Should you buy a new iPhone 11?

It’s the day after iPhone 11, and the tech impressions are in: iPhone 11 and 11 Pro are being received in a mostly-ho-hum kind of way. But is there more going on here, and should you buy one?

What got announced:

  • iPhone 11: a wide and ultra wide camera lens, same screen as the iPhone XR, Dolby Atmos sound spatialization, and a processor and graphics chip that are faster than last year’s version.
  • iPhone 11 Pro: wide, ultra wide, and telephoto camera lens, OLED display, Dolby Atmos sound spatialization, and the same processor.
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max: the same as above, but in a larger screen size.

All the phones got a little thicker over last year’s models, with increased battery to match.

Much of the tech press reaction has been a yawn. For the first time I can recall, Wall Street actually raised Apple’s share price following an Apple product announcement. So what really is going on here?

For many, the phones seem like an incremental release. “That’s it? That was pathetic.” some have said. Others say things like, “It just seems most Apple hardware announcements yesterday are the progression of the existing features, not much of a breakthrough.”

Apple Arcade is probably good

And that’s true to an extent. If you were planning to sign up for Apple Arcade ($4.99 a month) to get games the whole family can play without having to worry about in-app purchases or advertising, you can take advantage of the improved graphics processor.

If you were planning to use Apple TV+ channels to watch shows on your iPhone, you could enjoy the Dolby Atmos sound spatialization. It’s not as extensive as having a set of 12 speakers positioned just right in your viewing area, but it’s better than previous iPhones.

And if you love to take photographs and videos with your iPhone, the addition of the extra cameras, a revised camera app, and cinema-like stabilization for video should go a long way.

What’s “good enough”?

The problem is one of “good enough.” For many people, last year’s phones were good enough. And the ones before that. But at some point, the phone from 3 or 4 years ago becomes too old, no longer “good enough”, whether that’s from some sneaking suspicion that “Apple is slowing my phone down” or just that it’s time.

If you view the phone on just the CPU metric, it’s perhaps 3% better than last year’s. Next year, it would be 6% better, the year after, 9% better. But the iPhone is more than just a CPU.

Hidden in iOS 13 is a reference to an augmented reality headsets, and how to develop for them without having the actual augmented reality headset. Some people think these are a non-starter, strapping the visual feedbag on our heads.

If you’re a speeds and feeds type of nerd, the new iPhone has 800 nits max brightness (typical), 1200 nits max brightness (HDR), which is similar to a pro display.

The things Apple didn’t tell you yesterday

Apple didn’t mention it in the keynote, but they’ve added a U1 chip to the iPhone which makes it act like it’s got a highly sensitive radar inside – this is what the rumors about a Tile-like competitor were about. Instead of AirDropping files to a long list of people, you can point directly at another user, because the U1 chip understands direction.

Precise location

But it’s important to realize that U1 doesn’t make iPhone into a Tile competitor, even if there are tags that materialize for it. Apple’s Web site says:

Ultra Wideband technology comes to iPhone.

The new Apple?designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness ? allowing iPhone 11 to precisely locate other U1?equipped Apple devices. Think GPS at the scale of your living room. So if you want to share a file with someone using AirDrop, just point your iPhone at theirs and they?ll be first on the list.


Can you be more precise? Yes.

The new Apple?designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness ? allowing iPhone 11 Pro to precisely locate other U1?equipped Apple devices. It?s like adding another sense to iPhone, and it?s going to lead to amazing new capabilities.

With U1 and iOS 13, you can point your iPhone toward someone else?s, and AirDrop will prioritize that device so you can share files faster.

And that?s just the beginning.”

Meanwhile, Wall Street Analysts are excited about AppleTV+ channels and Apple Watch. As well they should be, the watch is now set to be used in medical studies, and while it’s not clear what differentiates AppleTV+ shows from, say, Prime or Netflix originals, they do seem like good offerings.

If you want a good phone and don’t already have a good phone, you really can’t go wrong here. You’ll get a better CPU and GPU across all of them, better cameras no matter which you choose, and a brighter display on at least two of the models. Maybe this seems like an incremental change, but I expect it’s the sum of the parts that create the experience.

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