The iPhone finally gets USB-C, but also a new “action” button

As expected, Apple unveiled an updated lineup of smartphones featuring for the fist time USB-C support and titanium bodies, as well as the Apple Watch Series 9, and Apple Watch Ultra 2.

It is almost impossible to name a single physical device more relevant than the iPhone in defining the last decade's fusion of culture and technology. The iPhone was the design of the '10s, and the '10s were redesigned by the iPhone, whose incremental hardware and software upgrades set the standard for every other company in the smartphone industry. But the iPhone is stronger than ever as we enter the '20s, and Apple has launched the 17th annual iteration of its smartphone in a context where, as Tripp Mickle of the New York Times recently noted, “the iPhone has defied gravity”. 

Last year's iPhone 14 Pro introduced the Dynamic Island, now a feature of any iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro.

The entire smartphone industry is struggling, and sales of Android smartphones – the “other” smartphones – have plummeted. Apple has managed to boost iPhone sales to a fifth of global smartphone sales. In 2019, it was 13%, according to a study by Counterpoint Research. In the U.S., one out of every two smartphones sold is an iPhone, and 90% of teenagers own one, according to the New York Times. Sales have grown in China, Japan, Europe and India (the latter having been an Android stronghold for years).

At the September 12 “Wanderlust” event, Apple was expected to unveil a revamped lineup of iPhones and new Apple Watches. Obviously, it delivered. The entire keynote was masterfully crafted, and many sequences show how the brand uses its moment of maximum reach, the quintessential “September iPhone launch,” in a platform through which Tim Cook transmits some of the core values of Apple. Like its sustainability goals, presented through a truly serious comedic sequence that, for the first time in an Apple event, introduced a very skeptical Mother Nature, played by actress Octavia Spencer.

Sustainability goals

A significant portion of the event is thus dedicated to Apple's sustainability goals, from using clean energy, to reusing materials in new products, to designing new, smaller packaging to ship products in, to eliminating the use of leather (and introducing the environmentally friendly material FineWoven), to planting trees to restore green spaces around the world. iPhone Series 9 is Apple's first carbon neutral product, along withe the new Apple Watch Ultra and the SE version of the device.

Apple Series 9 carbon neutral lineup

Apple Watch and Apple Watch Ultra

Kicked off by a deeply moving video highlighting the “personal” nature of the Watch and its ability to save lives, the event section dedicated to Apple Watch updates introduced new devices powered by the radically redesigned new WatchOS 10 (also available for old Apple Watches). Ahead of the launch, Domus sat down with Gary Butcher, Human Interface Designer at Apple, to discuss the features and the design philosophy behind them.

The new Apple Watch Series 9 features the new S9 chip with +30% faster GPU, 2x faster Neural Engine, and all-day battery life. Siri is faster and can now access data collected by Heath (English and Mandarin languages only).

Series 9 also introduces Double-Tap, a finger gesture (thumb+index) that allows you to perform functions on the Watch, such as answering a call, without touching it. Apple defines it as a "magical experience" designed to enhance users' everyday lives. 

Apple Watch Series 9

Regarding the Apple Watch Ultra 2, the new version of the flagship Apple timepiece features a brighter display with 3000 nits and a new dedicated watch face. Battery life is still of about 36 hours. Apple Watch Ultra is carbon neutral too.

iPhone 15, Apple’s new smartphone

“The iPhone 15 is incredible,” says Tim Cook. The new lineup introduces the dynamic island on every model, finally getting rid of the infamous “notch” that defined the display of iPhones after the introduction of the X model back in 2017. It comes in two different sizes, 6.1” and 6.7” (iPhone 15 Plus), and uses 75% recycled aluminum and 100% recycled cobalt in the battery. 

iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus will be available in five new colors

The main camera features for the first time a 48MP sensor, four times that of the iPhone 14: the larger sensor allows 2x 12MP telephoto, introducing a virtual third lens on board. The phone automatically switches to portrait mode when it detects a subject in the frame, and lets you rearrange the bokeh when editing the image, even switching the focus on different subjects (as the Cinematic mode does with videos).

The phone has a Super Retina XDR display and is powered by the A16 Bionic processor, the same as the iPhone 14 Pro. As expected, it has a USB-C port instead of the Lighting port that was introduced more than 10 years ago with the launch of iPhone 5. AirPods also get a USB-C port. Now you'll only need one type of cable to charge almost any Apple device: phones, laptops, earbuds, and tablets.


iPhone 15 can directly charge the updated AirPods Pro or an Apple Watch through the new USB-C connector.

iPhone Pro’s two big design innovations

This year's iPhone Pro line features a new design with Grade 5 titanium, the same material used in the alloy of the Mars Rover. Apple says the use of titanium makes iPhone Pro stronger, more durable and lighter than previous versions. A new lineup of four colors is also being introduced, including white titanium and blue titanium. 

The second design change is the redesign of the side switch, which becomes an action button that can launch apps, such as opening voice memos or activating a specific shortcut. This new feature makes the phone more efficient by utilizing a previously unused area of the chassis, but at the same time feels a bit paradoxical on a device that has always subtracted and simplified its design, not adding new elements to its hardware, becoming simpler and more elegant over the years, getting rid of the iconic home button without a trace of remorse. For those who imagined the future of the iPhone to be buttonless and even port less, it looks like the revolution is still on the horizon.

iPnone 15 Pro

The iPhone 15 Pro is powered by the A17 Pro chip, an extremely powerful platform that enables the phone to run video games previously reserved for game consoles or personal computers. The Pro's camera system has been improved with better stabilization, and iPhone 15 Pro Max 15 introduces a new 5x zoom, the best you can have on an Apple device, equivalent to a 120mm lens on a 35mm camera system. The new USB-C port lets filmmakers and photographers store photos and video on an external device. 

And a glimpse into the future: With the new iPhone Pro, you can already shoot a spatial video that can be experienced on Apple's “spatial computer” Vision Pro when it becomes available.

iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max will be available in black titanium, white titanium, blue titanium, and natural titanium.

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