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iPhone 14 is so underwhelming it could trigger a new Samsung-Apple rivalry in India

Truth be told, Apple’s strength has been the iPhone being an object of desire. But considering Samsung’s new foldable phones, that allure will now be tested.

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This is the best iPhone ever — what an Apple executive always quips while announcing a new generation of the world’s most successful gadget. There are no comparisons. In Apple’s universe, there is only Apple, nothing else. And going by its success in a price-sensitive market like India where, for the last few years, it has dominated the premium segment (upwards of Rs 30,000) and accounted for most of the profit share of the industry despite commanding less than 10 per cent of the entire market, such an attitude is understandable. And no doubt, Apple’s latest updates that were announced last night at its ‘Far Out’ event in California will help it cement its position, if not defend it.

Apple’s dominance in the last few years has become unscrupulous, thanks to a series of rock-solid updates and some stumbles by its rivals, primarily Samsung. But the new updates are underwhelming. In contrast, last week, Samsung announced that it was sitting pretty on 1,00,000 pre-orders in India for its latest foldable smartphones — the Galaxy Z Flip4 and the Galaxy Z Fold4, which start at Rs 89,999 and Rs 1,54,999, respectively. This means that Apple has stiff competition this year, which could renew its old rivalry with Samsung.

Remember that in 2018, Apple was struggling to scale up its presence in the Indian market — the iPhone XS and XR came in 2017 and 2018. While Samsung and OnePlus had the premium segment to themselves, the iPhone 11 series came in 2019 and did an excellent job of catching up. Samsung lent a helping hand to Apple too after it bungled its first foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold, and the Galaxy S20 series. Then in 2020, the iPhone 12 represented the first major redesign of the iPhone in nine years — it was a return to the classic squared body of the iPhone 5S launched in 2013. In 2021, Apple brought robust updates to the iPhone 13 line while Samsung’s offerings still weren’t super attractive.

But this year, Apple’s new updates are just iterative while Samsung has upped its game. Samsung’s latest foldables are unique and don’t come with the compromises that have held foldable smartphones back. In the early 2010s, the rivalry between the two tech giants was bitter — Apple even sued Samsung for copying its designs. When the first Galaxy S smartphone came along, it was the chief Android rival for the iPhone, and, bit by bit, in the early 2010s, Samsung overtook Apple’s market share globally. It was only during the latter half of the decade that Apple started responding. Now the tide could be turning again. If not globally, then at least in India.

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Why Apple iPhone 14 updates underwhelm 

Apple has mostly focused on improving the cameras of the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models. But these are not dramatic hardware-oriented updates but more software-oriented and iterative in terms of hardware.

The iPhone 14’s primary camera system is slightly better in low light and has a faster lens. The bigger update comes to the ultra-wide camera system, which, again, takes better photos in the dark. The biggest update has been left for the selfie camera system.

Apple’s iPhone 13 camera system was already extremely competitive with Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S22 line. Even though the Galaxy Fold and Flip get the absolute best of Samsung’s camera prowess, the iPhone 14 models may eclipse them too. But the fact is, these cameras will not be dramatically better than those of the iPhone 12, leave alone the iPhone 13. The iPhone 14 looks the same, it is powered by the same processor as the iPhone 13, and will likely have similar battery life. Its satellite phone feature is also not coming to India.

The pricier iPhone 14 Pro models promised more. Did we get more? Yes and no. Apple finally miniaturised the Face ID scanner module in a cut-out it calls the ‘Dynamic Island’, which does some software trickery to help with background tasks and alerts. Apple has ingeniously packaged this cut-out and turned it into a feature. Its new chip is also faster and more efficient, built on TSMC’s latest 4nm fabrication — enabling the iPhone 14 Pro’s 48-megapixel primary camera that has a sensor that’s 65 per cent larger than its predecessor, which means it will gather more light. The ultra-wide mode, macro photography, the telephoto lens, stabilisation, and video — all have moved up a notch.

Everything is better! Right? Yes, but where is the periscope lens camera that can do 5x optical zoom, Apple? Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has it! There is no dedicated astrophotography mode either. Apple is conservative toward adding new features, but it has been a while now. I am sure this will be an exceptional camera, but the iPhone 13 Pro is already excellent — why should one upgrade to the iPhone 14 Pro if they aren’t getting all these new modes that have existed on Android smartphones for years?

Apple talks about its photonic engine that transforms its low-light capabilities, a new action mode that will rid creators of needing a gimbal, and the ability to use 48-megapixel photos in ProRaw, which means more detail can be extracted from the images and one can crop photos to zoom in. Creators and professionals will appreciate these features, but they mean squat for the average Joe.

Truth be told, Apple’s strength has been the iPhone becoming an object of desire beyond its functional allure. But considering Samsung’s foldable phones and iterative updates, the allure will now be tested.

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The chink in Samsung’s armour 

The one thing that remains undeniable is the reliability of the iPhone. And the iPhone 14 Pro models will add to its worker-like consistency. With the removal of the iPhone Mini, apart from the iPhone SE, all these new iPhones will deliver good to exceptional battery life. Apple claimed that the iPhone 14 Plus will have the best battery life ever experienced on an iPhone. The 14 Pro Max will not be far behind, I’d bet.

This will be an area where these phones will be significantly better than Samsung’s Galaxy S22 models, and even better than its foldables. Then there is the issue of the longevity of the foldables. There are so many stories of how a foldable phone screen got ruined when specks of dust entered the gap in the hinge and cut the screen off.

Samsung says that this has been addressed, but its foldables still don’t have dust resistance, and this is something that can’t be tested in a month or two. Apple’s Pro models have a stainless steel body, and their durability is legendary when coupled with their ceramic shield.

Apple’s new purple iPhone 14 Pro model will also bewitch many people. The tech giant has a way with colours unlike any other company on the planet, and now, it has nailed it.

At the end of the day, consumers are winners. Even though Apple’s new updates aren’t hair-raising, the new iPhones will retain their reliability — something that I can’t confidently say about Samsung’s foldables even after testing them for a couple of weeks.

In fact, ‘conservatism’ was the theme throughout Far Out. The update to AirPods Pro was also safe and iterative, and similarly, the new Apple Watch Series 8 is only a slight spec bump — the real star was the Apple Watch Ultra, which will be a very niche product for athletes and enthusiasts of outdoor activities. Even that has a Samsung rival in the Galaxy Watch Pro.

We’re expecting a renewed ‘clash of the Titans’ in India — and competition is good because next year, you’ll probably see Apple and Samsung both prime the pump.

The good news is that Apple hasn’t raised the prices in India, and the iPhone 13 models are likely to see a surge in popularity as their price drops. Samsung’s older models don’t hold such brand cache, and it will play into Apple’s hands.

Sahil Mohan Gupta is a technology journalist based out of Delhi with over a decade of experience. He tweets @DigitallyBones. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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