Apple on Wednesday released two new models of the iPhone — the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus. As models in the “S” cycle of Apple’s alternating phone releases, the new phones have more subtle changes and are more focused on polish than dazzle. That said, I had plenty of new features to explore when I nabbed a few moments with the new phones at Apple’s San Francisco event.
When you pick up the newest iPhone models, they feel much the same as their predecessors. In terms of size and shape, Apple’s made no real modifications here as compared to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The screen size for both remains the same, so any pockets that were ready for the bigger phones are still good to go.
Looking at the specs, the new phones are a tad heavier, but the difference wasn’t noticeable in the short time I had them in my hands. In terms of the better processing power, that’s a little difficult to test in a quick hands-on, but I do have to say I was impressed with the overall snappiness of the phones. Snappiness, of course, is not a technical metric. But the phones just seemed smoother and faster than their predecessors.
I also got to look at the rose gold finish on the new iPhone, which is not actually gold but rather an anodized aluminum. The finish, under the bright lights, looked quite pink rather than the more coppery color of actual rose gold. So if you’re going to sporting one of these phones without a case, be aware that you'll be making quite a statement.
Of course, there were other major changes as well. The biggest of these is probably 3D Touch — Apple’s multilayered gesture system that’s been introduced with these new phone models. By applying a little bit of extra pressure to a tap, users can call up a menu of different options, similar to a right-click on a desktop or a long-press on Android devices. For example, a light push on the camera button brings up the option to “take a selfie,” “shoot in slo-mo,” among other options. That would save you a few moments of tapping time if you really wanted to capture a moment, fast.
This works with some non-Apple apps as well: a light 3D Touch on the Facebook app icon, for example, gives you shortcuts to actions such as checking in. You can also use 3D Touch to call up other open apps on the phone, by pressing at the left edge of the screen.
As compared to the Force Touch feature we’ve already seen on the Apple Watch and the new MacBook, pulling up the 3D Touch menu for apps called for a much lighter touch. Force Touch can require an actual press; calling up a menu using 3D Touch require more of a nudge. The feature is actually sensitive to two levels of pressure. So a lighter touch can, for example, preview an image, while pushing on it brings it into fullscreen mode.
This will honestly probably become a little complicated to explain to some users, particularly newer smartphone users who may still be mastering the tap and the swipe. Plenty of people don’t even use all the swiping gestures on the current iPhone, and so adding depth to that system may require a bit of a learning curve. But for those who do use it and get used to it, one could easily see the convenience in having shortcuts to top features in apps to save a few seconds. Those seconds can add up, after all.
Apple has also updated the cameras on the iPhones and offered a new feature called “Live Photos” that’s always on by default. Live Photos captures an extra second-and-a-half on either side of your shutter click, giving you a chance to capture a little more than just one moment in time. Photos will show up as normal in your library; you can use 3D Touch to see the moving pictures. Apple reps at the tables were insistent that these are not videos, but they do have sound and are reminiscent of Snapchat or Vine videos.
Unfortunately, if there’s a frame that you like better than the actual photo you took in a Live Photo, there’s no way to select that image as your picture instead. Overall, this seems like a fun feature — especially for parents and pet owners whose favorite subjects are often on the move — but may not be immediately useful to everyone.
So, should you upgrade? Generally speaking, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus users can probably sit this cycle out, unless they are really intrigued by the menu options that 3D Touch has to offer. If you’re still rocking an iPhone 5S, iPhone 5 or older phone, then it’s definitely worth the upgrade for the processing power alone. You may feel a twinge of sadness if you like the smaller screen on those models, but you will be getting a very powerful device in exchange.