It's been over seven months since Apple released its latest smartphone range, the iPhone 14. That's enough time to gauge customers' initial reactions, with thousands of reviews now available online. And it doesn't look good.
According to an aggregation of online reviews, the iPhone 14 has scored the lowest proportion of five-star reviews since 2017's iPhone 8, and it's the first iPhone in a decade to see the percentage of 5-star ratings decline against the previous model (if you're prepared to test it for yourself, make sure you see the best iPhone 14 prices. But you might want to wait to see what the iPhone 15 has in store).
It might not have been a flop in terms of sales (although the iPhone 14 Plus reportedly sold poorly), but customers don't seem to be as impressed as they were by other recent iPhones. Our own iPhone 14 review gave the device four stars out of five, and it turns out we were far from the only ones that didn't award full marks this time around.
The product recommendations company PerfectRec has compiled a report that aggregates 669,000 customer reviews of iPhones going back to the iPhone 4 in 2010. The number of reviews for each model varied considerably, from 2,304 to 56,832, but a clear pattern emerges showing an increase in the overall percentage of five-star ratings from one model to the next. Until we get to the iPhone 14.
Based on the reviews aggregated, 65 per cent of customer ratings of the 2012 iPhone 12 gave five stars. The percentage rose consistently for each new device but peaked at 80 per cent for the 2021 iPhone 13. The iPhone 14 has seen a fall to just 72 per cent – the lowest since 71 per cent for the iPhone 8.
And the drop doesn't only apply to the base model. Some 84 per cent of reviews of the iPhone 13 Pro gave the phone five stars, while only 76 per cent of iPhone 14 Pro reviews gave top marks. For the Pro Max, the proportion fell from 86 to 80 per cent (our own iPhone 14 Pro Max review awarded 4.5 stars). PerfectRec was particularly surprised because it's seen a general trend towards higher ratings in recent years, perhaps due to people's experiences using apps like Uber, where they tend to give five stars as routine.
So what caused this disappointment with the iPhone 14? Most likely, it was the expectation of a bigger upgrade. I think we put our finger on it in our own reviews when we noted that the iPhone 14 was only a very incremental evolution from the previous year's phone. It's great, but just more of the same.
In previous years, we had seen more of a jump, especially in terms of camera capabilities. The iPhone 14, other than the 'dynamic island' on the pros, was just too similar to the iPhone 13 to really make an impact. A quick look at what customers are saying in four-star reviews at Best Buy seems to back this up. There are few major complaints other than that the phone is similar to the one they already had.
"Not much of a difference between this and the iPhone 13 except for a few features. I guess Apple has grown a bit complacent," one person wrote. "Don't go for iPhone 14 if you already have iPhone 13. This is exactly same," someone else wrote.
PerfectRec says of its findings: "This was the first time Apple reused a chip from the previous generation in a new flagship phone, and it wasn’t the only reused component that disappointed fans. Apple didn’t upgrade the 60hz refresh rate of base model iPhone 14 or replace the much-maligned “notch” with a true holepunch lens."
On the other hand, maybe it's us who are wrong to expect major innovation in every iPhone. Nobody needs to replace their phone every 12 months, and it seems that with the iPhone 14, more people realised that as Apple offered less of a convincing argument to the contrary. The iPhone 14 is one of the best phones available, it just wasn't at all necessary if you already had the previous year's device.
See our pick of the best camera phones for other options, or see the best iPhone 14 prices below.