Apple has been switching things up a bit in recent years, but there are some patterns we can always count on. At the heart of Apple's cyclical tendencies is a late-summer iPhone release, of course, which is timed perfectly ahead of the holiday shopping season. And the timing of this year's new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR releases are particularly brilliant. The iPhone XS and XS Max are launching on schedule next Friday, but the iPhone XR won't be released until late October. Perhaps the staggered release schedule is indeed due to manufacturing issues, as had been rumored. Or perhaps Apple executives are smart enough to know that many early adopters who want the latest iPhones as soon as they're available will opt for a ridiculously expensive XS or XS Max model now as opposed to waiting for the slightly more affordable iPhone XR next month.
Before you upgrade to either phone, however, there's something important that you should consider: The iPhone you already have in your pocket right now is about to feel brand new again.
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Top smartphone makers have apparently banded together and decided that 2018 is the year of boring upgrades.
Samsung's Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ couldn't possibly have been more boring. They look exactly like last year's models and feature no compelling new features whatsoever. Spoiler alert: they're on track to become Samsung's worst-selling Galaxy S phones since 2012. The Galaxy Note 9 isn't much better, though it does include a new Bluetooth-enabled S Pen and a much larger battery.
Now Apple's new iPhone XS is here, and it is by far the smallest year-to-year upgrade we've ever seen. Performance in benchmark tests barely beats last year's iPhone X and iPhone 8, and there are no exciting new features to be excited about. That's a first for an 'S' upgrade, since Apple typically makes up for reusing the same hardware design by introducing innovative and exciting new features like Siri, Touch ID, and 3D Touch. The new iPhone XS has nothing like that.
The big change in 2018 is a larger version of the phone with a 6.5-inch OLED screen called the iPhone XS Max. It starts at $1,100 and climbs to well over $1,500 after taxes for the 512GB model. It doesn't offer any new innovations, but it has a much larger display than the 5.8-inch iPhone XS.
For people who already have an iPhone X, there is pretty much no reason to upgrade to an iPhone XS. If you want a bigger screen, the iPhone XS Max is a fine upgrade. Otherwise, the performance and camera improvements in the iPhone XS definitely do not warrant spending as much as $1,400 to upgrade.
(Full disclosure: I currently own an iPhone X and I preordered an iPhone XS. Having the best available smartphones is part of my job, and Apple's 5.8-inch phones are the perfect size for me. I wouldn't mind having a wider display, but I have no interest in going back to a phone that's basically the same size as Apple's earlier Plus models, which are far too large for most people to use comfortably with one hand.)
If you have any phone other than an iPhone X — and that includes the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus — then the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are phenomenal upgrades. Even still, you might want to wait before you pull the trigger on a preorder. Why? Because Apple's new iOS 12 software will be released to the public early next week, and it's going to make your phone feel brand new.
Issues with iOS 11 notwithstanding, Apple's iOS updates always make phones feel fresh and new to an extent, but iOS 12 is a different beast entirely. Because of all the problems Apple had with iOS 11, iOS 12 focuses mainly on improving performance as opposed to flashy new features. And believe me when I tell you, it succeeds. The upgrade from iOS 11 to iOS 12 is incredible, with speed and overall performance improvements that will blow you away. After the initial reindexing and background housekeeping stuff is done, which can take up to a day, you will be shocked at how much smoother your iPhone runs.
But wait, there's more… your battery life will improve, too! iOS 12 has tons of optimizations that make better use of resources. And the best part is there isn't a single iPhone model that is made obsolete by iOS 12. In other words, if you have an iPhone that can run iOS 11, it's also compatible with iOS 12. Even the iPhone 5s from 2013 can run iOS 12.
Since the iPhone XS is entirely about performance improvements and has no innovative new features at all, it isn't anywhere near as appealing as other new iPhones. If you've been waiting for a phone with the iPhone X's design and a larger display, then of course the iPhone XS Max is an entirely different story. If not, install iOS 12 on your current iPhone next week and take it for a spin for a few days. You'll be shocked at how great it is.