6 reasons why iOS 18 makes the iPhone 16 a must-upgrade for me

iOS 18 is forcing me to upgrade my iPhone 12 Pro Max. Here's why.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

I'll be retiring my trusty TOS (that original smartphone) iPhone 12 Pro Max soon.

David Gewirtz/ZDNET (with a little help from Noble Collection Kirk and Spock)

I am not someone who enjoys upgrading my iPhone. I know some of you like using the latest and greatest, but I usually wait until the new device meets some specific and tangible need before I upgrade. It's not just the money, although that's not nothing. I don't enjoy the hassle of the overall process, from buying to configuring to transferring my data.

Also: Here's every iPhone model that will receive Apple's iOS 18 update

I also tend to wait at least until Apple's fall iPhone announcements to make that decision, because that's when Apple shares the list of new features in the phone, and I can make an informed decision based on that information.

Not this year. This year, I know I'm getting an iPhone 16 Pro Max.

Last year, I chose to keep using my three-generation-old iPhone 12 Pro Max with 256GB storage. By contrast, my wife upgraded her even older iPhone 11 Pro to the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

As I mentioned last year, there are three fundamental reasons why we upgrade. They are:

  1. The current device has a failing that reaches the annoyance level, triggering a replacement urge, or
  2. The newer device has one or more incredibly compelling "must buy" new features, or
  3. You want to be seen carrying -- or know you're carrying -- the latest hotness in a sort of keeping-up-with-or-ahead-of-the-Joneses kind of way.

A variant of #3: the folks who upgrade annually simply because that's what they do.

My wife Denise's iPhone 11 had only 64GB storage. She was constantly running into storage management problems. Reason #1 above had been triggered for months, but we were waiting out the calendar until the new models came out.

Also: Apple Intelligence will improve Siri in 2024, but don't expect most updates until 2025

For me, last year, none of the three reasons triggered. My phone was fine. There was no new feature I craved and I didn't care whether people knew I was rocking an older phone.

But this year, things have changed. There is one primary must-have Reason #2 issue, a few nice-to-have Reason #2 issues, and an emerging, but could probably last out the year Reason #1 issue.

The items I'll mention could be handled with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, but why buy one now when the new models will be out in three months? Let's dive into six reasons I'll put down $1,599+ for a new iPhone.

Keep in mind that these reasons fit my life and workload. We're all unique. You may or may not see an upgrade reason. If you do, your reasons will likely be different to mine.

1. Apple's AI

  • Upgrade reason: Must-buy new feature
  • Motivation: Need for work AI coverage, plus consistency across all my devices

That's it. Apple AI is my primary must-have reason. Apple's AI (which Apple cleverly rebranded as Apple Intelligence) is only supported on the iPhone 15 Pro Max and up. But if I'm going to buy a new phone, I'm waiting to get the new one in the fall.

Apple Intelligence triggers my Reason To Buy #2: the newer device has one or more incredibly compelling "must buy" features. After all, I do a tremendous amount of writing about AI and have done lots of projects mixing AI into production work to see how it plays out.

Also: Everything to know about Apple's AI features coming to iPhones, Macs, and iPads

My work style relies heavily on the Continuity and Handoff features. I constantly switch between my iPhone and Mac, often a dozen times a day or more. If Apple's AI is going to be baked into MacOS for my M-series machines, I'm going to use it.

If I have that capability on all my Macs, I want it on my iPhone as well. That way, there's no added friction in my full use of the entire Apple ecosystem.

And yes, for the record, I also use iPads. But I use them more as cameras and device control for my fleet of video robots, so Apple Intelligence isn't as mission-critical on them.

Now, let's look at a few nice-to-have Reason To Buy #2 features.

2. Spatial videos

  • Upgrade reason: Nice-to-have new feature
  • Motivation: Need for work coverage of Vision Pro

I'll be honest. Spatial videos don't do it for me. However, they'll now be editable with Final Cut, which means … something.

Also: How to capture spatial video with the iPhone 15 Pro (there's a trick)

My wife was kind enough to let me borrow her iPhone 15 Pro Max to record some test spatial videos, but her iPhone is mission-critical for her and she can't be parted from it very often or for very long.

Because I write about the Vision Pro, I need to be super-familiar with spatial videos. The way I become familiar with technology is to do projects with it, to tinker and see what I can produce.

Also: I recorded spatial videos to view on Vision Pro and Quest 3 and you can download them

Therefore, I need a spatial video camera, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max (and the new 16 Pro Max) can do that. So, while it's not a must-have for Reason #2, it's a nice-to-have.

3. Macro lens

  • Upgrade reason: Nice-to-have new feature
  • Motivation: Adds a lot of convenience to a regular process

I do a lot of macro photography. I don't shoot plants or insects, which seem to be the classic subjects for macro photography. Instead, I shoot my build projects, often small aspects of something I'm working on.

Normally, I shoot my project build progress with my iPhone as it's always in my pocket. Even if I go into the workshop and make a five-minute improvement, I can pull out my phone and snap a picture or small video.

But for macro shots, I have to get my Sony Alpha ZV-E10 mirrorless camera and attach a Sony SEL30M35 30mm f/3.5 e-mount macro lens. Then I have to put in a fresh battery (the ZV-E10 has fairly poor battery longevity), find an SD card, configure the whole thing for macro photography, and shoot. When I'm done, I have to reverse the process to put the camera away. Then I have to take the SD card to my Mac Studio, plug it in, and download the photos.

Apple added a macro lens to iPhones starting with the iPhone 13 generation. With a macro lens on my iPhone, I can pull the device from my pocket and shoot. My photos will be stored in the Photos app and iCloud.

So, sure, I'd love an iPhone 16 Pro Max with a macro lens. It's not an urgent upgrade, but it will add a lot of convenience.

4. USB-C connector

  • Upgrade reason: Nice-to-have new feature
  • Motivation: Could substantially speed up file transfers, and eliminate an extra cable

As mentioned, I shoot videos using my iPhone. I also shoot 4K videos, which results in rather large files. Normally, once filmed, the files transfer to iCloud and then down to a copy on my Mac Studio. That process is slow. But so is doing wireless transfer over AirDrop. Plugging in my iPhone using a Lightning cable doesn't help much. Lightning maxes out at 480Mbps.

But the iPhone 15 series (and presumably the iPhone 16 series) uses a USB-C connector. While some folks still find the connection transfers at 480Mbps, others have successfully maintained 10Gbps using a Thunderbolt 3 cable (which plugs into USB-C jacks). That's a huge speed improvement and something I might like to take advantage of, provided I can track which cable is which.

Plus, the iPhone is the last device I regularly connect at my desk that uses Lightning. So, I could eliminate a dedicated cable from my desk setup.

Also: Here's how Apple's keeping your cloud-processed AI data safe (and why it matters)

Those features make USB-C a nice-to-have, especially if I can find the cable configuration that gives me that oh-so-compelling 10Gbps transfer speed.

5. Performance

  • Upgrade reason: Nice-to-have new feature
  • Motivation: I feel the need, the need for speed

My iPhone 12 Pro Max is a pretty fast little device. I have no complaints. That said, I sometimes find the photo-related and computationally-intensive tools (i.e. statistics and graphing calculator) I use to be a bit sluggish.

I used Geekbench to compare the performance of my wife's iPhone 15 Pro Max against my iPhone 12 Pro Max, and her device is 33.4% faster than the iPhone 12 for single-core performance, 39.6% faster for multi-core performance, and 37.7% faster overall.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

If we assume the iPhone 16 Pro Max will be even faster, an upgrade would probably buy me a 40% or more speed improvement. That's no small thing.

6. Battery health

  • Upgrade reason: Some failing that reached the annoyance level
  • Motivation: Battery doesn't hold a charge for as long as it once did

For a four-year-old phone, my iPhone 12's battery is holding up well. That said, I have noticed a bit of a decline in battery life. The phone always used to make it through a full day without needing a recharge (and even into the next day).

But recently, I've noticed the phone running out of juice. It doesn't happen often, but on heavy-use days when I don't put the phone back on the charger, I sometimes find the phone in Low Power Mode. Once or twice, I've even been surprised to see the device black, dead, and cold.

A quick look at the Maximum Capacity setting on the Battery Health & Charging page in the Settings app shows my max capacity at 88%. That's not a huge loss in capacity, but I have been caught up short by it a few times.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

As such, it's starting to trigger my #1 reason for upgrading a device: the current device had some failing that reached the annoyance level, triggering a replacement urge. I'm not at the "I can't stand it" level, but I might be by September or October when Apple announces the new iPhone models.

Are you going to upgrade?

Even though we don't yet know what new features will come with the iPhone 16 series, we can be fairly sure the processor will get faster and the cameras will get better. Plus, other than the iPhone 15 series, it'll be the only iPhone that can run Apple Intelligence. Upgrading to an iPhone 16 Pro Max is the only logical choice.

Also: This MagSafe accessory lets you use iOS 18's most underrated feature before it's released

So, what do you think? Are you ready to say you're upgrading to an iPhone 16 series? Do you need to wait and see what's announced? Or are you sure you're sticking with your current phone? If any of these reasons resonate with you, let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to subscribe to my weekly update newsletter, and follow me on Twitter/X at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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