The rumors were true.
Apple's newest iPhones are the iPhone Xs and the unfortunately named iPhone Xs Max, named so for their internal upgrades and new sizing, rather than radical redesigns. The new iPhone Xs looks similar to last year's iPhone X. It has a 5.8-inch OLED display, the same edge-to-edge screen, the same notch at the top. It does come in a gold finish, which is new for this phone body, and Apple says the phone is built with a newly-formulated, stronger glass. Also, its waterproofing and dust-proofing have been improved.
The iPhone Xs Max is the Xs's new larger sibling. The Xs Max essentially the same sized phone as the iPhone 8 Plus (which feels ginormous compared to the iPhone X), but it has a 6.5-inch OLED display. Like the iPhone XS, it comes in a gold finish, is built with strengthened glass, is more waterproof, and supports FaceID and 3D Touch.
The iPhone Xs starts at $999—the same as last year's iPhone X—and the larger iPhone Xs Max starts at $1,099. Both phones go on sale this Friday, September 14 and become available on Friday, September 21.
These phones weren't the only ones announced today. Apple also showed off a lower-priced $749 version called the iPhone Xr that will become available in October. You can read more about that in a separate article. For now, let's talk Xs and Xs Max.
Turn the Dial
This year's high-end phones can be described as evolutionary, not revolutionary. Apple emphasized the handsets' display technology and processing power as a way to differentiate this year's phone models from last year's. Both phones support Apple's True Tone display, and support Dolby Vision and HDR10. Their displays aren't just Retina displays; they're super Retina, Apple says—the same screens found on last year's iPhone X.
As you might have guessed, the new iPhones also have a new chip. It's called the A12 Bionic, an update from last year's A11 Bionic. It's a 7-nanometer chip and, according to Apple, is capable of a whopping 5 trillion operations per second. It has a 6-core CPU, 4-core GPU, and an 8-core dedicated machine learning engine. Apple trotted out a series of game developers at its hardware event in Cupertino, California today to demonstrate how these new phones can handle heavy gaming loads.
As WIRED's Tom Simonite has pointed out before, that 7-nanometer figure is a measure of the size of the transistors, and in this case, that means they're very small. It's worth noting that Qualcomm, which makes the high-end chips found in Android flagship phones, has also said that a 7-nanometer Snapdragon processor is in the works. However, this has not yet shipped, which makes Apple first to market with this kind of mobile chip.
For consumers who aren't as interested in the size and efficiency of chips, the cameras on the iPhones might be more of a lure—although again, Apple went deep into the weeds when it began describing why this year's cameras are supposed to be better. A dedicated image signal processor and neural engine perform a trillion operations on every photo snapped with these new phones. They're supposed to identify faces, and reduce redeye. The new cameras have "smart" HDR, with zero shutter lag, Apple claims. The front-facing camera is twice as fast. The word "bokeh" appeared on a slide, alone, on stage. You can adjust the depth of field on a Portrait photo after it's been captured. A 4K video demo was shown.
Basically, these new phone cameras do what phone cameras have already done. For awhile. But…better.
Battery life is said to be slightly improved, as well. Up to 30 minutes more for the iPhone Xs, and up to an hour and a half longer on the iPhone Xs Max. As rumored, the new phones also come with dual-SIM support for people who switch SIM cards often.
The iPhone is Apple's most important product, accounting for as much as two-thirds of its revenue in any given quarter. But sales have been slowing in recent quarters. Apple has compensated for this by raising the average selling prices of its phones; by convincing consumers to pay upwards of $1000 for a phone, and by creating enough envy that people who don't want to take the $1k-plunge are still trying to buy into less expensive iPhones.
Apple first rolled out a plus-sized phone back in 2014, with the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus. Between 2014 and 2017, the design of the iPhone didn't change all that drastically. Then, with the launch of the iPhone X last fall, Apple introduced a new, edge-to-edge OLED display, face authentication, and seriously impressive cameras.
This year's new phones fall in line with "S" upgrades: they're getting better internals, but they don't look drastically different from the year before. How they perform, on the other hand, is something we'll have to test and report back on.