Just like every other year, Apple's new iPhone 13 continues to divide the technosphere. And like every other year, Apple also launched a new generation of iPhone that tends to offer more optimization compared to innovation. However, technophiles seem to have forgotten about that, and the general feeling of disappointment after this Apple keynote seems stronger than last year. Are such feelings really justified?
Find all our recap of Apple's announcements:
- iPhone 13, iPad Mini, Apple Watch Series 7: Apple's California Streaming recap
- The iPhone 13 is official: Everything you need to know about Apple's new flagship
- iPad 2021 and iPad Mini launched: More beautiful, more powerful, and a new camera
- Apple Watch Series 7 is official: Almost unchanged but better designed
"Yes." That's what I would just write if I were one of the anti-Apple people trolling the comments sections of sites that had the misfortune to cover a major tech event by mentioning the forbidden word, the forbidden fruit: "Apple." And no, I'm not targeting anyone in particular at all (actually yes, I am).
But since I'm a journalist, I have to take a stand and make some sort of intellectual effort to back my views at the bare minimum. So my answer to the introductory question would be, "Yes, but also "No", in a bit of the sense. Don't laugh, it's already more complicated than most of the reactions I could read in other articles or on various social networks yesterday.
On a more serious note, you have to admit that there has been significantly less enthusiasm for the iPhone 13 launch this year. Leakers are sweating after being almost wrong about everything (where's my satellite feature, huh?) and even our very own Father of All Rumors, Marquees Brownlee, was a bit disappointed on Twitter.
Since it is not all that memorable, is the iPhone 13 totally forgettable before it's even officially released?
The iPhone 13 is an iPhone 12S and that surprises you?
Satellite connection, the disappearance of all ports...the list could go on. Of course, the contrast between fantasy and reality of what the iPhone 13 really offers has been a source of disillusionment for many technophiles. But it seems that users, journalists, and influencers have forgotten that Apple has been doing this every two years for several years now.
Each numbered generation like the iPhone 12, brings its own share of hardware improvements and new features. And each numbered generation is followed up in the next year by a rather mediocre handset with incremental optimizations. Enter the iPhone 13 in this case. This is nothing new, and I find it strange to be surprised and especially, blaming Apple for alleged laziness or dishonesty simply because it is recycling its products.
This kind of criticism, often accompanied by a clichéd anti-capitalist undertone, is as embarrassing as a Facebook post of a quote from the movie Fight Club about the products you buy and don't need (you've seen it at least once in your life, I'm sure).
This is especially more pronounced since we could make the same accusation to some Android manufacturers. Does the OnePlus 9 's famous photo imaging "revolution" with Hasselblad ring a bell? Or who remembers the transcendent changes between the Samsung Galaxy S20 and the S21?
On to my second point: certainly the iPhone 13 does not redefine market standards or even Apple's standards. You have to squint a bit to see the new features of this model. But to consider that the iPhone 13 is a rip-off by selling the same thing to people at a higher price is to forget that Apple hasn't increased the starting prices of its iPhones for at least 3 years in a row.The new, most affordable iPhone 13 (iPhone 13 mini) is priced the same as the cheapest iPhone 11 when it was revealed in 2019.
And even so, I feel like welcoming it to the tech world. Sorry to break it to you, but manufacturers are entities driven solely by profit. And the race to innovate has reached a natural ceiling for a few years now, so they sometimes make something new out of something old, or they stagger each hardware/software upgrade over several generations of products, so as not to burn out and show off all their cards at once.
All of these obviously help to maintain the infernal cycle of forced obsolescence and blackmail to the new that we are ALL more or less slaves to, whether we admit it or not. But this reality is in no way specific to Apple or the iPhone.
Are the iPhone 13's subtle improvements noteworthy enough?
Okay, I've been playing devil's advocate since the beginning of this article. But I still want to make sure my rants do have facts to back them up at the very least. Factually, it's undeniable that the iPhone 13 is not innovative. It is also a fact that it is not a recycled iPhone 12. It's an iPhone 12S, in spirit, which results in an incremental upgrade.
But are these incremental improvements enough for consumers? Are they attractive enough to make a difference and justify buying the iPhone 13 over the iPhone 12, for instance? That's the real question.
Let's take a quick look, without any further nitpicking, at what's new on the iPhone 13 compared to the iPhone 12:
- Smaller notch: The notch on the front of all iPhone 13 models is 20% thinner than on previous model.
- Larger camera lenses: The camera module on each iPhone 13 retains the same number of lenses as last year's iPhone 12s. On the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, the ultra-wide-angle lens has been upgraded from an f/2.4 aperture to f/1.8, to achieve better low-light quality shots. However, the main and ultra-wide angle lenses on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini remain unchanged.
- Expanded storage: The minimum storage capacity for the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini now stands at 128GB and not 64GB. It also goes all the way up to 512GB instead of just maxing out at 256GB, while the Pro models have a new 1TB variant.
- Larger batteries: The iPhone 13's batteries are slightly larger than the previous generation's, without Apple specifying the actual charging capacity (as usual).
- ProMotion: The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max feature ProMotion displays that allow for variable refresh rates up to 120 Hz. The base iPhone 13 and the Mini model remain stuck at 60 Hz.
There are also a few subtleties that Apple didn't mention but have been spelled out on its official website. For example, the ProRes codec for shooting in 4K30, will be limited to just 1080p at 30fps on the 12 GB iPhone 13 Pro. Only the larger capacity Pro models will be able to achieve real 4K/30 shots. This limitation is most certainly related to the writing and reading speeds of the 128 GB flash memory but also, and surely, a way for Apple to differentiate its Pro catalog by limiting the capability of its cheapest model.
So, is the iPhone really disappointing and irrelevant? If you were expecting a foldable-like revolution in 2018, then yes, it makes sense that you'd be disappointed. But to call it a rip-off is total nonsense in my opinion.
Incremental as they are, the iPhones 13 bring concrete improvements to the already proven recipe of the iPhone 12. Personally, if I had bought one of the iPhone 12 models last year, the iPhone 13 would make me regret it this year with the addition of a 120Hz refresh rate.
It's counterintuitive because you have to resist the hype, but I still find Apple's "S years" more interesting than the "numbered years." Sure, the announcements are less spectacular, but the products are more complete and refined.
If you have an older iPhone (pre-iPhone 11) and you want to renew your smartphone love story from Apple, I think the iPhone 13 is clearly relevant on paper, provided you opt for a Pro/Max model. If it's a basic or Mini model you're aiming for, the iPhone 12s make more sense. If you bought one of the iPhone 12 handsets last year, I don't think the iPhone 13 is worth checking out.
Well, I'll leave you to it. This pro- and anti-Apple stuff isn't really for me. I've got a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 to review and that's good enough for me.