Before Tim Cook hitched a lift with James Corden and took to the stage, everyone with an Internet connection knew what the iPhone 7 looked like, but we now know exactly what’s buried behind that undoubtedly attractive exterior. And, as always, despite the cacophonous round of rumours and leaks leading up to last week’s event, Apple had one or two surprises up its sleeves aimed squarely at the naysayers who believe they’re rapidly failing to innovate.
Unfortunately, Apple also continued its time-honoured tradition of bizarrely cutting corners and steadfastly refusing to provide loyalists and the tech appreciation society (I’ve just made that up, but I think I’m a member) with features that really should be present. I’m referring, principally, to the brilliant True Tone feature found on the 9.7″ iPad Pro, but we’ll get onto that in a bit.
First, let’s break down the tent pole features of the new iPhone, as singled out on Apple’s website:
So much of the talk leading up to Apple’s big event was the apparent lack of any innovation on the design front. Revised antenna lines and a new colour or two were, seemingly, the only cosmetic changes that would be seen on the day of the unveiling.
Those supply chain leaks and whispers from Cupertino insiders turned out to be wholly accurate; the iPhone 7 looks pretty much identical to the phone it replaces. However, the Trickery Team in Apple’s marketing department (there must be one) is cleverly suggesting that this marginally different device is making a seismic leap forward in design, and it’s all thanks to one particular addition to the line-up of new colours: ‘Jet Black’.
In a product video (whose format is quickly becoming a characiture of itself) presented by design chief, Jony Ive, we’re treated to a lavishly-produced overview of the seemingly endless array of cutting edge manufacturing techniques the team had to employ in order to achieve a mirror-like finish that will – as Apple freely admits within its Ts&Cs – scratch to buggery when introduced to the real world that exists outside of Perfect Apple Land.
My prediction: many will buy the Jet Black version (it was among the first to sell out during the clamour for pre-orders) and there’ll be a significant bunch of disgruntled early adopters who take to the forums, dismayed at how quickly their chosen finish starts to look like a battered old iPod. The Jet Black iPhone will not wear well at all.
The iPhone 7 looks like an iPhone; there really isn’t much to get excited about (although I fail to see how much further we can take a slab of rectangular glass; smartphone design has plateaued).
I like this. iPhones have allegedly been pretty water resistant from the 6S onwards, but it has never been publicly advertised due to the lack of an official certification.
The iPhone 7 is ‘splash and water resistant’. That means you can drop it in shallow water without too much worry and never be concerned about taking it out of your pocket during a rain shower. You can’t really go deep sea diving with it, but, then, who would want to? The ability to use it in the rain is enough to make this a great new feature.
New home button
I love this. The home button has forever been a source of concern from my perspective. Of all the iPhone gubbins, this particular part most prominently exhibits the below-par level of QA Apple seems to invest in its shipped products (I don’t care how many leave the factory – I’ve had so many quality issues with Apple gear that I’m convinced there is a wider problem when it comes to producing such precisely engineered tech en masse).
One of those concerns – hopefully – will at least have been alleviated somewhat with the introduction of a solid-state home button that swaps mechanical clickiness for haptic feedback. Basically, a little motor within the phone buzzes when it detects pressure on the home button and tricks the mind into thinking that a physical click exists. If you’ve ever used a Magic Trackpad you’ll know that it is, without question, made out of magic.
A solid state ‘button’, presumably, is less susceptible to breaking than a physical one. Praise the Lord.
Hmm. Those who lamented the lack of design innovation leading up to the iPhone 7 unveiling did at least comfort themselves with the promise of a revolutionary camera.
Did we get that? Not really. The 4.7″ iPhone 7 appears to have received the normal upgrade (better glass, cleverer processing behind the scenes – you know the rest), while the Plus model has gained a second lens.
But what does this dual lens setup offer? Better low light performance? Not really. Enhanced optical zoom? Yep, although only by 2x. The final emergence of DSLR-like bokeh (the blurred background you get beyond in-focus subjects when a large aperture is used)? No. At least, not until later this year.
Clearly, a huge fuck up in the Apple software division resulted in this much-hyped camera feature not being ready for the iPhone 7 event. The bokeh trick itself is a clever one, but is software-based because phone cameras simply don’t have big enough sensors or deep enough glass to enable DSLR-like bokeh. It really is just a trick and has absolutely nothing to do with the addition of a second lens.
An un-ready software trick and marginally better camera, then. This particular update for the iPhone was a let down, I’m afraid.
A10 Fusion Chip
No one knows what fusion means in this instance, but lots of clever technical wizardry from the chip team at Apple means the new phone is twice as fast as the last and has the ‘longest battery life ever in an iPhone’.
Every year, iPhones gets significantly quicker. In every day use, this means they never delay, stutter or stumble when swiping through apps. And they boot up quicker. That’s important, necessary progress, but the numbers are of zero interest to most people who buy this device.
Just keep this up, Apple, and we’ll be happy with the performance of our new iPhones.
Retina HD Display
The iPhone’s screen has received something of a tweak, namely a wide colour gamut and 25% additional brightness over its ancestors. Unfortunately, and just like ‘A10 Fusion’, no one knows what a colour gamut is or why wide is better than narrow.
That’s irrelevant, though; the new iPhone isn’t capable of True Tone, which remains the best feature of the 9.7″ iPad Pro, in my book. Capable of ensuring a natural colour temperature no matter the ambient light, the newest member of the iPad family benefits from quite simply the most stunning display I’ve used. Place any device next to it, and you’ll see just how significant a blue tint we’ve become accustomed to on our gadgets over the years.
So, why no True Tone on the 7 or 7 Plus? Technically, it must be possible, because they’ve achieved it on a far larger screen. The only plausible explanation is that they’re keeping True Tone back for next year’s anniversary iPhone. But that’s silly, and further proof that Apple can be incredibly mean and incapable of permanently removing its head from its own arse.
Unfortunately, Apple are smart enough to know that such an omission will go unnoticed by 99% of their users. Does this matter, then? I think it does; the tech elite and anyone who knows what their iPad Pro is doing with its screen will lament the decision, and Apple needs the support of such people more than they perhaps realise.
Pleasing. Nothing more.
No headphone jack & introduction of Airpods
Apple has removed the headphone jack. It’s gone.
This particular change has completely divided the tech elite. Some (most notably in the pro Apple camp), point out that it is a way to force change, explore new boundaries and free up much needed space within that chassis. Others (most notably in the anti-Apple camp), have poured scorn on the decision.
It’ll make little difference to me; I use the bundled EarPods and also use Bluetooth headphones, depending on what I’m up to. I do, however, sympathise with those calling for Apple’s head on this one. Tim Cook and co. appear to have made this particular move far too early and any suggestion that removing the headphone jack now is in part to ensure that the tenth anniversary iPhone next year won’t be marred by such a thing is letting Apple off rather lightly.
This decision, while undoubtedly partly design- and tech-oriented, is aimed at selling more Beats headphones and the forthcoming Airpods. Apple owns Beats, one of the most prolific manufacturers of Bluetooth headphones on the market.
And I’m utterly sick of the Apple tech elite (namely the iMore crew) insisting that everyone will eventually ‘get over it’ and cease to remember what a headphone jack was. This is an issue for people and no matter how much those in the tech bubble despise national news coverage of such events, the missing headphone port is the talk of the town. It’s what news teams are focusing on, and that doesn’t mean they’re simply ignorant or tech illiterate; they know far more about the public than us nerds to. Let’s give them some bloody credit.
When my dad sent me text message after hearing about the iPhone 7, his first words were “What do you think about the missing headphone connection, Mark?”. He’d have done that without being prompted to do so by news reports – trust me.
It’s not a courageous move – it’s a commercial one. There’s nothing wrong with that – Apple is a business, after all – but let’s see if it pays off.
Lastly, the Airpods do look rather neat and appear to finally solve the painful pairing process from which Bluetooth headphones currently suffer. Unfortunately, they also look absolutely ridiculous. Let’s hope we see that W1 chip in products that won’t make us feel like twats when inserted into our ears. I’m sure we will (Beats, anyone?).
I’ve ordered a black (non-glossy) iPhone 7 Plus. I’ve gone big again. Why? Because I feel I should, for the benefit of this site and – let’s be honest – I like shiny new things.
I’ll reserve further judgement until the device arrives, but Apple has to impress me once I turn it on; they need support from those seeking justification for that missing True Tone feature.