In technology, it is the distance that changes the perspective of the importance of a new feature from one generation to another. For example, from the first digital mobile, where the important thing was to get on the phone, to the first smartphone, with more apps and where the call was one more functionality.
This is the direction big company engineers were looking at, putting new devices with features we hadn’t seen before. The iPhone can be used as an example for many changes, transitions and evolutions – and what we’re going to talk about in this analysis is one of them.
Remember how more than twelve years ago – twelve years ago – Steve Jobs taught us an amazing device that did everyday things in a way that no device could do with that ease and simplicity. Browse the internet, listen to music, talk on the phone. A lot of things were explained in that presentation, but one of them went almost unnoticed: how photos were taken with the iPhone.
This happened because these images were not taken. To send photographs we had to do it by MMS or by email (who remembers the controversy because the original iPhone could not send MMS?), since there were no social networks as we know them now and even data rates did not allow many concessions.
-Years ago, mobile photography was not so important, but social networks have pushed their advance on these devices-
Therefore, the iPhone camera simply complied. It should have been because smartphones had it, but it wasn’t one of the key features of the device. Over the years, the importance of mobile photography – largely driven by social media – has become more relevant because it has become one of the most important forms of communication and expression in society. All that had to be done was a step that took the iPhones that followed the original only by improving the hardware and sensors: reaching traditional photography with something that the camera doesn’t have yet. This step is artificial intelligence, the move to computational photography and why we are analyzing this iPhone 11 today.
-Artificial intelligence was the necessary step beyond improving technique or sensors-
The derivation of design
Apple decides to remove the Roman numerals from the current generation name although this iPhone 11 is a largely heir to the design we saw on iPhone XRs. The goal of this new phone is to generate a new family, but to evolve the concept that worked with the XR and enhance the key features to make it more interesting within its use cases.
Therefore we have the same Liquid Retina display, with the same resolution, color depth and dots per inch. It would have been interesting to finally have an HD display on this model (which is 1792×828, like the XR) but it is fair to recognize that the quality of the screen makes it not at all something essential. The 326 dpi hides the pixels in the eye, and the True Tone screen still helps make it more comfortable to query the screen in any situation.
As for the measurements, we have exactly the same as in the XR, including its weight. Apple tells us that this iPhone 11 carries the toughest crystal in any smartphone, and is that in this generation it has been reinforced with new chemical ion exchange process – it consists in the material absorbing the properties and strength of a solution in which it is immersed. As a curiosity, this process is commonly used in the production of the aeronautics and automotive industry.
It has a touch – in my opinion, during the tests I’ve done to him these days – slightly rougher on the back, even if it’s not as obvious as in the Pro Max. Unfortunately it does keep the 5W charger that Apple should banish once and for all on any of its iPhones, especially in this generation that does include an 18W with the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
A more than obvious change in my tests have been the speakers, which this iPhone 11 has improved. Now, this new iPhone features spatial audio playback, which gets thanks with its stereo speakers positioning sound tones around the person who is listening to the sound. The power of the speaker also improves significantly, and now use it in the kitchen, in a hotel room, or outdoors is more practical than ever.
water resistance has also been improved. Now we raise a point in the certification of the new model that already reaches the IP68 of IEC 60529 – allowing it to be submerged up to 2 meters deep for up to 30 minutes. The new colors available for this season are black, green, yellow, mauve, (PRODUCT)RED and white (the model of this analysis). Live, my favorite colors for this generation are green (or mint) and mauve – perhaps for being the most differential to those we know within the range.
-The iPhone 11 significantly powers speakers and sound in this generation and improves its water resistance-A13 Bionic, the processor by which MacBooks sigh
The new evolution of Apple’s system-on-a-chip, materialized on the A13, points to just two essential parts for mobile devices: it is more powerful and more efficient. This, repeated year after year in each new generation of the processor may lead to the idea that it is simply an inertial movement towards the next stop of the route map. Something simple.
Not so: the power of this A13 processor is an exercise in engineering – and innovation, as the word definition applies – that allows it to be 20 percent faster than the A12 chip (the switch from A11 to A12 was similar) , but spends 30% less energy. Imagine a car that runs faster with the same engine, consuming less fuel and staying at percentages like these.
The iPhone 11 lasts 1 hour longer than its predecessor, the iPhone XR, being more powerful. In day-to-day testing, the battery did last me about an hour more as Apple theoretically indicates – with basic use of the Internet, social media and email. If we use games that use the GPU, the four cores of graphics acceleration are activated and therefore we will spend more battery – however, look here: this new A13 Bionic processor reduces power consumption to 40% compared to the A12 Bionic. Nearly half of battery spending to achieve performance also greater than 20% in these cores of the graphical subsystem. A real feat of engineering and research for a chip that is only one year older than its predecessor.
The advent of Bionic processors opened the ban on true artificial intelligence using hardware dedicated to machine learning processes. To understand us, an artificial intelligence system needs a learning process, just as it happens to humans. If we want an application to detect stoves in photography, we have to «teach» the algorithm that processes them what a stove is, and that it is not. Well, this learning process is accelerated on this A13 Bionic by 20% – saving 15% compared to the previous chip.
This is made possible by two learning accelerators that use mathematical matrices to efficient lyevity of models by the system. Simply put, instead of showing you a photo of a stove (or not) at a time, we’re teaching you a matrix set of stoves or «non-stoves» in every iteration of learning.
as possibilities of this are so spectacular, that we could be talking about an intelligent system capable not only of knowing what is the best area of the image to combine in a photograph, but also of understanding how to compose it in a more natural and real way. It’s what Apple has anticipated with Deep Fusion, the combination of technique, hardware, software and an advanced learning model. Deep Fusion will be available as a software update this fall.
For synthetic testing, this year I tested Geekbench 5, the new version of the popular benchmarking platform, which has just been updated. This new version changes the scale with respect to Geekbench 4, so look at comparing between different versions. In order to review the increase, I passed Geekbench 5 also to the iPhone XS Max.
You can review the full reports here. In a nutshell: this architecture is not only ready for Now to be the heart of a possible future MacBook, but now perfectly could also be the engine for some virtual reality system or expanded reality, for its calculation speed and its capacity to recognize objects instantly. And that’s certainly what Apple intends to do in the medium term.
Let’s talk about the future: U1 is here
Inside this little machine that fits in our pocket, there’s an almost hidden surprise. I remember the presentation tiptoeing past the features, but I want to stop and dedicate a section of my own to it in this analysis. Doesn’t The U1 ring a bell? It is a new chip that allows you to accurately locate other devices that also include it indoors. It’s like a GPS between interiors, and between devices.
For starters, a free iOS update will be added on September 30 that will trigger a new generation of AirDrop for iPhone 11. It will allow you to find other devices that use the U1 chip simply by pointing at them and by proximity, as if it were a radar. Not only will this improve one of iOS’s most widely used features, it also prepares these iPhone 11s for the future: can you imagine a new generation of AirPods, Magic Mouse or even MacBooks that can be located anywhere, with centimeters accuracy?
This would be one of the utilities. Another would be spatial localization for Extended Reality or Virtual Reality games, measurements… This chip uses ultra-wideband technology to accurately locate itself in a space. By the way, speaking of band improvements: the new chip is also capable of emitting a Bluetooth signal up to 45% further than the previous iPhone 11. A small test at home and with the phone on one end of it and the AirPods at another, Now I hear perfectly (before, it was stuttering).
Next generation TrueDepth
As I said at the beginning of the article, this is certainly the iPhone that sets a new course around the photograph we took with the brand’s previous models. I think of a change equivalent to the iPhone 8 and portrait mode, but this time it goes much further: it not only improves the technique but now through natural learning goes much further.
For starters, a big change that iPhones were crying out for: the front cameras have been updated and now they have a new 12MP sensor with a larger viewing angle to aid in the well-known selfies. The phone itself adapts the viewing angle if we are taking a photo or video vertically, and will expand that angle if we rotate the iPhone horizontally – automatically. It has of course portrait mode, which also adds a new effect called High-Key Mono (black and white).
In addition, it is capable of recording 4K video at 60 fps and capturing slow motion at 120 FPS. Apple invents the name «slofies», which are no more or fewer slow motion video selfies. These selfies or portrait mode are helped by these new TrueDepth cameras, which are also used for FaceID. The company comments that technically FaceID is now faster and more sensitive to recognizing faces at more angles, but in my tests it has not been so: according to my day-to-day mobile, FaceID seems to work the same as on previous iPhones (which is still super-fast) but it doesn’t seem to detect the face at greater angles.
The improvement in TrueDepth cameras is evident and I think it will be useful to a whole generation of content creators who are increasingly asking for fully folding screens in their camera to review what is being recorded while talking to the camera. The quality of these new cameras and a good DJI Osmo Mobile, for example, can be spectacular not to charge with more photographic equipment than the iPhone 11.
-Finally, an improvement in the front camera: 4K video recording at 60fps and slow motion at 120fps-
The cameras that define this generation
This is the iPhone we’ll remember for taking photography to a higher level than we knew within the range. Two new cameras, one normal or angular and one ultra wide-angle, to capture a full 120-degree view around the center of the image. The result is spectacular: the new camera interface shows shaded the wide-angle part and when you press a button, the image is captured in its entirety.
From this new interface we can now take videos without leaving photo mode, simply by holding down the photo button and swiping up. Useful to capture that moment at full speed while taking a snapshot. The transition from one lens to another can also be controlled by the zoom wheel that is still comfortable and intuitive for this purpose. Wide-angle photographs are a complete barbarity:
In the analysis video in this article, you will also see videos where I switch between the two cameras while I’m recording and the difference between them. Stability has also been greatly improved, being now very smooth still recording 4K video at 60fps.
We recovered what I mentioned earlier about the A13 Bionic chip to top off a major change in dynamic range imaging, HDR. Apple adds the adjective and offers us the Smart HDR: what it does is use intelligent image processing to recognize objects and separate them from the image context, highlighting the planes or parts of each image that you can take advantage of to try to create as natural a photo as possible. The change from the previous generation improves because we do not see at any time forced or overexposed colors, but have to get closer to reality.
Night mode is complete madness. But first I want to explain how this iPhone 11 does: instead of increasing brightness or exposure, or over exposing some parts of the image, this phone first captures all the information thanks to the new sensors of its cameras that allow to capture more light. Among all the images captured to compose the final photo, the neural engine identifies which areas to enhance or enhance by artificial intelligence processes.
Let’s stop here. It’s not about raising values, what this iPhone does is detect objects, people and also shadows and areas of light to achieve a achieved night mode. This mode is completely different from Smart HDR, as here we seek fidelity in dark shadows and contrasts with light areas – rather than highlighting colors or looking for contrast between zones. The tests in low light conditions have been spectacular as you can see in the photographs.
However, I wanted to thoroughly test the night mode and the streets of Barcelona where I was doing my tests had too much light. That’s why at home, with all the lights off and only with the very dim light of the windows (live everything was practically dark):
Again, Apple’s interface and user experience come into play: this mode is automatically activated when needed, you just have to press the button. The process is slightly different and faster than applications like NeuralCam: camera sensors analyze ambient light and adjust exposure (which we can also adjust to our liking, measured in seconds). The photos you see above had a 3-second exposure.
The photos have a composition as I say natural when it comes to showing the image, it is not forced or enhanced so that it is artificial. This combination of sensors, AI and new lenses certainly not only justify this new generation, they also define it. The advance from last year’s iPhone XR (or XS) to this one is that of a double leap that ends with note. Innovation is not only changing the phone shape every year, it’s driving the technology of each of its key struts and pushing further the limits of what a device can do – no nonsense, making it truly useful to the user. The iPhone, as a concept and as a product, has been doing that since 2007.
-The new cameras and the power of the A13 Bionic chip combined give rise to a huge step in computational photography for everyday life-
This iPhone 11 now becomes a round product that Apple also offers at a lower price for which it sold the iPhone XR last year, reinforcing everything that could be improved in this generation and with surprising results. Mobile photography now occupies an important place within smart devices and this iPhone 11 proves that you can still go further.
It’s the new «default» iPhone that can be useful for everyone – you like to play video games, take pictures or need a device you can trust – because you know the brand will take care of it in its updates. If you come from an iPhone XR, you’ll stay for the cameras and their possibilities. If you come from any other model, it will convince you all that this new generation of iPhone has to offer.