Apple iPhone 13 Pro 120 Hz implementation differs from the competition by adjusting to touch input
Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max models have been widely praised for their new 120 Hz variable refresh rate ‘ProMotion’ panels. Although many PC gaming monitors have long featured high refresh rates, Apple was the first to add a 120 Hz panel to a mobile device starting with the 2017 iPad Pro range. However, when Apple made the decision later that year to introduce the then all-new iPhone X with an OLED panel, it was limited to 60 Hz as high refresh rate OLED panels were still being developed.
If Apple had stuck with LCD panels for the iPhone X, it could have easily added the ProMotion feature back in 2017 (battery life concerns notwithstanding). In fact, the Razer Phone launched in 2017 with a 120 Hz IGZO LCD panel and was the first smartphone with the feature. The first smartphone with a 90 Hz AMOLED display was the Asus ROG Phone which arrived in late 2018, before the Asus ROG Phone II launched in late 2019 with a 120 Hz panel. It wasn’t until the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra launched in the second half of 2020 that we saw the arrival of the first smartphone with a 120 Hz variable refresh rate.
When viewed in this context, Apple isn’t especially late to the 120 Hz OLED party. Clearly, a variable refresh rate panel was always going to be essentially from a battery life perspective. However, Samsung’s variable refresh rate technology is not as seamless as one might hope, often switching between just 60 Hz and 120 Hz, although it can go as low as 48 Hz and theoretically a little lower though rarely seen in practice. Apple, of course, has also seen some controversy around its implementation of 120 Hz as it appeared that third-party apps were locked out of its application in full. Apple has since clarified developers will need to tweak their code, while there is also a bug in Core Animation that needs to be fixed.
It has often been said that where Apple is a little late to the party, it often implements its solution better. While this is certainly not always the case, in this instance, it appears that there might be some truth to this when it comes to how it has implemented ProMotion on the iPhone 13 Pro models.
According to Inc., Apple’s 120 Hz variable refresh rate tech is not just determined by content (like Samsung’s), but also by the speed a user’s finger swipes when scrolling. For example, a Twitter post being viewed statically might refresh at just 10 Hz, and ramp up dynamically to 60 Hz, 90 Hz, or 120 Hz and ramp down again to match user input. This is unquestionably a more battery efficient approach that also helps to explain reports of excellent battery life from Apple’s new flagship models. Improved battery capacity and a more efficient chip also help to deliver a potent combination of performance and efficiency.