By Wilson Rothman
Not much was expected of Apple Inc. (hardware-wise) on Tuesday and in that respect, it didn't disappoint. The company delivered upgrades to last year's three iPhone models, plus some minor tweaks to the Apple Watch and iPad lines and an update on its coming subscription services.
The biggest news was that the company reduced the cost barrier for some of its devices, by bringing the iPhone 8 (with wireless charging) and the iPhone XR (with Face ID) down $150.
Still, there are some new features. Here's a look at how the phones compare:
iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max
At the top of the line, these models will have the high-resolution OLED screens, wireless charging and Face ID we have seen since the iPhone X, and the larger 6.5-inch option that first appeared last year. As usual, it has the newest processor -- Apple is now up to the A13.
What else? Most obviously, there are now three cameras on the back, instead of two. In addition to a telephoto and standard wide-angle lens, both iPhone 11 Pro models have an ultrawide-angle lens. This means three different options for framing camera shots -- even 4K videos. You can take those blurry-background portrait shots with the wide or telephoto lenses. Apple said all of the cameras will be better at lowlight shooting (a long-overdue improvement), and this fall, the company plans to roll out a Deep Fusion mode, which combines multiple shots into an optimized master shot.
Did you fall asleep just now? Wake up! Cameras might be lower on the perennial list of smartphone-shopper priorities, but battery life is always at the top. Apple said the Pro will deliver up to four more hours of battery life a day than the XS -- and that boost is five hours when you compare the 11 Pro Max to last year's iPhone XS Max. Apple also said these phones would have fast chargers in the box. No more rinky-dink 5-watt charger. But how fast?
We will have to test that during our reviews, naturally, along with other key bullet points from Apple: These phones have "the toughest glass ever in a smartphone," and are even more water-resistant than the previous generation.
Still, they sure do look like last year's flagships. And Apple didn't mention some advanced smartphone features found in competing products from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. for instance, such as in-screen fingerprint scanning (as an alternative to Face ID), reverse wireless charging (to give juice to your AirPods, for instance) and 5G wireless connectivity (an admittedly not-ready-for-primetime feature).
Mercifully not called the XI or, even worse, the XIR, the standard iPhone 11 is the upgrade to last year's iPhone XR. The XR sticks around for $599, but Apple gave the 11 a seemingly reasonable price tag of its own: $699.
Price might be the biggest news, but the iPhone 11 does have some new features, such as two cameras on the back (a wide and an ultrawide). Like its more expensive siblings, the 11 will have the improved "Night Mode" lowlight shooting, and will get that funky Deep Fusion mode later this fall.
Under the hood, the iPhone 11's battery lasts an hour longer a day than its predecessor. That is admirable, considering how much Personal Tech columnist Joanna Stern raved about the XR's battery. And like last year's surprise winner, this model is looking like Joanna's all-around pick -- pending review, of course.
iPhone XR and iPhone 8
In the U.S., Apple is keeping the iPhone XR, 8 and 8 Plus in circulation. That means total confusion around what model you should buy but also more higher-tech options at the lower end. Do you want wireless charging? No? Too bad, because there is no current iPhone without it. Water-resistant? Ditto.
For people who are facing an upgrade, it also almost certainly means getting with Apple's latest program: bigger screens and Face ID.
Like Samsung before it, Apple is making its iPhone screens larger. There is now only one option with a screen that measures less than 5 inches diagonally. (It is the $449 iPhone 8.) And that is only one of two remaining phones with the Touch ID fingerprint scanner. (The other is the iPhone 8 Plus which, at $549, is very much in No Man's Land.)
We'll have more to tell you once we're testing these phones. Many other new features will come with the free iOS 13 upgrade, expected to also roll out next week, which might solve any or all of your current needs. But if you're stuck with a tough decision after today's news, shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe we can help.
Write to Wilson Rothman at Wilson.Rothman@wsj.com