And yes, there is a new color now, called rose gold (it basically looks like a blush pink, same as the new Apple Watch color option that the company announced). But as far as looks go, this extra shade is the extent of the the changes you’ll be able to visually detect between this year’s and last year’s phones.
Apple’s emphasis on hardware upgrades over design development follows the pattern that the Cupertino-based company has long established: significant changes come in the even years and incremental updates in the odd. It’s a move that could alienate buyers as much cheaper “premium” handsets compete with titans like Apple for marketshare.
However, significant updates to the iPhone 6S’ camera technology, a new form of pressure-sensitive navigation called 3D Touch, and a faster processor all combine to keep the next-generation phone looking competitive enough to counter other top-tier handsets as we approach the year-end holiday rush.
Aerospace-grade aluminium and sturdier glass
Apple says that its phone may look the same as last year’s model, but its iPhone 6S duo has achieved more inner strength. This time it uses a different grade of aluminum for its chassis, one that’s also used in the aerospace industry. They call it Series 7,000, and it’s the same aluminum alloy Apple puts into its Apple Watch Sport. The company clearly hopes this reinforced material will help deflect against future “Bendgate” backlashes, where some customers complained that their 5.5-inch iPhone 6S phones “bent” after being sat on.
Apparently, a new type of chemically strengthened glass also tops the iPhone 6S, though the company hasn’t confirmed if this is cover material from Corning’s Gorilla Glass line or not.
Brand new ‘force’ touch
Apple has included a variation of Force Touch, which you find in different capacities on the Apple Watch and on some Mac trackpads. Called 3D Touch here, the iPhone 6S phones will adopt the same pressure-sensitive capability that calls up secondary menus and actions when you press and hold the screen.
Faster LTE, Wi-Fi connections
Apple says it’ll have the fastest forms of LTE Advanced, if that’s supported where you live, and will also include support for the latest, greatest Wi-Fi networks.
iOS 9 all the way
The two new iPhones will run on iOS 9, mining all of those software enhancements, like a smarter Siri and up to three hours longer battery life, plus a new Low Power Mode. The updated operating system, which is currently in public beta, will arrive for phones on September 16. Meanwhile, read our full rundown of iOS 9 here.
Pricing and availability
The iPhone 6S (and its 5.5-inch twin, the 6S Plus,) will be open for preorder on September 12, with phones arriving in stores around the globe on September 25.
In the US, the 16GB version that starts at $200 on contract (the 6S Plus will cost $300 on contract).
In the UK, the iPhone 6S costs £540 (16GB), £620 (64GB) and £700 (128GB). In contrast, the 6S Plus will go for £620, £700 and £790, respectively.
A little differently this year, Apple also introduces a pricing plan that starts at $32 per month (for the 16GB version iPhone 6S) for 24 months, with the option to upgrade to a new iPhone each year, say from the 6S to next year’s 7, to the 7S, and so on. (Apple sales numbers are healthier when you don’t hold onto your phone for two years or longer.)
Big enough changes?
Every year we ask ourselves if the enhancements to the S-series of iPhone are worth the purchase. This year, like every year, the answer is that it depends which phone you currently have.
If it’s an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, the only truly compelling upgrade is to the camera, which certainly sounds like a huge jump on paper. The iPhone 6 already takes terrific photos, so there’s a lot of promise there for mobile photographers and avid selfie-shooters who can benefit from that front-facing flash. However, you don’t really gain a whole lot of other functionality besides.
If you’re holding onto an iPhone 5S or earlier, the iPhone 6S is going to feel fast, fresh and powerful by comparison.
Ultimately, the iPhone 6S is shaping up to be a very nice incremental upgrade to an already high-performing handset. For the really novel changes, though, prepare to wait another year.