Better Cameras, Bigger Batteries, and More: Here’s What’s Under the Hood of Apple’s Latest iPhones

Iphone 11 And Iphone 11 Pro Max Credit: James Martin / CNET
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Although most people won’t be able to get their hands on Apple’s iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro models until this Friday, a collection of reports from developers, regulatory filings, and early reviewers are coming together to give us some more detailed information on what’s actually inside Apple’s shiny new iPhone models.

Intel Modem Chips

Despite the big modem chip shakedown of 2019 which resulted in a truce between Apple and Qualcomm and Intel’s departure from the 5G modem business, this only affected 5G technology, which we won’t see in any of Apple’s products until next year.

Apple started using Intel 4G/LTE modem chips in its iPhones years ago in order to reduce its dependency on Qualcomm, and reports suggested that this would continue with this year’s models — something that PCMag has now confirmed based on the data shown on the field test screens on iPhone 11 models, which have always shown a distinctive set of menu items for Intel’s chips vs. Qualcomm’s.

Although the field test screens don’t reveal the details of which Intel chips Apple is using in the iPhones 11, PCMag speculates that based on Apple’s description of the current iPhone’s capabilities, it’s most likely the Intel XMM 7660, which was the last 4G modem chip it produced before shuttering its business and selling it to Apple at a bargain price.

That said, the iPhone 11 is likely going to be the end of an era — the last of Apple’s smartphones to feature Intel modem chips. Next year we’ll almost certainly see a switch to Qualcomm for Apple’s first 5G iPhones, and somewhere down the road even these will be replaced with an Apple first-party modem chip that will be the spiritual successor to all of Intel’s efforts.

Bigger Batteries

Meanwhile, the regulatory filings necessary for Apple to sell the iPhone in China offer some more details on what Apple’s done with the batteries and RAM in its latest iPhones.

According to documents submitted to Chinese regulatory agency TENAA discovered by MacRumors, all three of Apple’s 2019 iPhones gain some increases in battery capacity, with the most significant being in the two iPhone 11 Pro models, which now pack in 3,046 mAh (Pro) and 3,969 mAh (Pro Max) batteries, a pretty significant jump from the 2,658 mAh and 3,174 mAh cells found in the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. By comparison, the iPhone 11 gets a more modest bump to 3,110 mAh, up from the iPhone XR’s 2,942 mAh pack.

Apple made some pretty big promises for the battery life in its new iPhone 11 Pro models — between four and five hours more than last year’s equivalents — and with these larger cells, it’s easy to see why. For those models, this represents a 15–25 percent increase in battery capacity.

In his review of the new iPhones, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber speculated that this may have been a compelling reason for the elimination of 3D Touch from this year’s iPhones, which makes sense when you consider that the extra sensors required to support the 3D Touch interface took up room that could be better used elsewhere — in this case for larger batteries. The smaller jump in the battery size in the new iPhone 11 from the iPhone XR — which already lost 3D Touch last year but boasted the best battery life of any iPhone in history — would also seem to bear this theory out.

More RAM

The TENAA filings also reveal that the new iPhones also now all feature 4 GB of RAM across the board, which would seem to line up with the benchmarks that early iPhone 11 reviewers have offered up. Some had speculated that the iPhone 11 Pro configurations might jump to 6 GB, but this doesn’t seem to be the case — at least not for the iPhones being sold in China, and other than cellular radios and Dual SIM support, there’s no reason to believe that they’d be any different from the models sold in the rest of the world.

Those Great Cameras

Sebastian de With, developer of one of the most popular advanced camera apps for the iPhone, Halide, has provided an in-depth look at what’s changed in Apple’s camera hardware in the new iPhone 11 Pro.

Halide is known for being one of the most powerful third-party camera apps for Apple’s recent iPhones, and was notable last year for its ability to take Portrait Mode photos on the iPhone XR of objects other than people, as well as access other features of Apple’s camera hardware that weren’t available in the stock iOS Camera app.

Halide also includes a technical readout feature that analyzes the camera specs, and de With and his team have used this tool to get a breakdown of what’s actually changed in the iPhone 11 Pro with help from users of Halide who have managed to get their hands on early iPhone 11 Pro units.

de With notes that he’s just looking at the iPhone 11 Pro specifically since the standard iPhone 11 uses identical hardware for the cameras that it does have — the wide and ultra-wide versions — with the Pro simply adding a third telephoto lens. According to de With, all other “camera, sensor, and performance specifications appear identical across the board,” supporting the fact that all you’re really getting on the iPhone 11 Pro camera system is an extra lens.

The standard rear-facing wide angle lens gains higher minimum exposure times and a wider ISO range — 32–3072 in the iPhone 11 compared to 24–2304 in the iPhone XS. The telephoto lens gets a longer maximum exposure time, and pushes the maximum ISO up to 2016, which are the same specs featured on the ultra-wide angle lens, which is of course new to the iPhone 11 models.

The front-facing camera gains a similar maximum ISO bump, up to 2208 from 1728, as well as the expected resolution increase to 4032 x 3024 pixels, delivering the 12 megapixel selfies that Apple is now promising, as well as increasing to a 24mm equivalent for a wider field of view.

It’s kind of unbelievable that even with the glowing reviews out today, Apple has said that there’s more software processing yet to come. We’re told Deep Fusion is a very big leap in post-processing quality, but with the changes to Smart HDR, Semantic Mapping in the imaging pipeline and discrete situational processing like Night Mode, these specs are the furthest from the whole story on the new iPhone cameras yet.

As de With notes, while the hardware improvements are relatively slight — the ISO and exposure times are likely there to help bolster the new Night Mode features — there’s going to be a lot more magic coming as a result of the software processing in iOS 13 that will be made even more capable by Apple’s latest A13 chips. This will result in “one of the biggest leaps in camera quality in iPhones yet.”

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