iOS 15 should be tailored to make the iPhone 12 Pro more pro

Commentary: It's time for Apple's "pro" phones to get software that actually makes them more professional.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
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  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
5 min read

WWDC21 starts Monday June 7 at 10 a.m. PT and Apple is expected to preview the next versions of iOS and iPadOS (likely called iOS 15 and iPadOS 15), I hope the new software for the iPhone 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max and the pro models for the rumored iPhone 13 lineup will have more pro features. Currently, aside from the word "pro," what differentiates a regular iPhone from a "pro" model is the price, stainless steel sides, different finishes and hardware features like additional RAM, a telephoto camera and a lidar sensor that helps with Portrait mode photos, autofocus in low-light environments and AR.

The next iteration of iOS needs more advanced features and settings designed solely for pro iPhone models. This would not only target a more savvy user, but also provide a clearer differentiation between a regular iPhone and a pro one. And the iPhone 12 Pro Max with its 6.7-inch display needs even more software features that take advantage of its large screen.

Read more: WWDC 2021: How to watch Apple's big iOS 15 event from home June 7-11

In 2011 when Steve Jobs introduced the iPad 2 he said, "It is in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing. And no where is that more true than in these post-PC devices."

Ten years later, Apple is still at that metaphorical intersection of technology and liberal arts, but it's no longer the nice tidy corner Jobs presented. Models in the iPhone 12 lineup are incredibly similar with the 12 Pro Max being an outlier. Other devices like the new M1-chip iPad Pro share a significant Venn-diagram overlap with Apple's MacBook laptop line. By all accounts, the iPad Pro walks like a Mac and quacks like a Mac, but it doesn't behave like one. Despite its "pro" hardware it still uses the same software as the iPad Air and the iPhone. Where are the "pro" apps? Where are the advanced OS features that take advantage of the M1-chip power? The improvements in Apple's hardware technology outpaced the software that runs it and in turn limits how people use it creatively, scientifically, professionally and personally.

Read more: iPhone 12 and iPhone 11, Pro and Pro Max compared: Cameras, features and more

in 2014 with the launch of  iPhone 6 Plus , Apple first cracked open the door for tailored iOS features. The 6 Plus was the first iPhone to have a truly large screen, which afforded it a few opportunities for software features in iOS 8 that no other iPhone had. For example, if you rotated the 6 Plus into landscape position, the Mail app would show a list of inbox messages on the left side of the screen and the current message on the right. This wasn't revolutionary, but it showed how a large-screen iPhone could get its own unique iOS features. And I hoped Apple would add more.


From left to right: the iPhone 12 Mini, 12, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.

Patrick Holland/CNET

But the iPhone Plus days are behind us. In 2020, the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max had their own special iOS 14 features that the 12 and 12 Mini lacked. In the Camera app for the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, you can take Apple ProRaw photos. The mode is activated in the Settings app, which adds a Raw button to the top right corner of the Camera app.

Yet, aside from hardware differences, the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max (like their iPad Pro cousins) aren't very "pro" in terms of software. I understand that the word "pro" is largely about marketing. Yet I'd love to see iOS 15 have more advanced features, especially ones that take advantage of the larger screens on the iPhone 11 Pro Max, 12 Pro Max and, when it's likely announced, the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Read more: iPhone 13 vs. purple iPhone 12: What to consider before you upgrade

What about bringing some of the aesthetics and interfaces from the iPad to the next iPhone Pro Max? A home screen that rotates between portrait and landscape would be welcomed. The ability to have split-screen apps, even if it's just limited to the larger screen on the Pro Max model would be great. And I know I'm in the minority on this, but I'd like to see some kind of Apple Pencil support, too. There could even be an Apple Pencil Mini designed specifically for the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

But let's not stop at home screen and general interface stuff. Most Android phones offer a "pro" mode in their camera apps with more detailed controls for camera settings. Yes, we have the Apple Pro Raw button, but why not unlock a full-on Pro Photo mode in the iOS 15 Camera app?

Even though the iPad runs on iPadOS, its own flavor of iOS, please allow iPhone apps running on an iPad Pro to be rotated into landscape position. That, combined with the iPad's ability to have split-screen apps, would not only look great but offer a new level of multitasking. 

The launch of the next version of iOS is just days away. And I remain hopeful that Apple will add more advanced and features that are tailored to not only strengthen the appeal of iPhone "pro" models but also give users a more sophisticated experience. Maybe the company won't go as far as calling it iOS Pro, which does have a nice ring, but hopefully it puts dash more of liberal arts into the technology it currently makes. And to those who say never in a million years is Apple going to do this, I'd remind you of the iPhone 12 Mini. For years, many small-phone lovers wanted Apple to make a truly tiny iPhone with all the amenities and hardware of the regular iPhone. And the 12 Mini was the answer we hoped for.

If you want more deep thoughts on Apple software, read how Apple could supercharge the M1 iPad Pro at WWDC.