2021: Apple’s “S” year

Published September 15, 2021, 11:55 AM

by Professor Rom Feria

iPhone 13 Pro (2)

At this year’s Apple’s September iPhone model reveal, the Cupertino team released four new iPhone models: the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max, similar to last year’s line up. Apple might have dropped suffixing “S” to the previous year’s model to indicate “small” improvements and a couple of new features, the 13 models definitely is an “S” year to the 12s, at least to me.

I use an iPhone 12 Pro (and have access to an iPhone 12 Pro Max as well), and whilst I always upgrade to the last iPhone model (yeah, am such a sucker!), are the improvements enough for me to upgrade? Let’s see.

The Silicon

A new A-series processor, the A15 Bionic, is expected, and like clockwork, sets a new standard to beat. Frankly, the competitors are still trying to catch-up on the A13 and A14 chips. The GPU and the Neural Engine have been upgraded as well. The A14 Bionic that powers the iPhone 12 Pro is still a beast when it comes to processing power, so this A15 Bionic is not enough to convince me to upgrade.

The Notch

The iPhone 13 Pro comes with a 20% narrower notch, which, to some, might be a big deal. I have no issues with the current notch size, though I prefer it gone completely, but it is not a deal breaker. Once you accept it, it sort of disappears. 🙂

The Camera

The iPhone 13 Pro has better cameras, as expected. I was hoping for a longer zoom, but I’d take the 3X zoom (which is longer than the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max). The faster lenses of the rear cameras are just too good for me to skip. The new iPhone models can focus as near as 2cm — enabling macro photography without any add-on lenses.

Apple did not put much emphasis on photography this time, except that Night mode is now all three rear cameras and a better SmartHDR version. I guess it is because the competition has caught up and even bested it (although I’m curious to see how this new ones perform against the competition). However, the video feature just took a major leap! The iPhone is the best smartphone to use to capture video, and the iPhone 13 Pro just added more to its arsenal. When will the competition catch up? That being said, I take more photos than shoot videos, but the new features are just tempting to put to the test. Our dogs won’t love it, though.

The Display

The iPhone is known for having one of the most accurate displays in the market. However, it lagged the competitors when it comes to refresh rate. This year, Apple closes the gap by offering ProMotion (aka 120Hz) for the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. I have the luxury of using the iPad Pro, which has ProMotion and I don’t notice the difference when transitioning from the iPad Pro to the iPhone, but this is a welcome addition to the iPhone and I’m hoping that it will not take a hit on the battery. This might be a compelling reason for most to upgrade, but I couldn’t care less, frankly.

The Battery

The iPhone 12 Pro consumes battery like how fast I eat ice cream on a hot summer day. Whilst it can last me from 10–12 hours a day, thanks to our spotty telco coverage, any improvement is definitely welcome. The iPhone 13 Pro claims to last only an hour longer than the previous model — but hey, I’d take it!

The Question

Will I upgrade? I am always on the fence when it comes to “S” model releases, but I always end up buying it anyway. I’m still trying to figure out how to get mine considering that I don’t want to go out and pick-up a pre-order. Will this be the first time I order an iPhone off of the Apple Online Store?

The iPad and iPad Mini

In the same event, Apple upgraded the iPad with a better display and more powerful processor. This is the entry level iPad that schools are buying in bulk. I hope that this time Apple has enough supply to satisfy the orders, and to do it faster.

The iPad Mini finally gets an upgrade. If we’re not neck-deep in this pandemic, I’d get the iPad Mini with 5G, paired with a second-generation Apple Pencil, and make it part of the everyday carry. If I were not using an iPad Pro right now, this is definitely the one that I’d get.

The Apple Watch Series 7

The Apple Watch upgrade this year did not include a new health sensor. Whilst it boasts of larger screen, new exclusive watch faces, and better dust resistance, the absence of a new health sensor is a deal-breaker for me. I’d stick with my Series 5 until next year’s model (hoping it gets a non-invasive blood glucose monitor), as the Series 7 definitely has no compelling feature that could affect my health.


Last, but not the least, the Fitness+ will be expanding to more countries (sadly, the Philippines is still not included this year), with new fitness categories, e.g., pilates. The Group Workout feature is a nice addition, but it won’t be that effective until SharePlay gets officially released (won’t be available when iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and tvOS 15 drop on the 20th).

As I have said, it is an “S” year for Apple. Whilst we still have one full quarter to go for 2021, and rumor has it that Apple still has products to announce — maybe 2021 will end with an entirely brand new product line from the fruit company. I guess we have to wait more.