Apple has officially unveiled its newest iPhones, the 6S and 6S Plus. Like the 3GS, 4S, and 5S before them, the phones are visually similar to their predecessors, and the devices focus mainly on internal upgrades and tweaks. The new phones will be available for preorder on September 12 and will officially launch on September 25.
The new phones are built out of the same 7000-series aluminum used in the Apple Watch, a change which should make them sturdier and less prone to bending. They retain their 4.7- and 5.5-inch screens, though, as well as the TouchID sensor and button layout used in the iPhone 6. A new color option joins the lineup as well: Rose Gold. This brings the iPhone more in line with the Apple Watch's exterior appearance options. Unlike the Apple Watch, though, the iPhone's Rose Gold is just anodized aluminum, not actual-for-real Apple Gold.
The front of the devices has been given a new type of glass—one which Apple calls "dual ion-exchange" glass. Behind the new face, the phones have Force Touch-style pressure sensitivity, which Apple calls "3D Touch." The new devices also provide tactile feedback via a Taptic Engine similar to the one in the Apple Watch. In the Apple Watch, Force Touch is usually used to bring up menu items, and 3D Touch provides similar functionality on the new iPhones.
There are new aspects to the feature as well: pressing lightly on the screen can peek at an app's contents, while pressing firmly can actually open the app. 3D Touch is integrated into all of Apple's iOS applications; Apple's Craig Federighi demonstrated the feature on stage by quickly previewing a message in iOS Mail with a light hold and then actually opening up the message with a firmer press. Other apps showed similar levels of integration—firmer touches can be used to bring up quick information about locations in Maps, for example. 3D Touch also provides gestures for multitasking and navigating between apps as well.
The phones also feature a new Apple A9 SoC—as usual, Apple isn't saying much about tech specs, but it did say that the chip's CPU provides a 70 percent speed jump over the A8's CPU and that the A9's GPU is 90 percent faster than the one in the A8 SoC. We still don't know if this will be the iPhone to jump to 2GB of RAM, though we'll be on the lookout for evidence either way.
The new devices come with new cellular capabilities, provided by an updated Qualcomm LTE controller with 23 bands (we'll benchmark some solid real-world numbers during the course of our big review). Similarly, Apple says the Wi-Fi is twice as fast as before.
The upgraded devices bring always-on "Hey Siri" functionality. With previous models, Apple's Siri assistant could only be invoked hands-free when the device was plugged in; when untethered by a power cord, Siri required a home button hold in order to respond to requests. The 6S and 6S Plus add the option to have Siri listening all the time, plugged in or otherwise. There's also an updated fingerprint sensor that's almost twice as fast in picking up biometric details.
Both the front and back cameras are getting upgrades, too. For the past few years, Apple has continually improved its sensors and lens arrays while holding steady at an 8MP resolution, but this year the iPhone camera steps up to a 12MP iSight sensor. The added resolution should help with fine detail, as long as picture quality is otherwise similar to what the iPhone 6 can already deliver. Phil Schiller explained on stage that Apple was able to increase the iSight camera's resolution without incurring a noise penalty for the denser sensor; a technology Apple calls "deep trench isolation" keeps the individual photo diodes separated and keeps the image's color as precise as possible. Panorama resolution has been increased to 63MP, and the 6S and 6S Plus will be able to record 4K video at a resolution of 3840x2160 pixels.
The front-facing FaceTime HD camera gets a bump to 5MP, and the upgraded phones can use the screen as a flash to help light images. Apple calls this, unsurprisingly, "Retina Flash." This ought to up your selfie game significantly if you're a selfie-taking kind of person.
There's a new camera feature, too—something Apple calls "Live Photos." This is an automatically triggered feature wherein the iPhone gathers some additional picture and sound data before and after the moment of capture. To view a photo as a "Live Photo" instead of a static one, you use a firmer "3D Touch" touch on an image, and it will begin to move and play sound. Schiller explained that Live Photos shouldn't take up much additional space over standard photos.
On-contract pricing for the 16GB models starts at $299 for a 6S Plus and $199 for the 6S. The devices don't appear to have a 32GB model—space jumps from 16GB to 64GB ($399 for the 6S Plus and $299 for the 6 Plus) and 128GB ($499 for the 6S Plus and $399 for the 6S). Off-contract pricing in the US starts at $649 for the 16GB 6S and $749 for the 16GB 6S Plus and goes up $100 by each larger memory configuration.
On-contract pricing for all the other iPhones similarly shifts downward. The non-S iPhone 6 Plus drops to $199, and the non-S iPhone 6 drops to $99; the iPhone 5S becomes free. The new phones will be available to pre-order on September 12 and will arrive September 25 in more than a dozen countries, including the US and the UK.
(For folks in the UK, the 16GB iPhone 6S will be £539 for the 16GB model, £619 for the 64GB model and £699 for the 128GB model. The 6S Plus will be priced at £619 for the 16GB model, £699 for the 64GB model and £789 for the 128GB model. Those prices include VAT.)
We'll have a hands-on with the new iPhones coming a little later today. Look for our in-depth review of the new iPhones to run in the coming weeks. You can also check our liveblog for a recap of the announcement event as it happened.