altogether.
The best: significant improvements to the battery life
One of the most crucial features of every new smartphone is improvements in the battery life. Apple has even made a big leap forward with the iPhone 11 Pro. The device now lasts four hours longer than last year's iPhone XS, with the Max variant getting a battery life of five hours.
That lets you play with 18 hours of video, 11 hours of streaming video playback and 65 hours of audio playback. On the standard iPhone 11 you get an hour in the dock of all video playback measurements, but with the same length for audio playback. It seems that the iPhone 11 retains the battery enhancements that Apple has made to the iPhone XR that made it even better than its XS variants last year, but this time the company offers the Pro more battery benefits.
That's nice to see, because it gives the more expensive Pro a clear advantage over the standard iPhone 11, although a marginal one. Apple can now say that the iPhone 11 Pro has the best battery of any iPhone, and the jumps of four and five hours over the XS and XS Max, respectively, are strong reasons to upgrade if you are someone who burns out your phone before the battery sun sets.
Although a better battery life is a nice advantage, Apple has increasingly voted for its camera technology to bring its latest and most expensive iPhones on the market. That is perhaps more true of the iPhone 11 Pro than any other mobile device in the history of the company. This all-encompassing, flagship iPhone has a system with three cameras & # 39; s compared to the standard dual camera settings of the iPhone 11. You get an ultra wide angle camera of 12 megapixels, a standard wide 12 megapixels and a telephoto of 12 megapixels .
The real advantage here is the added telephoto lens that the iPhone 11 does not have. That gives iPhone 11 Pro users 2x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out and up to 10x digital zoom. Those zoom benefits are transferred to video, with the iPhone 11 Pro having 6x digital zoom and the same optical zoom over the standard 2x optical zoom out and 3x digital zoom from the standard 11. You also get double optical image stabilization on the Pro, thanks to the telephoto lens that cooperates with the standard wide lens.
How can all those figures be meaningfully translated into actual product characteristics? Well, the Pro can use those three lenses at the same time to enable photography tricks that you can't get on the standard iPhone 11. The only Apple specifically mentioned on stage is called Deep Fusion, a computational feature that will be released later this year, combining nine photos, including one long-exposure shot, into a composite with the best features of each, all supported. by artificial intelligence.
Another feature of the Pro uses the additional camera to zoom in on subjects in video & # 39; s based on the audio source, while video recording can be performed manually by one of the cameras & # 39; s for more creative freedom around the appearance of iPhone video. Portrait mode photography can also be taken with the standard camera or with the telephoto.
Apart from these functions and the added zoom function, the iPhone 11 Pro shares almost every other camera element with the standard iPhone 11. That is somewhat a deviation in the way Apple has handled its range of smartphone cameras in the past, where the company usually are better cameras for the Plus variants starting with the iPhone 7 Plus and then the flagship model when the iPhone X was introduced in 2017. Last year the XR had only a single rear-facing camera system, while the XS and XS Max enjoyed a dual camera ones.
This relative increase in camera parity means that both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro get the new night mode from Apple, which artificially brightens photography in low light and the "Slofie", Apple & # 39; s successful attempt at a cringey portmanteau for the slo-mo to make selfie. Both share the same standard and ultra-wide camera & # 39; s on the back and the 12-megapixel TrueDepth camera on the front.
The best: nicer, denser OLED screen
If the best smartphone screen you can buy is still important to you, then good news is: Apple is still using its flagship iPhones to offer the latest and greatest mobile display technology. The iPhone 11 Pro comes with what Apple calls a Super Retina XDR screen in 5.8 inches or 6.5 inches for the Max. Although there seems to be no big difference between the Super Retina XDR and the Liquid Retina HD on the iPhone 11, it remains a decision of OLED versus LCD.
With the iPhone X, Apple decided to switch to OLED for its more expensive variant. Although the company managed to move its edge-to-edge design to its cheaper phones, starting with the XR, the quality will deteriorate if you go from the Super Retina XDR (2436 x 1125 pixel resolution at 458 ppi) to the Liquid Retina HD ( 1792 x 828 pixel resolution at 326 ppi).
The worst thing: boring color options compared to the iPhone 11
It feels a bit unfair to complain about color schemes as a "worst" feature of a new Apple product, but this is the second year in a row that the company has offered a range of colorful, eye-catching options for the standard iPhone and stiff fans of its higher-end handsets by sticking to the same old space gray, silver and rose gold variants. This time, those who buy the Pro have the option of the new "midnight green" color, which looks much nicer in real photos than on the Apple live stream.
But a random, one-time dark green is not enough to dispel the idea that Apple seems to think that its apparently serious Pro users don't like playful colors. It would be nice to have all the benefits of a Pro in a housing that is as distinctive as the Product Red shade, the bright yellow or lighter minty green.
Love how Apple positions the cheap iPhone with cool colors for nice people who seem to have a satisfying and active life and all the lame nerds like me who buy the Pro only get versions of gray (and for some reason army green) ) and a specification sheet. https://t.co/a89bEFi2Un pic.twitter.com/HbqhJEcKov
– Nick Statt (@nickstatt) September 10, 2019
I understand that a problem like this is probably related to Apple's production process. The more expensive phones have different finishes and use slightly different material mixtures, and it would require a fairly expensive adjustment of the production lines to produce an iPhone 11 Pro Max in bright red versus standard space gray or silver. But it's a real shame that Apple is forcing its users to make such drastic compromises on something as simple as color choice, which ultimately results in some consumers spending $ 1,000 or more on a device that looks painfully simple.
The worst thing: not many "pro" benefits to help stand out
This may be a more controversial view of the iPhone 11 Pro, but the feature set and the distinguishing factors that separate it from the standard iPhone 11 did not seem to me to be "pro". For example, it is not even clear what a professional smartphone should look like. What comes to mind is an exorbitant Samsung device such as the Galaxy Note 10 Plus that comes with a huge screen, stylus support and other features that are apparently being marketed for mobile users.
The iPhone 11 Pro has not received its own special pencil marker (and it is not clear whether this should ever be). Instead, Apple's argument seemed to focus on photography and videography, with the iPhone 11 Pro positioned as a better media-making machine for artists and online content creators. But the systems with two cameras & # 39; s and cameras & # 39; s with three cameras & # 39; s on the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro do not seem different enough to guarantee that one is called a professional device and the other for amateurs. Both can switch to night mode and capture a vast majority of the same tricks in portrait mode in slow motion and video recording functions.
That makes the $ 300 gap between the cheapest iPhone 11 and the cheapest iPhone 11 Pro increasingly difficult to sell. You get a nicer screen, those extra camera functions and more premium build quality. Apple also retains its 512 GB option for the Pro, which may be important for the class of maker who primarily uses a smartphone and makes a staggering amount of 4K video.
Yet Apple has not put forward a convincing argument that this version of its more expensive iPhone is now somehow pro-grade (and therefore worth the extra money) if it feels like it is following the company's familiar annual renewal pattern. After all, the iPhone XR became Apple's best-selling smartphone last year, largely by justifying its price tag and being a coherent alternative to other similarly priced flagships. Meanwhile, the XS, and now the Pro, exist predominantly as the most premium iPhone, and that is a pitch that grows less convincingly every year.
The worst thing: no USB-C this year
Given the size of the iPhone leaks that now occur every month of the year, it was no surprise that Apple & # 39; s iPhone 11 arrived with the same, frustrating Lightning port. We knew in February this year that it was likely that Apple would stay with Lightning for its 2019 smartphones, and that was more or less put in the stone by the summer through additional leaks and reports.
But it's still worth grabbing the fact that Apple's laptops and tablets now use a different set of ports than its smartphones after switching to USB-C on the iPad Pro last fall. The new iPhone 11 Pro gets even stranger and comes with a faster 18W wall charger that, you guessed it, has a USB-C port.
Fortunately, Apple contains a Lightning to USB-C cable in the box, so that the two included devices play nicely. And while that is a good gesture, it also underlines the sad state of the Apple ecosystem: most iPhone users who also use Macs probably already own one of Apple & # 39; s $ 20 cables or be $ 20 USB to USB-C adapter so that the iPhone can be connected to a MacBook. It is the dongle there and in due course that Apple will make our lives easier by making the full transition to USB-C as fast as possible.