iPhone year in review, 2023: The biggest year since iPhone X?

An iPhone 15 Pro Max against an abstract multi-colored retro background.
(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future / Apple)

The iPhone, as predictable as it is, remains a product worth getting excited about year after year. It’s not that we necessarily expect huge headline updates, but with many of us on a regular upgrade program, we can’t wait to see what we’ll be carrying in our pocket for the next year.

In terms of both the iPhone and iOS, 2023 has been a very, very big year. While many of the headline features of the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro lineups are essentially incremental improvements to last year’s cameras and processor, they’re such big jumps that it’s hard not to look back and be impressed.

Equally, iOS 17 is a grab bag of small updates that coalesce to touch just about every aspect of the experience.

With this in mind, here's our rundown of the iPhone in 2023 and how it fared.

Hardware

An iPhone 15 Pro Max against an abstract multi-colored retro background.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future / Apple)

Last year’s surprises mainly arrived in the form of the Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models, and this year the island saw a new influx of users as it rolled out to iPhone 15 and 15 Plus models, too.

It remains a surprisingly whimsical addition that also helps relegate the notch to, well, just the MacBook.

Aside from the Dynamic Island, the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus camera systems are similar to last year’s Pro models, meaning there’s now that much bigger 48MP sensor and the ability to adjust portrait focus after a photo has been taken.

We also saw the long, long-awaited arrival of USB-C on iPhone, meaning it’s finally time to retire the Lightning cables we’ve amassed over the years.

Much of the same applies to the 15 Pro lineup, which shifted over to a Titanium design that’s not a great deal lighter, but it’s noticeable nonetheless.

The cameras are also phenomenal, but the really big upgrade is in the performance which brings hardware-accelerated ray tracing to iPhone for incredible visuals in games. The A17 Pro is just a monster for pretty much anything.

All in all, it’s possibly the biggest iPhone year since the iPhone X changed the game back in 2017, and while it’s not quite as drastic an overhaul as that, it’s a great year to upgrade your device.

Software

SmartGym in iOS 17

(Image credit: SmartGym)

iOS is such a mature platform that it’s tricky to think of ‘big ticket’ upgrades Apple can introduce. As a result, this year was a year of refinement, but one that we find ourselves at iMore, very happy with.

Even the Phone app received upgrades with iOS 17. Adding FaceTime voicemail messages has been long-awaited, but having voicemail transcribed on the fly still feels a little like magic a few months on.

Standby Mode remains something the team uses almost every day, either to show photos as a slideshow or to glance at the to-do list in Things 3.

Interactive widgets are great in iOS 17, but sometimes you feel like you want to tap it to open the app in question instead — not to accidentally tick something off a to-do list for instance.

One of the best updates, although relatively minor, was the general tidying up of iMessage. With stickers, iMessage apps, and more, it had started to get more than a little full. It’s still got all of those features, but it’s vastly slicker now.

Finally, Apple promised a new Journal app, and it arrived in iOS 17.2, released in December. It's a great way of logging your thoughts and feelings — but the app still feels like early days. We're going to have to spend more time with Journal to see how it helps us in the coming days and weeks.


In conclusion

This year was a big one for the iPhone, both in terms of hardware and software. Aside from the hardware potential offered by the A17 Pro on the 15 Pro and Pro Max, the base iPhone 15 saw big improvements that have it rivaling last year’s iPhone 14 Pro.

Combine that with a bunch of small improvements in iOS 17, and it’s a great time to have an iPhone.

Lloyd Coombes
Contributor

Lloyd Coombes is a freelance writer with a specialism in Apple tech. From his first, hand-me-down iMac, he’s been working with Apple products for over a decade, and while he loves his iPhone and Mac, the iPad will always have his heart for reasons he still can’t quite fathom.

Since moving from blogging to writing professionally, Lloyd’s work can be found at TechRadar, Macworld, TechAdvisor and plenty more.

He’s also the Editor in Chief at GGRecon.com, and on the rare occasion he’s not writing you’ll find him spending time with his son, or working hard at the gym (while wearing an Apple Watch, naturally). You can find him on Twitter @lloydcoombes.