Don’t let looks deceive you.
The new iPhones look the same as last year’s models on the outside. But changes on the inside matter, from camera improvements to new sensors that enable quicker access to tasks.
I had only about 90 minutes to try out the new Apple products unveiled — not enough time, given that Apple has a larger iPad, a new Apple TV device and new software for the Apple Watch, alongside the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. I wasn’t able to test the new iPhone cameras in natural settings, for instance, to say whether pictures are really better with 12MP, instead of 8MP in the previous iPhones.
But I was able to try 3D Touch, a new way to interact with the iPhone. You save a few taps by pressing and holding on an app icon to go directly to a particular function. Microsoft’s Windows phones let you create shortcuts as home screen icons, but few people have Windows phones. On iPhones, the 3D Touch feature isn’t about enabling new functions, but getting you there quicker.
If you want to take a selfie, for instance, you currently have to launch the camera app and hit a corner button to switch to the front camera. If you were taking video before, you need to slide the camera to “Photo” first. With the new iPhones, just choose “Take Selfie” when you press down on the Camera app. The phone makes all the switches automatically.
With Maps, you can use 3D Touch to get directions home, find nearby businesses or message your location to a friend. With Mail, go directly to your inbox or create a new message. I used 3D Touch to quickly post a status update — “Hi” — on a test Facebook account.
From a message, you get a preview of a web page by pressing on a web link. Similarly, you get a map preview by pressing on an address. Press harder to switch to the browser or Maps app. A new iPhone software update adds a back button so you can jump right back to what you were doing, even in a different app.
As for the camera, selfie fans will appreciate having the phone’s display mimic a flash. It’s not a real flash like the main camera, but the display lights up briefly so that you can see faces in low-light settings.
With a feature called Live Photos, the iPhone camera records an extra second or so before you take still shots so that images appear in motion. You need an iPhone, iPad or Mac with the latest software to view it, though, which could limit sharing with your Android and Windows family and friends.
The changes aren’t revolutionary, but the new iPhones have enough new features to consider buying over an older model. Of course, wait for a full test rather than just first impressions. The new phones aren’t coming out until Sept. 25 anyway, although advance orders begin Saturday.