Even as you sit here reading this, Apple is plowing ahead on the iPhone 13. In fact, if you've been paying attention to rumors about the new phone that's due out this fall, you'd get the sense that most of the big changes, like a smaller notch and fast-refreshing displays on the iPhone 13 Pro models, are already set in stone.
Most. But not all.
There's still a chance for other iPhone 13 features to emerge between now and September, features and enhancements that we haven't really heard about yet. And if Apple's still trying to find those special finishing touches to add to the iPhone 13, it doesn't have to look too far for inspiration. The just-unveiled iPad Pro 2021 offers plenty of cues for Apple to follow with its smartphones.
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To be sure, many of the big iPad Pro 2021 features are going to remain solely part of Apple's tablets. Apple is not about to start putting M1 chips inside the iPhone 13, not when there's a perfectly fast A15 Bionic processor to design. The mini-LED technology designed to make the iPad Pro's screen so much brighter isn't on tap for the iPhone, either, and I imagine we'll see the rumored portless iPhone 13 long before one of Apple's phones adds a USB-C port. (And I don't think we'll see a portless iPhone 13 at all.)
But there are a handful of features, mostly of the software variety, that iPhone 13 could adopt from the iPad Pro. Some of these changes we might even hear about next month at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. There, we'll get our first good look at iOS 15, the software that will power this fall's iPhones (as well as every iPhone from the past or five years).
It wouldn't be unheard of for Apple to take an iPad feature and bring it over to the iPhone. Take last year's iPad Pro, which introduced a LiDAR sensor to the rear camera array. It's probably not a coincidence that the iPhone 12 Pro models added LiDAR as well. And the flat edges on the iPad Pro 2020 previewed the iPhone 12's new look a few months ahead of time. Even on the software front, iPads could support picture-in-picture long before the feature arrived for iPhones with iOS 14.
So here's a wishlist of iPad Pro 2020 features (and a couple features from other Apple tablets) that would be a nice fit for the iPhone 13.
iPhone 13 and Center Stage
Just because something's an obvious feature to copy doesn't make copying it any less of a good idea. And Center Stage, introduced as part of the iPad Pro 2021 rollout last month, would be a very good addition to the next batch of iPhones.
With Center Stage, the iPad Pro's front camera can now track you as you move around, keeping you in the frame as much as possible. Should someone else move into the picture, Center Stage can track them too.
Apple touts Center Stage as a necessity for video calls — not just FaceTime, which the feature will most definitely work with, but other video chat apps you install on your tablet, too. And in this day and age, with more of us making video calls, that's a welcome addition.
Well, the iPhone also has front-facing cameras, and those could also benefit from video calls that keep you in the frame. Imagine being able to prop up your iPhone 13 and give your tired arm a rest. Center Stage will do all the hard work of tracking you as you move about. It might even be enough to make me stop dreading video calls.
More storage for the iPhone 13
The iPad Pro 2021 offers 128GB of storage in its base model. That's not exactly a change — the iPad Pro 2020 had the same base configuration. But it would be quite a new development for the iPhone 13, at least when it comes to the non-Pro models.
The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max offer 128GB of storage in their least expensive versions — really, the right amount of capacity for an entry-level model. But the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini force you to squeeze all your music, photos and files onto a 64GB device like you were living in pioneer times. Either that, or pay up for the privilege of having the same storage found in other flagship phones.
No more — Apple should follow the standard set by the iPad Pro and make 128GB the base level storage across all its phones. And if it wants to make the iPhone 13 Pro stand out from the regular iPhone 13, take another cue from the iPad Pro 2021 and offer a 1TB configuration.
Apple Pencil support for the iPhone 13
I'm old enough to remember that time when Steve Jobs dissed the notion that you would ever need a stylus for your smartphone. "God gave us 10 styluses," Jobs would say. And he's right that most of the time, a finger or two is enough to navigate your way through the iPhone and its apps.
But iPhone screens have gotten bigger since Jobs was turning his nose up at styluses, and iOS apps have gotten more sophisticated. There's a reason the Apple Pencil is such a popular add-on for Apple's tablets, particularly the iPad Pro. It allows for more precise drawing and Apple has built in a number of clever touches, like launching the Notes app when you wake up the iPad Pro, with the Pencil.
Shrink down the Apple Pencil to an iPhone-friendly size, call it the Apple Pencil Mini and make it available as an accessory for iPhone 13 users who've found that a simple finger isn't enough.
Multitasking on the iPhone 13
Adding picture-in-picture to the iPhone with last fall's iOS 14 update was a nice start, but I'd like to see Apple continue what it started with the next iPhone. Take as many iPad multitasking features as you can — split screen seems like a natural — and enable them on the iPhone 13.
Yes, tablets are better suited to multitasking than phones. But sometimes, you just want two apps running side by side so you're not toggling back and forth between recently used apps. With the exception of the iPhone 12 mini, every one of Apple's phones has a screen that's at least 6.1 inches, and those dimensions are rumored to be returning for the iPhone 13 series. That's big enough to make multitasking practical when you need to use it.
Touch ID on the power button
All right, so this isn't an iPad Pro feature at all. Instead, it's something you'll find on the iPad Air 4, and we would have hoped it would make the cut for the iPhone 12 last fall. But that doesn't mean there still isn't a need to incorporate Touch ID into future iPhones.
Face ID is a great way to unlock Apple's phone — at least when most of us aren't wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic. That's when we need a feature like Touch ID where we can use our fingerprint as another way to unlock the iPhone or make secure mobile payments.
Apple could pull this off either by adding an in-display fingerprint sensor much like the Galaxy S21 and OnePlus 9 offer. Or it could make use of the few buttons that remain on the iPhone, tasking them with pulling double-duty. The iPad Air 4 already shows us how it's done, elegantly incorporating a fingerprint sensor into the power button on the side of the tablet. Surely, that's something Apple could pull off for its future phones as well.
iPhone 13 outlook
Adopting any one of these iPad-inspired features would make the iPhone 13 a much more compelling device. Hopefully, June's WWDC will bring some hint about the changes to come. Otherwise, it's a short wait between now and the iPhone 13 launch this fall.