15 things we learned at Apple's September 2023 event

Tim Cook at Apple HQ
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple's September 2023 event was a classic of the type. Relatively taut and tight, with just six key product announcements and a run-time of a little under 90 minutes, but with plenty to sink our teeth into.

Each of the four phone reveals - iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max - served up a plethora of new features and welcome upgrades, while the two Apple Watch unveilings were hardly lacking in notable moments, either. 

So, where to start? We've rounded up all the key info in one place. Read it and you'll be an instant Apple event expert. And if you want the full story on what happened, also check out our Apple event 2023 live blog

1. The iPhone 15 got the upgrade it deserved

The iPhone 15 in five shades

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPhone 14 could have felt a little cheated last year (if it was sentient rather than a bunch of metal and glass). After all, it received relatively few new features compared to the Pro models, meaning the gap between them widened, leaving people with no compelling reason to upgrade.

Well, that's all changed with the iPhone 15. The headlines are that it has a new 48MP main camera (up from 12MP) and that it gets the Dynamic Island on the screen (bringing it in line with the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max), but there are plenty of other treats in store for prospective new owners.

The change to USB-C is welcome, obviously, while the increase in screen brightness to a maximum of 2,000 nits shouldn't be overlooked; this is the kind of quality-of-life update that will really matter. There's also new color-infused rear glass (which looks lovely on the pink model in particular) plus a softer, curvier design and a processor boost to the A16 Bionic. 

In short: the iPhone is back in business, baby.

2. The iPhone 15 Plus is a better buy than you think

The iPhone 14 Plus is an underrated gem, and Apple’s iPhone 15 Plus fixes a lot of the flaws that held back last year's model. 

It’s got that new form factor with the Dynamic Island; there’s a new 48MP main camera which enables optical-quality telephoto imagery; and the battery life (already amazing) is getting even longer: Apple really cooked with this one.

3. Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro was… also there

iPhone 15 Pro Max action button

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple also launched an iPhone 15 Pro at this event, but it's hard to get quite so excited about that model. This is a straight upgrade over the iPhone 14 Pro, with nothing major to call attention to itself beyond the new Action button (see below). 

Now, we’re not complaining - the iPhone 14 Pro was an excellent phone - but compared to that, all the iPhone 15 Pro is getting is USB-C and the new A17 Pro chipset. Those are good features, to be certain, but this is ultimately an iPhone 14 Pro Plus, if an Android phone maker were to name it.

4. The iPhone 15 Pro Max could have a camera to die for

A video showing the different focal lengths available on the iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPhone 14 Pro Max was blessed with a wonderful camera that goes head to head with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and runs a close race. So news that the iPhone 15 Pro Max has had a major camera update should leave Samsung quaking in its boots.

The headline is that it has Apple's first periscope zoom lens, which gives it a powerful 5x optical zoom equivalent to a 120mm lens. Couple that with the ability to shoot portraits at 24mm-, 28mm-, and 35mm-equivalent focal lengths and you have a very capable looking camera.

Of course, that isn't the only upgrade here - the A17 Pro chip should pack plenty of power, the move to USB-C is welcome and the Action button looks genuinely useful - but it's the cameras that will (rightly) steal the headlines.

5. The Action button could be the iPhone 15's secret weapon

Apple iPhone 15

(Image credit: Apple)

OK, maybe secret weapon is pushing it - not least because the rumor mill was talking about it months ago - but the new Action button on the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max models is definitely interesting.

It replaces the mute switch that has been found on all iPhones since the very first edition, and it promises to deliver much more functionality than that switch did. It's fully customizable, and can do everything: from running Shortcuts, to launching the camera app, turning on the flashlight, launching the Translate app, or recording a voice memo.

Yes, it sounds eerily similar to the customizable power button on Pixel phones, but integration with the Dynamic Island should make it seamless to use and a genuinely welcome addition.

6. USB-C may not be what Apple wanted, but it's welcome

Apple iPhone 15

(Image credit: Apple)

Is there any more frustrating experience than asking to borrow a charging cable from a friend and realizing that, no, their USB-C cable doesn't fit. And neither does that one. Where's the Lightning cable? Forgot it at home. Damn you, Tim Cook!

Well, no more. Apple's full iPhone 15 range has moved over to USB-C and about time. After all, iPads and MacBooks have charged via that standard for ages. Would Apple have made the change without European regulators pushing them into it? Who knows - but we're happy that it is happening.

7. The iPhone 15 colors could stand to be more colorful

iPhone 15 Pro colors

(Image credit: Apple)

Look, we’re not about to suggest Apple goes Full Google with Oh So Orange and Kinda Coral, but the company’s iPhone colors have been a little more… colorful than this. 

The iPhone 15 Pro colors are essentially inspired by 50 Shades of Gray with a splash of blue, while the regular iPhone colors are so pale you’re tempted to put sunblock on them before you go outside. 

We’ve talked about how premium smartphones have terrible color choices, but it seems like this iPhone 15 range takes that to an extreme.

8. Apple Watch 9’s double tap gestures look super-cool

The Apple Watch 9 has plenty of interesting new features, including some seriously useful screen improvements. It can get as bright as 2,000 nits and as dim as one nit, which should be a very big deal, whether in bright sunlight or a dark room.

However, there is one standout feature, and that's the new Double Tap gesture control. This can be used to control your Apple Watch without touching it, so you can answer a phone call or silence an alarm simply by double-pinching your fingers together.

Our US Editor in Chief Lance Ulanoff has already tried it - and it works. Neat!


♬ original sound - TechRadar

9. You'll never lose your iPhone again (if you own an Apple Watch 9)

Apple iPhone 15

(Image credit: Apple)

One other big new feature for the Apple Watch 9 is its upgraded Apple U2 chipset. This is the chip that enables the high-fidelity “Find My” experience and the new version has Ultra Wideband technology that gives it three times the range of the older generation. 

The upshot of all that? Well, if you've left your phone under a bag somewhere in another room, you should be able to just follow the arrows to be guided directly to it. Speaking as the father of two teenagers who are always looking, this could be a lifesaver.

10. Apple Watch 9 brings better interaction with HomePods

That same Ultra Wideband tech that Apple has introduced to the Watch 9 also brings about a benefit for HomePod owners. Namely, the ability to make a UWB link between Apple’s watch and its speakers. 

In a video clip shown during the Apple Watch 9 presentation, a user walked into a living room and audio content recommendations automatically popped up on their watch that could be handed off to a HomePod. Not exactly an earth-shaking development, but an example of how iPhone features are migrating to the Apple Watch.

11. AirPods weren't quite forgotten (but almost)

iPhone with USB-C

(Image credit: Apple)

Although it might have been a very small announcement amid all of the iPhone 15 news - several members of the TechRadar team completely missed it - AirPod owners got a much-anticipated update about the transition from Lightning to USB-C. And it looks like it won’t just be the AirPods Pro 2 that will see a new USB-C charging case, as Apple’s wired EarPods will also be switching to it. 

We haven’t heard anything about a change in cost, so we’re safe to assume that the AirPods Pro 2 and EarPods will retain their existing price tags. The updated charging ports will be available to purchase from today and will be in stores as soon as September 22. 

In addition to USB-C, Apple announced in a press release following the live event that the AirPods Pro 2 will be getting an improved IP45 rating to make them more dust resistant. We also finally heard that lossless audio would be coming to the best AirPods but with the Apple Vision Pro…

12. Apple takes the environment seriously (but also humorously)

Mother Nature at Apple

(Image credit: Apple)

One of the more offbeat segments in the Wonderlust event live stream involved a supposed Apple board meeting presided over by Mother Nature, played brilliantly by Octavia Spencer. 

This provided a couple of genuine laugh-out-loud moments (within the realms of tech events, at least), while simultaneously being a vehicle for Apple to boast about its environmental credentials. Fair play to it – because they are quite impressive, even if the 'carbon neutral' Apple Watch claims does come with asterisks.

Anyway, among the announcements today, Apple said it will never again use leather in its Apple Watch bands; the Apple Watch 9 will be its first carbon-neutral product; and by 2030 Apple's entire product range will have followed suit.

Oh, and it's also eliminating plastic from packaging, using 100% clean electricity, using 100% recycled cobalt and much more to boot.

Cynics may suggest that on the other hand, Apple is a company which makes mass-market products which typically need replacing every few years, and that this is the least it could be doing for the planet. But it's something - and that's better than nothing.

13. The A17 Pro could make the iPhone 15 a gaming monster 

An iPhone playing a game with the words "A17 Pro chip. A monster win for gaming" printed above.

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple's new A17 Pro chipset will almost certainly smash all mobile benchmarks when it's tested, because Apple's iPhone silicon always does. But aside from making your iPhone 15 Pro or 15 Pro Max run buttery-smooth, it also promises to serve up a fantastic gaming experience.

How? With support for hardware ray tracing in mobile games.

For the uninitiated, ray tracing makes lighting in a 3D-rendered scene look incredibly realistic, which can dramatically heighten the immersion and realism. But it takes a lot of power pull off - so the idea that a mere phone could handle it is seriously impressive.

Given the extent to which Apple already dominates the mobile gaming space, this could see the humble smartphone get ever closer to being a true gaming handheld.

14. iPhone 15 Pro’s Spatial Videos will make you a 3D movie maker – but only for the Vision Pro

When Apple launched the Vision Pro, one of its notable features was the ability to watch 3D movies – yes, you could view Avatar at home the way James Cameron intended for it to be seen.

That 3D feature must have cast a long shadow at Apple, because the new camera system for the iPhone 15 Pro line allows the phones to shoot pictures and videos in a 3D ‘Spatial Video’ format. Unsurprisingly, users will have to buy a Vision Pro to view their 3D movie creations. That’s a shame, because there are other ways to watch 3D movies, specifically by using a 4K projector that supports the format. Sigh. At least Apple has switched its iPhone line over to USB-C connectivity.

15. Apple's iPhone 15 pricing hides a secret

This year's iPhone prices are not too bad; the launch prices are all the same as their iPhone 14 equivalents in the US, and have gone down a little in the UK. You can read our full guide to the iPhone 15 prices here. 

But look a little deeper and you'd notice that the cost of the base iPhone 14 has dropped by $100 to $699 (down to £699 in the UK and AU$1,299 in Australia). And other iPhone 14 models have also come down in price. We always expect a discount on last year's model, but that's a decent cut that may well make the iPhone 14 worth considering.

And if not, well then you'd better head over to our iPhone 15 preorders page and reserve your new phone.

Marc McLaren
Global Editor in Chief

Marc is TechRadar’s Global Editor in Chief, the latest in a long line of senior editorial roles he’s held in a career that started the week that Google launched (nice of them to mark the occasion). Prior to joining TR, he was UK Editor in Chief on Tom’s Guide, where he oversaw all gaming, streaming, audio, TV, entertainment, how-to and cameras coverage. He's also a former editor of the tech website Stuff and spent five years at the music magazine NME, where his duties mainly involved spoiling other people’s fun. He’s based in London, and has tested and written about phones, tablets, wearables, streaming boxes, smart home devices, Bluetooth speakers, headphones, games, TVs, cameras and pretty much every other type of gadget you can think of. An avid photographer, Marc likes nothing better than taking pictures of very small things (bugs, his daughters) or very big things (distant galaxies). He also enjoys live music, gaming, cycling, and beating Wordle (he authors the daily Wordle today page).

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