Rumored iPhone 13 upgrades we really, really want to see today at Apple's big event
We have a few features on our iPhone 13 wish list, including a higher refresh rate display, upped battery power and more.
Patrick HollandManaging 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.
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.
Apple's rumored new iPhone 13 will likely get its big reveal at Apple's event later today with the Apple Watch 7 and iPad Mini 6, and as such it's a good time to postpone any phone-buying decisions until we find out what could be in the 2021 iPhone. An ever-increasing number of rumors about the next iPhone seem to come out daily. I put out a few requests to the universe, based on rumors and leaks, for the features and upgrades I want to see in the iPhone 13. I also factor in what the iPhone 13 needs in order to be a success. Consider this my iPhone 13 wish list.
And just to be clear, these are rumors and leaks. Nothing is for certain until Apple announces it. Some of these rumors are from the past few months. Others are several months or even years old and keep rising back to relevance. CNET has plenty more intel on the iPhone 13's rumored cost, design, cameras, release date and how the iPhone 13 might compare to the iPhone 12.
The first rumor is that the iPhone 13 will get a bigger battery. iPhone 12's battery life is good. In use, both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro lasted a day without problem. In our battery test with looped video playing in airplane mode, the 12 Pro lasted 15 hours, 56 minutes; the iPhone 12 lasted 17 hours, 14 minutes.
But it's far from the best battery life we've seen. The Samsung Galaxy S21, with its 4,500-mAh battery, lasted 18 hours, 3 minutes in the same test. The Galaxy S21 Ultra and its 5,000-mAh battery lasted 22 hours, 57 minutes. And both of those phones have a high refresh-rate display, which can tax the battery more.
While Apple never reveals the capacity of the batteries inside the iPhone, sites like iFixIt, which sells kits to replace batteries, show that both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro use a 2,815-mAh battery. What's impressive is that Apple gets so much life from that small battery purely through the efficiency of its A-series processors and iOS software.
Now imagine applying those efficiencies to a larger physical battery. This is a rumor that I hope is true and I think the next iPhone needs. I mean, who doesn't want better battery life?
The iPhone 13 might have a high refresh-rate display
Why do you need a high refresh rate? Simply, it makes everything look better. That sweeping generalization aside, animations and graphics look sharper, motion blur is reduced, games (especially those designed for high refresh rate screens) seem more immersive and vivid. Think about how great 120Hz Apple Arcade games could look.
There are new rumors that the "Pro" models will get LTPO displays. LTPO stands for low-temperature polycrystalline oxide. Essentially, an LTPO display can change between refresh rates on the fly without the need for extra display hardware. The Galaxy S21 Ultra released in February uses an LTPO display, which Samsung claimed allowed it to be brighter without using more power.
Apple's launch of MagSafe charging on the iPhone 12 makes it easier to imagine such a port-free future. However, in its current form, MagSafe charging tops out at 15 watts. Compare that with the 20-watt charging you get with a Lightning-to-USB-C cable and wall charger. OnePlus has a wireless charger called the Warp Charge 30 that can charge at 30 watts.
Not only would the next version of MagSafe need to be more powerful to be a reasonable replacement to a physical charging cable, but Apple would also need to solve for some of the data sharing that the Lightning port currently affords. Perhaps Apple is hoping 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 and its U1 ultrawideband chip are those data-sharing replacements? Or maybe there would be a version of MagSafe with a Lightning port dongle? Who knows?
Apple could build into the next iPhone something like the smart connector found on the current iPad Pro. While the USB-C port on the iPad Pro gets all the attention, on the back of the iPad are three flat metal contacts. When you use the Magic Keyboard accessory with the iPad Pro, it connects to the iPad via the smart connector and magnets. You can plug a USB-C cable into the side of the Magic Keyboard to charge the iPad Pro. Most days during the pandemic, I used the Magic Keyboard to charge my iPad via smart connector.
Maybe there will be "Smart MagSafe" charging on the next iPhone? Even if this rumor is true, removing the last iPhone port isn't something Apple needs to do right now.
The biggest feature and biggest rumors revolve around the cameras on the iPhone. And there are a bunch of rumors pointing to new lenses, new camera sensors and a wider adoption of sensor-based stabilization across the iPhone line up.
Currently, the iPhone 12 Pro has the same selfie, wide and ultrawide cameras as the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini. The Pro does have a 2x telephoto camera, but it's not the same as the 2.5x one on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The iPhone 13 Pro could get a larger sensor for its wide camera. This rumor doesn't indicate whether it will be exactly the same as the one on the iPhone 13 Pro Max or not. But the larger sensor could incorporate sensor-based stabilization, which is currently only on the iPhone 12 Pro Max model.
The iPhone 13 Pro is also rumored to get the same or similar telephoto camera as the 13 Pro Max. All that means is that the next regular "Pro" model will be closer to the Pro Max model. Whereas this year, the 12 and 12 Pro are exceedingly similar.
There are a few rumors about a new ultrawide camera either on the iPhone 13, or iPhone 14. (Yes, there are already rumors about the next next iPhone!) The ultrawide camera on the 13 might get better low-light performance and a faster aperture lens. Currently, the lens on the ultrawide is f2.4, but the new lens could be f1.8, which certainly would help toward improving low-light performance.
In terms of camera hardware, the iPhone 13, especially the regular Pro model, could use these rumored upgrades.
The iPhone 13 could get an under-the-display fingerprint reader. Since the first Android phone came out with an in-screen fingerprint reader, people speculated that an under-the-display Touch ID sensor would be a way to alleviate the frustration some get using Face ID (and this was before the pandemic made face masks an everyday thing).
If the iPhone 13 gets an in-screen fingerprint reader, it's not clear whether this would replace Face ID or be in addition to it. The rumor also suggests along with a 2019 patent illustration Apple filed that the iPhone could be unlocked with a fingerprint touch anywhere on the screen instead of the single sensor location found currently on Android phones.
If Apple could get ultrasonic sensors to a point of reliability, ease of use and dependability like the old-school Touch ID sensor found on the iPhone SE, it's not hard to imagine them on an iPhone. And if Touch ID is paired with Face ID, you could have even more ways to secure and access your phone. Having an alternative biometric security measure is something the iPhone needs.
The next iPhone could record portrait mode video. You might be familiar with portrait mode, which lets you take a photo and give the picture an artistic, blurry background. The idea is it replicates what a large sensor mirrorless or DSLR camera can do with a fast aperture lens. On the iPhone, portrait mode is limited to photos, but there are several Android phones -- like the Samsung Galaxy line, which can record portrait mode video (or live focus video) -- that can blur out the background while leaving your subject in focus. In my experience, the results are hit or miss.
It's exciting to think what Apple could do with portrait mode video and how it handles all the processing needed to separate the foreground and blur the background. The rumor also points to the ability to change the depth of field (the amount of background that is blurred) after a video is already shot. It would be especially cool if it also included Apple's portrait lighting looks and the ability to edit those after the fact. Though as fun as portrait mode video would be, it's not something the iPhone needs. The release of iOS 15 beta includes new FaceTime video call features like portrait mode. I feel like that is basically a confirmation that Portrait Mode video is absolutely possible and I'm hopeful it will be available on the next iPhone.
The last rumor I want to highlight is another camera feature. The iPhone 13 might get a better astrophotography mode. Currently, you can mount the iPhone on a tripod and, in the darkest conditions, extend the night mode capture to up to 30 seconds. Under the right sky and weather, you can capture a decent photo of a starry sky. But when you see what the Google Pixel can do in terms of astrophotography, it leaves a lot to be desired on the iPhone.
If this rumor is true, maybe astrophotography still gets activated in night mode, but you can extend time more than 30 seconds or use computational photography to capture a better night sky or moon? This could be another feature that lives only on "Pro" models the way Apple ProRaw currently does. This is not a needed feature, but it would be a nice one to have.