iPhone 15 Pro, iPhone 15, and Apple Watch Series 9: Thoughts on Apple’s “Wonderlust” Event

The iPhone 15 Pro is made from the same material that Mars rovers are. Take that, NASA.

Eshu Marneedi
32 min readSep 15, 2023
Wonderlust. Image: Apple

Apple wrapped up their “Wonderlust” media/press event a while ago and I have… thoughts. It was not a very packed keynote address at all — half the time was spent on a humorous comedy skit starring Tim Cook and Mother Nature herself — but it brought some interesting announcements. As always, this is not an event recap — this is comprehensive event analysis. And maybe some hot takes, too.

The star of the show was iPhone 15 Pro, the “flagship” iPhone line this year, consisting of the base iPhone 15 Pro, and the gargantuan iPhone 15 Pro Max (not named Ultra, as some questionable rumors suggested). As Max Weinbach points out on X, the iPhone 15 Pro is a relatively substantial update relative to other recent iPhone announcements, like iPhone 12 and iPhone 13. Apple apologists love saying that every iPhone season — I’m well aware — but Android fanboys also don’t give Apple enough credit when Apple does announce a well-rounded product with good feature updates. Phone updates are iterative in the 2020s — it’s just a statement of fact. Folding phones even suffer from iterative product updates where the most noteworthy enhancement is a larger exterior screen. iPhones don’t live in a vacuum, and it’s unreasonable to expect major, groundbreaking feature additions and enhancements or design changes each year.

iPhone 15 Pro brings an all-new case with slightly more rounded edges — the first of which since the iPhone 12 three years ago — made from titanium, a material Apple has never made a phone with to date, thinner borders around the front screen, a USB-C charging port (thank you, European Union!), an A17 Pro system-on-a-chip (SoC), a larger battery, a new Action Button replacing the mute switch — a distinct hardware feature dating back to the original iPhone in 2007 — a new 48MP main sensor with three, distinct focal lengths — 24 mm, 28 mm, and 35 mm — capable of capturing Spatial Photos and Videos for display on Apple Vision Pro, a new telephoto lens exclusive to iPhone 15 Pro Max that’s capable of optical zoom of up to 5x made possible by a tetraprism reflective lens structure, and a new second-generation Ultra Wideband chip for more precise Precision Finding. All of that is new. Not new to the phone market, but new to the iPhone, which I believe is the best phone. That’s no small upgrade. It’s remarkably noteworthy: the iPhone 11 to iPhone 12 upgrade brought ProRaw photos, HDR video, 5G (made possible by our friends at Verizon Wireless, don’t forget), a new design, MagSafe, and a new SoC — that was it. The iPhone 12 to iPhone 13 was more substantial and brought ProMotion, a smaller notch, a larger battery, a new SoC, Photographic Styles, Cinematic Mode, and better telephoto and ultra-wide lenses for macro photography (a feature I have never once touched since the launch of the 13 Pro in September of 2021) — but again, that was it. And the iPhone 13 to iPhone 14 upgrade only brought the Dynamic Island (a byproduct being the removal of the notch), a 48MP main sensor enabling 2x “optical” crop at 24MP, Action Mode for more stable videos, and a new SoC (which wasn’t all that much faster) — that was it. In comparison, iPhone 15 Pro is a massive leap — one that we haven’t seen since the iPhone 11 Pro.

Let’s tackle the announcements one by one, beginning with the elephant in the room, the new casing. The iPhone 15 Pro — as my subtitle states — is (proudly?) made with the same material that Mars rovers are made out of, and, I guess, the Apple Watch is made out of. The finish looks beautiful — I gawked at how pretty the “Natural Titanium” “color” (not a color) looked on “stage.” Apple finally ditched the glossy/shiny stainless steel sides that were introduced with iPhone X six years ago and brought back brushed metal. The brushed metal isn’t immune to fingerprints, however, as noted by The Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel, but it provides two major enhancements aside from just looking gorgeous: 1. It’s lighter. iPhones have gotten really, really heavy in recent years, starting, again, with the iPhone X, and stainless steel is mostly to blame for that. Yes, I will concede that some of the added bulk and weight is due to increasing battery capacities to compensate for power-hungry 5G modems, but most of it comes down to the hefty stainless steel sides. The iPhone 15 Pro is 19 grams lighter than iPhone 14 Pro, which is no small deal. I’m glad iPhone 15 Pro won’t feel like a total brick like other iPhones of the modern era. These phones have been getting bigger, more unwieldy, and heavier in recent years, and I’m glad to see that trend being reversed this year. 2. It’s less prone to scratches. Because the titanium edges of the phones are brushed, small nicks and scratches won’t be obvious to the naked eye. This is one of my biggest pet peeves with previous iPhone designs — they look like they’ve been sent to hell and back after just a couple of months of everyday use. Brushed titanium rectifies that issue. The new phones look very premium. While I’ll say the new models don’t look like pieces of jewelry in the way that the older iPhone Pro models did, they’re more sophisticated and professional-looking, like the “new” (2021 was two years ago) MacBooks Pro and Mac Pro (2019 was four years ago). I think the 15 Pro looks beautiful.

Because the sides appear matte due to the brushed texture, the whole phone reflects light stunningly. And there’s no better way to highlight light reflections than with color, right? Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t seem to think so. The new models come in four new “colors,” with “colors” being in air quotes because none of these finishes are particularly worthy of being called “colorful”: Black Titanium, White Titanium, Natural Titanium, and Blue Titanium. In more correct terms, the new colors are four shades of gray. I even had to do a double take at the difference between White Titanium and Natural Titanium when the colors rolled up on stage during the keynote; they looked identical. But, alas, they’re not identical. Black Titanium is a very obvious regression from last year’s Space Black. It’s back to the grayish, milky black that we’ve unfortunately gotten used to, and that’s a real shame. White Titanium is (presumably) as close as Apple could get to “silver” with the new material. It still has a bit of yellow-gold in it, which makes for a slightly off-white color that’s a bit weird to look at, but I don’t think it looks half-bad. Natural Titanium, I assume, is the actual titanium without any color added to it, hence the “natural” branding. I wouldn’t say it looks “sharp,” per se, rather describing it as looking “authentic”; like the way it’s supposed to look. It doesn’t look discolored like the black and white do because there’s no color to discolor in the first place. It looks like Starlight from the MacBook Air to me, or like the interior of an old person’s 2001 Acura MDX. It did look very pretty in the marketing shots with all the shimmering light, however. It screams “Classic Macintosh” too, and I don’t mind it. I’m tentatively ordering this one. That leaves us with Blue Titanium, which is the most boring of all the options, in my opinion. It’s just… navy blue. It kind of reminds me of dark jeans, and doesn’t speak to me, which is unusual, because I’ve been a blue phone fellow for years. Regardless, all the colors earn a big fat “boo” from me — I’m not happy at all and have given up hope that Apple will bring some color to the iPhone Pro lineup. Give us a red phone, you cowards. (Also the color rumors couldn’t have been more wrong this year, as they always are.)

Enough color, design, and material talk. The iPhone 15 Pro is a very pretty phone with mediocre colors, but I’m more excited for the improvements that titanium will bring. Point made. Let’s talk about the charging port, or as Apple so wonderfully calls it, the “charging connector.” These are not my thoughts on the event itself, so I’ll save the spiel about how Apple tried to spin the addition of USB-C off like it’s the best invention since sliced bread for never, but I’m… unfazed by the port this year. Putting aside the fidelity of the port and focusing solely on the connector type, this is a good week for the world. For once, thank you European Union! You can now use the same connector to charge all of your Apple devices — now even including AirPods Pro. This is awesome; we’ve wanted it for years, and now it’s here. The port is even bi-directional, so you can charge AirPods Pro with it by just connecting one end of the cable to the phone and the other end to the case. I do have many, many thoughts on how the public will perceive this port change, but I’m saving them for my review of the 15 Pro later this month. Bottom line: this is good. USB-C is not groundbreaking, and I don’t need to waste precious seconds of your reading time explaining why it’s good. Rather, I’ll focus on the frustrating aspects of this charging port, and that’s the lack of USB-4 support and fast charging. That’s right, the $1,000 flagship phone from Apple in the year of our lord 2023 is stuck with a USB-3 port. Why, Apple? This is unbelievably infuriating to me. They had one chance to redeem themselves; to meet the competition (or even beat them) by implementing the same thing everyone else has had for years, and they blew it. Apple blew it. Every other Android flagship — and I seriously mean every other Android flagship — has a USB-4 port. But nope, not Apple. I know the herd of Apple people will come after me, like they always do, saying that normal people don’t care about the slight Mbps deficit between the two port configurations, but this is the “Pro” iPhone. Greg Joswiak touted it as “[their] most ‘Pro’ iPhone ever.” Nothing about this port screams “Pro,” not even in the slightest. Professionals want to be able to send data at the rate at which their Mac can receive that data. They don’t want to be capped by the port on the phone they shot the photos or videos on. But even if you own the shiniest iPhone 15 Pro and the shiniest Mac Studio, you will not be able to transfer your large video files at the highest speeds. It’s comically embarrassing at this point.

But yet, that’s not what the charging port is mainly used for these days. Everyone — regardless of profession or hobby — charges their phone. And people want to charge their phones quickly. Android OEMs have recognized this, to the point where they boast 180-watt, heck, 240-watt fast charging speeds on their latest flagship phones. What does the iPhone charge at? A measly 20 watts. Seriously, 20 watts is the maximum charging speed on Apple’s very best 2023 flagship mobile handset. Are you kidding me? I really have nothing else to add to this point other than my unbridled fury at Apple’s inability to do things Android OEMs have done for years. This is a mockery; a joke. What is the technical limitation here? Screw USB-4, USB-C ports with USB-3 throughput can charge phones at tens of watts more than twenty — that’s a fact. What is Apple’s deal here? Do they just not want people to charge their phones quickly? These are not rhetorical questions, I’m legitimately asking if anyone knows. The port on iPhone 15 Pro, Apple’s very best handset and easily their most important product of the year, is severely handicapped for no apparent or good reason at all. Sure, having the new connector is nice — and seriously, I don’t want to undermine how nice it’ll be to start slowly phasing out Lightning cables from my life — but it’s not being put to use. I’m not asking for the best on the lower-end iPhones, I’m asking for the flagship iPhone to pay ball with Android flagships. It isn’t difficult. Apple is selling us a $1,200 phone that can shoot groundbreaking Dolby Vision, ProRes, 4K 60 frames-per-second footage with a connector from seven years ago, throughput from eight years ago, and charging speeds from ten years ago. It’s flat-out outrageous and Apple should feel the heat and shame from reviewers — they certainly will from me. This should’ve been the year that Apple brought USB-4 to the iPhone and enabled 50-watt fast charging at the bare minimum. It’s 2023. They have the resources to do it — I seriously don’t understand the restraint.

The SoC on iPhone 15 Pro, meanwhile, is quite literally the polar opposite of “outrageous.” It’s mind-blowing. Apple has, in another nonsensical marketing move Apple reporters have become all too familiar with, done away with the “Bionic” branding (e.g. “A16 Bionic”) introduced with the A11 in 2017 and brought Mac branding to the iPhone line. The new SoC in iPhone 15 Pro is called “A17 Pro.” This is confusing to me because the pattern Apple seems to be making with their chip rollouts is to introduce the new chip with the Pro iPhone models, then bring it to the cheaper, low-end iPhone models the year after. The iPhone 14, released in 2022, had the A15, a chip released in 2021 in the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13. The iPhone 15, released days ago, has the A16, a chip released last year, while the iPhone 15 Pro houses the A17 Pro. Does this mean that Apple will bring A17 Pro to a non-Pro iPhone next year? I don’t think so — it purely makes no sense from a marketing standpoint for the same reason they didn’t bring the M2 Pro to the MacBook Air. The Pro chips stay in the Pro products, and the “regular” chips stay in the “regular” products. This leads me to believe that Apple is preparing for a shift coming next year: instead of putting the A17 Pro in iPhone 16, they’ll put a nerfed or binned version of the A17 Pro in it instead, simply calling it “A17.” When microprocessors are mass-produced, many of them fail to meet the high-quality threshold TSMC and Apple set. Many processors have cores broken that would be unusable in a final product. So, instead of throwing away these chips, Apple simply disables the broken cores in software and ships the chips in lower-end products. This process is called “product binning,” and Apple does this for their Macs today. If you want a MacBook Pro, you can get two different versions of the M2 Pro chip, one binned and one full-capacity. Externally, they’re the same chip, but internally, the cheaper one is half-broken. Apple does this for their Macs, but they don’t do this for their iPhones — yet. Currently, you can’t get a binned iPhone 15 Pro; it just doesn’t exist. But what if Apple saves the broken chips made this year, and bins them next year for use in iPhone 16, calling the nerfed chip the A17? They can tout the same features, but the chip will be less performant — just like on Apple Silicon Macs. This is just a prediction, obviously — I have no “little birdies” inside Apple feeding me information from within the company, so my guess is as good as yours. But I think this is a sound possibility, one that makes sense from both a marketing and a business standpoint.

Back to A17 Pro. The improvements come mainly in the graphics department, now with a six-core GPU. Apple says the A17 Pro’s GPU is “20 percent faster” than the A16 Bionic’s GPU, which is a substantial year-over-year leap. For the past couple of years, we’ve become accustomed to Apple comparing their phone processors with the Android competition over their own previous-generation products purely because the enhancements weren’t so significant each year. That’s changed this year; the A17 Pro is a massive leap in graphics performance over the A16 Bionic. The new GPU brings hardware-accelerated ray tracing (RTX, for Nvidia students), an advanced technique for simulating 3D textures in video games. iPhones (and pretty much every other piece of midrange to flagship consumer technology) have had ray tracing for years, but now, iPhone ray tracing is hardware-accelerated, taking advantage of the faster, more powerful GPU in A17 Pro, making for 4x faster ray tracing according to Apple. While I and other tech enthusiasts like to point and laugh at Macs’ inability to game, iOS is one of the most popular gaming platforms ever created. The mobile game industry rakes in billions of dollars every year, with thirty percent of all proceeds made on iPhones going straight to Apple’s bank account. As such, it’s in Apple’s best interest to better the iOS gaming experience at every opportunity it gets, and this year, Apple took major strides forward in making the iPhone a better platform for popular, graphics-intensive AAA titles by making the GPU on A17 Pro more powerful than even some standalone PC graphics cards. Granted, those graphics cards are years old, but still, a phone outdoes a PC in 2023. That’s nothing to scoff at. A17 Pro further segments Apple’s position as the market leader in mobile silicon. They’re delivering unprecedented levels of performance in such a compact frame that it’s astonishingly remarkable. And A17 Pro, believe it or not, is touted to be more power efficient than A16 even when running at max loads, due to the new 3-nanometer process node. If the performance gains weren’t incredible enough for you for some unknown reason, A17 Pro is the first chip to be mass-produced on a 3 nm process node. If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know that I’ve explained the myriad benefits of a shrunken process node many times in my Mac reviews, but the short-short is that a smaller process node means that the chip’s transistors are smaller, and hence, sip less power to perform the same operation. A17 Pro will run cooler than the A16 Bionic while performing significantly better and having less of a hit on the battery. A17 Pro, without a doubt, is one of the most exceptional parts of iPhone 15 Pro. Apple deserves praise for its work here.

On the exterior of the phone, Apple has finally bid adieu to the mute switch… at least on the Pro models. Its replacement is a feature carried over from the Apple Watch Ultra: the Action Button. I’ve read a lot of takes regarding the removal of the mute switch, and they’re mostly mixed. I am strictly under the belief that if you use your phone in ringer mode, you’re a terrible human being. As a result, the first thing I do when I get a new phone is flip the mute switch to the silent position. I never change it back after that. Never. I never touch it. It just sits there, idly taking up space on the side of the phone. Apple has finally done something useful with that space because they’ve recognized that most people keep their phones on one setting and never change it. When the iPhone first came out in 2007, there were no apps other than the system apps to send you notifications. You’d receive the occasional text message or phone call, or be pinged by a VIP in your email contacts — that was it. Nowadays, we have hundreds of apps sending us noisy push notifications vying for our attention that most of us silence all of the sounds because they’re too distracting. In the bad ‘ol days, when you went somewhere where silence was needed, the switch was handy, because you would often switch between modes. “Switch off any electronic devices during this presentation.” “Done!” Once you’re out of there, unmute to get your phone calls. Easy. Now, we don’t do that. Nobody does that. The phone always stays on mute. The need for a mute switch, in most circumstances, has been eliminated due to the change in the way we use our phones and the change in the behavior of rowdy apps we use on our phones. (I’m looking at you, Panera Bread.)

That doesn’t mean Apple should eliminate a hardware button on the phone, though. It can be used for useful stuff, like running Shortcuts, turning on the flashlight, opening an app, and more. And that’s exactly what the Action Button does. By default, out of the box, the Action Button functions as the mute switch we all know and love. Hit it once, and it mutes. Hit it another time, and it unmutes. Greg Joswiak said on stage that each mode has custom haptic feedback, too, so you’ll be able to know which mode you’re in without having to look at your phone — as it should be. In typical Apple fashion, the learning curve isn’t that bad. If you’ve used an iPhone for years, you’ll figure it out like it’s muscle memory. But if you want to change the action, that’s easy too. You can make it run a Shortcut — which will let you perform literally any action under the sky, everything from launching any app you’d want to setting off complex HomeKit automations — turn on the Flashlight, launch the default camera app, start a new Voice Memo, open a note, switch Do Not Disturb on, or enable accessibility options. Essentially, you can do anything with it — it’s just a button; like a Stream Deck, but for your iPhone. You customize these actions through a fun and whimsical UI in Settings, which some have complained about as being “un-Apple-like,” but I don’t mind it. It’s fun. And when you enable an action, the mute/unmute function still remains — you just long-press the button to get the same functionality. It’s perfect, and I’m a huge fan. I presume most people will use it to launch the camera, but I’ll probably use it to launch Tot so I can quickly jot down ideas or notes in a pinch. Either way, it’s customizable, and it’s great.

Camera-wise, we’re looking at some nice upgrades. Granted, it’s nothing truly revolutionary like the addition of a new lens, but as I said earlier, we’re past that point with phones. First, what’s new on both the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. The 48 MP main sensor now gets three new focal lengths: 24 mm, 28 mm, and 35 mm. On iPhone 14 Pro, the main “1x” zoom lens shoots at 24 mm, and you have the option to crop the image by 2x to get a 48 mm shot. On iPhone 15 Pro, you can change that 24 mm shot to either 28 mm or 35 mm for an extra bit of closeness. Apple really didn’t elaborate on how they’re accomplishing this, which is a shame, because I’m curious! On iPhone 14 Pro, the way they achieved the 24MP 48 mm faux 2x optical zoom was by taking a 48MP shot with the main lens at its native resolution, then binning (grouping two pixels into one) the pixels down to 24MP, effectively zooming in 2x (48/2 = 24). This time around, Apple is still doing that to get you a 2x crop (that hasn’t been removed), but in addition to the 2x crop, they’re somehow adding 2 new focal lengths with “Computational Photography.” I’m perplexed because if all they’re doing is just zooming into those new focal lengths, the marketing seems a bit disingenuous. I don’t think that’s what they’re doing, but I will be testing the optical clarity of these new options in my review to hopefully get to the bottom of this. Maybe they’re able to extract a sharper image out of the 48MP sensor so they have more leeway to crop (and that’s somehow exclusive to the 15 Pro models)? I’m stumped; intrigued, but stumped.

Portrait Mode also gets an update, for some reason that is unbeknownst to me. Many people seemed to be excited about this, and I kind of understand why (for the technical reasons), but I fail to understand why people use Portrait Mode in 2023 in the first place. I mean, on lower-end, older iPhones with inferior, smaller lenses, sure. But this is an iPhone 15 Pro — the natural bokeh on this phone is bound to be phenomenal. I praised the 14 Pro last year for having exceptional bokeh, albeit failing at close focal ranges due to the larger sensor. Portrait Mode, by comparison, does a shoddy, artificial job of cutting out the subject from the frame. It’s gotten better, but it’s nowhere near as good as real bokeh. It’s hard to fake bokeh. Preamble over, let’s get to the feature. Singular. Now, when you take any image of a person or animal (or anything that “Machine Learning” thinks you might want to take a Portrait Mode photo of), iPhone 15 Pro will automatically capture depth info so that you can convert your images to Portrait Mode (i.e. add the fake bokeh) retroactively, after you take the image. I guess this is noteworthy because it’s technically impressive (just add bokeh after the fact, it’s magic!), but in practice, I don’t want people to get used to using Portrait Mode. It makes for a cool tech demo, but I don’t see any practicality in it. I presume it’ll be popular amongst the Instagram influencer crowd, as Portrait Mode always was, but this seems like a solution looking for a problem.

The more both technically impressive and practically useful feature addition to the camera this year is “Spatial Photos and Videos.” If you read my Apple Vision Pro thoughts from June, you’ll remember that I dissed Spatial Photos as being “weirdly dystopian.” I still stand by that statement: If you’re using Apple Vision Pro to capture Spatial Photos while you’re actively experiencing a moment, you’re weird — point blank. But it was obvious then that the preferred method to capture Spatial Photos and Videos would be via the phone. And yes, of course, iPhone 15 Pro can capture those same Spatial Photos and Videos. I see this as a much nicer way of experiencing this feature. You take Spatial Photos and Videos like you would any other photo or video, but you experience them in widescreen with the depth effects of Apple Vision Pro later. This is super cool, and I’m a huge fan. It’s virtually no extra work to create these immersive depth effects by yourself. Just a couple months ago, you needed a huge film crew with multi-thousand dollar professional cinema cameras to capture video in 3D. And then, you would need to rig up a bunch of projectors and weird goggles to display that 3D content to edit or view it. Now, all you need is an Apple Vision Pro and an iPhone 15 Pro. Amazing. Stellar work. I can’t wait to try this when Apple Vision Pro launches; Apple says the feature will come out as a software update “by the end of this year.”

This brings me to the new telephoto lens, which is exclusive to the unwieldy iPhone 15 Pro Max. The iPhone 15 Pro “regular” edition comes equipped with the same 3x telephoto lens as the iPhone 14 Pro, as far as I can tell. There are no apparent changes to the hardware itself, which I’m disheartened by. I understand the move to leave the larger, more capable telephoto sensor to the iPhone 15 Pro Max to take advantage of the larger body (even though that annoys me as a regular Pro iPhone user who finds the Pro Max to be overbearing in hand), but the 3x telephoto on iPhone 15 Pro, if anything like the iPhone 14 Pro’s telephoto (or the iPhone 13 Pro’s, or the iPhone 12 Pro’s…), is terrible. It’s just not a very high-fidelity sensor when it absolutely should be. Apple knows the telephoto is an under-performer, which is why your iPhone switches to the main 48MP lens and digitally crops in by 3x if it senses you’re in a low-light environment. You can test this right now if you have an iPhone 11 Pro or newer: occlude the telephoto lens with your hand — whichever one it may be on your iPhone model — and hit the 2x, 2.5x, or 3x button in the picker area at the bottom of the viewfinder (the rightmost option). Notice how the image displayed isn’t occluded like you’d expect it to be. Now, snap the photo, and look at the info panel by swiping up on the photo in the Camera Roll. The lens information shows that the photo was taken with the “Main Camera” or “Wide Camera,” not the telephoto. Your iPhone does this all the time, even without you noticing, and that’s because the telephoto lens on iPhones is simply piss-poor quality. Photos that are taken on the main lens and that are digitally punched in are sharper, often with better colors, contrast, and clarity. The telephoto lens on iPhone 15 Pro should’ve been upgraded.

I’ve gone off track; back to the telephoto lens on iPhone 15 Pro Max. The lens this year, contrary to the rumors, is not a periscope lens. Instead, it uses a “tetraprism” lens assembly to achieve a maximum optical range of 5x, or 120 mm. The way this works, in Apple’s words, is “state-of-the-art”: it uses a “folded glass structure” beneath the lens assembly to reflect incoming light rays “four times over.” This essentially prolongs the time it takes for oncoming light to hit the sensor beneath the lens while being contained in the same space (this tetraprism piece that sits between the lens and sensor), which results in a closer-up image. In summary, it’s optical magic. The tetraprism assembly also enables a maximum 25x digital zoom, which is bound to be meh at best. It’s simple physics: Apple, to my knowledge, has not changed the actual sensor, like on iPhone 15 Pro. That sensor, which is the actual hardware that captures light to take photos, is not any bigger, and it doesn’t have any more megapixels than the one shipped in iPhone 14 Pro Max. The tetraprism assembly just makes that sensor capable of seeing longer distances, which I actually think is not a very wise or useful idea. On iPhone 15 Pro Max, your optical zoom options are 0.5x, 1x, and 5x (I’m excluding the 2x option because it’s performed using pixel binning — it’s technically not optical, though quality-wise it’s better than the optical sensor on iPhone 12 Pro). 1–5x is the range where a lot of your pictures will be taken. 5x is simply way too close for a portrait; most professional photographers shoot portraits at 48 mm or 77 mm — 2x and 3x in iPhone terms, respectively. There is no in-between here, only 2x and 5x. That’s not good for professional photographers who want to shoot in the very popular 77 mm focal length. The best focal length to shoot people in has historically always been 85 mm because 85 mm results in the least facial distortion. The closer you get to that 85 mm, the better. The iPhone 15 Pro has a more favorable telephoto lens than the iPhone 15 Pro Max for professional photography — it’s just a fact. Sure, the tech demo is impressive, and the tetraprism design is cool, but it’s not practical. Too little for , too much for professional photography.

That about covers the headlining feature additions and enhancements on iPhone 15 Pro. Like I said, it’s a lot. More than any other iPhone since iPhone 11 Pro in 2019. A whole new design (come at me, Android people, titanium is groundbreaking), a breakthrough chip, the first connector change since 2012, Spatial Photos and Videos, new main camera focal length, an Action Button, which is an entirely new method of input on the iPhone, and 5x optical zoom on iPhone 15 Pro Max. Of course, none of these features come without caveats, as I explained. But they’re new, and they’re exciting. Are they worth the upgrade? Well, that’s to be determined — a full review is coming soon. But now is the time to be excited about the prospect of a more competitive iPhone. One that’s lighter, faster, and more compatible with all of the charging cables in the world.

That brings me to iPhone 15, the historically more tame upgrade. The product line consists of the standard iPhone 15, and iPhone 15 Max, the larger 6.7" version of the same phone. While not exciting by any means, iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Max are the most important iPhones for Apple, and for consumers. They need to be good, not competitive. 67 percent of iPhone buyers buy their phones from their carrier’s store, on a contract. When their contract is up and it’s time to get a new phone, they simply ask, “Can I have the latest iPhone?” These days, there are four latest iPhones, so it’s usually followed by a simple request: “The latest good one. Not the one with the Home Button.” And that’s the iPhone 15 — the Goldilocks phone for about 80 percent of iPhone buyers. It is not the best phone you can get for the price, $800. Google’s Pixel 7 Pro retails at $600, and on paper, it’s a better phone. But guess what: nobody wants a Google phone. They want an iPhone. They want it to run iOS. They want iMessage, FaceTime, and Memoji. Don’t believe me? Believe South Korean youth. The “regular” iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Max are Apple’s most important phones where the only competition is last year’s iPhone. It has to be just barely better than the previous year’s model to not fall behind Apple’s own benchmarks and give the majority of consumers an okay experience for their money (which ends up being $60 a month on a contract). They’re Apple’s best-sellers, period. Most iPhone buyers buy their iPhones in a vacuum, unlike us nerds. They don’t cross-shop. That’s the magic of the Apple ecosystem; what sane-headed consumer in the U.S. would give up iMessage? Nobody. Once an iPhone consumer, an iPhone consumer for life. (And that’s how it used to be in South Korea for Samsung until Korean teenagers realized they wanted iPhones too.) And this base model iPhone is the iPhone they buy just to stay in the ecosystem.

However, this year is different, not for the reasons I just outlined, but because this phone is actually good when compared to Android phones. Apple, in striking contrast to the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14, has made iPhone 15 a very good upgrade from even the iPhone 14, which is not what most people will be upgrading from. They’ll be upgrading from the iPhone 12 or iPhone 13 (if they bought their current phone in 2021), and I think this is a killer upgrade from those phones. The iPhone 12 was the last standard iPhone that I recommended people buy. It was the iPhone 12 Pro, but with a lighter case (a godsend), better colors, and a cheaper price. iPhone 15 is, well, not that, but it is a significant upgrade from iPhone 14 (which again, is not what most people will be upgrading from). So much so that I think most people should spend the extra cash on an iPhone 15 over an iPhone 14, which is not a thing I said of the iPhone 14 when it came out last year. For the last two years, the move has been to buy the previous year’s regular iPhone model at a discount, but this year, that has changed. iPhone 15 has a new screen with Dynamic Island and smaller borders, the same 48MP camera from the iPhone 14 Pro, a slightly tweaked design with matte back and rounded sides, the killer A16 chip from the iPhone 14 Pro, and a USB-C port. All of that retails at the same price as last year. It’s a marriage between iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14, along with some iPhone 15 software features, and I think that’s an excellent upgrade proposition. None of these features are particularly worth covering in detail. The screen is the same beautiful screen found on iPhone 14 Pro, sans ProMotion (which most normal consumers don’t care about, contrary to what every Android person wants you to think), the battery life is the same, and the camera is the same “Pro” camera from last year’s flagship iPhone, including the 2x pixel binning zoom mode. This means, for the first time ever, the regular iPhone will have three, sharp “lenses” (I’m refraining from saying “optical zoom modes” because the 2x is technically not optical). This will be popular amongst the masses and will result in sharper, better Instagram photos around the world. Dynamic Island brings a more modern-looking display to the base model iPhone, which will be appreciated by most consumers the way the iPhone XR was appreciated. The USB-C port, however, is where I see things falling apart slightly, but I’ll save my analysis for my iPhone 15 Pro review; the bottom line is that I don’t think most consumers will be very happy with the new port. And it’s not any faster than Lightning, either, with it still being stuck at USB-2. Most consumers won’t care about that part, but they will care about the connector change.

Mostly, however, the iPhone 15 is a solid year-over-year upgrade, and for people coming from an older iPhone like an iPhone 12, this phone is the move. It’s just a good phone. I’m so glad to finally have a blanket answer for anyone who asks me, “Hey, what phone should I get?” I have no problem recommending the iPhone 15 — it’s a great phone that will last a long while and will provide a great experience for anyone who owns it. No, it’s not exciting. No, it’s not competitive. It’s not the best phone that Apple sells and I won’t be buying it for myself. But for the vast majority of consumers? They’re getting a winner here, a winner that I’m happy Apple is making. The only place that this falls apart a little is the iPhone 15 Max. I wouldn’t have said this if Apple chose to make an iPhone 15 mini this year, but they didn’t. In fact, the iPhone 13 mini, the last iPhone “This is something only Apple would do” mini, has been removed from store shelves entirely this week. If Apple were to make an iPhone 15 mini, people would upgrade to it from the iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini, and it would be a suitable upgrade for the same reasons I said the iPhone 15 was a suitable upgrade for iPhone 12 and 13 owners. But the iPhone 15 Plus sits in a weird spot for people who want a large phone. Most people won’t be upgrading from an iPhone 14 Max, so we don’t need to worry about them, so the main demographic for this phone is people who want to go from a smaller phone to a larger phone (or an older Pro Max phone). And like last year, I don’t think the iPhone 15 Max is priced particularly well for a large phone. iPhone 15 Max should be $800, and iPhone 15 should be $700. But they’re not, so the iPhone 15 Max is a tough sell. The consumers have picked up on this — made apparent by low iPhone 14 Max sales numbers — and most have just opted for an iPhone 14, with some going up to the iPhone 14 Pro Max for its screen size amongst other features. The iPhone 15 Max, like the 14 Max, is overpriced, and you’d be much better off buying a last-generation iPhone 14 Max at a discount, or better yet, buying an iPhone 14 Pro Max at a discount. Either way, don’t buy iPhone 15 Max — it’s not a good buy. It’s a good phone, obviously (though I don’t like large screens so take that for what you will), but it’s not priced well. Bottom line: if you’re an iPhone 13 or 12 owner, you should buy the iPhone 15. It’s a good phone. I have no issues with it. If you’re eying an iPhone 15 Max, I’d buy an iPhone 14 Max instead (carrier stores typically sell older models at a discount post-event). These are good phones with features that I’ve already covered in my iPhone 14 Pro review from last year and here in my iPhone 15 Pro impressions. It’s not particularly newsworthy, but it’s important for Apple and consumers, and Apple did not disappoint this year. The de facto iPhone is even better and worth the price this year, and that’s worth celebrating.

The Apple Watch updates this year were tame, in stark contrast to the iPhone updates. I found myself deeply underwhelmed by the announcements this year, similar to how I was with the Apple Watch Series 7 in 2021. Actually, if I’m being honest, I think this year’s updates are even less conspicuous than the Series 7. The biggest part of the Apple Watch section of the keynote was about how it’s Apple’s first carbon-neutral product, for what it’s worth. The Apple Watch Series 9 is the heir to the original Apple Watch series, and it brings a more powerful chip (for the first time since 2020), a brighter screen, and a new software feature called “Double Tap” that’s actually available on current Apple Watch models as well. Yes, that’s seriously it. I find the lack of tangible improvements an attestation to how good Apple Watches are and have been, and further vindication of my claim that the Apple Watch doesn’t need to be updated yearly anymore. The year-over-year changes to the Apple Watch line in recent history have been fairly subdued: the Apple Watch Series 6 gained new blood oxygen monitoring features that didn’t work half the time, the Series 7 brought a new display design with thinner edges, and the Series 8 brought a temperature sensor. Apple Watch Series 9 continues that ever-so-frustrating trend.

Point blank, if you have an Apple Watch younger than the Series 6, you don’t need this one. There’s no reason for you to need this one. You’re okay, trust me. But if you have a Series 5 or 4, the chip upgrade alone probably makes the new model worth it. The new SoC (SiP? Apple marketing never ceases to confuse me) brings a Neural Engine — a neural processing unit (NPU) for the uninitiated — to the watch, enabling offline Siri commands akin to the iPhone as well as health data requests via Siri (“How long did I sleep last night?”). It also brings the new second-generation Ultra Wideband chip I briefly touched on during the iPhone 15 Pro section of this article, enabling Precision Finding with your iPhone (if it’s a new model), which is, admittedly, very handy. If you have a Series 6, you might want the new screen that’s brighter with thinner borders. Apple says the new display is 2,000 nits bright — that’s double as bright as the Series 8, which should make outdoor viewing much more pleasant. It also dims to just 1 nit, too, which is nice for low-light areas and for the always-on display. And if you’re the owner of an Apple Watch Series 5 or later, an accessibility feature called “Double Tap” is now more than just an accessibility feature. With two taps of your index finger and thumb, you’ll now be able to control the main button in app without having to physically touch the screen. Answer a call, open a notification, play and pause audio, etc. I find this handy for those occurrences when both of your hands are dirty and you have to resort to using your nose to control an action — not very fun. But, as I said, this is not a new feature. You can enable it on your Apple Watch right now as an accessibility setting. Previous Apple Watches don’t lack hardware used to enable this feature, and there don’t seem to be any new sensors that enable this on Apple Watch Series 9. I reckon this is one of those (rare) occurrences of Apple hardware-locking a feature just to boost sales, and that’s a shame.

As I said, carbon neutrality is meant to be the selling point of this product — advertised by a three-minute dramatized meeting with Mother Nature starring Tim Cook and a bunch of other Apple executives. I know nothing about the Earth, so I’ll leave that to the experts, but I do know my way around Apple Watch Bands and iPhone cases. This year, Apple has opted to remove all leather products from store shelves, replacing them with a new material they call “FineWoven.” FineWoven, trademarked brand name aside, is just a special kind of nylon thread fabric material. Fancy, shimmering fabric that admittedly looks great in light, but also, just fabric. Let me explain why this is bad: Leather is a premium material that has some qualities that no other material can successfully replicate. First, it’s smooth and soft; supple. Leather, especially Apple’s leather, glides gracefully in and out of pockets without catching on skinny jeans or hugging thin sweatpants. Silicone does not do this, and often snags on tight pants or pulls pocket liners out, which is a minor annoyance. It makes the phone more cumbersome to use. Leather also feels awesome in the hand. It feels substantial and durable while also premium and luxurious in a way that no other material does. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for iPhone buyers, it’s formal and sophisticated in a way that other case materials simply aren’t. There are thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of SKUs of iPhone cases available on Amazon and Alibaba. Why do consumers opt for an Apple leather case over a cheap case from Amazon? For the look and feel. Apple’s tan leather develops a beautiful patina over the course of a year, and complemented with the Apple logo everyone’s a sucker for, the Apple leather case is one of the most sought-after accessories on the entire phone market. And this is just regarding iPhone cases. Apple removing leather watch bands and replacing them with fabric ones is outright unacceptable. People have been wearing leather watch bands for centuries. No matter the occasion, a leather watch band is always suitable and dapper. The Apple Watch is a deeply personal and visible product in ways that the iPhone simply isn’t. You can hide an iPhone in your blazer pocket, but you can’t hide your Apple Watch. Instead of opting for faux leather that’s easy on the environment while also retaining the benefits of real leather — like every car manufacturer on planet Earth does with seat materials — Apple has decided to drop out of the leather market entirely and transition to selling cheap-looking fabric cases and watch bands. Yes, the new FineWoven bands and cases are carbon neutral, and I would like to have a planet to live on in 50 years, but I’m absolutely certain that there are ways to make faux leather production carbon neutral. I’m baffled by this move.

If you thought the Apple Watch Series 9 was a minor update (minus the FineWoven situation, which is not exclusive to the watches), enter Apple Watch Ultra 2, where I feel like the biggest news is the fact that they called it “Apple Watch Ultra 2” and not “Apple Watch Ultra (second-generation).” Imagine if the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra had a baby — that’s Apple Watch Ultra 2. There are no new Apple Watch Ultra 2-specific features at all this year. There isn’t even a new color like the rumors suggested there’d be. Go on Apple’s product page right now for the Apple Watch Ultra 2. The new features listed are: Double Tap (from Apple Watch Series 9), a brighter display (3,000 nits over 2,000 nits on the Series 9), and a new SoC (S9, the same one as on Series 9). That’s it. This is obviously because the Apple Watch Ultra is so damn good, or so Apple thinks, but I feel like they could’ve done a lot more with the Ultra this year, like making it an actual, professional diving computer with longer battery life enabled by a diving mode, or whatever. I don’t know what divers want as I’m no diver, but make what they need to get them to drop their Garmins. I have nothing else to say about this product other than that you shouldn’t buy it if you have an Apple Watch Ultra 1 (Apple Watch Ultra 0?). It’s very clearly not worth the upgrade, just as the Series 9 isn’t.

iPhone 15 Pro, iPhone 15, Apple Watch Series 9, FineWoven, and Apple Watch Ultra. Apple announced a ton this week, even though it wasn’t a particularly packed keynote address on Tuesday. All of the new gadgets are available for pre-order on Friday, September 15th at 8 AM. I have peeves, and so many more thoughts to share, but I’ll save them for my full review of the iPhone 15 Pro coming later this month. 💣



Eshu Marneedi

The intersection of technology and society, going beyond the spec sheet and analyzing our ever-changing world — delivered in a nerdy and entertaining way.