Apple’s new pair of iPhones are here. They both get water resistance (finally!), new colors, a dual-camera system for the iPhone 7 Plus, better screens, beefier processor: there are lots of improvements to look forward to this year. Not everything is for the best though, as Apple decided to remove the 1/8 inch audio jack from its phone, a decision that’s likely to steal the show and has sparked plenty of controversy already.
While Jony Ive and Co have accustomed us to a two-year design cycle for the iPhone, where a new phone is followed by a similar-looking but speedier S model the following year, Apple breaks the cycle here with an iPhone 7 that looks mostly like the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S before it.
The new iPhone has the same metal design, the same curves and the same 4.7 and 5.5 inches displays we’re used to, but with a few small differences. Most of the antenna lines on the back of the device are now gone, and those who were put off by Apple’s new-found love of Gold and Rose Gold will be pleased by the two new black iPhone models, especially the shiny Jet Black.
The home button is still there, but with a twist: it doesn’t click. While I’m not a big fan of unclickable buttons (like on the OnePlus line), the iPhone 7 offers some haptic feedback when you press on it, so it does somewhat feel like you’re clicking on something. The result is actually quite impressive.
There’s also what appears to be a new speaker on the bottom of the phone (but it’s not), where the headphone jack used to be.
The death of the audio jack
As you probably heard over and over in the last few months, Apple decided to remove the headphone jack from its new iPhones. It does have an adaptor in the box for those who want to use their existing headphones (and that adaptor is thankfully small enough), but it’s still a major shift from a multi-decade trend in the electronic industry.
It’s not the first time Apple tries to get rid of old formats and connectors. They’ve done it with the floppy disk, with the hard disk and most recently with the older and bigger USB port on its new MacBook.
While dropping out of date standards and decaying formats is usually a good thing, the 1/8 inch audio jack isn’t exactly a dying technology. Most headphones still use them, and so does many cars, hotel speakers, living room stereos and much more. People are also not actively complaining about it.
Apple’s reasoning here is that in the future, we’ll all listen to our music with wireless headphones anyway, and in the meantime, headphones that use the Lightning port (like the new Lightning EarPods that Apple includes with the iPhone 7) are inherently better than the usual analog headphones.
It’s true. But the technologies aren’t mutually exclusives. Apple could have shipped the iPhone 7 with an audio jack AND the Lightning EarPods. In it’s actual form, the lack of an audio jack will often be a nuisance for iPhones 7 owners, who won’t gain much in return. Let’s just hope the other manufacturers don’t copy Apple on this one.
Under the hood
The design might be the same, and the audio jack might be missing, but there are lots of new features in the iPhone 7 that will make it a good contender this year.
Its screen is said to offer a much wider gamut than the previous iPhone. It’s hard to judge after only a few minutes, but it does look good indeed. Photographers should like the fact that the colors they see on the screen is actually the colors they get on their pictures.
The iPhone 7 is also a much faster beast, thanks to the new A10 Fusion chip, which is 120x faster than the chip in the original iPhone. The A10 Fusion uses for the first time an architecture that combines powerful cores and more energy-friendly ones, a strategy that’s reminiscent of ARM’s big.LITTLE. From the technical specifications and performance numbers given by Apple, the A10 chip is indeed an excellent and very powerful processor.
Apple will also please the tech press (and phone aficionados) by finally getting rid of the 16 GB iPhone. 32 GB is now the new base capacity, and the two other models offered will be the 128 GB and the 256 GB variants.
A better camera (or two)
The iPhone 7 camera gets a few improvements this year, including a 6 elements lens with a respectable F1.8 opening. This should especially help in low-light situations. The iPhone 7 also gets optimal stabilization, a feature that was so far exclusive to its bigger counterpart.
The biggest news here is the new dual camera setup that can be found behind the iPhone 7 Plus. Unlike the LG G5, which uses a second lens for wide angle (~134 Degrees) pictures, Apple’s one is used for telephoto, with a 2X optical zoom compared to the usual shooter.
It’s also possible to combine the optical zoom with a software one, to get to a 10X speed. The User Interface (UI) is a big confusing at first, but it should be easy to get used to.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest advantages of the dual lens, the possibility to shoot pictures with a dSLR-like bokeh, will only be available later this year. The pictures Apple showed us were impressive, but the fact that it isn’t available yet probably means that it’s not perfect yet in real life situations. Also, it’s not clear how fast the bokeh processing will be.
HTC did something like this a few years back with the HTC One m8, and the results were less than impressive. Huawei did a better job with the Huawei P9. We’ll have to wait and see if Apple does a better job at replicating a dSLR with a smartphone camera.
Lots of changes in iOS 10
The iPhone 7 will be shipped with a plethora of new software features, thanks to iOS 10. Apple’s OS goes through a big overhaul this year, with a new control center and with widgets making their way onto the Lock screen and the Spotlight screen.
In the last few weeks during which we’ve tried the beta version of the software, we also liked the new Messages, which picks up fun features from modern messaging apps (GIFs, stickers, drawing on pictures, etc.), and slowly moves away from it’s SMS app heritage. Apple does a good job here, but it’s hard to see how it can compete with Facebook Messengers, Snapchat and WhatsApp as long as its service remains an iOS exclusive.
Photo can now group your images by categories thanks to machine learning. Your dog pictures will all be at the same place, and it also uses face recognition for your friends and family. The functionality is reminiscent of Google Photos. But unlike Google, which upload all your images to the cloud, Apple does all its magic on the phone itself. The result is less efficient, but it’s more private.
There are many more new and improved apps in iOS 10. Music places the emphasis back on your library and Maps makes easier to drive your car and to remember where you parked it.
The biggest changes will come with the opening of Siri. You can now use Siri with third-party apps, like Lyft. It’s an important change, especially since Amazon’s Alexa now has more than 1000 third party skills.
Home is also be an interesting addition to iOS. It’s the final piece of the HomeKit puzzle. The app that will allow users to control their home automation systems isn’t the most powerful, but it’s slick and easy to use.
Apple showed today the AirPods, a 159$ pair of wireless headphones that will be launched in late October. It was hard to judge their sound quality in the noisy demo room, but they do seem pretty well designed.
The pairing only takes seconds (open the recharging box, confirm on the phone and you’re good to go), double-tap on one of them to activate Siri and remove one of them to pause your music automatically. That’s it. The AirPods battery will last a fairly good 5 hours, and its charge dock gives it a full 24 hours battery life.
Unlike what the rumors were saying before the event, the AirPods do use Bluetooth, and not a fancy new Apple technology. It will work with an Android phone/tablet as well.
In a nutshell
The new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus improves from the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus in a few interesting ways. On the hardware side, the phone is much faster, and allows you to take better pictures.
Keeping the same design three years in a row is also a way for Apple to acknowledge the fact that modern phones are better for a longer time than they used to. You will probably want to upgrade from an iPhone 6, but you won’t need to. Maybe the Camera would be the main reason for an upgrade.
Those interested in the new phone won’t have long to wait. The iPhone 7 will be available on September 16, starting 649$ for the iPhone 7 (32 GB) and 749$ for the iPhone 7 Plus (32 GB).