What iOS 16 can tell us about the iPhone 14

Last week Apple has previewed iOS 16, the next major version of iPhone software. The new operating system works on iPhone 8 and newer and will likely be launched this fall alongside the heavily rumored iPhone 14† iOS 16 is packed with new, in-demand features and tools, such as the ability to customize your lock screen or edit sent messages† It may also reveal some clues about the iPhone 14 – if you look closely enough.

While Apple told us a lot about new features for current iPhones, it didn’t specifically say what to expect from the iPhone 14. That’s not surprising; Apple never discusses new products before announcing them. Sometimes the company reserves certain software announcements for its annual iPhone event so that it can debut these features as exclusive to the latest iPhone.

For example, Cinematic Mode was absent from Apple’s iOS 15 announcement and instead launched in the fall as an iPhone 13 feature. But if you look closely, there were some subtle hints in iOS 15. Since Apple’s launch Portrait mode for FaceTime calls in iOS 15it’s easy to imagine Apple making a portrait mode for video recording – which is essentially what movie mode is.

iOS 16 doesn’t seem to be any different. Several features seem to have the potential to hint at what to expect from the iPhone 14 series. One of these clues is actually buried in the code for iOS 16.

The iPhone 14 may have an always-on screen

I was disappointed to see that Apple hasn’t added an always-on display to iOS 16† It’s a handy feature that can be found on plenty of Android phones and even the Apple Watch. An always-on display shows basic information like the time or weather while your phone is sleeping. Instead of lighting up your entire screen like your lock screen does, an always-on screen only activates part of the screen to save power. It is a great convenience and would make the iPhone more eye-friendly.

The publication 9to5Mac claims to have discovered several references in iOS 16 that suggest that support for an always-on display could be in the future of the iPhone. The blog found references to backlight management tools and hidden flags for technicians to test the feature on an iPhone 13 Pro.

always on display

The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro has an always-on display that shows the date, time, battery life and an astronaut avatar.

Sareena Dayaram/CNET

But always-on display support may be limited as the display’s refresh rate would have to drop to 10 Hz or even lower to consume less power; well below the typical 60Hz refresh rate of the normal iPhone. The always-on display for the Apple Watch runs at 1 Hz, which is not supported on any current iPhone (the 13 Pro can go as low as 10 Hz) and could mean it debuts on the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max since it would probably need new hardware.

Even without these clues in the code, the redesigned and customizable lock screen also hints at an always-on display. In particular, the way iOS 16 notifications are displayed at the bottom of the screen makes me wonder if Apple is experimenting with ways to conserve screen space. That’s important for an always-on screen, because that feature only uses specific areas of the screen to save power.

The new iOS 16 lock screen widgets are another possible clue, as they are more like Apple Watch complications and therefore more visible. Some Android phones have similar widgets on their own always-on screens.

At WWDC, Apple showed someone tap and hold the dog on a photo and lift it off the background to share in a message. It is part of a revamped Visual Lookup.


Visual Lookup Could Mean More Powerful Movie Mode

One of the more subtle features of iOS 16 is the revamped Visual Lookup that can identify objects, people, pets, and landmarks in photos and provide additional information or context. A handy addition this year is the ability to tap a photo to remove the background. You can literally tap a subject in the foreground, such as a person or a dog, away from the background and add the “crop” to other apps to share or create a collage.

I could see the movie mode getting a boost from the machine learning that makes it happen the new Visual Lookup tool for tap and lift† That acceleration of machine learning coupled with a likely new A16 Bionic chip could make Cinematic mode videos look better. Subjects can be “cropped out” more reliably and backgrounds have a more consistent, out-of-focus appearance. Apple could also use the separation technology to make Cinematic Mode do more things similar to Portrait mode, such as replacing the background with a black color or placing your subject against a white background.

Movie mode made its debut on the iPhone 13 series and is basically Apple’s take on a portrait mode for video. While Cinematic mode is incredibly fun to use, the results can be hit and miss. It’s reminiscent of when Apple introduced portrait mode with the iPhone 7 Plus: it worked initially, but it wasn’t great. Over a number of years, Apple has improved portrait mode to the point where it’s actually pretty awesome.

A Pro Mode for the Camera App

Without reading a single rumor, you might guess that the cameras on the iPhone 14 series will be better than those on the iPhone 13 series. Many of those improvements are likely to come from computational photography-powered features like SmartHDR and Deep Fusion, which are directly related to the chip that powers the phone. So an iPhone 14 running on an A16 chip would theoretically have new camera features or improved photo processing techniques that the iPhone 13 doesn’t.

Apple’s addition of a customizable lock screen in iOS 16 gives me hope for an overhaul of the Camera app on the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max. New professional features like ProRaw and ProRes video capture can make the Camera app’s interface feel a bit cramped. Perhaps there’s a Pro mode that can be toggled on and off that offers shortcuts to adjust camera settings on the fly. Or maybe Apple is cleaning up the Camera app’s interface to make it more visually appealing.

Apple ProRes switch shown on the display of an iPhone 13 Pro

Apple ProRes debuted in 2021 on the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone still has one of the best camera apps on any phone sold today. But just as a family can outgrow a home, the number of features and modes begins to grow beyond the app’s original intent.

This is all speculation, of course, and we won’t know anything about the next iPhone until Apple announces it. But if there’s one certainty, it’s that it will run iOS 16.