On September 9, Apple unveiled its iPhone 6s and its larger cousin, the iPhone 6s Plus. The new iPhones look the same as last year’s at first glance—but looks can be deceiving. Dive a little deeper, and the changes become more obvious. Indeed, depth seems to be a theme with this year’s release.
The biggest new addition to the 6s is 3D Touch, which Apple is positioning as the evolution of the multitouch technology it introduced with the original iPhone. With 3D Touch, the iPhone’s screen can sense the pressure applied to it. This opens up a new dimension of interaction. For example, a user can press firmly on, say, the camera app’s icon on the home screen to open a menu that allows the user to jump right to taking a video. Apple has proposed several uses for this feature in its marketing, but it will be more interesting to see the creative ways developers will use this technology. Its potential uses across productivity apps and games remain, at the time of writing, largely untapped.
The new iPhones boast a new 12-megapixel iSight camera capable of taking what Apple calls “Live Photos.” With Live Photos turned on, the iPhone 6s captures video of the second before and after the photo was taken and stitches it together into a photo that animates when you tap it. The real value here over classical GIFs or videos is that you can simply leave Live Photos on and amass an entire library of moving photos. Whether or not this is a gimmick may not be clear until a few months from now when users have large libraries of live photos. Certainly Apple is not the first company to try this: HTC’s “Zoe” photos come to mind. However, Apple is in a unique position to make Live Photos a widely used technology as they have with FaceTime. Indeed, they have already announced that Facebook will allow sharing of Live Photos, which suggests a bright future for the feature.
Not to be left out, the front-facing FaceTime camera got an upgrade from 1.2 megapixels on the 6 to a whopping five megapixels on the 6s. Not only that, the screen also doubles as a camera flash. When dark, the screen will briefly flash at 300 percent the normal maximum brightness, illuminating any and all late night selfies you wish to take.
The iPhone 6s also includes the A9 processor, which delivers next generation performance. In fact, in benchmarks run by renowned Apple blogger Jon Gruber as part of his iPhone 6s review, the iPhone 6s actually outperformed some models of the MacBook that Apple released earlier this year. This is incredible in the most literal sense of the word, but even more impressive given that later this year, Apple will release its iPad Pro, which will sport an A9X processor that will improve upon the performance of the A9 and deliver what Apple calls “desktop class” computing. Given the impressive power of the A9, the prospect of an even more powerful A9X is exciting.
Finally, there is a long list of changes that fall under the “miscellaneous” category. For starters, the iPhone 6s is now made out of the same materials as the Apple Watch Sport, which includes more durable “7000 series” aluminum and “Ion-X” glass. Notably, while the Ion-X glass will help the iPhone screen resist scratches, the phone will still shatter when dropped, so if you use a case with your current phone, you probably will still want one for the 6s. Thankfully, the 6s is compatible with cases made for the iPhone 6 despite being marginally thicker than last year’s phones. That thickness is there to accommodate 3D Touch as well as a new “Taptic Engine” that provides haptic feedback primarily for 3D Touch, but also doubles as the vibration motor that handles texts and calls.
Lastly, although Apple has not advertised this, torture testing has revealed that the 6s is significantly more water resistant compared to its predecessors. So, while you shouldn’t go swimming with your phone, it is highly likely that the 6s can survive an accidental drop into the sink.
Every other year, Apple has used the letter “S” to signify an iterative improvement over last year’s model: keeping the same basic design and bumping up the internal specs. The iPhone 3GS brought video recording, the iPhone 4s introduced us to that sassy personal assistant Siri and the iPhone 5s bought fingerprint recognition, a feature that Google only just added to Android in version 6.0, more commonly known as Android Marshmallow. Looking at this, a pattern emerges: are these “S year” iPhones really only iterative updates? Apple’s slogan for the iPhone 6s is “The only thing that’s changed is everything,” and I think that shows. By sticking with last year’s design, Apple has been able to focus on new innovations that enhance the experience. As a result, the new iPhones look the exactly the same as last year’s iPhones, and that’s a good thing. Well, almost the same—the iPhone 6s also comes in a new “rose gold” color.