The latest line-up of iPhones has arguably the biggest gap ever between the standard models and the Pros. The phones have different displays, different features, different cameras and different processors.
If you ask Apple, it will say the two categories are designed with two different consumers in mind, each model having its own strengths. And if you take a look inside, you’ll see that the standard phone can’t simply be written off as a stripped-down Pro or a repackaged model from last year. But if you ask the analysts, they’ll say customers are addicted to the Pro life whether they need it or not, and that sales of the standard models are dropping.
The lineup unveiled in 2022 includes the iPhone 14 and a larger sized Plus model, as well as the iPhone 14 Pro and a larger Pro Max.Credit:AP
Under the hood of iPhone 14
It can be hard to tell just from looking at the specs and exteriors where each “standard” iPhone model sits in a hierarchy amid previous models and Pros, new and old. With Pros, it’s easy to assume they’re the biggest and best iPhones at the time of release, but with the standards there’s always an implicit question of what sacrifices are made to get to the lower price.
Richard Dinh, Apple’s longtime senior director of iPhone design, said the company didn’t really think of it like that.
“We don’t always follow a recipe, as much as maybe our customers would like to predict what we’re going to go do next, but it always starts with the customer experience,” he said, noting that a standard phone might have different goals for performance, weight, longevity and photography than the Pro models.
“Sometimes we do draw from the Pros because they’re just incredible, and we’re bringing some of that hardware to a broader audience, and sometimes we go do something different.”
The ‘bucket’ internal design of the iPhone 13. The piece on the left is the display assembly, which needs to be removed to get at any internal components.
While the iPhone 14 may look near identical to the iPhone 13 on the outside, it’s actually had a significant design overhaul, with benefits you might not immediately understand if comparing it with an older model. These include weight reductions, cheaper and easier repairability, and longer battery life. The iPhone 14 Plus lasts longer than any other iPhone, and the standard 14 models have better sustained performance than last year’s Pros, despite sharing the same chip, thanks to some internal shuffling.
“Since iPhone 5, we’ve used a single enclosure design, what we call a bucket design, and then since iPhone 8 with the introduction of wireless charging, we added the back glass, which was permanently affixed to the aluminium housing,” said Dinh, while poking at opened iPhones on a desk.
“This meant that any repairs to these internal components needs to happen by removing the display first, and potentially any other pieces, to access the internals, especially the ones located towards the back glass.”
The internal design of the iPhone 14, which can be opened from either side, with most components accessible from the back. If you’re imagining putting the phone back together from this image, the display (on the left) would go under the central structure, with the back glass (right) flipping over and going on top.
For the iPhone 14, the design changed drastically to include a central aluminum structure that acts as a backbone. Now the phone can be opened by removing the display or the back glass.
“This central structural plane helps to dissipate more heat across the entire surface more consistently,” Dinh said.
“This design also introduces our first four-sided stacked main logic board [which] really condenses all the iPhone 14 components in a smaller space and allows us to access the board from either side, for improved repairability.”
Apple’s estimates to repair a screen fault have fallen from $579 on an iPhone 13 to $275 on an iPhone 14 because of these changes. Since the display and internal components are now separate, there’s also less chance of accidental damage during repairs. The new design also eliminates the need for a copper alloy cooling piece and some connecting components, making for a lighter phone.
If you moved from a 13 Pro Max to a 14 Plus, the phone would be the same physical size but almost 40 grams lighter. The changes also allowed room for more upgrades.
“We were able to deliver a larger main camera than last year’s Pros, with a bigger sensor, better low-light performance, and there’s a brand new ambient light sensor in the back,” Dinh said.
“And then on top of that, there’s our new autofocus front camera with its larger aperture.”
New iPhone buyers continue to flock to Pro
Whether consumers understand all these changes to the standard model, it’s clear that most people buying new iPhones prefer to go Pro.
Reports from supply chain analysts indicate that demand for iPhone 14 Pro models has been significantly higher than demand for the non-Pros. Demand for the standard Plus model has reportedly been especially low, tracking even lower than the previous years’ iPhone Minis.
In Australia, this trend is backed up by Telsyte data, which will be released as part of its 2023 Smartphone & Wearable Devices Market Study. Its sales estimates for new iPhones, between release and the end of that calendar year, show the Pro models accounting for 56 per cent in 2020, rising to 61 per cent in 2022. In 2022, the iPhone 14 Plus model accounted for just 8 per cent of sales, according to the estimates, with the most popular model being the smaller Pro at 32 per cent.
Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi said the Pro models were more popular because they had a higher resale value, the extra cost was mitigated somewhat by long-term payment plans, and that consumers had simply been conditioned to think higher specs were better.
“Apple’s currently very optimised to drive consumers to buy the most premium model handset, despite some advantages in the standard editions,” he said.
“The iPhone Mini is a great example. It’s actually got utility in that it’s smaller and fits easier in pockets and bags, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to win over someone who’s maybe had a Pro model in previous generations.”
While Apple’s intention may be for the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus to cater to an audience that favours battery life and great performance over even better performance and higher costs, he said people tended to buy the priciest phone they could afford and didn’t like to feel like they were downgrading.
“It’s fairly common for technology companies to set out to build products for specific segments of the market, but the market always decides whether or not it needs a product.
“For example, it’s quite likely the expectations for the Mini were a lot higher than what eventuated and thus, we didn’t see an iPhone 14 Mini.”
Another factor in the lower demand for standard models could be that, if a consumer can’t afford or doesn’t want a premium offering, they look at less expensive alternatives in older, refurbished or used models.
“Consumers find it difficult to differentiate between all the different features,” Fadaghi said.
“Photography remains one of the key things consumers look for. And if an iPhone 13 Pro Max looks like it has better cameras than an iPhone 14, you get into an issue where previous models make for adequate choices.”
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