Even after all these years, the annual iPhone launch event remains the most-anticipated gadget reveal and sets the tone for the festive season ahead. The Standard was inside the Steve Jobs Theatre in California to witness the live video presentation and then ushered behind the velvet ropes to try all the hardware.
As expected, each of the new handsets finally adopts USB-C sockets rather than Lightning because Apple was forced to do so by the EU. The line-up was completed by refreshed AirPods also featuring USB-C.
The iPhone 15 series, once again, consists of four models. First, there’s the standard iPhone 15 and the iPhone 15 Plus, which is identical except for its screen size and price.
These handsets both feature the A16 Bionic processor and the Dynamic Island feature — a clever cutout around the front camera which automatically changes shape as extra information is revealed from within specific apps — as found on last year’s Pro models. Trust me, it’s more useful than it sounds.
The iPhone 15 now has a 48-megapixel main camera, also something only found on a Pro handset before. This newly beefed-up resolution cleverly delivers an optical zoom as well as a wide-angle lens. By using the central area of the 48MP sensor, the iPhone 15 can create a 12-megapixel 2x optical zoom, even though it only features ostensibly the same lens array as last year.
It can spot when there’s a person (or pet) in the frame and then automatically save the depth data to use Portrait Mode. That means that you no longer need to think about doing so before taking a photograph.
This seems like a significant refresh overall
The screen is significantly brighter, too, and yet still lacks Pro Motion display technology, which provides faster refresh rates for a smoother scrolling experience. This feels like a significant oversight.
Things get much sexier in the iPhone 15 Pro and its larger-screened sibling, the iPhone 15 Pro Max. These handsets justify their price with the seriously fast A17 Bionic processor, slimmer screen bezels, and fancy new ray-tracing feature for better graphics in gaming. There’s also a new material, titanium, for the frame, which is lighter in weight yet also stronger than the stainless-steel chassis of previous Pro phones.
A new telephoto camera, exclusive to the Pro Max, goes up to 5x zoom by using multiple mirrors to reflect the light to create a longer focal length. You’ll also be able to shoot spatial video, a 3D video format which allows playback on the upcoming Apple Vision Pro headset.
All of these iPhones also have an improved Ultra Wideband chip that improves the Find My app so you can find nearby friends more easily. Both you and the other person will need the new phone to do this.
There’s also better quality audio for phone-calls with a feature called Voice Isolation that promises to quell all noises apart from your voice. I did not yet get the opportunity to test this feature.
The most noticable improvement to the Watches is the dramatically boosted screen brightness
While the new Watches both feature significantly more processing grunt and the display is much brighter. In fact, the Series 9 is twice as bright, at up to 2,000 nits and the Ultra 2 is 3,000 nits. This is handy for sunny days.
There’s a cool new control gesture, too: double-tap your finger and thumb together and the optical sensor recognises a change in blood flow in your wrist to perform an action, such as to answer a call or stop a timer.
Hands-on impression of the iPhone 15
The new phones have a subtly updated design. Holding each of them in the hand, this appears to work well Instead of sharp edges on front and back, there are now gently curved edges. It all feels very comfortable.
The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus have matte-finish glass backs instead of gloss, which is much more attractive. The new colours are muted yet attractive in a choice of yellow, blue, pink, green, or black.
Similarly, the understated colours of the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, with new titanium edging, exude effortless charm. The new Pro phones certainly feel a lot lighter than last year’s models. That’s a big win.
The bezels around the display of the Pro models are noticeably thinner and have a smart, classy look. A new action button replaces the side switch to mute the phone and you can also customise what the button does. This handles well and feels versatile.
What is the new Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 like?
The double-tap feature on the Apple Watch works much better than expected — and I can see this being extremely useful. Be warned that this can also silence an alarm, so use it wisely.
The most noticable improvement to the Watches is the dramatically boosted screen brightness. You can immediately feel the difference and yet Apple promises no hit to the battery life. As ever, time will tell.
How much are the iPhone 15, Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2?
Most of the new phones are priced the same as the iPhone 14 series. The iPhone 15 costs from £799 and the iPhone 15 Plus is from £899. The iPhone 15 Pro has unexpectedly decreased in price a little from the iPhone14 Pro and now starts at £999. The only pricier model is the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which is now from £1,199. This is a slight increase from iPhone 14 Pro Max but the new phone has double (256GB) the storage in the base model.
The Apple Watch Series 9 starts at £399 and the largely unchanged Apple Watch SE model costs £219. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 costs from £799.
Initial verdict of the iPhone 15
This seems like a significant refresh overall compared to the lacklustre reception last year’s iPhone models received. It’s great to see Dynamic Island and an optical zoom appear on the iPhone 15. The physically lighter chassis of the iPhone 15 Pro and, in particular, the 5x zoom on the Max model are clear highlights. Whether these are enough to tempt people into upgrading in tough economic times remains to be seen.
When is the iPhone 15 and new Apple Watches being released?
They will be available from Friday, September 22.