It's been just over a month since Apple announced its latest and greatest mobile lineup. The star of the show, the iPhone 14 Pro, brings several new features that push the envelope and further define iPhone's signature look. After spending a few weeks with the device and combing through plethoras of reviews and impressions, I'm sharing my thoughts on the iPhone 14 Pro and what it means for the future of iPhone.
The most notable design update of this year's Pro model, of course, is the completely reimagined cutout that Apple is calling the "Dynamic Island". The Dynamic Island replaces the previous notch, or sensor housing, that debuted with iPhone X and was later iterated upon with iPhone 13 Pro. When the iPhone X was introduced five years ago, the notch–while unnamed–became a hallmark of iPhone's design and its recognition with consumers. It makes perfect sense that Apple would now brand and market the notch's replacement as a feature and integral part of iPhone. Unlike the notch, Apple is embracing the space surrounding its camera and sensors to elevate the user experience.
Dynamic Island is made possible with an innovative blend of hardware and software that work together to provide helpful information and various toggles and controls. Details such as the Music app displaying artwork with a color-matched visualizer and the Clock app animating the countdown of a timer are delightful. Coming later this year, the Live Activities API will enable third-party developers to provide key data from their apps to make Dynamic Island even more useful.
Apple is going all-in with Dynamic Island, and for good reason. It's no secret that Apple has always strived for an all-screen device; a solid pane of glass allowing the user to focus entirely on the task or app at hand. The notch was the first step in that direction, and Dynamic Island brings them even closer. As Apple works to move the selfie camera and sensors completely under the display over the next few years, I believe Dynamic Island will remain a permanent fixture.
Why keep a Dynamic Island cutout after there are no components visible to disguise? Why should they remove it? Apple is very deliberate with its hardware decisions, and as I mentioned, they chose this year to name and market Dynamic Island as a core flagship feature. Plenty of smartphone makers have already moved to hole-punch or under-display cameras, and while those approaches are nice when viewing videos and fullscreen content, they fail to find useful ways to utilize that extra space for other tasks. Apple solved this problem before their all-screen device has even become a reality.
In the not-too-distant future, the Dynamic Island on an all-screen iPhone could become even more dynamic. When you're browsing the web, scrolling Twitter, or messaging a friend while playing music, it makes perfect sense for Dynamic Island to be present as it doesn't detract from what you're doing. Playing a fullscreen video, however, could prompt Dynamic Island to disappear completely from view. The Dynamic Island we know today is preparing us for the fullscreen iPhone of tomorrow.
The iPhone 14 Pro series brings with it the biggest technical improvements to iPhone's main sensor in nearly a decade. This year, Apple has bumped the main sensor to 48MP, up from 12MP. Apple is binning the pixels here to produce a single 12MP shot, however, shooting in ProRAW will enable you to capture a full 48MP image to play with. The new main sensor has introduced the ability to shoot 2x zoom as well.
Apple has focused heavily on low-light performance this year, introducing a new technology called Photonic Engine that starts Deep Fusion earlier in the photo capture process. Using the new sensors and machine learning allows Photonic Engine to preserve more data and deliver lifelike colors in low light. A new Adaptive True Tone flash uses nine LEDs that adjust based on the distance of the subject. Overall, Apple claims low-light capture improvements of up to 3x on the Ultra Wide camera, and 2x on the Main and Telephoto cameras. I haven't taken the time to completely put the new camera system through its paces, but the photos I have captured with iPhone 14 Pro do look impressive.
After several years of eSIM and dual eSIM support, Apple has officially dropped the SIM tray from the U.S. models across the lineup. Apple has worked with carrier partners to provide a solid, totally-eSIM experience. While not a huge change, the added internal real estate could prove useful for future chips or larger batteries. iFixit notes that this space isn't yet being utilized, likely to minimize production costs as models overseas have yet to drop the tray.
As far as the transition goes, moving to eSIM is pretty straightforward. If you are upgrading through your carrier as I was, your iPhone will likely activate the eSIM on its own during setup. Otherwise, top U.S. carriers offer simple processes to download and activate your eSIM after setup. Apple also touts the added security benefit of eSIM, as your SIM cannot be removed if your iPhone is lost or stolen. While not mentioned, this change could also see improvements to water resistance, as removing the physical SIM tray eliminates a point of entry for liquids.
Apple is no stranger to being last to the party with a key feature, opting to take the time to implement it masterfully. The Always-On Display, or AOD, is no exception here. With iPhone 14 Pro, the lock screen dims elegantly into the background, retaining the colors of your wallpaper while darkening notifications and alerts.
The display can operate with a refresh rate as low as 1 Hz to preserve battery life. I have heard many folks expressing feelings that the AOD is a little "too on". Even I must confess that for the first week or so I'd find myself noticing my iPhone's display out of the corner of my eye, erroneously believing I had a notification. After several weeks of use, however, the intensity of the AOD feels like a non-issue and I've grown perfectly accustomed to it.
While the battery capacities have grown slightly over the previous iPhone lineup, there isn't a huge improvement to be seen here. In fact, several users have noticed decreased battery life with the iPhone 14 series. I’ve noticed less-than-stellar battery performance as well, and it is not unlike the reduced battery life that occurs on devices testing beta releases. I’m hoping this is simply a software-related bug that can be fixed with a future update to iOS 16. Under minimal use, iPhone 14 Pro seems to still last an entire day. With that in mind, I believe the Always-On Display has little impact on battery drain.
Other Observations & Takeaways
- This year's iPhone lineup removes CDMA, as Sprint is defunct and Verizon is shuttering their 3G CDMA network later this year.
- The camera lenses and bump have again increased in size, so existing cases are unlikely to fit the iPhone 14 Pro series.
- Yes, the Lightning Port is still here. I'm perfectly content with it and I don't quite understand why so many choose the USB-C hill as theirs to die on. Nevertheless, the big switch is expected to happen next year.
- At times you are able to see the camera + components within the Dynamic Island in direct sunlight. It isn't dramatic but does spoil the magic a bit.
- Emergency SOS, a last-resort contact feature powered by satellite will be coming in a future iOS update this November. Apple says it will include 2 years of the feature for free with iPhone 14 Pro, but pricing beyond that is not yet known.
- Car Crash Detection is another key feature for this year's lineup. For obvious reasons, this is a tough feature to test, at least hopefully. There have been early reports of rollercoasters triggering the feature, however.
- While repairability hasn't improved with the Pro line, iFixit reports that the entry iPhone 14 makes strong improvements with a removable/replaceable rear back that is sure to improve repair costs and environmental sustainability. I'm hoping this trend continues and expands to more iPhone devices in the future.
The iPhone 14 Pro series is a solid update to an already great flagship device. Powerful new cameras, an Always-On Display, and potentially life-saving features like Emergency SOS and Car Crash detection are very welcome additions. Not to mention Dynamic Island, which brings Apple closer to its fullscreen goal while providing helpful interactions and controls.