- Apple announced new iPhone models in what is an annual tradition for the company ahead of the holiday shopping season.
- One improvement on Tuesday that anyone who picks up the new models will appreciate is longer battery life.
The new models, called iPhone 13, are not major advances over last year's models.
Last year's models gained 5G connections and a new, flatter design. This year's four new models look similar, come in the same screen sizes, have faster processors and have include new photography features targeted at skilled users.
But Apple did present — and emphasize — one improvement that anyone who picks up the new models will appreciate: longer battery life.
The emphasis on increased battery life during Apple's launch event highlights the challenges faced by the company: It's is expected to release a materially better device every year to drive growing sales in a maturing market, where major breakthroughs are becoming less frequent.
Improvements to screen image, processor speed or camera quality may appeal to some — especially photography professionals — but every year's changes require a more discerning eye to notice them.
All four new models will get at least 90 more minutes of battery life under normal use, Apple said. The biggest and most-expensive model — the $1,099 iPhone 13 Pro Max — as well as the best-selling mainline iPhone will get 150 more minutes of battery life than last year's models, Apple said.
For example, the iPhone 12 gets 17 hours of video playback, according to Apple's website. The iPhone 13 manages 19 hours, which works out to nearly 12% more battery life.
Battery life also remains one of the most important features to consumers, according to many polls. In one 2019 poll by SurveyMonkey, 76% of iPhone owners said longer battery life would be a feature that would get them excited about a phone upgrade.
Another feature that rates highly on polls is storage space. Apple doubled the default storage space on the iPhone 13 to 128GB on Tuesday without raising its price.
Apple is emphasizing these improvements as Wall Street wonders if the company can keep its iPhone momentum up. IPhones accounted for about half of Apple's sales in 2020 despite efforts to diversify into headphones, accessories and online services.
Apple also faces challenging comparisons to last year's elevated sales. In the quarter that ended in June, Apple sold nearly $40 billion in iPhones. That's up more than 49% from the same period in 2020.
When Apple releases iPhones that look different, they often see a bump in sales, which some analysts call the company's "supercycle." Analysts are already wondering if the iPhone 13 will sell compared to last year's model, although the iPhone 12 went on sale in October and November, later than this year's September release date.
Investors have concerns about a "material moderation in upgrades" to 5G phones following momentum from last year's Apple releases, JPMorgan analyst Samik Chatterjee wrote in a note distributed shortly before Apple's launch.
In its presentation, Apple said the increases are driven by bigger batteries enabled by a internal redesign, as well as Apple tweaking its processors to use power more efficiently.
While Apple can't break the laws of physics — bigger batteries mean more power — its ability to design the iPhone's hardware, including its chip and display, and its iOS software means the company has full control many more of the big power hogs that zap battery life, and can optimize them to squeeze a little more juice.
In a challenging sales cycle compared to last year, Apple is giving its customers what they want: more storage space and longer battery life.