First published: September 12, 2023. Last Updated: September 19, 2023.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few hours, today’s Apple event ushered in a new era for the iPhone. The new iPhone 15 series – featuring, as you might expect, the iPhone 15, 15 Plus, 15 Pro, and 15 Pro Max – brings the EU-mandated change to USB-C and a strategy shift for the biggest Pro Max.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the same as the first-gen, so Apple spent much time discussing the Series 9 and its Net 2030 carbon emissions goal. Yet, dig deep enough, and many takeaways signal the future path Apple intends to take.
Here are my five key takeaways from the Wanderlust event.
The Pro Max represents the best of the iPhone
When you think Galaxy S, there’s no doubt that the Ultra is the best of Samsung’s standard smartphone flagships. However, whether the Pro or the Pro Max was Apple’s true flagship was unclear. The iPhone 15 Pro Max, however, finally represents a shift where Apple is making each device more distinctive.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max also represents a significant shift in the camera. Apple has finally adopted a tetraprism lens, which replaces the telephoto lens found in the iPhone 15 Pro and increases the zoom range from 3x to 5x optical. The result is that the iPhone 15 Pro Max is undoubtedly the flagship iPhone but is also likely to be the most popular model this year.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max price is also interesting. Technically, it’s a price increase of $100, which feels like a fair way to compensate for the better camera. However, technically, it’s not an increase as the base storage is 256GB, and the $1,199 starting price is the same as the 256GB model last year.
The result is that customers will become used to that being the reference price for the Pro Max, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the $200 gap between the Pro and the Pro Max grow in future years.
Apple really cares about the environment
One reason (among many) to praise Apple is its commitment to being green. The company has spoken about this before, but for anyone unaware of its goal for all its products to be 100% carbon neutral by 2030, the Wanderlust event left nothing unexplained. It has also called on the industry to de-carbonize by 2030.
Apple’s goal is to be carbon neutral, and its new product take a leap towards this goal. The new Apple Watch bands come in a range of zero-emission flavors. At the same time, its commitment to ocean shipping instead of air shipping also inflates the delivery wait list for its products.
Thanks to offset its carbon footprint and to offset emissions with carbon buybacks, the Apple Watch Series 9 (in select models and band combinations) is now entirely carbon neutral. This is a great achievement, although, as Justine Calma from The Verge points out, this is also a red herring. That same article explains all of the Net 2030 announcements in detail.
Lights, Camera, Action
Since the first iPhone, the mute switch has been an ever-present way to silence or mute your phone easily. On the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, it has been replaced by a customizable action button, and while it can be a mute switch, the possibilities are endless.
It’s fantastic to finally see Apple adopt hardware customization buttons in a big way. We’ve seen Android manufacturers launch devices with customizable keys, but Apple has resisted so far.
It’s unclear whether developers can build custom features for this. Still, given that Apple also included support to run any Shortcut, we’d expect this to lead to some interesting use cases. Further, expect every Android manufacturer to offer an Action Button going forward, which will only be good for most users.
Apple will enhance the USB-C standard for all
The biggest change will likely rile a lot of customers for a year or two, but then everyone will forget about it: Apple has been forced to adopt USB-C on the new iPhone 15 series thanks to new EU regulations. The inevitable result is a leap forward for all consumers, in the same way Apple’s MagSafe charging was adopted as the basis for the industry-wide Qi2 wireless charging standard.
The switch to USB-C means the iPhone now supports recording video directly to an SSD and reverse wireless charging. In the iPhone 15-second look from MKBHD, he explains how Apple has implemented 4.5W reverse charging between the iPhone and your AirPods, another iPhone, or an Android phone.
One key issue with the USB-C is that – much like any other standard – there are plenty of good cables you can buy and many bad cables you can buy. That $5 cable at your local deli will not be as reliable as the one from Apple.
Now that the iPhone supports USB-C, we expect to see a huge influx of cables touting their compatibility with the iPhone. Similarly, we can expect a lot of confusion, and in the future, I would expect Apple to create some version of its MFi program but designed around the USB-C standard instead of Lightning.
The EU will limit any attempt Apple makes to hinder the performance of non-MFi cables – even if Apple approaches it from the consumer safety and protection angle – but Apple has the clout to push the Made for iPhone logo as the bastion of consumer safety. If it chooses to do so, this should return the lucrative revenue source and control that the MFi program offers.
Gestures are for more than just Vision Pro
Alongside the Watch Ultra 2 and Watch Series 9, Apple unveiled Double Tap, an innovative and unique way to control your Apple Watch. The new gesture control allows users to tap their index finger and thumb together twice to perform various tasks like answering or ending a call or playing and pausing music.
It works by monitoring the change in blood flow when two fingers are tapped together and is made possible thanks to an enhanced neural engine that processes data from sensors and machine learning. From early hands-on reports, it seems like the feature works extremely well, and this technology also has practical applications in the health space.
Imagine being able to take an ECG, make emergency calls, or even administer insulin with specific actions like a triple tap of your fingers. These are not possible right now, and while there are more practical day-to-day applications for Double Tap – such as when your hands are full with shopping, etc. – this could be another way that the Apple Watch becomes essential to our care.
These are some key takeaways from Apple’s September 2023 Wanderlust event. I’m excited for the iPhone 15 series to launch next Friday, September 22, and I am already sold on upgrading to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Although the bigger size will be a shock compared to the iPhone 14 Pro, the upgraded camera, titanium build, and USB-C port represent a significant improvement.