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After going hands-on with the new iPhones, it's clear that the iPhone 15 standard models are more impressive than expected this year and the lighter, slimmer, more tactile feel of the titanium Pro models have a lot of appeal. The two Pro phones also delivered exciting updates with the Action button, the new USB 3 superpowers, and the "tetraprism" telephoto camera lens in the Pro Max.
But, this year's flagship iPhone 15 Pro Max didn't deliver on everything. For a Pro-level device that costs this much, there are still areas where Apple could make key improvements. Since next year's Pro Max model will reportedly get renamed as the iPhone 16 Ultra, I'm holding out hope that these features get implemented there.
1. Longer battery life
As I've already mentioned in my first impressions of the iPhone 15 Pro, the biggest disappointment for this year's Pro phones is that Apple didn't use any of the additional capabilities of the new A17 Pro chip to increase battery life. Instead, it spent all of the extra oomph from the A17 Pro to power up additional gaming features, make file transfers 20x faster with USB-C, and further enhance the advanced machine learning for photography and video.
I'm sure a lot of users will take advantage of those features, but even more would benefit from longer battery life. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max generally make it through a day of light to medium use without needing to recharge. However, many users have experienced the iPhone 14 Pro suffering from intermittent battery life issues. And even the iPhone 14 Pro Max can barely make it through a full day if you spend a big chunk of time shooting photos, texting them to friends and family, and uploading a few to social media -- as many people do in their leisure time.
An upgrade to battery life is never a very flashy feature in a keynote presentation, but it's the number one quality-of-life feature that Apple could do to make its Pro phones better to use every day -- and more competitive with the best Android devices.
2. Touch ID on the power button
Another one of the best quality-of-life features that Apple could add to its Pro phones is to integrate a Touch ID fingerprint scanner into the power button -- just like the one it already has on the iPad Air (5th Generation). I'm not getting fancy here and asking for an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor under the display like the excellent one on the Samsung Galaxy S23.
I'm also not asking for Apple to replace Face ID and go back to Touch ID. Just give us both, because there are times when Face ID still doesn't work well -- when you have glasses, sunglasses, a hat, a face covering, or you're just holding your phone at an angle that's not easy for Face ID to scan. Having Touch ID at those times and others would make the iPhone tremendously more usable.
It would also increase security because Apple could offer an option in Settings to require both Face ID and Touch ID, which would give the iPhone -- and potentially third-party app developers -- the option to make logins more secure on this device than any other device on the market.
3. 10x telephoto zoom lens
Yes, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has added a tetraprism telephoto camera this year with a 5x zoom lens and the equivalent of a 120mm focal length. This is Apple's answer to Samsung's periscope "space zoom" lens launched in 2020 on the Galaxy S20 Ultra and refined incrementally each year since then in the S21 Ultra, S22 Ultra, and S23 Ultra.
The big difference between Apple's tetraprism and Samsung's periscope is that Samsung still goes twice the distance at 10x. I can't wait to try out the new Apple 5x telephoto lens over the coming months in lots of different situations -- especially paired with Apple's excellent photo processing software and machine learning algorithms -- and I have confidence that it will be capable of high-quality shots never before possible on an iPhone. Nevertheless, it likely has a pretty big gap to get all of the great shots between 5x and 10x that you can get on Samsung's flagship phone.
4. Faster charging
Since the iPhone 15 Pro models don't improve battery life, one of the things that could have made life better for iPhone users was to support faster charging. That way, if you do have to recharge in the middle of the day you can plug in and quickly top-up. With the iPhone switching to USB-C this year, it would have been the perfect time to implement better charging because USB-C can support crazy-fast charging speeds. But, it didn't happen.
The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max have the same 27W charging limit as last year's Pro models (we'll fully test that in the coming weeks). That means you can charge from 0% to 50% in about 30 minutes and it takes about 90 minutes to 2 hours to charge fully -- if you have a 30W or higher charging brick. That's Apple's version of fast charging.
By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S23 has a similar 25W fast charging capability that also goes 0-50% in about 30 minutes but only takes about 70-90 minutes to charge fully. However, Samsung also offers 45W "super fast charging" that can charge 0-65% in 30 minutes and charge fully in 57 minutes.
Both of these are blown away by Xiaomi's Redmi Note 12 Discovery Edition that has 210W charging and can get a full charge in 9 minutes. It's unlikely that Apple (or Samsung) would implement something like that anytime soon because fast charging can have negative effects on battery health due to the extra heat it can create. But, it would certainly be reasonable for Apple to offer 35W or 45W charging to speed up our top-ups on the iPhone.
5. A better case from Apple
At the Apple event, I tried the new FineWoven cases that Apple is launching this year to replace its popular -- but less environmentally friendly -- leather cases and I have to admit that I didn't love the look and feel of FineWoven. It felt like a cheap imitation of suede.
Of course, the cases aren't cheap at $59 and I'm confident that it took a lot of creative work from the materials team at Apple to come up with a case made from 68% post-consumer recycled materials. And I definitely admire Apple's carbon neutral and sustainability goals.
Nevertheless, the new cases didn't feel great in my hands and I worry that they won't be very durable. I realize that's a subjective opinion, and my ZDNET teammate Kerry Wan tried the new cases and had the opposite reaction while we were testing them in the Steve Jobs Theater.
My problem with the cases isn't just with the materials though. In general, the Apple phone cases are too bulky and they hide the overall design of the iPhone. I'd much rather see Apple take inspiration from the famous -- or infamous -- iPhone 4 bumper cases that simply protect the edges of the phone and leave the back open so you see the full design.
This makes it lighter and thinner to hold as well as easier to slip into your pocket or bag. And, it still protects the front glass from breaking and the edges from getting dinged up when you drop it. The one challenge a bumper might have with a modern iPhone is protecting the camera lenses, but it might be easy enough to add a bump in the corner around the lenses.
In the new FineWoven cases, the back and the edges are made of different materials and each has a different feel. I liked the edges better than the back. If Apple simply made a bumper out of the FineWoven edges then I think that would be a much better case.