Most iPhone owners don't upgrade every year. If history is any indication, there will be a lot of iPhone 12 Pro Max owners looking to upgrade to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Here's what has changed to the top model in three years.
The amount of time an iPhone owner waits between upgrades is lengthening, with surveys pointing to a three-year wait between purchases. That's up from the previous typical upgrade cycle of every two years.
Under a three-year cycle, that would mean owners of the iPhone 12 collection will be seeking out replacement devices. For the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the obvious upgrade is to the modern-day equivalent, the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
A lot of change can happen over three years. Here's what those iPhone 12 Pro Max owners will discover when they compare their daily driver against Apple's top-of-the-range option.
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Specifications
|Specifications||iPhone 12 Pro Max||iPhone 15 Pro Max|
|Dimensions (inches)||6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29||6.29 x 3.02 x 0.32|
|Processor||A14 Bionic||A17 Pro|
|Storage||128GB, 256GB, 512GB||256GB, 512GB, 1TB|
|Display type||6.7-inch Super Retina XDR,|
|6.7-inch Super Retina XDR,|
ProMotion, always-on display
|Resolution||2,778 x 1,284 at 458ppi||2,796 x 1,290 at 460 ppi|
|Biometrics||Face ID||Face ID|
|Connectivity||5G (Sub-6GHz and mmWave)|
|5G (Sub-6GHz and mmWave)|
Ultra Wideband Gen 2
Emergency SOS via Satellite
Roadside Assistance via Satellite
|Rear Cameras||12MP Wide|
12MP Ultra Wide
12MP Telephoto with 2.5x optical zoom
12MP Ultra Wide
12MP Telephoto with 5x optical zoom
4K 60fps HDR with Dolby Vision,
1080p 240fps Slo-Mo
4K 60fps HDR with Dolby Vision,
1080p 240fps Slo-Mo
ProRes 4K 60fps with external recording,
|Front Camera||12MP TrueDepth with Autofocus||12MP TrueDepth with Autofocus|
|Battery Size (Video playback time)||Up to 20 hours||Up to 29 hours|
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Physical Dimensions
The first thing that should strike the iPhone 12 Pro Max owner is that there's not really that much difference in the physical nature of the two devices. They are similarly styled, with a glass sandwich around a central metal chassis, and a glass camera bump with the lenses all in the same place.
But even here, there are subtle changes.
For a start, the materials used to make the smartphones has changed, with the 12 using a Stainless Steel chassis while the 15 has a Titanium version. There's also the side Ring/Silent switch on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which has been switched out for the multi-functional Action Button for the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
At the bottom, the Lightning port from the 12 has been switched out for the 15's USB-C.
Looking at the dimensions, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a larger footprint than the iPhone 15 Pro Max, at 6.33 inches tall by 3.07 inches wide versus 6.29 inches by 3.02 inches. Apple did say that it had worked on shrinking the chassis of the iPhone 15 Pro Max without cutting the screen size down.
The thickness is also on the iPhone 12 Pro Max's side, with it being a svelte 0.29 inches thin, against the latest model's 0.32-inch thickness.
The Titanium comes into play with weight, with the older model at 8.03 ounces to the modern 7.81 ounces.
These are all small externally-visible changes, but it's the components that count more.
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Displays
Apple hasn't changed the physical size of the 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display over the years, but it has made some changes to the component.
Firstly, there's a tiny bit more resolution on the latest edition, at 2,796 by 1,290 pixels versus 2,778 by 1,284 pixels on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. That's a change from a pixel density of 458 pixels per inch to 460ppi.
Another missing feature on the older model is the Dynamic Island, Apple's answer to the ever-complained-about notch that sits at the top of the three-year-old smartphone. That's before you bring in ProMotion, which Apple introduced in the iPhone 13 Pro models, and continues to use in its latest Pro releases.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is also equipped with an always-on display, which the iPhone 12 Pro Max simply doesn't have.
Other elements continue to be present in both models, such as HDR support, Wide Color (P3), Haptic Touch, True Tone, and a 2 million to one contrast ratio.
Then there's brightness. The iPhone 12 Pro manages 800 nits of typical brightness, and 1,200 nits for peak brightness for HDR content.
These are high figures, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max now handles 1,000 nits of max brightness for typical usage and 1,600 nits of peak HDR brightness. It even goes up to 2,000 nits of peak brightness for outdoor usage.
Suffice it to say, Apple did a lot with the display while still keeping it looking similar to its older counterpart.
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Cameras
The camera arrangement hasn't changed for the Pro Max line in three years. But the cameras certainly have.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max has three LiDAR-assisted 12-megapixel cameras, with an f/1.6 aperture Main, f/2.4 aperture Ultra Wide, and an f/2.2 aperture Telephoto. It also used Sensor-Shift optical image stabilization.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max still uses three cameras and LiDAR, but the Main is now a 48-megapixel shooter with an f/1.78 aperture, the Ultra Wide is 12MP with an f/2.2 aperture, and the Telephoto is a 12MP camera with an f/2.8 aperture. Sensor-Shift has also been moved to the second generation.
The Main camera's massive resolution does allow for higher-resolution shots to be taken, but also for a virtual fourth camera sensor range to be used. By cropping to the sensor's center, Apple creates another 12MP camera that offers an "optical zoom" midway between the Main and Telephoto options.
That Telephoto on the iPhone 15 Pro Max has an extra trick in the form of a tetraprism lens. The system reflects light and increases the distance it must travel through the lenses, allowing Apple to push the optical zoom level further.
In effect, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has optical zooms of 0.5x (Ultra Wide), 1x (Main), and 2.5x (Telephoto). The iPhone 15 Pro Max offers 0.5x (Ultra Wide), 1x (Main), 2x (Cropped Main), and 5x (Telephoto).
Computational photography continues to be alive and well, with Deep Fusion on the 12 accompanied by the Photonic Engine on the 15. Both offer Portrait Mode with Depth Control, Portrait Lighting, Night Mode, and Apple ProRAW, but the newer model also deals with Photographic Styles and macro photography.
On to video, and both can do 4K video at 60fps, including HDR recording with Dolby Vision, and 1080p 240fps Slo-Mo, among other features. The iPhone 15 goes further in offering the 4K HDR 30fps Cinematic Mode, Action Mode, ProRes video at 4K 60fps with external recording, Log video recording, Academy Color Encoding System support and macro video.
The TrueDepth camera hasn't changed that much over the years, with Apple still using a 12MP sensor, albeit with an f/1.9 aperture in the newer model against f/2.2 in the older one. Deep Fusion is used by both, though there's the Photonic Engine on the 15.
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Processing Performance
There's been three years of chip updates in the Pro line, with the 12 using the A14 Bionic and the 14 equipped with the latest A17 Pro.
Both chips use the time-tested arrangement of two high-performance cores and four efficiency cores for the CPU. The GPU switches from a 4-core version in the 12 to a 6-core GPU with hardware-acclerated ray tracing and a dedicated AV1 decoder for streaming video.
The Neural Engine is still a 16-core component, but the newest edition in the A17 Pro can handle almost 17 trillion operations per second. That's against 11 trillion operations per second for the A14 Bionic.
We know that there is a three-generation jump to consider, which isn't easy to spell out considering that no-one's been able to use the A17 Pro in the real world yet, but it's going to be pretty obvious that there will be a bit of a difference.
According to Geekbench, the iPhone 12 Pro scores 2,048 for its single-core test and 4,667 for the multi-core result. For Metal, it manages a respectable 16,009.
The nearest equivalent we can look at for the moment would be the A16 Bionic, the A17 Pro's predecessor. It scores 2,521 for the single-core, 6,376 for the multi-core, and 22,287 for the Metal score.
There is an obvious difference between the chips, but consider that the A17 Pro should be faster than the A16. Apple says the CPU should be 10 percent faster, the GPU should see a 20-percent gain, and the Neural Engine should be twice as fast as the A16's version.
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Connectivity
There's not really been any change on the cellular connectivity side of things, with Apple supporting sub-6Ghz and mmWAVE in both of its models, as well as Gigabit LTE.
On local wireless connectivity, Apple has moved from Wi-Fi 6 to Wi-Fi 6E in three years, with Bluetooth 5.0 switched out for Bluetooth 5.3. Unless you happen to have hardware that uses these technologies, you're not really going to see much difference in everyday life.
Ultra Wideband is present in both, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max uses a second-generation chip, enabling for range and directional information about other iPhone 15 handsets with the same chip when searching in Find My. There's also Thread support in the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which is missing in the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
NFC is present in both cases, enabling Apple Pay to function.
Turning to extended range communications, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max is capable of communicating with satellites, with both Emergency SOS via satellite and Roadside Assistance via Satellite functional on the model. There's no satellite communications for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
The physical connectivity has changed significantly, with Lightning in the iPhone 12 Pro Max switched out for USB-C. This change does mean there are more power connections open to iPhone 15 Pro Max users, who can even use chargers for many Android devices that already use the connection.
There's also the bonus of data transfers, as Lightning is limited to USB 2.0 speeds, namely 480Mbps. The USB-C in the iPhone 15 Pro models can transfer at up to 10Gbps, and if you're using the camera, you can record video directly to an external drive.
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Power and Battery
As time marched on, battery technology and internal hardware designs have improved to allow Apple to include higher capacities in its devices. That, coupled with Apple's work to improve efficiency tends to result in hardware slowly getting more battery life over time.
This also holds true for the iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 15 Pro Max.
According to Apple, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 20-hour battery life for watching locally-stored video, or up to 12 hours for streamed video, and up to 80 hours of audio playback.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max soundly beats those figures, with 29 hours for local video playback, 25 hours for streamed video, and up to 95 hours for audio.
Getting power into the iPhones hasn't changed much, with MagSafe and Qi support as well as wired charging, albeit with differing connectors.
To get to a 50% charge, Apple says it can take about 30 minutes using a 20W or higher power adapter for both models.
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Other Features
Apple maintains an IP68 rating for both models, meaning they can survive a water depth of up to 6 meters (19.7 feet) for 30 minutes.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the only one of the two to have Crash Detection, a feature where the iPhone's sensors are used to determine if the user has been in a car accident. If detected, the iPhone will attempt to get assistance, unless the user stops it.
One advantage for the iPhone 12 Pro Max is that it supports dual SIMs, specifically one physical nano-SIM and one eSIM. Apple does offer the iPhone 15 Pro Max with the same nano-SIM and eSIM combo in many territories, but in some, it's only allowing dual eSIMs and doesn't offer physical sim support at all.
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Capacity, Color, and Pricing
At the time of release, the iPhone 12 Pro Max starting from $1,099, with a choice of three capacities: 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB. It can be found on Apple's Certified Refurbished page, starting from $679.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max starts at $1,199 for a 256GB capacity, the same cost as the 256GB capacity iPhone 12 Pro Max at launch. The 15 is also available in 512GB and 1TB capacities, priced at $1,399 and $1,599 respectively.
Apple sold the iPhone 12 Pro Max in a choice of four colors: Graphite, Silver, Gold, and Pacific Blue. Likewise, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is available in four colors: Natural Titanium, Blue Titanium, Black Titanium, and White Titanium.
iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max - Worth the Upgrade?
It's fair to say that there has been a lot of change in just three years for the top of Apple's iPhone product range.
In that time, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has seen its processing performance grow significantly, the cameras improve in resolution and in zoom capability, the video features blossom into something videographers and other creatives can get their teeth into, and with highly extended battery life.
All this, while also keeping the basic styling of the Pro Max model fairly static over time. With small exceptions such as the Action button and Lightning changed to USB-C, there's little visible change at all.
Under the hood, where it matters, is where the big alterations have taken place.
Owners of the iPhone 12 Pro Max will naturally want to see big changes in their next smartphone, and while the iPhone 15 Pro Max is a very familiar package, it certainly offers a lot to potential upgraders.
Where to buy the iPhone 15 Pro Max
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is available to order, with profoundly long delays already. Shipments start on September 22.