The 2022 Apple flagship product launch is in the books and our hands are now clasped iPhone 14 pro. How is it this year? Let’s talk about the best – and most important – innovations in the new iPhones. Also, let’s talk about what we didn’t get and what we’re still waiting for.
We should remember that despite the product name, this is actually the 16th generation iPhone. And in the last decade and a half, no product has had a bigger impact on the world than this one. Every time there’s a new version, it means something. iPhone innovations will touch millions of lives and impact many other products, not just phones.
So what are the top innovations this year, and what were the missed opportunities? Let’s disassemble them.
1. Emergency Security Features
Apple introduced both Car Crash Detection and Emergency SOS via Satellite. The Crash Detection feature uses a mix of sensors to recognize when you’ve had a collision and display a message to see if you need help. If you don’t respond, it will automatically call emergency services for you.
Emergency SOS is for when you’re out of cell tower range in a remote area, and it guides you to point your phone at a satellite and select a canned emergency call to get help. Hopefully you wouldn’t have to use any of these features, but if you did, they could certainly have a huge impact on your life and the people who care for you. This is another indication of how much these devices are becoming an even more important part of our lives.
2. A new interface for notifications
On the Pro models, Apple has replaced the much-maligned – albeit prominent – notch with a pill-shaped black oval. The company also called it Dynamic Island. While those two decisions elicited some initial laughs, it turns out that Apple actually did something pretty interesting with them. It has turned a previously useless area of the screen into a new UI element to handle notifications, multitasking and live updates. For example, when you’re listening to a song or podcast and switch to another application, the cover art turns into a small circle anchored to this black oval. Then when you start a timer, it will appear in a separate circle on the other side.
There’s also a whole host of new animations that give you instant confirmation indicators for FaceID, connecting AirPods, turning on mute, turning on wireless charging, and more. And the Live Activity feature is expected to become a lot more useful as third-party apps start showing live sports scores, your rideshare status, delivery updates, workout timers, and other uses that no one has yet imagined.
3. Pro-level camera upgrades
It’s clear that Apple puts a lot of energy and some of its brightest minds into making these cameras better every year, and this year we’ve had some very promising upgrades. First, the main sensor jumps from 12 megapixels to 48 megapixels. Now the software mostly does what is called pixel binning, compressing those 48 megapixels down to 12 to create a richer, sharper and more detailed photo. But pros can also shoot in RAW to get all 48 megapixels and then dig into the details with software like Adobe Lightroom.
Also: New iPhone 14 models compared: which one to buy?
The front camera also gets a nice upgrade with stronger low-light capabilities and now autofocus, which should be especially helpful for group selfies. The ultrawide camera gets an upgrade that promises to improve its low-light ability, which has been a major weakness. And then there’s the video camera. Last year’s killer feature, Cinema mode, gets an upgrade to 4K and lets you shoot at 24 frames per second, the gold standard for making movies. And new this year, the video camera also gets Action mode, which is essentially next-level stabilization aimed at producing motion so smooth you don’t need a gimbal. We will definitely test that.
4. A powerful new display
Last year’s iPhone’s excellent display has received a major upgrade in the iPhone 14 Pro. It boosts peak brightness to 1,600 nits, which is on par with the $5,000 model Pro Display XDR for Mac. It can even reach up to 2,000 nits outdoors, allowing you to see the phone screen even in full sunlight. At the same time, it adds a second ambient light sensor on the back of the phone to improve the efficiency and accuracy of automatically adjusting the brightness level. Meanwhile, the display’s ProMotion feature automatically adjusts the refresh rate between 10Hz and 120Hz to conserve battery life.
This combination of performance and efficiency has allowed Apple to finally bring an always-on display to iPhone this year. And with the new custom lock screen and widgets in iOS 16, always-on display is implemented very effectively. It just needs more developers to take advantage of it so that there are more lock screen widgets to choose from.
1. No 10x optical zoom
As a camera, the iPhone keeps getting better – and this year there have been further leaps forward. But something big is still missing. I’ve talked about carrying around an iPhone as my personal phone and an Android as my work phone since 2010. And in recent years there’s been a kind of take where I don’t pull out the iPhone, I always pull out the Android. (In 2022, that’s specifically the Samsung S22 Ultra). And that shot is anything more than 10 or 20 feet away, which is all the iPhone can handle with its 3x optical zoom.
The S22’s 10x optical zoom can capture impressively sharp images of subjects up to 50-60 feet away. If they were lenses from a DSLR or mirrorless camera, the iPhone 14’s 3x zoom would be around a 77mm lens, while the S22’s 10x zoom would be around a 230mm lens. Samsung will release its 4th generation 10x optical zoom in the next six months. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait at least another year before we see the equivalent on an iPhone.
2. The physical SIM card is gone
When you buy an iPhone in the US, it no longer comes with a SIM tray or physical SIM card. All US iPhone 14 models are now eSIM only. And while this has some advantages for easy activation, easy carrier switching, and easy adding of secondary numbers, it also has some major disadvantages. Privacy comes first. With a physical SIM card, there are still instances where you are anonymous and difficult to trace. This is much more difficult with an eSIM.
This eSIM limitation can also complicate international travel to countries like China that don’t support eSIM. Also, it can limit your access to low-cost carriers like Ting that don’t yet support eSIM. For this reason, Apple will continue to have physical SIM cards in the international versions of the iPhone 14. While expanding support for eSIM makes a lot of sense – maybe even towards the standard option – it’s not a very consumer-friendly choice to completely remove the physical SIM card.
More: The worst thing about the eSIM-only iPhone 14
3. It needs one more case
The use of stainless steel in the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max continues to make it one of the heaviest phones out there. If Apple used a similar titan to the one in the Apple Watch Ultra – which is a lot lighter than I expected – the iPhone 14 Pro models would be a lot easier to handle. But the current heaviness combined with the smoothness of the steel bands around the edges makes it very easy to slip out of hand. Most people still need to put a case on this phone. And it will still be true that many of the world’s ugliest cases will end up on some of the world’s most beautifully designed devices.
4. We continue to wait for USB-C
The iPhone 14 dutifully continues to use Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector for charging and data transfer – despite being technologically inferior to USB-C. Even Apple’s own iPad Pro tablets have been using USB-C since 2018. The reasons are obvious: faster charging and data transfers and the ability to connect more accessories such as cameras, power banks, monitors and more. Plus, with so many other devices, from laptops to headphones to the Nintendo Switch, now using USB-C, being able to charge them all from the same port is very consumer-friendly.
The iPhone 14 Pro itself adds another reason why USB-C would have been a very welcome feature this year. With the ability to capture 48MP ProRAW photos and ProRes video, the new iPhone can capture professional-quality photos and videos that then need to be transferred to a computer for editing. But the file sizes can be huge. The data transfer rate of Lightning cables tops out at 480Mbps, while USB-C can reach four times that at 2Gbps and beyond. Apple could eventually be forced to switch to USB-C by European regulators, but for now the wait continues.
There’s more to come
ZDNET will continue to guide all new iPhone 14 models through many different real world scenarios in the coming weeks and months. We have reviews, guides, comparisons and deep dives on specific features. So stay tuned. Here are a few links to get you started: