iPhone 7: Did Apple create something truly “magical”?
Opinion: Apple loves to use the word "magical" to describe its new products, but does the iPhone 7 qualify?
I’ve sat through a lot iPhone launches in my time, dating all the way back to the original iPhone 3G, and pretty much every single time, at one point or another, Apple will describe what it’s doing with phones as "magical". Sure, it’s a hype word, and Apple is just as often mocked as lauded for using it, but once you get past that, it’s time to assess what Cupertino has actually done with its next generation of iPhone devices.
Apple typically throws its large scale design innovations into the full new number series phones, with the following year’s "s" models tweaking around the edges, so the expectations were high when it came to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. I will admit that Apple did get my jaw to drop simply by bringing out Shigeru Miyamoto to announce Super Mario Run, because that I did not see happening. I don't think anyone did. But Super Mario Run will, ahem, run on an iPhone 6s, so it's not a new magical bit of hardware, even if it is a beloved brand.
What we did get were new iPhones that... look like iPhones. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself, because Apple’s design chops are pretty formidable, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Apple’s style cues are often followed by the rest of the industry. Ultimately there’s only so much you can do with a slab of glass and metal, and pretty much every manufacturer’s design look is locked down for now until we start developing radical new materials to build phones from.
As someone who doesn’t much like gold phones, the new black and jet gloss options have a fair amount of appeal to me, although the fact you can’t get the Jet Black in the entry level 32GB configuration is slightly annoying.
One area of innovation with a lot of scope is the inclusion of dual cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus. No, Apple hasn’t been truly "magical" here, because both the LG G5 and Huawei P9 have opted for dual lenses, albeit for different purposes. On the G5, it’s so you can take wide angle lens shots, while the P9 uses a Leica-developed monochrome-only lens to allow for different photographic possibilities and richer photos.
Apple didn’t take either of those approaches, instead opting to use its secondary lens as a telephoto lens instead. That’s arguably a smarter move given the way most folks take pictures with their phones. If the flip between lenses is quick enough, it could make up for a lot of missed pics with plenty of detail in them, even if you’re not that close to the subject. Extra points to Apple, by the way, for finally admitting that pro photographers aren’t going to dump DSLRs any time soon.
The performance claims for the A10 Fusion processor are just that right now -- claims. Apple absolutely should deliver better performance with a newer processor in such a premium device, but what will be really interesting is to see how heavily developers push the A10 Fusion, given the vast number of existing iPhone devices already in the market. Benchmarks don’t always tell the full story of Apple’s performance, because unlike Android where the hardware and software are controlled independently, Apple has total control of both iOS and the limited number of iPhone models. This means it can optimise very nicely for performance in a way that benchmarks don’t always clearly convey. Having said that, the shift between the 6s and the 7 will be fascinating to see play out in real time.
Apple’s Phil Schiller did have me a touch worried when he started talking about "water resistant" iPhones, because "resistance" (as distinct from "proof") usually means it’s only good for a splash or two, nothing else. Thankfully he went on to note that the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are IP67 rated, which means that they should be able to survive standard dunkings. Bear in mind (and this is true for other water resistant phones such as the Galaxy S7) that the IP tests only operate in clean lab conditions; technically dropping an iPhone 7 in the pool or bath might kill it anyway, because that’s not clean water. Still, while it’s welcome, it also feels like it’s about time.
I’ve got to wait for some eyeball-on time to really assess the iPhone 7’s display screen. Apple claims it’s brighter without seriously impacting battery life, which is nice, but it has stuck to "Retina HD" as its moniker for the iPhone 7’s display, but with low resolution compared to the premium pack, it feels at first as though Apple’s simply content to coast here. Yes, pushing ever more pixels into smaller displays doesn’t always bear fruit, but again this is a premium phone we’re talking here, and it would be nice to be able to see every pixel of the iPhone’s camera shots on the phone in genuine resolutions, not cut-down ones.
The elephant in the room here is the "courage" (I’m using Phil Schiller’s term here) shown by Apple in dropping the 3.5mm headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Apple has plenty of form in being an early leader in removing connectivity it views as non-essential or dated, and plenty of form for being mocked for doing so. It did that when it dropped the floppy drive from the original iMac, and when it dropped optical media by way of the first generation MacBook Air.
The removal of the headphone jack is going to be equally controversial. I’m still not entirely sold, although at least Apple is providing a 3.5mm headphone to Lightning adaptor in the box , and it’s selling additional adaptors for a flat $12, which isn’t exorbitant by adaptor standards. No doubt it would prefer all Apple fans to buy AirPods anyway, but at $229 outright I suspect that will be something of a niche product until Apple starts making them as the default pack-in option with a future generation iPhone. Some pundits predicted that the iPhone 7 would be sold in configurations with AirPods bundled, but that hasn’t happened, with the AirPods set to launch in Australia in October as standalone headphones instead.
So what are we left with? The iPhone 7 definitely fits the bill as a premium device, but at the kinds of asking prices Apple is looking to get for it, that should absolutely be expected. Indeed, with the strong pressure from the large number of very capable mid-range smartphones, premium phones have to do more and more simply to justify their high price tags.
Will the iPhone 7 be good? Yeah, I think that’s pretty much something you can take for granted. Very good in fact, because Apple really does put a lot of work into making sure that both software and hardware work in harmony together in a way that's very pleasant to use as your daily phone. I flip between using iOS and Android, because there's aspects of both that I like, but iOS, while it's controlled, generally feels a little smoother and more refined than many Android devices.
"Magical", though? That I’m not so sure about.
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