The enormous stakes and Apple's innate conservatism mean the latest iPhone is unlikely to dazzle.
By David Price, Editor, MacworldMAY 25, 2022 8:38 pm PDT
No matter how you measure these things, the iPhone reveal each fall is the single biggest event on Apple’s calendar. It affects the most customers (and potential customers), it drives the most revenue, and it gets by far the most media attention.
Yet it’s nearly always a disappointment.
Perhaps that’s inevitable. How could anything possibly live up to the hype generated across an entire year of speculation and rumormongering? It couldn’t—unless Tim Cook’s got a sub-$200 notchless and portless iPhone with an under-screen fingerprint sensor tucked into his back pocket. No real iPhone could compete with the imaginary one in people’s heads.
But it’s also a reflection of Apple’s innate conservatism when it comes to its most lucrative product line. Most years, the company simply iterates with the newest iPhone, popping in a faster processor, tinkering with the cameras, and adding support for a communications tech standard that other manufacturers had included for years. Occasionally, Apple adds curves to sharp edges or makes the notch slightly smaller. Tech writers can get whole articles out of these little tweaks, but I suspect to members of the general public the new iPhone barely seems to have changed in five years.
There’s an element here of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The iPhone is pretty much the dictionary definition of unbroken. Despite rarely changing very much, being the brunt of relentless jokes about lack of innovation, and generally having weaker specs than the Android equivalent (whether or not you believe that such things are important), that product line alone makes more money than Microsoft’s entire business and is regarded as the best phone you can buy year after year. Bringing in a radical change would be a huge risk.
This isn’t to say that Apple never makes a big change. Switching from the Home button to the notch with the iPhone X in 2017 was a reasonably big deal, and reviewers said so at the time. But Apple also kept around the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus as a hedge. Besides, Apple didn’t have much choice. The iPhone had been made to look antiquated by progress in the design of Android phones. The sheer inertia of those $50 billion quarterly revenues makes the iPhone a sort of corporate cruise liner, able to change direction only with plenty of notice, or when nudged by the efforts of smaller tugboats.
Safe inside and out
Let’s get specific. What can we expect from the iPhone 14?
Sizes: Essentially the same, give or take a hundredth of an inch on the Pro models. Oh, and there won’t be a mini model, so the only sizes to choose from will be 6.1 inches and 6.7 inches.
Screen: The same, notch and all. On the Pro models, we’re fairly sure the notch is on the way out, but it will be replaced by two smaller apertures, which we’re struggling to see as a huge improvement.
Lightning port: Not going anywhere. It will likely be replaced by USB-C, but not until 2023 at the earliest.
Camera: Also the same: two cameras with three cameras on the Pro models. There’s talk of a 48MP sensor, which would still produce a 12MP final image but with far better performance in low light, and 8K video on the Pro models.
Processor: At least buyers of the vanilla iPhone 14 can depend on a next-gen processor… or can they? There’s serious talk that Apple might restrict the new A16 to the iPhone Pro models this fall, and give the basic iPhone 14 and 14 Max a slightly souped-up A15.
As you can see, it’s shaping up to be a quiet fall. More than ever before, Apple is pushing customers to pay for the premium versions of its most important product, leaving the standard editions as boring also-rans. And even the Pro models, which are getting the lion’s share of the changes, are unlikely to see truly radical differences because the enormous stakes incentivize conservatism and a fear of risk. Most of the reports we’ve read haven’t even mentioned the iPhone 14, and it’s a wonder if there will be anything different other than a new color and a new size.
The iPhone 14, along with its Pro and Max siblings, is expected to be unveiled at a special event in September. In the meantime, you can keep up with the latest rumors with our iPhone 14 superguide. But don’t expect to find anything all that exciting.