Why Apple's iPhone 11 Pro is the safest iPhone yet

With a design that's going on three years and features that rivals have had for a while, it's hard to get excited.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Roger Cheng
Shara Tibken
7 min read

The iPhone 11 Pro features three cameras, but no 5G. 

Apple; screenshot by CNET

The checklist of new features in Apple's iPhone 11 Pro reads like a rundown of been there, done that. Three cameras? Huawei put them on the Mate 20 last year. A special low-light mode? Google's Night Sight for the Pixel 3 did it first a year ago.

Then there's 5G, or the lack thereof. While Samsung, Huawei, OnePlus and a host of other manufacturers are talking up the next generation of wireless technology, Apple remains silent on that front.

Watch this: Apple reveals iPhone 11 Pro with 3 cameras

All of it adds up to new phones that feel like obligatory upgrades, rather than something worth waiting in line for at a store. And after three years of Apple using essentially the same front notch design, it's hard to get pumped up for the new iPhones.

This is nothing new. Excitement over smartphones has been waning for years. But the iPhone 11 Pro's incremental upgrade caps off a listless year for phones.

Let's face it, things have been grim. Sales have been on the decline through the first half, according to Gartner. Consumers soured on the ever-more pricey category of premium phones. A lot of the innovation has been around adding a camera or reducing or eliminating the notch. The one source of excitement in the industry -- phones with foldable displays -- proved to be premature, with both Samsung and Huawei delaying their respective cutting-edge phones, the Galaxy Fold and Mate X.

Watch this: 3 new iPhones, a new Apple Watch and an early surprise

Things are particularly tough for Apple, which hasn't really laid claim to a significant innovative change in a while. The company is known for taking existing trends and polishing them up, but more and more of its features ring like simple imitations of its rivals.

"Apple has not really delivered a revolutionary iPhone since the first high-speed 3G version with App Store way back in 2008," said Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Apple would, of course, beg to differ.

"These are the most powerful and stunning iPhones we've ever built," CEO Tim Cook said in his keynote presentation on stage at the iPhone unveiling on Tuesday.

"This is the first phone we've called Pro," said Phil Schiller, head of the company's marketing. "That means it's a device that pros can count on."

And Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who has been critical of Apple's iPhone releases in the past, told CNET in Apple's demo room that "the new phones exceeded my expectations, by far."

Most objective observers, however, would quibble with the superlatives. There was a noticeable lack of risk-taking with the new phones. It speaks to the balance Apple must maintain given the huge volumes of phones it sells. When you're producing more than 200 million iPhones a year, even minor changes like new features create massive waves in the manufacturing chain.  

But that's cold comfort for Apple fans expecting the latest and greatest. It's become a common refrain: Just wait until next year for the big iPhone upgrades. 

Watch this: iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are packed with camera features

No 5G, but 3 cameras

Apple focused much of its attention on the biggest change in the new iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max: a square module on the back that houses three cameras. The first two are the standard lens and a 2X telephoto lens found in previous iPhones -- both 12 megapixels -- while the third is a new 12MP ultra wide-angle lens with a 120-degree field of view. 

The three lenses let the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max shoot what Schiller said are professional-level photos. 

"It's the first camera system that's called Pro," Schiller said. "And it's really worthy of that name."

Apple Event: See the iPhone 11 and Apple Watch Series 5

See all photos

While Apple touts this as the best camera ever, keep in mind that rivals were already jamming more cameras into their phones a year ago. Huawei packed four cameras into its P30 Pro phone. Heck, startup HMD added five cameras to its Nokia 9 PureView phone.

Apple, however, said it coordinates all three cameras so they're optimized to work together and see minimal shifts in exposure and lighting. The company also touts the ability to shoot multiple feeds of the same video using the three cameras. 

Beyond the cameras, Apple also touted the bigger battery on the iPhone 11 Pro, which will offer four more hours than the iPhone XS. The iPhone 11 Pro Max gives you five more hours. The phones have a stainless steel band and a glass back and a sharper Super Retina XDR display. 

The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $999 (£1,049, AU$1,749) and the IPhone 11 Pro Max starts at $1,099 (£1,149, AU$1,899). 

The new iPhone 11, which replaces last year's relatively affordable iPhone XR, has both a standard and ultrawide lens, as well as a 12 megapixel front-facing camera with its own wider range of view (when you tilt it horizontally). 

The iPhone 11 costs $699 (£729, AU$1,199), or $50 less than last year's iPhone XR. 

One feature missing from the iPhones is 5G. Though the lack of 5G doesn't matter as much now -- networks are still rolling out and the coverage around the world has been inconsistent -- it'll be more in demand as we enter 2020. By spring, we'll see manufacturers come out with their second generation of phones running on 5G. At that point, a lot of the network issues will get smoothed out as the carriers ramp up coverage.

IDC says 2019 will be a challenging year for Apple's iOS platform, which is expected to see its market share ebb slightly. On the other hand, Android is expected to grow a bit because of 5G.

"We don't think 5G will be the savior in smartphones, but we do see it as a critical evolution in mobile technology," said IDC analyst Ryan Reith.

But the iPhone 11 Pro does come in green.

iPhone 11 Pro in Midnight Green isn't as ugly as you've heard

See all photos

Apple Watch's focus on safety

When the smartwatch launched, it was considered another electronic accessory for the tech enthusiast. 

My, how things have changed. Apple spent its presentation talking up the safety aspects of the Apple Watch Series 5, including new health research projects focusing on hearing, women's health and the heart. The newest Watch will be able to make emergency calls internationally even if you don't have your iPhone paired to it. 


The Apple Watch is focused on the health aspects. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Apple spent the bulk of the time talking about how the older Apple Watches have changed people's lives. The Series 4 included fall detection and an EKG monitor for the heart, and the company showed a video with testimonials. 

"Hearing these stories really makes my heart sing," Cook said. "And these are just a few of the amazing stories I get every day."

Apple focused on what you can do with the new Series 5 Watch, since the physical design remains unchanged beyond a new titanium finish. 

The lack of big changes won't deter some consumers from snapping up these products. After all, iPhones move at a volume most rivals would die for, and the Apple Watch is the dominant wearable in the market. Ultimately, it's the seamless integration of its hardware with its software that's set it apart from the pack.

A new affordable iPad

The biggest design change arguably came in the new, seventh-generation iPad. The base model iPad will have a larger, 10.2-inch display, compared with the prior model's 9.7-inch screen. It'll also get the faster A10 Fusion chip, support for Apple Pencil and a smart connector for a keyboard cover. 


The new iPad offers a bigger display at the same price. 

James Martin/CNET

The move breaks from Apple's longtime embrace of the 9.7-inch display, which the original iPad sported. 

Apple said the iPad will sell for $329 (£349, AU$529), the same price as the sixth-generation base iPad (though it's often sold at a lower price at other retailers). The education discount puts it at $299, but Apple will continue to struggle to compete against less-expensive rivals.

"I applaud Apple in improving its game on multitasking features, but I don't believe it will move the needle at $329 versus lower-priced Windows notebooks or Chromebooks," said Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead. 

Watch this: First look at Apple's 10.2-inch iPad

Shift to subscriptions 

The gleam of Hollywood and the promise of subscription dollars flowing in every month may've drawn Apple's attention from its core hardware business. The company kicked off the event talking up Apple TV Plus and Apple Arcade, which it formally introduced in March.

After the brief tease of shows and games in March, Apple showed off more of its content on Tuesday.

Watch this: Apple shows more of See starring Jason Momoa

Apple showed off a new trailer for See, a sci-fi series featuring Aquaman's Jason Mamoa in a world where everyone has lost their vision. Apple Arcade's segment featured three new games, including a music and racing game called Sayonara Wild Hearts. Apple TV Plus will cost $4.99 and launch Nov. 1, while the gaming service will cost $4.99 and launch Sept. 19.

To get people aboard with its video service, Apple said anyone buying a new iPhone, iPad or Mac will get a year of Apple TV Plus for free. It's clear why Apple needs to get aggressive. There's a slew of companies offering streaming video, including giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime. But the Cupertino, California, company is feeling confident because of its massive installed base.

"They're in billions of pockets, y'all," Oprah Winfrey said on stage at the March event.

Those iPhones are for now, but Apple can't take it for granted. After two years of modest upgrades over the wholly different iPhone X, the company needs to prove it can still shake things up.

Maybe it'll happen next year. But where have we heard that before?