A new iPhone rollout: Will it win over consumers?

Apple is scheduled to unveil its latest iPhone next week, and the event has been followed by the usual hyperbole, leaks, rumors and speculation. Every technology writer is covering the run-up with his own take on the event. Here’s mine.

The new iPhone 13 is expected to help Apple catch up with the technology standards of rivals, rendering the iPhone a first-class smartphone, again.

New iPhones are traditionally unveiled in the autumn, with a blackout on information from the company prior to the event.

But industry rumors and leaks are pointing to iPhone 13 improvements and upgrades, covering storage, camera, battery capacity, a smaller screen “notch,” A15 processor and satellite communications features.

In my opinion, it’s time for Apple to bring out new iPhones with great improvements for users and loyal fans. Considering the high prices they pay, consumers deserve more innovative and powerful features – even beyond those already leaked.

Apple has invited users and fans to “connect to Apple Park in California” to attend the online event, which will start at 1am on Wednesday, Beijing time.

The official post was soon read over 100,000 times on WeChat, with over 15,000 likes and comments to the effect: “It’s finally coming!”

In the second quarter, Apple ranked fourth in the Chinese smartphone market, behind Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi, according to research firm International Data Corp, or IDC.

Let’s look at some of the key features expected to be unveiled.

Camera

The event invitation pictures a mountain landscape at night, with a white Apple logo. That’s a hint of camera improvements for filming in dark environments.

Sensor-shift stabilization is expected to be available in the new iPhones, which will improve image quality and reduce shaking risks in slow-light environments.

Meanwhile, Apple will provide “ultra wide” upgrades on cameras in all new iPhone 13s, from starting-price models to the high-end iPhone 13 Pro Max. Some will include auto-focus features for sharper images regardless of the distance that a subject is from the lens, according to industry rumors and Barclays analysts.

It sounds useful for smartphone photography fans, but it’s not unique in the industry.

Firms like Huawei and Xiaomi all have featured “ultra wide” lenses for most models for two years. And Vivo already offers built-in gimbal, or pivot support, in several generations of its X series models, providing better stabilization in low-light and sports environments.

Storage

There have been a few sketchy rumors suggesting the iPhone 13 models will feature up to 1 tigabyte, or TB, of storage space – double the maximum space in current iPhone 12 models. It makes sense for Apple to upgrade storage, as photo album and WeChat take up more space with the booming development of video and social-media services.

For Apple, bigger space often means higher prices. A new iPhone with 1TB may cost 15,000 yuan (US$2,344), 30 to 50 percent higher than the cost of a premium iPhone 12 Pro Max model.

Of course, you could use cloud storage like iCloud and similar services offered by third-party firms like Tencent and Baidu. The third-party cloud services are recommended because they are available across both Apple’s iOS and Android, and are relatively cheaper than iCloud.

A WeChat message backup service will also debut soon, which bring users more choices.

Battery and screen

The new iPhone models may have bigger battery capacity and support 25-watt power adapters, compared with 20 watts in iPhone 12 models. It means faster charging speeds and longer usage between charges.

It may be progress compared with Apple’s previous models, but the improvement is not so impressive when compared with Android models. Brands like Oppo and Huawei have launched 40-watt or higher power adapters and super-fast charging features with their own technologies.

The better battery makes sense to most Apple users, who don’t have to charge their phones up to twice a day and depend on power banks outside.

In screen design, Apple is expected to show a “smaller notch” in the new models, with better display effects.

By comparison, Xiaomi launched its latest Mix model with no “notch” screen, and under screen fingerprint technology, which has also been adopted by ZTE and Vivo models.

Apple may feature no “notch” screen in iPhone 14 next year, according to latest industry rumors.

Apple’s “Face ID” technology has drawn complaints from some users because it’s not easy to use in some settings.

“I often have to try several times to use facial recognition to unlock my iPhone in Metro stations,” said Xiao Huang, an iPhone 12 user who commutes by rapid transit to work. “It wastes time and drives me crazy.”

The consumer factor

Many iPhone 12 users have said they have no plans to upgrade to the next-generation of iPhones, based what they have already heard about the iPhone 13.

For Li Jun, an Apple loyalist who has always bought the company’s latest products, the new iPhone seems to hold “no surprises.”

Indeed, only one in 10 iPhone owners said they plan to upgrade to the iPhone 13, according to a survey of 1,500 iPhone users by Savings.com. Among them, 64 percent saying they have no plans to upgrade and another 26 percent said they are undecided.

For older iPhone users, it makes sense to upgrade to get a better battery, camera and bigger storage space – if they are willing to pay for it all.

Apple’s unique ecosystem still makes the new iPhones worth buying, analysts said.

Apple has a strong personal information protection setup and complete ecosystem, including its app store and good connections among the various Apple devices like iPhones, Mac computers, iPads and wearing devices.

But other smartphone brands are rapidly improving ahead of a new Chinese law covering protection of personal information, due to come into effect in November.

With latest iOS update, Apple now offers improved security and privacy protection among its applications. They protect against the collection and tracking of user information without permission – much better than many Android smartphone brands provide now.

Artificial intelligence should not force people to sacrifice privacy, and Apple “prioritizes privacy to protect user data while providing incredible experiences,” Isabel Ge Mahe, vice president and managing director of Apple China, told a conference in Shanghai in July.

By then, Apple had 4.4 million developers in China, a 76 percent growth in the past two years.

Globally, Apple is also expected to hold another series of events to announce Mac computer and iPad upgrades this autumn.

In 2021, global iPhone sales are expected to grow 15 to 20 percent to 230 million units, taking into account the new iPhone release, rival Huawei’s struggle with a US technology ban, and 5G replacement demands, according to TF International Securities.

Technology upgrades of new iPhones will boost demand for the electronic components industry, it also noted.

Many Chinese listed firms, which are part of Apple’s global supply chain, are expected to benefit from the new iPhone’s debut. They include vendors of screen panels, camera lenses and motors.

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