Lots of small changes add up in the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus


— 3:01 PM on September 9, 2015

Apple capped today's presentation in San Francisco by revealing the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, the latest takes on its smash-hit smartphone formula. As is usually the case with iPhone "S" models, these phones aren't a huge departure from last year's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but the company made a mountain of small changes that should make the iPhone experience better.

First and foremost is a new input method called "3D Touch." Sort of like the Force Touch trackpad on Apple's MacBook notebooks, 3D Touch is a force-sensitive combination of hardware and software features that allows the iPhone 6S to respond to varying levels of pressure on its screen.

On the hardware side, 3D Touch uses a network of pressure sensors that measure the minute changes in distance between the screen's glass and the phone's backlight. The Taptic Engine haptic-feedback system makes an appearance here, as well, and it's been tuned to provide extremely precise bursts of vibration in milliseconds.

iOS 9 takes advantage of 3D Touch with several new gestures. "Peeks" open a preview of an email or photo with a light touch, while "pops" expand that preview into the more traditional, deeper view that users would expect of email and photo apps. 3D Touch also has uses outside of apps. On the iOS home screen, peeks will bring up a menu of quick actions, like "Take Selfie" for the Camera app.

The iPhone 6S camera gets a boost to 12MP, too. Apple says it's counteracted the typical degradations of image quality associated with increasing pixel densities by moving the color filters on each pixel closer to each photo site's surface, and it's also employed a technology called "deep trench isolation" to reduce crosstalk between photo sites. The increase in pixel density means there are more "Focus Pixels," too, which should improve autofocus performance. While it's hard to judge photo quality on a low-quality live stream, Apple's attempts to maintain image quality make sense, and the example photos did look good.

The iPhone 6S brings 4K video recording to the table, as well. Paired with the updated A9 SoC, which is supposed to be up to 70% faster than the iPhone 6's A8 chip, Apple is confident that owners will find more than enough power under the hood to handle 4K capture and editing, all on the iPhone. Selfie hounds will also be pleased to find that the iPhone's screen will now serve as a color-balanced flash when using the 5MP front shooter.

The outer shells of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are made from Apple's own alloy of 7000-series aluminum, and the screen cover is now made from sheets of the company's proprietary ion-exchange glass. A fourth color, "rose gold," joins the lineup alongside space gray, gold, and silver finishes.

On-contract prices remain the same as the iPhone 6: $199 to start for the 16GB iPhone 6S, and $299 for the 16GB 6S Plus. 64GB models will cost $299 and $399, while 128GB models top out at $399 and $499. That 16GB starting storage tier is starting to look paltry in the face of 4K video, and Apple also didn't disclose whether it's given the RAM spec a bump in either model. Fingers crossed.

Pre-orders for the latest iPhones will begin September 12, and shipments will begin September 25.

   
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