Apple’s iPhone 14 puts safety first as financial downturn bites

Firm turns to features such as car crash detection and ‘no bars’ rescues rather than exciting new designs

The latest versions of Apple’s most important product of the year, the all-conquering iPhone, was unveiled with typical pomp on Wednesday to a willing global audience of millions. Its marquee feature: safety, in the flashy new emergency satellite communications but also in iterative design and minor upgrades.

One look at the iPhone 14 evokes a feeling of déjà-vu. It has the same design introduced two years ago with the iPhone 12, with minor upgrades. In a first for Apple, it even has the same A15 chip as last year’s 13 Pro.

Only the Pro line gets a faster chip – but it, too, looks on paper to be playing catchup. Its key selling points, an always-on display to constantly show the time and notifications and a new 48-megapixel camera, have been mainstays of the Android world for years.

The most radical thing was the ditching of the “mini” model in favour of a larger “Plus” version. With sales of smaller phones down 35% last year according to data from IDC, it is no wonder. And for those in the UK, there is the sting of a price hike owing to the weak pound.

The iPhone 14 and 14 Pro models can phone the emergency services in the advent of a car crash and send SOS via satellite when out of signal range.
The iPhone 14 and 14 Pro models can phone the emergency services in the advent of a car crash and send SOS via satellite when out of signal range. Photograph: Apple

Apple certainly isn’t the only one playing safe. Samsung’s main S-line of phones changed little this year. With more buyers looking to keep their phones for as long as possible, extended software support and device durability become more important than changes for the sake of novelty.

But Apple’s pitch has changed in a year dominated by testing financial times. The iPhone 14 is no longer fun and exciting: it is essential, both in daily life and in an emergency. It now detects if you’ve had a car crash and phones the emergency services. And if you get stranded in the middle of nowhere without a signal it can contact rescue services through satellites in the US and Canada, finally ending the “no bars” horror movie trope.

The story is similar for Apple’s smartwatches. The Series 8 played up health and safety, with car crash detection and myriad stories of it being a lifesaver.

These safety features build on Apple’s established reputation for security and privacy, an investment that should not be underestimated, said Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight. “It will likely have taken Apple years to put all the pieces of the puzzle in place, including a commercial agreement with satellite provider Globalstar and the creation of the infrastructure needed to pass messages to the emergency services.”

Apple Watch going Ultra

The Apple Watch Ultra on a display stand.
Apple’s beefed-up, rugged new aspirational smartwatch looks to challenge in a market dominated by adventure watch makers. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Arguably the biggest announcement of the night was a new “Ultra” version of the Apple Watch. This beefed-up smartwatch is aimed squarely at the leader of the adventure market, Garmin. It certainly looks the part: larger, hardier, but still with Apple’s slick presentation and big-watch luxury pricing. It is pitched at endurance athletes, mountain climbers, divers and other adventurers. Its key selling points are another button and brighter screen.

“The Ultra provides a new aspirational flagship tier for Apple Watch that will compete with sports watch brands like Garmin, as well as some luxury Swiss watchmakers which have marketed their watches around extreme sports,” said Leo Gebbie, a principal analyst at CCS Insight.

However, the Ultra is missing one key ingredient: battery life. The headline figures were 36 hours on battery now, but up to 60 hours with a low-power mode coming later. Read the fine print and that’s general usage for 36 hours, including a 60-minute workout, or up to 15 hours of low-power activity tracking.

That pales in comparison with Garmin’s multi-week smartwatch usage. Its popular Fenix 7 lasts up to 136 hours of activity tracking or up to 40 days in its low-power expedition mode. Whether most users need that long is debatable, but endurance athletes and adventurers are some of the few that probably do.


Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
iOS 16 release: everything you need to know about Apple’s big update
Free software upgrades for iPhone and Watch that revamp the lockscreen, add new watchfaces, can unsend messages and more due for release

Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

12, Sep, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
iOS 15 release: everything you need to know about Apple’s big update
Free software upgrades for iPhone, iPad and Watch improve notifications, Safari, FaceTime and more due for release

Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

20, Sep, 2021 @10:43 AM

Article image
Tim Cook looks to ignite smartwatch market with launch of Apple Watch
BMW app, 18-carat gold casing, launched with the help of a supermodel – Apple moves further into luxury market with the launch of its first smartwatch

Stuart Dredge

10, Mar, 2015 @9:18 AM

Article image
How waterproof are the iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7 and smartwatches?
Will your device survive trip down the toilet? What does ‘IP67’ actually mean, and how do smartphones fare against waterproof watches?

Samuel Gibbs

08, Sep, 2016 @1:01 PM

Article image
Apple iOS 14: new features coming to iPad and iPhone
Firm announces latest innovations including for iPad and watch at US conference

Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

22, Jun, 2020 @6:46 PM

Article image
Nine things we learned from Apple's monster financial results
Apple Watch to debut in April, iPhone sales have doubled in China, one billionth iOS device sold in November and more

Stuart Dredge, Samuel Gibbs and Alex Hern

28, Jan, 2015 @11:55 AM

Article image
From the new iPhone to Mario on mobile: the key points from Apple's conference
Apple launched a new iPhone that comes with improved processor, cameras and no headphone jack, along with a new Apple Watch Super Mario Run to launch with new iPhone
Apple Watch series 2: GPS and waterproofingApple unveils new iPhone without headphone jack

Jemima Kiss and Samuel Gibbs

08, Sep, 2016 @7:27 AM

Article image
Readers predict the new iPhone: no more headphone jack and new Apple Watch
According to our readers, there will be dual cameras and colours for the iPhone, a new iPad and the Apple Watch will gain GPS – but you can forget about seeing an Apple car anytime soon

Samuel Gibbs

07, Sep, 2016 @4:13 PM

Article image
Tim Cook: iPhones that will drive people to upgrade are on their way
Apple CEO says fears over company’s future are a ‘huge overreaction’ and claims in a few years the Apple Watch will be viewed as an overnight success

Samuel Gibbs

03, May, 2016 @10:53 AM

Article image
Rumours abound over Apple’s ‘far out’ iPhone 14 launch
When new versions are unveiled this week only ‘pro’ models will get chip upgrade, analyst reports

Alex Hern UK technology editor

04, Sep, 2022 @3:38 PM