Apple had a lot of new features to announce with its iPhone 13 lineup this week. The iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max have better battery life, faster A15 Bionic processors, smaller display notches, improved cameras, and, for Pro models, 120Hz high refresh rate ProMotion displays.
It’s a nice collection of updates, but take a step back and the lineup is starting to look a lot like an iterative update over last year’s iPhone 12. They look almost identical to the square design introduced with last year’s models, and Apple has been careful not to directly compare the performance of its new A15 Bionic chip to that of last year’s A14 Bionic, only to its competitors. There’s also no major new initiative like the MagSafe ecosystem that Apple launched last year, and at the bottom of the phones you’ll see the same old Lightning port rather than USB-C. It all looks very familiar.
So it’s no wonder that a lot of technology Twitter immediately responded to the announcement of the phones, calling them “iPhone 12S,” which is a minor update to the iPhone 12 from last year. This is how Apple called its phones. There would be a major update a year, usually with a big design change, followed by a more minor overhaul that changed some internal components and features while keeping the overall look the same. The iPhone 3GS, 4S, 5S, 6S, and XS have all used this approach. So what has changed?
Apple started to move away from this formula with the iPhone 7 of 2016. Not only did the iPhone 7 break the cycle by using a design very similar to that of the 6S from the previous year instead of a new look. ), but it was never followed by a clean S model. Instead, the following year, Apple went straight to the iPhone 8, a minor revision that absolutely deserved to be called the 7S, and which ended up being completely eclipsed by that year’s iPhone X. .
Since the iPhone XS of 2018, it looks like Apple has completely ditched the S suffix. Every year gets a new number, whether it comes with a major overhaul like the iPhone 12 or a more minor update like the iPhone. 13.
Of course, Apple’s closest competitor in the United States, Samsung, has been using this approach for years. Every subsequent Galaxy S device has had a higher number than its predecessor, and no one wants to be the company with the phone with the lower number than its rival. In fact, if Apple had released an iPhone 7S in 2017, it would have rivaled Samsung’s Galaxy S8. No wonder Apple went straight to 8 and skipped the iPhone 9 altogether.
In retrospect, it seems absolutely crazy that Apple is ready to proudly broadcast that it was having a lean year. Unless you’re the kind of smartphone user who wants to have the most up-to-date iPhone year after year, that S suffix was a useful indication that a new model only contained minor changes. “Don’t worry about the upgrade this year, folks,” was the implicit message.
But the reality was that smartphone technology was advancing so quickly at the time that even a “minor” upgrade could still contain massive new features. The iPhone 3GS was the first iPhone capable of officially recording videos in addition to taking photos, the iPhone 4S introduced the world to Apple’s voice assistant Siri, and the 5S was the first iPhone to feature biometric security (a fingerprint sensor). These are all major additions that we now take for granted on modern Apple devices, and they arrived with the relatively understated fanfare of an S-brand iPhone. camera over the years: the 4S was the first with an 8 megapixel camera, the 5S added slow motion video, and the 6S increased the rear camera resolution to 12 megapixels. Every year, Apple gave its customers a pretty good reason to upgrade.
The smartphone market is now a very different place. Smartphones have matured and even mid-range models basically offer everything most people actually need to make a phone. Every year we hear about the latest phone performance upgrades and case camera improvements, but nothing is going to completely change your life.
Consumers have noticed. Far from upgrading to the latest iPhone every year, in 2019 CNBC reported that US customers on average waited more than two years to upgrade their phones, while in the UK people waited almost 28 months. At the time, these numbers all tended to increase and it seems reasonable to assume that they increased further in the next couple of years. It was also around this time that iPhone sales began to level off, and Apple stopped reporting iPhone sales numbers, choosing to aggregate their numbers with other categories of devices instead.
Instead of focusing on big upgrades, Apple seems to prioritize a wider range of devices to appeal to different tastes and price points. As recently as 2017, the company was only selling two flagship phones, the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus. The following year, it released three (the 8, 8 Plus, and X), and last year it grew to four with the iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max. With so many form factors to keep up to date, it’s no surprise that big revisions have become less common.
Unless you really want the latest, greatest tech, there’s no real reason to upgrade every year, and that’s a good thing! It’s much more affordable for people who choose to buy their phone directly, and it’s better for the environment. Apple may now use more recycled materials in its devices, but manufacturing and shipping still uses resources.
Against this background, it’s no surprise that Apple has changed with the times. For starters, it’s more focused on making money outside of hardware, like its growing range of subscription services spanning everything from music and video streaming to games and home fitness. If he can’t make money by selling you a new iPhone every year, he will definitely try to make money by streaming the last season of Ted lasso.
That’s not to say that Apple has given up on selling you a new phone every year. Far from there. If the brand of this year’s phones like the iPhone 13 tells us anything, it’s that Apple is more than ever keen to convince its customers to upgrade, by presenting this year’s phones as a whole new lineup. as opposed to a more modest iPhone 12 update The slowing progress in smartphone technology means Apple can’t afford to rest on its laurels with an S-brand device. Everything has to be brand new and as exciting as it gets.
So yes, this year’s iPhones could, and arguably should were marked as the iPhone 12S. But the smartphone industry has changed, and Apple has changed with it.
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