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The iPhone 13 may finally get the features Android has had for years

The iPhone 13 may finally get the features Android has had for years

It's New iPhone Day. And as with any new smartphone announcement these days, we have a pretty good idea of ​​what to expect. Leaks and rumors are more accurate than ever, and although there is always the potential for a big surprise, the most likely scenario is that the iPhone 13 will be what we think it will be.

Just because the rumors are clear doesn't mean they aren't exciting, though. This year, the iPhone 13 (we assume that's the name) will have some new technology in the same design. New designs run big upgrade cycles, but it's the second year of the design that usually sees the most interesting refinements.

We can list them fairly quickly. Again there should be four repetitions: a mini, a regular, a pro and a pro max. Higher-end iPhones should have LTPO (Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide) displays, a low-power type of OLED screen with a variable refresh rate. Processors will be faster. The MagSafe charging system will be replaced. There may be new storage options. The camera will be better, especially with HDR and Portrait Mode video - as well as improvements in astrophotography.

All those specifications will translate into some new, cool experiences. There's one in particular I want to focus on: Screen.

The LTPO display should mean that the iPhone may finally have an always-on lock screen. This should also enable smooth transitions in the end as the screen locks at some small number of Hz to some larger number like 60Hz instead of locking at 120Hz.

Note the "finally" in that last paragraph. They're there because variable refresh rates and always-on screens are available on Android phones forever...forever. In fact, if you go by the rumored specs of the new iPhones, many of them first appeared on Android. In addition to the screen with a higher refresh rate, there's better quality wide-angle cameras, huge storage, portrait mode video and astrophotography.

Although specifications can be copied, the question falls back to "experience". The cliché with Apple is that it rarely does anything, but instead comes up with a refinement later and does it best. That cliché exists because it is often true. You might be able to turn on Portrait Mode for video on Samsung phones from 2019 onwards, but trust me, you wouldn't want to use it for anything important, because it's bad. Hopefully Apple will be better.

However, that narrative is not always true. In some cases, it only takes papers at Apple to include a piece of technology of late. I'm willing to be wrong, but I hesitate to believe that it's possible to make the Always On lock screen experience so great that everyone feels broken at first. This is a lock screen you can see! Still much remains to be done.

It's also very useful to always be on the lock screen! The information a phone should be able to provide in a low pressure environment is being able to quickly see the time, date and some information symbols.

Variable refresh rates are a little less useful, but so good. They can preserve battery life by slowing down refresh rates. They can match the refresh rate of the screen with the content (for example in a movie or game). And they can make animations and scrolling so much easier. And yet, the only notable Apple devices to feature a higher refresh rate are its high-end iPads. Meanwhile, every high-end Android phone and many mid-rangers have it.

I'm honestly a little baffled as to why it took Apple so long to create such apparently cool features. One possible explanation -- and probably the most likely one -- is simply that Apple has felt no competitive pressure to do so.

On Android, there are so many phones to choose from that the need to differentiate is felt urgently and eagerly by every manufacturer. So a feature as minor as Always On Display can make a difference in one's buying decision. But I struggle to imagine a person who would choose an Android phone over an iPhone because they prefer to see the time on their phone.

So: Why launch a variable refresh rate screen now? It's gotten to the point where it's a bit embarrassing - several reviews of the iPhone 12 model pointed to this missing spec. And although iOS still looks smooth and feels fast at 60Hz, moving to 120Hz has been a brutal way for Android to hold onto those departments. Switching iOS to 120Hz could be Apple doing it again. So there is some competitive pressure, it takes a little longer to show.

I also suspect that Apple was just waiting for component prices to come down and manufacturing yields to rise. The scale at which Apple needs to make phones, both are needed. But it seems to me that if Apple felt a little more competitive pressure, it could have moved more aggressively to address those problems sooner.

The point here is that there are a lot of small features that iPhone users are missing out on simply because they aren't compelling enough to convince people to switch. Under-screen fingerprint sensors on Android phones have gone from normal to great in just a few years. The telephoto lens is converted into a periscope that runs the length of the phone for even greater zoom. The screen for selfie cameras is obstructed (or, in some cases, not obstructed at all).

These are all nuances that aren't a huge loss if you're an iPhone user - well worth the tradeoff for the ecosystem, hardware quality, and performance you get with the average iPhone. They come first for Android because the pressure to compete against other Androids is so intense that any small advantage counts. If there are two new phones on a store shelf that are nearly identical, but one has an always-on screen, that's exactly what you get.

However, iOS and Android are not exactly the same. So when it comes to bringing these little hardware features to the iPhone, I can't help but think that the competitive pressure Apple feels is the reason you don't see smartphones on store shelves. This is the iPhone you've got in your pocket.

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