Hey kids! As usual, the end of summer brings Apple’s announcements of new iPhones. We’re here to tell you about them, as well as new Watches and AirPods Pro. Not gonna lie: everything’s better, but nothing blew my mind. It was, however, the first tech demo I’ve seen that talked openly about period spotting and being in car crashes.
iPhone 14, 14 Plus, 14 Pro, 14 Pro Max
Apple brought out new iPhones, once again broken into two “regular” and two “Pro” models. The 12 and 13 lines offered a “mini” model that reportedly didn’t sell as well as the company might have liked, so that has instead grown into a “Plus” model, which allows you to get an extra large screen in what is otherwise the same phone as the standard 14, without having to shell out for the Pro Max. (The 13 mini does remain for sale, now at a reduced price, if you prefer your iPhones small.)
There is more to distinguish the Pro models from their less expensive cousins than before. The significant reason to buy a Pro model remains its superior camera system, though you may also be attracted by its new always-on display that’s bright enough for use in sunlight, its new “Dynamic Island” (details below), its slightly faster performance, and its steel (rather than aluminum) construction. The 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max have the same capabilities; the latter has a larger screen.
The physical design of the iPhone 14 models is essentially the same as the 12 and 13, though the Pro models replace the “notch” at the top of the screen with a floating “Dynamic Island.” This is a size-changing black oval near the top of the screen, which Apple is using to disguise the front camera, speaker, and Face ID sensor, in an attempt to create an illusion of an uninterrupted edge-to-edge display. The Dynamic Island (yeah, it’s really called that) automatically shrinks and enlarges to show you ongoing stuff that’s happening, like a timer, navigation instructions, rideshare arrivals, what music is playing, etc., as well as expanding to give you quick controls when you tap-and-hold it, like a miniature Control Center. Is it a creative solution that makes your iPhone better to use, or a nifty but mostly pointless gimmick like the MacBook Pro Touch Bar? Time will tell, but Dynamic Island seems neat.
Also new on the Pro models, and to iPhones in general, is an “always-on” display — in other words, the screen never goes black, allowing you to always see the time, and whatever else you’d normally see on your lock screen, just much dimmer. This strikes me as potentially weird to get used to, but probably cool. The feature can also be turned off to make it behave like iPhones always have, with the screen black when locked. The display on the Pro models also offers more brightness, making it more usable in bright sunlight. Finally, The Pro models offer an improved three-lens, 48 megapixel camera system, a slightly faster processor, and steel construction (which makes them sturdier but heavier than the non-Pro models).
All of the iPhone 14 models have a couple of new features I hope none of you ever have to use, including emergency SOS calls via satellite when there is no cell service or Wi-Fi available (provided you have a clear line of sight to the sky), and automatic car crash detection that will call emergency services if your phone thinks you just plowed into a tree or whatnot. I’m sure it’s gonna save someone’s life one day, so I shouldn’t make too much light of it.
Also unusual is that the US models of the iPhone 14 line will not accommodate a physical SIM card, instead relying on eSIM technology, which is now supported by all major domestic carriers; if you’re with a smaller carrier, check with them first before you buy an iPhone 14 to make sure they support eSIM. (Some international carriers haven’t gotten on board with eSIM yet, so foreign-bought iPhone 14’s will still support a physical SIM card in addition to eSIM.) One benefit to eSIM technology is that if you’re a globetrotter, you could actually store several carrier services on your phone and switch to the one you need when you need it; two can be used at any given time, as a primary and secondary line.
The 14 and 14 Plus start at $799 and $899, and come in five colors; the 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max start at $999 and $1,099, and come in four (more sedate) colors, not that you’re going to see them under your case. As usual, Apple will offer trade-in value for your existing phone, though you may do better via incentives from a phone carrier, particularly if you switch from a competitor, in which case sometimes the cost of the whole phone is covered on top of paying off any amount owed on your existing phone. If you want to save a benji or two, you’ll still be able to buy an iPhone 12 for $499, iPhone 13 mini for $599, iPhone 13 for $699, or iPhone SE (guts of a 13, body of an 8) for $429, and all of these are solid products I have no difficulty recommending.
If you’ve got an iPhone 12 or 13 series, or 11 Pro, and you like it, there’s probably no burning reason to get an iPhone 14 series (especially the non-Pro models) unless the new features appeal to you. If you’ve got an 11, XR, XS, or X, it’s a worthwhile but optional upgrade. If you’ve got an 8, 8 Plus, or SE 2nd generation, I’d strongly consider upgrading. If you’ve got an iPhone 7 or older, come on, it’s 2022. (If you are not sure what you have, look under Settings > General > About.)
AirPods Pro second generation
The second generation of AirPods Pro keeps the same basic design as the first, but new features I’m excited about are improved noise canceling, findability even when they’re in their case, and volume adjustment directly on the stem, rather than from the playing device. Other new features are allegedly better sound, better detection about knowing not to start music if you put them in your pocket rather than your ears, “adaptive transparency” which lets you hear your surroundings while reducing sudden loud noises, better battery life, better smarts about when to switch between your iPhone, Mac, or iPad, and enhancements to their surreal spatial audio capabilities. To the disappointment of many, Apple Lossless (ultra high-fidelity) format music is not supported.
I love my AirPods Pro, and I just lost them, so I’m gonna be all over these. However, if you don’t like ear-sealing earbuds, they are not for you; consider instead the 2nd or 3rd generation non-Pro AirPods, which are still being sold, and which are also great. You could also consider the first generation of AirPods Pro, which will probably be available at good deals from retailers for a little while until they sell out; for example, Amazon has them right now for $70 off, and they still rock.
Apple Watch 8, Apple Watch SE second generation, and Apple Watch Ultra
I know people who are wild about their Apple Watches, but I don’t like having a thing on my wrist, so I might not be best qualified to weigh in from a deeply informed perspective. With that said, Apple released Apple Watch 8 (actually the 9th revision), which retains the 45mm and 41mm sizes from the 7, in a slightly reduced range of body colors for the aluminum and steel versions, and accompanied by a rainbow of new wristbands from which to choose. (The titanium-bodied high end “Edition” models have been discontinued, though the Nike and Hermes variants remain.) Enhancements include better battery life, car crash detection (since your watch might be more reachable than your phone in that moment, presuming you are still alive), and body temperature detection, which assists with detecting menstrual cycle irregularities and ovulation, as well as sleep tracking. Apple Watch 8 starts at $399.
The second generation Apple Watch SE offers most of what’s good about an Apple Watch 8 for a much lower price, starting at $249. You don’t get niceties like an always-on display and some of the more sophisticated health tracking features, but hey, if you want to talk to your wrist to respond to an iMessage and do the rest of the Dick Tracy magic, it will more than get the job done. (This is a rare case where Apple has improved a product and lowered the price from the previous model.) Like the entry level MacBook Air or iPad variations, I think the new Apple Watch SE is one of Apple’s real sweet spots in terms of bang for the buck — not top of the line, but still excellent at a fairly low price.
Apple Watch Ultra is an all-new product. It is by far the largest-faced Apple Watch, at 49mm, and the most rugged, intended to withstand environments and activities for divers, explorers, and extreme athletes. It has a titanium body, an ultra-bright screen for better visibility in sunlight, some very complex and technical watch faces (think fancy luxury sport watches), a longer life battery, a new customizable control button, better microphones and ambient noise reduction for voice calls, and a new family of tough yet lightweight wristbands. Apple Watch Ultra starts at $799, and all models include cellular connectivity. When you get back from the Himalayas, let me know how you like it.