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4 key features the iPhone 15 Pro is still missing

Apple iPhone 15 Pro (in blue), held up in one hand in Steve Jobs Theater

The iPhone 15 Pro at the Apple Event on Sept. 12, 2023

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

All the models of the iPhone 15 have officially been announced, their features revealed, and I got a chance to go hands-on with all of them at the Steve Jobs theater on Tuesday. The iPhone 15 standard models were more impressive than expected — except for the pastel colors — and I really liked the lighter, slimmer, more tactile feel of the titanium Pro models. 

The two Pro phones also delivered exciting updates with the Action button, the new USB 3 superpowers, and the “tetraprism” telephoto camera lens in the Pro Max. But, this year’s iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max didn’t deliver on everything. For a Pro-level device that costs this much, there are still a few things where Apple could make key improvements.

Also: iPhone 15 Pro hands-on: I found a lot of reasons to upgrade and one to wait until next year

1.) Longer battery life

As I’ve already mentioned in my first impressions of the iPhone 15 Pro, the biggest disappointment for this year’s Pro phones is that Apple didn’t use any of the additional capabilities of the new A17 Pro chip to increase battery life. Instead, it spent all of the extra oomph from the A17 Pro to power up additional gaming features, make file transfers 20x faster with USB-C, and further enhance the advanced machine learning for photography and video. 

I’m sure a lot of users will take advantage of those features, but even more would benefit from longer battery life. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max generally make it through a day of light to medium use without needing to recharge. However, many users have experienced the iPhone 14 Pro suffering from intermittent battery life issues. And even the iPhone 14 Pro Max can barely make it through a full day if you spend a big chunk of time shooting photos, texting them to friends and family, and uploading a few to social media — as many people do in their leisure time.

An upgrade to battery life is never a very flashy feature in a keynote presentation, but it’s the number one quality-of-life feature that Apple could do to make its Pro phones better to use every day — and more competitive with the best Android devices.

Also: iPhone 15 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro: Which model is best to buy?

2.) Touch ID on the power button

Another one of the best quality-of-life features that Apple could add to its Pro phones is to integrate a Touch ID fingerprint scanner into the power button — just like the one it already has on the iPad Air (5th Generation). I’m not getting fancy here and asking for an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor under the display like the excellent one on the Samsung Galaxy S23

I’m also not asking for Apple to replace Face ID and go back to Touch ID. Just give us both, because there are times when Face ID still doesn’t work well — when you have glasses, sunglasses, a hat, a face covering, or you’re just holding your phone at an angle that’s not easy for Face ID to scan. Having Touch ID at those times and others would make the iPhone tremendously more usable.

It would also increase security, because Apple could offer an option in Settings to require both Face ID and Touch ID, which would give the iPhone — and potentially third-party app developers — the option to make logins more secure on this device than any other device on the market.

Also: Apple iPhone 15 hands-on: New features left me with no Pro model envy at all

3.) 10x telephoto zoom lens

Yes, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has added a tetraprism telephoto camera this year with a 5x zoom lens and the equivalent of a 120mm focal length. This is Apple’s answer to Samsung’s periscope “space zoom” lens launched in 2020 on the Galaxy S20 Ultra and refined incrementally each year since then in the S21 Ultra, S22 Ultra, and S23 Ultra.

The big difference between Apple’s tetraprism and Samsung’s periscope is that Samsung still goes twice the distance at 10x. I can’t wait to try out the new Apple 5x telephoto lens over the coming months in lots of different situations — especially paired with Apple’s excellent photo processing software and machine learning algorithms — and I have confidence that it will be capable of high-quality shots never before possible on an iPhone. Nevertheless, it likely has a pretty big gap to get all of the great shots between 5x and 10x that you can get on Samsung’s flagship phone. 

Also: From pocket to pro: How the iPhone 15 Pro Max challenges mirrorless cameras

4.) A better case from Apple

At the Apple Event I tried the new FineWoven cases that Apple is launching this year to replace its popular — but less environmentally friendly — leather cases and I have to admit that I didn’t love the look and feel of FineWoven. They felt like a cheap imitation of suede. Of course, they aren’t cheap at $59 and I’m confident that it took a lot of creative work from the materials team at Apple to come up with a case made from 68 percent post-consumer recycled materials. And I definitely admire Apple’s carbon neutral and sustainability goals.

Nevertheless, the new cases just didn’t feel great in my hands. I realize that’s a subjective opinion, and my ZDNET teammate Kerry Wan tried the new cases and had the opposite reaction while we were testing them in the Steve Jobs Theater. 

My problem with the cases isn’t just with the materials though. In general, the Apple phone cases are too bulky and they hide the overall design of the iPhone. I’d much rather see Apple take inspiration from the famous — or infamous — iPhone 4 bumper cases that simply protect the edges of the phone and leave the back open so you see the full design. This makes it lighter and thinner to hold as well easier to slip in your pocket or bag. And, it still protects the front glass from breaking and the edges from getting dinged up when you drop it. The one challenge a bumper might have with a modern iPhone is protecting the camera lenses, but it might be easy enough to add a bump in the corner around the lenses.

In the new FineWoven cases, the back and the edges are made of different materials and each have a different feel. I liked the edges better than the back. If Apple simply made a bumper out of the FineWoven edges then I think that would be a much better case.

iPhone 15 Woven Case

The blue FineWoven case that’s replacing leather to help Apple meet its sustainability goals

June Wan/ZDNET

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