Apple announced the iPhone 13 series yesterday and as I expected, it was more evolution than revolution. The new models use the same flat-edge, slim-bezel design introduced last year with a few minor tweaks. The notch is 20% narrower (but a tiny bit taller) and the cameras on the “regular” iPhone are arranged diagonally (wow). They are still roughly the same size, the same materials, and a tiny bit heavier.
The big news for the regular iPhone (and mini) are the improved lenses and sensors in the cameras, as well as sensor-shift stabilization, which was previously restricted to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The screen is the same, but brightness is bumped to 800 nits (from 650), matching the iPhone 12 Pro of last year. It includes the new A15 chip, which Apple states is “50% faster than the competition”, indicating that while it is still the fastest chip on the market, it is only a modest bump over the A14. The new hardware and larger battery provides another 2.5 hours of daily use.
Apple has quietly adjusted the base price, bumping it up $100 to $699 for the mini and $799 for the regular size. Both now start with 128 GB memory instead of 64. Apple has also adjusted the colors, replacing the deep blue of the iPhone 12 with the ugly blue of my 12 Pro, and dropping the last model’s mid-cycle addition of purple. Black, white, pink, and the awesome Product RED still exist.
The iPhone 13 also includes some cool software features including Cinematic video that blurs the background and smoothly racks focus between subjects that enter the frame, 4K 60p Dolby vision videos (up from 30p and now equivalent to 12 Pro), photographic style filters, and improved HDR.
The Pro is Now Pro
Despite its success, one of the challenges with the iPhone 12 was the lack of differentiation between the regular and Pro models. The major difference was in the cameras, with the Pro sporting an extra physical telephoto camera, the ability to shoot in ProRAW format, and LiDAR-based night portrait mode. It could capture 60p Dolby Vision video and had 50% more RAM, but was otherwise exactly the same.
Apple has widened the gap a bit with the 13 Pro. The biggest differences, as always, are the cameras. Traditionally the iPhone has two cameras and the Pro model has three. On the iPhone 12, the cameras shared across both lines (the ultra wide and wide) were the exact same cameras. That is no longer the case on the iPhone 13. While all the cameras were improved across the line, the wide and ultra wide cameras on the Pro have even larger apertures than on the regular models, allowing them to capture more light. The Pro-only telephoto is improved as well, zooming to 3x magnification versus 2x on the 12 Pro and 2.5x on the 12 Pro Max. In addition, the ultra wide lens includes autofocus, which allows it to shoot macro photos (and videos) as close as 2 cm to the lens. That is super cool and I’m really excited to try it!
The next obvious difference is the screen. While it is the same resolution as the regular iPhone, the Pro now has a ProMotion high refresh rate screen. I’ve been waiting for this since I bought my 10.5″ iPad Pro three years ago. It’s difficult to describe but once you’ve used it, you want it everywhere and I’m so excited that it is finally coming to my iPhone! My scrolling will now be buttery-smooth any time I need it to be. YAS!
Rounding out the differences are the still-brighter screen, ProRes video, and additional GPU core. Now that the regular iPhone 13 matches the 800 nit brightness of last year’s Pro, this year’s Pro has to do better with a 1000 nit screen. ProRes is high-quality compressed video format that provides videographers with better editing capabilities than H.264 or HEVC. The Pro can shoot entire videos in ProRes. Perhaps the most interesting additional upgrade is the additional GPU core. Both the regular 13 and the 13 Pro use an A15 chip, but the regular 13 has four GPU cores and the 13 Pro has five. Apple has done something similar with its M1 Macs, offering both 7 and 8 GPU core chips, but this is the first time we’ve seen it on the iPhone.
While the iPhone 12 Pro offered an extra camera, more RAM, RAW support, and a brighter screen to entice an upgrade, Apple has been able to put some additional distance in between the regular and Pro in the iPhone 13. All of the cameras are better and you get an extra one, it still has more RAM, still has RAW support and ProRes support, still has a brighter screen but also a higher refresh rate screen, and also includes an extra GPU core. It still may not be enough for some people but there is a better reason to go Pro this year than last.