iPhone 13 rumors: 7 biggest upgrades we expect

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 13 Pro
(Image credit: EverythingApplePro)

The iPhone 13 should be announced September 14 at the Apple event, and based on the latest rumors, there's probably lots of people wondering if the new iPhones will be worth the upgrade. 

We can’t answer the latter question until we do our own iPhone 13 review, but we have lots of reports and leaks that have combined to offer a pretty clear picture of what to expect from the new iPhone 13 lineup.

In fact, some of the rumors are fairly last minute, including the possibility of satellite connectivity. And we’re hearing that the iPhone 13 could possibly cost more this time around due to raising production costs.

Here are the 7 biggest iPhone 13 features and upgrades we’ve heard about thus far, not including obvious things like a faster A15 Bionic chip

iPhone 13 satellite communications

iPhone 13 LEO satellite communications

The iPhone 13 is tipped to feature satellite connectivity, which would tap into low earth orbit satellites. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Here’s an iPhone 13 leak we didn’t see coming. According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the iPhone 13 will feature satellite communications via a custom version of the Qualcomm X60 modem and a possible collaboration with Globalstar. Once enabled, the feature would allow users to make calls and text without the need of a cellular connection. This would come in very handy, and maybe even save lives for those who are out of range of traditional cell towers. 

While satellite connectivity sounds compelling, it's unclear how extensive this support will be. According to Bloomberg, Apple could be planning to use the iPhone's ability to connect to satellite as part of plans to enable an emergency alert system where you'll be able to send messages to contacts and emergency services when a cellular connection isn't available.

Follow-up reports say that the iPhone 13 satellite communications could be limited to select markets and in areas without any cellular coverage. But it would still be a good feature to have. 

Face ID that works with masks

iPhone 13 face ID masks

A render of a prototype testing unit for new Face ID tech that could detect masks.  (Image credit: FrontPageTech)

While we're bummed that Apple reportedly won't offer in-screen Touch ID on the iPhone 13, there could be another solution. FrontPageTech's Jon Prosser reports that  Apple is testing out revamped Touch ID hardware that would be able to work with masks. There's no guarantee that this tech will be ready in time for the iPhone 13 launch, but it's encouraging that Apple is at least working on a solution as the CDC recommends that even vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in most of the U.S. 

iPhone 13 Pro 120Hz displays

iPhone 13 Pro

(Image credit: Concept Creator)

For several months we've been seeing rumors about the iPhone 13 finally adopting a 120Hz display, which would enable smoother scrolling and overall performance. We're also anticipating that Apple would optimize a number of games in Apple Arcade to take advantage of the higher refresh rate.

The bad news is that this upgrade is reportedly limited to the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, with the ProMotion name being used to describe the feature. We really hope this rumor isn't true, as the best Android phones under $500 offer fast-refreshing displays, but we'll have to see. Maybe the iPhone 13 will go up to 120Hz but the ProMotion panels on the Pro models will be able to scale down further to save battery life. 

iPhone 13 cameras portrait mode video and astrophotography

iPhone 13 Pro Max

(Image credit: EverythingApplePro)

iPhone 13 cameras are tipped for a number of hardware upgrades, including sensor-shift stabilization on all four models and an improved ultra-wide lens on the iPhone 13 Pro models with auto-focus. There could also be a folded optical zoom lens on the iPhone 13 Pro and/or Pro Max.

But I'm more excited about the rumored computational photography upgrades for the new iPhones, including portrait mode video and astrophotography. Portrait mode video isn't new, as it's found on flagships like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but the iPhone generally takes better portraits than Samsung's phones, so I'm excited to see how Apple can make the bokeh effect compelling in video.

Astrophotography could be an even bigger deal, as iPhones have struggled shooting the night sky for years. I find it extremely difficult to get a good photo of the moon, so it would be nice to see more attention paid to this special breed of night-time shots.

Always-on displays

iPhone 13 always-on display concept

iPhone 13 always-on display concept (Image credit: A Better Computer/YouTube)

To manage your expectations, this could be yet another iPhone 13 feature that's limited to the Pro models, as it could require a 120Hz display to work best. Regardless, it's notable that the iPhone 13 series could finally offer an always-on display, which would reportedly enable you to check the time, battery status and possibly notifications without fully turning on the screen. This would presumably save you battery life.

Depending on how Apple implements always-on displays on the iPhone 13, it could simply be a lower power state and show you everything your typical lock screen does but with lower brightness. Or Apple could go a step further than the competition and offer widgets in always-on display mode. But we'll have to see how Apple would roll out a feature that's been on Galaxy phones for ages. 

iPhone 13 smaller notch

iPhone 13 notch vs iPhone 12

(Image credit: DuanRui)

Yes, I wish the iPhone's notch was going away completely, but it's nice to know that Apple could be reducing the iPhone 13 notch by up to 25%. This will reportedly be accomplished via more compact TrueDepth sensors and Apple potentially moving the speaker away from the notch area and further up on the phone. 

The notch has been an eyesore since the iPhone X launched in 2017, but I believe it's been worth the trade-off because of just how well Touch ID works. Believe me, as the face recognition on phones like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is slow and shaky at best. Still, I'm glad that we could be getting a bit more screen real estate back. 

Bigger batteries and longer battery life

iPhone 12 Pro Max review MagSafe

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 12 battery life results did not exactly impress us, with the exception of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, so we're happy to report that all four new iPhone 13 models are tipped for bigger batteries. This should result in longer endurance.

For example, the iPhone 13 mini is tipped to feature a 2,406 mAh battery, up from 2,227 mAh on the 12 mini , while the regular iPhone 13 would go from 2,815 to 3,095 mAh. The same thing goes for the iPhone 13 Pro, which is expected to have the same size 6.1-inch display. Lastly, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is said to be jumping from 3,687 mAh to 4,352 mAh. So we expect at least the Pro Max to make our best phone battery life list. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.