Though slightly delayed, iPhone season is upon us. Bottom line up front? I wasn’t sold. This is why.
Before I get into the specifics, it’s worth mentioning my iPhone purchasing philosophy. I view a big purchase like this as an investment. I prefer to splurge on a good phone and have the investment endure several years as opposed to switching phones every year, or even every other year. It is my personal opinion that new features are incremental and are most likely to be fully enjoyed if taken in as a sum total after a prolonged period of hardware and software updates. One reason I choose Apple products is the company’s consistent willingness to support older devices like my faithful old companion.
In keeping faithful to the theme of this blog, I save up for the big purchase and put down cash for the phone up front as opposed to an extended payment plan that keeps me tied to a specific carrier. So, yes, a large part of my perspective is guided by financial consideration.
With that, this is why I am choosing to sit this one out.
5G, Still Evolving
5G capability is this year’s line of iPhone’s best selling feature. Carriers are much further along in improving network performance, but we are not yet at a point where the coverage is consistent enough to fully take advantage of the advertised download speeds. Also, as is typically the case, the three major carriers offer varying degrees of 5G exposure.
There are three types of 5G service: low-band, mid-band, and millimeter wave. Of these, millimeter wave uses the fastest frequency, delivering up to 50 times the speed of the average 4G service, but it is also the wave with the shortest range, measured in city blocks, and most likely to be interrupted by trees, walls, windows, etc. Low-band has the broadest range, measured in miles; encounters little to no interference; but is also not faster than your standard 4G. Mid-band offers something of a compromise, delivering 15 times faster speeds than 4G but does not feature the broad coverage of low-band. All new iPhones feature all three bands.
If you get one of the new phones, your device will evolve alongside the networks. It’s not a selling point for me, because 5G sets a new baseline. Your next phone, whatever the model, will likely be 5G-capable. I would personally rather wait one more year to see what innovative features are built on top of this new standard. Remember though, I am the type of consumer who buys and holds for several years.
More Bounce for Your Bionic … Maybe?
This year’s phones come with a new A14 Bionic chip. Compared to last year’s A13 Bionic chip, the A14 chip is reportedly 20% faster in single-core and 28% faster in multi-core. Apple claims this year’s iPhones will be up to 50% faster than competing phones, not a marketing ploy I get excited about because the reference is too generic.
What does that mean in plain English? It’s hard to say at the time of this writing. Not enough benchmark comparisons, but the improvement will likely be more noticeable for phones older than the 11 series. It seems the A14 Bionic chip is the standard Apple is betting on for future computing, not just for mobile devices but also for laptops.
When you read about technical features like new chips, don’t let the sophisticated language entice you. Always do your homework and make sure it’s a benefit that fits with your daily use. You are more likely to see tangible differences if you use apps that are heavy on processing and graphics. It doesn’t mean you should never consider such improvements. It just means that a gamer is more likely to reap the full benefits over someone who only uses the phone to text, email, and browse.
Physical and Visual Aesthetics
I don’t care if the new phones feature new designs with flat, smooth edges reminiscent of the iPhone 5. But, to be fair, I am the sort of consumer who muffles the phone’s beauty by sticking it in a case, both for protection and, if available, to extend the battery life. I have never questioned the iPhone’s physical elegance, going back to the iPhone 4S. Maybe it is that I do not trust myself not to mar that elegance with everyday heavy-handed use. I like protecting my investment even though my phone is insured.
This year’s lineup features a super retina XDR display. If you can see the display, it would make sense why this could be a selling point, though I sometimes wonder if there is a true distinction when newer models and last year’s models are placed side by side. Note this is personal skepticism of small tweaks with large marketing versus actual performance benchmarks to back up my skepticism.
Generally speaking, if your phone is working reliably with the current operating system, I would not upgrade to this year’s model. This year’s new features lay the groundwork for future innovations but are not in of themselves Earth-shaking. Save up your money, and go for the true upgrade next fall.
If you are on an older iPhone, it would make sense why you would consider upgrading. Hell, I’m on an iPhone 6S. I am a prime candidate for an upgrade, but Apple was kind enough to make iOS 14 work with my device. I think I will squeeze a sixth year out of my trusted device. This is high praise for the company’s quality control. I’ve certainly noticed a lag since updating the operating system, but it is not enough to make me take the leap just yet. Also, I am not one of the gamers mentioned above who requires better processing speed.
Ultimately, it is a matter of personal choice. You decide what you do with your money. My only interest here is helping you stretch it.
Questions? Criticisms? Clarifications? Leave them in the comments!