Customers’ decision to buy will likely depend on age of current phone, how much they value battery life and improved camera capabilities.
It’s been a full year since Apple released an iPhone. The latest iteration, the iPhone 13, and early reviews appear to be mixed. For example, The New York Times reported that the updates between the Apple iPhone 13 and its predecessor are “incremental.” The latest iPhone is only 10% faster than last year’s model, compared to a 70% speed jump between iPhone 6 and 6S.
“After so many advances, the miniature computers have reached incredible speeds, their screens have become bigger and brighter, and their cameras produce images that make amateur photographers look like wizards,” Brian Chen wrote for The New York Times. “The problem with so much great innovation is that upgrades are now so iterative that it has become difficult to know what to write about them each year. That’s especially the case with Apple’s iPhone 13, which may be the most incremental update ever to the iPhone.”
A CNBC review shared a similar sentiment—the upgrades from the Apple iPhone 12 and this year’s model might not be significant enough to justify making the purchase. Reviewer Todd Haselton noted that updates included extended battery life, enhanced camera and expanded support for 5G in more locations.
“But this is not a major shift in the iPhone landscape, like the iPhone 12 last year, which introduced 5G and the biggest screen ever on an iPhone,” Haselton wrote for CNBC. “Or the iPhone 5s, which in 2013 introduced a fingerprint reader for the first time. In short, you really don’t need to upgrade if you bought a new iPhone last year. But anyone with an iPhone 11 or older will find enough new parts and features to consider the new models. That means more than 250 million iPhone owners with phones that are more than three years old.”
What happened to satellite communications?
In late August, TFI International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo forecasted that the Apple iPhone 13 would contain hardware that could connect to LEO (lower Earth orbit) satellites that would allow users to make calls and send text messages. When Kuo noted that Globalstar, which operates an LEO network, would be a likely partner, the company saw its stock increase 64% in one day, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Apple didn’t mention the iPhone 13 having satellite communication abilities during its recent launch event, however. Mike Crawford of B. Riley Securities said that Globalstar is working on a “mystery project” that has yielded approximately $90 million in payment from an unnamed customer though, The Wall Street Journal reports. Crawford didn’t speculate that Apple is the customer, but noted that Apple and Google have intellectual property related to “dual-mode satellite cellular telephone systems.”
Even if Apple is the mystery customer, creating an iPhone that can connect to satellites is no easy task. Most satellite phones need a large antenna, which wouldn’t fit with Apple products’ typically smooth aesthetics. Meanwhile, a cell phone that can communicate with satellites can create somewhat of a usage conflict. Satellite services are often used for calls where there’s not a lot of cell coverage. That’s the opposite case for smartphones, which require strong data networks.
It might also be surprising to see Apple at the front of the satellite smartphone line. The Wall Street Journal noted that the company’s initial iPhone was a 2G device despite the 3G being available. Meanwhile, a number of device makers created 5G-friendly smartphones prior to Apple doing so for the first-time last year.
Apple has reportedly increased its research and development spending over the last five years, so maybe the iPhone that can support satellite communications is on the way. It just might not be the Apple iPhone 13. That means users will have to decide if the rest of the device’s upgrades are worth making the switch.
Joe Dyton can be reached at email@example.com.