The Only Thing That’s Changed is … Some very Minor Features

Depending on who you ask, September can represent the start of the footy finals, the US Open, spring cleaning, or even the start of a new season of their favourite American TV show (with the exception of Game of Thrones). For those tech-savvy fruit-loving individuals, September also signifies the release of yet another iPhone that looks oh-so-similar to the one they already own.

The latest iPhones, along with a new iPad and a few other iconic Apple products, were recently announced, and as always, fans were beyond ecstatic. The new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus have a very similar appearance to their immediate predecessors,though they do include a number of new features including 3D Touch and a higher quality camera (let’s face it, these days phones are basically cameras that can message). Apple marketed these new features with the slogan “The Only Thing That’s Changed is…Everything”.

Despite this slightly over-exaggerated marketing, iPhones are impressive devices, albeit often bested by the competing Androids (shh, don’t tell those Apple Geniuses). The new 3D Touch technology allows different functions depending on the force you use to press the touchscreen. For example, you can reply to an email just by pressing it hard enough for long enough, instead of swiping a few times. Total game changer, I know. Just think about all those milliseconds you can now save.

However, beneath the novelty there is some serious engineering. 3D Touch incorporates 96 sensors beneath the phone’s display, which measure microscopic distances between themselves and the glass, using capacitance. These measurements in combination with your touch, map out your finger’s movements across the screen, synchronising it with the apps on display. Apple has clearly succeeded in haptics (the science of touch and related technologies) even designing a vibrator that cycles once every 10 milliseconds, allowing for faster and more precise touch recognition. Both cameras have also been upgraded, featuring 12 and 5 megapixels for the rear and front cameras respectively, with 4K video (4 times higher resolution than normal HD) recording capabilities. Interestingly though, the iPhone’s screen does not contain enough pixels to display 4K video. Even if it did, the human eye wouldn’t be able to reliably distinguish such a fine resolution on the small screen.

Ultimately, what do the new iPhones actually bring to the table? While both phones are slightly better than last year’s, the truth is that the mobile network has not experienced much of an upgrade – at least not one as serious as advertised. In other words, your calls probably won’t sound much clearer, and download speeds will remain about the same.

However, when mobile networks do upgrade, they increase speeds by a factor of 10 to 100, offering higher reliability and better coverage. The next generation of mobile technologies, coined 5G, is expected to be deployed in 2020, although it is almost certain we will have to wait another year or two afterwards for widespread coverage. To use a fun analogy, your phone is like your car, with the mobile network forming the roads and highways. You can purchase the best car money can buy, but until the roads are upgraded and traffic management improves, a Ferrari serves almost the same purpose as a Toyota Yaris. But hey, at least you’ll look cool while driving it.