The iPhone 11 Pro has just been released, and I’m a bit underwhelmed. In fact, it seems that many people are underwhelmed.
My first iPhone was the iPhone 3GS that came out in 2010, but it wasn’t until the iPhone 4 that I was really on the Apple bandwagon and was certain Apple was king of the mobile phone.
Since then, though, Apple has slipped and, by many accounts, is now toward the rear of the pack. Although the smartphone industry in its current form basically wouldn’t existence without the iPhone, the world’s most valuable company frequently introduces new features after they’ve already become common in Android smartphones.
In all fairness, Apple still makes incredible products. I also want to say that there’s a lot to like about the iPhone 11 lineup, including the iPhone 11 Pro. Before explaining why I think the iPhone 11 Pro is so disappointing, I want to give Apple credit for what they did get right, which include:
- Major rear camera improvements
- Improved front-facing camera
- Improved A13 Bionic processor
- Improved battery life
- Improved FaceID
- 18W fast charger in the box (Pro)
What’s Missing from iPhone 11 Pro?
Apple has fallen behind competitors in many ways. A prime example would be the debut of OLED display technology on the iPhone X after Apple had used LCD displays on iPhones exclusively; by comparison, OLED is on most Android phones in general and virtually all the flagship models. It was the same situation when the iPhone got wireless charging, which had long been a regular feature for Android phones.
Even though Apple is increasingly late to market with certain features, we still had a number of expectations for the 2019 iPhones, particular when you consider other recent hardware releases. There had also been a number of rumors circulating, including a rumor from as far back as January that the higher-end model would be called iPhone “Pro,” which did, in fact, turn out to be true.
Aside from what leaks had shown, there were two key features that iPhone 11 Pro was expected to have.
ProMotion seems like a given for a “Pro” iPhone. The marketing campaign even writes itself: “iPhone 11 Pro, now with a ProMotion display.”
We first saw ProMotion on the first-generation iPad Pro (2017), and the feature was immediately a pretty big deal. Apple’s ProMotion doubled the 60Hz refresh rate had been standard on Apple’s smartphones and tablets. With ProMotion, users got a much smoother user experience that’s better for gaming, streaming high-def content, and even for professional-level activities like video editing.
The thing to note, though, is what Apple named this technology and how it debuted the first ‘Pro’ iPad. This set the precedent that a Pro device gets a Pro-Motion display. After all, it’s right there in the name.
So when the iPhone 11 Pro was revealed to be missing ProMotion, there was some confusion because why would you put ProMotion on the first iPad Pro but not put it on the first iPhone Pro? Is it the expense of the technology? If that’s the case, how does it make more sense to put it on the iPad’s larger display and not the smaller display of the iPhone?
On paper, it might have been because of the type of display Apple used for the iPhone 11 Pro. Historically, we have mostly seen high refresh rates on LCD displays — e.g. RAZR 2, Asus ROG — rather than OLED displays.
However, we’ve started to see higher refresh rates on OLED displays. The OnePlus 7 Pro is a prime example as it has an OLED display and a 90Hz refresh rate. It’s rumored that ProMotion is in the pipeline for next year’s iPhone Pro, but this gives me the impression that ProMotion was intentionally held back from this year’s iPhone 11 Pro so it could be a selling point for next year’s iPhone Pro. [Note: Next year is an ‘S’ year, so, presumably, upgrades will be even more marginal than they were this year.]
I have no doubt that Apple had reasons for not including ProMotion this year, but whatever those reasons were, I think it was a mistake. As it stands, it’s difficult to target “Pro” users when the iPhone 11 Pro lacks a core “Pro” feature.
And ProMotion isn’t the only “Pro” feature missing from iPhone 11 Pro.
Most of us have been waiting for the iPhone to get USB C for at least a few years. With most Android and other device manufacturers having switched to Type C, putting it on the iPhone would allow us to use one cable for allour devices. It also makes sense with the hardware choices Apple has made.
Apple went all-in on Type C for the entire MacBook lineup a few years ago. Then in 2018, the iPad Pro got a similar refresh with a new utilitarian design, a magnetic dock for the second-generation Apple Pencil, and a USB C port in lieu of a Lightning port. So USB C on the iPhone seemed like an inevitability.
There are notable to USB C versus other connectors. First, USB C is reversible, but Lightning is reversible too, so this doesn’t really apply here. However, Type C also offers incredibly fast data transfer (up to 10GB per second!) and much faster charging than Lightning. But for consumers, the most important benefit of USB C is that most devices made today are using this port. So if the iPhone followed suit, then the same cable you use with your MacBook, Android smartphone, and most other current-generation devices could also charge your iPhone. No more adapters, dongles, or separate cables.
But as Apple concluded the presentation, we realized that the iPhone 11 Pro would still have a Lightning port.
Again, if the latest “Pro” iPad got USB C, what sense does it make to launch the first “Pro” iPhone without it? In light of this, we can come to one of two conclusions: Either USB C and ProMotion aren’t actually “Pro” features, or iPhone 11 Pro isn’t a true “Pro” iPhone. But you don’t want consumers asking these kinds of questions as they consider whether to spend at thousand dollars or more for a device that’s only somewhat “Pro”.
Is iPhone 11 Pro a Failure?
At this point, the iPhone 11 Pro has only been on the market for a couple of days, so it’s too early to say with any certainty if it’s a failure. Additionally, the 2018 iPhones had a different launch schedule than this year. For instance, some are pointing to longer lines at Apple Stores as being a good sign, but there’s a problem with this generalization.
Last year’s iPhone XR launched more than a month behind the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. So between the staggered launch and the fact that the delayed iPhone XR was the cheaper model, it follows that launch-day lines would be than we saw this year with all three models dropping on the same day.
Some have said that the 2019 lineup is one of the weakest cycles in iPhone history: relatively small, iterative upgrades that provide very little reason to upgrade unless your current iPhone is at least a few generations old. Since the iPhone 11 Pro is missing key “Pro” features and the iPhone 11 got a $50 price deduction (which is unexpected since Apple wants to make iPhone a luxury device), we could see substantially lower iPhone 11 Pro sales compared to the iPhone XS. But we probably won’t see definitive sales numbers for some time, possibly not until the holiday season.
I hope Apple takes a long, hard look in the mirror. Sales have been down because most people interested in buying an iPhone have done so already. So every generation of iPhone needs to give us at least one good reason to upgrade, and iPhone 11 Pro’s incremental improvements over last year’s iPhone XS just aren’t enough for most people.
Having said that, anyone who values a smartphone camera will surely be impressed by the camera upgrades on the iPhone 11 Pro. But is that enough to warrant paying a minimum of a thousand dollars? It seems the “Pro” iPhone lacks a unique selling proposition with the standard iPhone 11 having many of the same features at a price that’s actually lower than last year’s iPhone XR. Meanwhile, for those who prefer “Pro” devices, I’d bet the absence of essential “Pro” features will be a deal-breaker, causing them to wonder why Apple is using that moniker in the first place.