iPhone 7: Solid improvements, twin cams, in Apple's latest smartphone
So, at last and through all the rumours, we have a new iPhone 7. There was nothing to see or hear at yesterday’s Apple event in San Francisco that we hadn’t known in advance. Just a few details changed, such as my favourite blue phone going AWOL. It was replaced temporarily in my affections by the jet black model—until I learned this piano-like finish is susceptible to scratching.
Still and all, I am impressed with the 7. For the first time at the two-year stage, Apple took the decision not to introduce a complete redesign. Instead, the 7 is a rather sleeker and smoother version of the 6 but with some significant technical changes. The most obvious is the demise of the headphone jack in favour of the use of the existing Lightning port for audio work. This is a sensible move and I applaud Apple for having the courage to break the mould, yet again. An interesting aspect is that since the Lightning port carries power, it is now possible for noise-cancelling headphones, such as the JBL Reflect Aware earbuds, featured during the presentation, to work without a rechargeable battery pod. Currently I run a pair of Bose noise-cancelling earbuds but, since they are mainly for travelling, I often find I’ve forgotten to charge the battery. And the absence of a battery pod in the cable makes for a smaller, lighter package.
The second obvious change is the replacement of the mechanical home button with a track-pad-style solid touch device with haptic feedback. Again, this is a welcome move and, together with the removal of the headphone jack, makes it possible for the iPhone 7 to be water resistant (though not waterproof, note). The addition of stereo speakers is another nice incremental touch.
Processor speeds have been boosted dramatically since the original iPhone 6 was announced and storage options have been boosted to 256GB, starting from the quite useful 32GB. Battery life is also increase, plus there are many under-the-bonnet improvements to make life easier.
Photographers will be particularly interested in the improved dual-camera layout on the larger 7 Plus. The wide-angle and tele lenses enable a 2x optical zoom for the first time, accompanied by a 10x digital zoom. The wide-angle camera is upgraded to f/1.8 while the telephoto makes do with f/2.8. A intriguing trick of the two-camera phone is the ability to create rather surprising subject isolation reminiscent of the results from a large sensor and fast pro lens. Some of the examples shown during the presentation were impressive, with smooth bokeh, and I look forward to trying the system out. The front camera has also been upgraded in the interests of picture-perfect selfies. Few of us will be worried that this new camera is not designed by Leica.
The rest of the presentation was remarkably subdued. None of the Apple presenters nor guest speakers managed to get my juices flowing. Tim Cook is a worthy presenter but lacks the verve and enthusiasm that we were used to in the days of Steve Jobs. I hate to admit this because, often, Steve was over the top. Admittedly he was a hard act to follow. The measured and mellifluous tones of Jony Ive, describing the design of the iPhone 7, were soothing and hypnotic, almost sleep inducing.
There was a lot of emphasis on gaming, including a tedious expose of Super Mario and Pokemon, and my attention began to wander big time. I perked up for the Apple Watch Series 2, of which more in separate article, but I was nodding off, waiting for the “one more thing” that didn’t happen. Instead we were treated to a dirge from some woman with a large bow on her head and a fringe down to her ankles. What are they thinking of? If this is Apple Music I’ll get back to my podcast of The Archers. Mercifully the live feed broke off suddenly and the Apple TV booted me back to Coronation Street. Even that was more exciting than the doings in San Francisco (cue enthusiastic happy clappy applause from the Billy Graham auditorium).
You could interpret this as a lack of enthusiasm on my part. But I am actually keen on the iPhone 7. It shone through the lack-lustre presentation. Since I skipped the 6S, my very reliable and serviceable 6 Plus is due for replacement. It has stood up well; even the battery has held on to 95% capacity after 450 cycles of charging. I have been pleased. And I expect to be delighted with the iPhone 7 Plus when it arrives in a couple of weeks.
There’s just one fly in the Apple sauce: Price. Although in the USA the company is maintaining the iPhone 6 price structure, while offering more storage and performance, we are suffering in Britain following the recent devaluation of the pound. My choice of the iPhone 7 Plus with the same 128GB RAM I chose for the 6 Plus, now comes to an eye-watering £819. If I were to choose the new 256GB storage option, which I don’t need, the tag would rise to £919. We are on the brink of seeing the first £1,000 serial smartphone.
Is it worth it? The iPhone is my number one communications module. I seldom make phone calls, I watch few videos and never play games. But for browsing, messaging, news reading, writing and health monitoring it is the most important part of my digital life. As such I could justify it at almost any price. Two years ago my iPhone 6 Plus cost just over £700. Now I can sell it for about £350. So it has cost me £350 in real terms over two years—an average of £15 a month. When you look at it like this, it actually begins to sound cheap.
But the most important asset of owning an iPhone is not the phone itself. It is the Apple eco-system which is a unique offering in terms of scope and security. When you buy an iPhone you are buying into peace of mind. And that is Apple’s main selling point. It is actually far more important than design, haptic buttons and missing headphone jacks.