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Apple iPhone 7 Review: Love Or Hate It, You Can Choose Your New iPhone Review

As the hand-picked members of the world’s tech press walked out of Apple’s iPhone 7 launch event, they and countless more who watched online were busy working on the coverage of the event firstly in their heads, then at a keyboard, before hitting the digital presses. Balancing arguments and personal judgement, everyone will have had a different experience of the event. Personal decisions influence the coverage, an Apple event especially. It’s not just a matter of relaying facts, it’s about offering opinions and context.
Given that, shall we ‘think different’ about Tim Cook’s event and have some fun? Rather than be guided by a single viewpoint, I shall leave it to you dear reader to decide what sort of coverage you’d like to read. At the end of every section, you can guide the tone of the next part of the coverage.
Let’s start with a simple question. How confident are you about Apple’s future?
Apple CEO Tim Cook (L) shows dancer Maddie Ziegler (R) a new iPhone (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Apple Flying Like An Eagle
Apple might not have the biggest market share in the smartphone world, but the iPhone remains the darling of the industry. It effectively rules the high-end marketplace and  the only real competitor that can match it for scale and features is Samsung. With the best will in the world, Samsung’s latest releases have focused on winning the game of “biggest number in the specifications sheet,” or pushing gimmicky features such as Iris recognition (that requires a key press to activate a system slower than reading a fingerprint) or the curved edge which looks fabulous but fails to adapt the UI so information in third-party apps can curve away at the screen edge.
Apple’s approach of simplicity and using emotion to connect with the users is far more effective than many give it credit. The iPhone 7 makes a number of changes under the case, but all most people need to know is that it is faster, smoother, and better suited to a modern lifestyle.
A new Apple iPhone 7 is seen during a launch event on September 7, 2016  (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
Peak Apple
It’s notable that all of Apple’s announcements  featured relatively small updates. Apple Watch Series 2 picks waterproofing and a brighter screen (and a Pokemon app), the iPhone picks up some faster chips but retains the same design and basic standards, while the iWork suite of office apps picks up the real-time sharing that Google debuted in 2011.
Audience members engage with their devices while Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks on stage Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
But it’s Apple’s key product – the iPhone – that was focused on, and it is in trouble. Sales are still strong, but if you look below the surface there are a huge number of danger signs. It is losing momentum in China and India, key growth markets that the Android competition is dominating in. Apple needs to work hard to capture more of these markets if the market share of iOS is to remain stable against the growing Android hordes.
And the device to do that, and to maintain Apple’s supremacy in the Western markets? The iPhone 7. Has it done enough?
Satisfying The Market
When you’ve spent nine years developing your mobile hardware in public, all you need to do is polish the edges to improve the package. In the case of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, Apple has created unsurpassed levels of peace of mind thanks to the addition of waterproofing on the device. If you’ve never used a smartphone where you don’t need to be paranoid of liquids, you don’t realise how comfortable it can make you.
Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
That’s extended throughout the phone with the improved home key that offers more responsiveness and programmable features. It’s seen in the processing applied to every image you take. And it’s the extra power inside the A10 Fusion system on chip that allows the iPhone to mix both power and efficiency in a seamless manner to extend battery life.
A Lack Of Fresh Ideas
The two new shades of black are hiding the fact that there is very little change to the design of the new iPhone. Putting aside the extra lens on the iPhone 7 Plus (not a first in the smartphone world, no matter what Apple’s marketing suggests), you might be hard pushed to pick the 7 out of a line up of the 6, 6S, and the 7.
I’m not sure that matters. The form factor works, and third-party accessory manufacturers will not need to alter their tooling to any great degree – an extra cutout for the 7 Plus camera and stretching the headphone jack to a pretend speaker cover is all that is needed.
Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Remember that the iPhone 7 will mostly be targeted at those upgrading from the iPhone 6 (with a significant number of iPhone 5S users who weren’t quite synced up with the September dates for a new device and have decided to wait for something suitable to upgrade to. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are worthy upgrades for long-term users of the iOS platform, but there’s little to attract new users into the system. Given the dominance of iPhone in the high-end market that’s not a huge worry, but it should be something that Apple thinks carefully about as it looks to expand in new territories.
It also assumes that Apple can retain the strong levels of customer goodwill it has for the radical change that it has made… the headphone jack.
The Emperor’s New iPhone
What did Apple talk about when it launched the iPhone 7? How the team polished their 4.7 inch and 5.5 inch wonders.
Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Seriously, the biggest selling point, number one on Schiller’s Buzzfeed-like Top Ten list was how shiny the new smartphone is. Next up is waterproofing, and while I’m glad that Apple has added this to the iPhone how many years behind the curve of other manufacturers is this move? The dual-lens camera has been discussed for years and is already available through a number of Android manufacturers, and those camera effects for the dual lens? The software isn’t ready yet. You’ll have to wait until ‘later in the year’ to unlock the potential of the dual-lens in Apple’s phablet.
Apple may have created new technology for the iPhone, but it has not created any new technology. Everything in the iPhone 7 is already out there, in the market, and on sale. If you’re sitting with a well-specced Android handset, there’s little here to encourage you to switch your loyalty And then there’s the arrogance of the headphone jack.
The Headphone Jack Is A Relic Of A Different Time
To paraphrase Apple’s Phil Schiller, ‘We can remove the headphone jack because we are courageous.’ Apple has precedent with this sort of drastic removal (see the floppy disk in the iMac, and the DVD drive in the MacBook Air). The headphone jack is very much embedded in society, but this huge analog port in a slim digital footprint simply feels wrong.
Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
There will be pain in the transition – which is one reason Apple has put a lightning to 3.5mm dongle in every retail package – and there is a risk involved, but the upside is huge. A pure digital play means improved control over music playback from your headphones, it means (eventually) improved audio quality, and it can lead to a wire-free world with no cables hanging from your head to get tangled up.
It allows more room inside the iPhone as well – how do you think those two hours of extra battery life and the home button’s tactic engine have been squeezed into the same chassis as the iPhone 6S?
Apple is not the first to switch away to another port – the use of USB-C for audio out already features in some Android smartphones – but Apple is big enough to drive this change going forwards. This is a big change, but it’s a forward-looking one, and any pain that Cupertino takes just now will no doubt be rewarded in years to come.
A Courageous Decision, Minister
“We are courageous,” said Apple’s Phil Schiller. It’s certainly a courageous decision. Apple know this is going to be tricky (hence the inclusion of another dongle adapter in the retail packaging), and the major factor was not mentioned at all. Price.
At $159 , the wireless AirPods are a pricey additional purchase for anyone to make. As first-generation technology there will likely be issues – five hours of battery life with no indication of the time to recharge the buds is one issue that stands out. Users looking for the best audio quality are going to be looking at buying new headphones with lightning connectors, and of course that means manufacturers using Apple’s Made for iPhone program, and Apple will be making a noticeable cut from every pair of headphones.
A pair of the new Apple AirPods are on show  (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
As the AirPods do not appear to be using BlueTooth, and lightning-equipped headphones are going to be useless for any Android device, Apple has created a level of soft lock-in that should keep more users upgrading within the iOS ecosystem for many years to come. Yes, Apple is pushing forward with a new vision for digital audio, but it’s also increasing margins on ancillary sales and creating a walled garden of vital peripherals.
Making The Best A Little Bit Better
You can reinvent the smartphone every year, but the changes you can make become smaller and smaller. The majority of the iPhone 7′s changes are refining a point of design, or inside the hardware and acting magically (such as the low-power mode in the A10 triggering automatically to preserve battery life). Is the iPhone 7 the same as previous iPhones? Yes, that’s the point. it’s an invisible and iterative update that offers more features and improvements all around.
Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Yes the headphone issue is going to be awkward, but there are options and Apple wants to move towards a phone with no external ports, awkward buttons, or strange protuberances. It’s the one area where Apple has decided to break out and really commit itself to change something. I wish Apple had done that with the rest of the phone but the rumors are the iPhone 8 will deal with this issue.
The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are not about changing the market – they are about refining a product that Apple believes is doing very well in the market. More handsets will be sold, more income will be generated, and more residual income will be created. For Apple it’s a solid launch.
Is Apple Looking A Bit Tired?
The iPhone 7 is the best iPhone that Apple has made, I have no doubt about that. The problem is that unlike the hockey stick of processing power in the A10 Fusion chip, the gains over the iPhone 6S are very small – in some circumstances the 6S is the phone I would recommend, such as anyone who needs the headphone jack (say, any retail business that uses a Square credit card reader, or how relies on a blood glucose monitor that uses the audio port).
The iPhone 7 Plus though is the iOS phablet to have – the dual-lens camera does deliver, although the software won’t be available till late October.
Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Unlike previous years, existing iPhone users shouldn’t feel a burning desire to go out and upgrade immediately (although Apple would naturally love you to do so, and the Apple Upgrade Program is tailor-made to force hesitant users to sign up for another year and keep paying the monthly cost). For all the shine that Tim Cook and his team put on the iPhone 7 there’s nothing fundamentally new. It’s a bit faster, it lasts a bit longer, it makes Apple a bit more money than the last one, and it subtly increases user lock-in with Apple.
The iPhone… But Louder
There are certain connections that you should try to avoid when doing a presentation. With an initial focus on music, surely someone in Apple realized that talking about a new iPhone that was available in black and a deeper blacker “jet black” was going to resonate with anyone who knows Rob Reiner and Spinal Tap? The other point of popular culture that everyone remembers from Spinal Tap is the amplifier that goes to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where? …What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty Di Bergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel Tufnel: These go to eleven.
In the iPhone 7, Apple turned its smartphone up to 11.
Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
A Final Thought
The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are going to be pivotal phones for Apple. Irrespective of how much you think they have been updated compared to previous models, Apple is taking a risk that consumers will happily upgrade to a phone that is marginally better than last year’s model. How much of a difference does there need to be for consumers to buy a brand new handset, to look to renew a network contract, or to extend an Apple Upgrade Program agreement for another year?
Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (image: Apple PR)
Can Apple also make a significant change to the expectations of a smartphone by removing the headphone jack and not suffer a significant backlash from consumers? The answer to that question could have a serious impact on the designs of future Apple products. And after all of these considerations, will the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus sell in sufficient numbers to reverse Apple’s falling iPhone sales? Can the golden goose continue to lay eggs for Tim Cook and his team? Time will tell.

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