Yesterday Apple held an event where they unveiled new iPhone and Apple Watch hardware. As I’m sure you’re already aware, Apple made some interesting choices with the iPhone 7, and as usual the internet is nothing short of opinionated on the matter. Here are all of the important announcements from that event and my thoughts on the controversy that has followed.
iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
As expected, Apple pulled back the curtain on its latest flagship mobile device yesterday, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. With these new phones comes new colors, slight aesthetic changes, new camera(s), water resistance, and stereo speakers. In addition to the new features, the phones also come in some new storage configurations. Apple has dropped the 16GB iPhone from its lineup (finally) and moved to a 32GB starting point. The middle tier of storage has now been bumped to 128GB and the high-end model sports a whopping 256GB of onboard storage.
Probably the biggest feature of the iPhone 7 is the upgraded camera system(s). The 4.7″ iPhone 7 gets a 12MP camera (same as before) that also has built-in Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), a feature previously available only on Plus model iPhones. There’s also a new f/1.8 aperture, 6 element lens on this year’s model, and according to Apple the new camera sensor is 60% faster and 30% more power efficient. Translation: faster photo captures, less battery drain.
While the upgrade to the iPhone 7 is nice, the truly noteworthy camera improvements are only coming to the iPhone 7 Plus (for now anyway). The iPhone 7 Plus sports an all-new dual lens system. One lens is wide angle, and the other is telephoto. The iPhone’s camera app uses those two lenses to capture and combine data which allows for 2X optical zoom and up to 10X digital zoom. In addition to this new zooming capability Apple will also be introducing a new software capture mode that will allow you simulate depth of field much the same way you see on high-end DSLR cameras.
While the images Apple debuted on stage looked impressive, I’m still somewhat skeptical of software-based effects like this. Technology has gotten a lot better over the years, but there’s just no substitute for good glass in my opinion. Either way, we’ll have to wait until October to get our hands on this new feature, as it will not be ready in time for the iPhone 7 Plus launch. The update will be free, however.
Ok, cue the Android fanboys saying this is nothing new, but the iPhone 7 is IP67 rated! Which means that your phone will almost-certainly survive any accidental dips in the pool (or toilet) that it may endure throughout its lifetime. That’s not to say that you should strap your shiny new iPhone to your arm when you go swimming though. This only protects from accidental, temporary exposure to water, so be smart and don’t scuba with your iPhone. Personally, I think this is a great move by Apple and one that they should’ve done a long time ago.
The Home Button
There’s been a lot of talk recently about Apple removing the home button from the iPhone. Well, that didn’t happen this time around, but I think Apple drove the first nail into the home button’s coffin. The home button is no longer a mechanical button at all. Just like the new trackpads on MacBooks, the iPhone 7’s home button is now a Force Touch button. You’ll still feel a simulated click when you tap on it, thanks to its all-new taptic engine, and you’ll be able to use varying degrees of pressure to do different things with the button now as well. This is, as I said, a preemptive move by Apple to prepare us for a world without physical buttons. I believe next year’s model of iPhones won’t have a home button at all. Instead I think there will be a Force Touchable section of the screen that takes its place. Many people are going to be up in arms about this one, but I honestly think it’s a good move. I use Force/3D Touch every day on my Apple Watch and iPhone 6S Plus. It’s become second nature to me now. I look forward to seeing where Apple goes with this in the future.
Colors and Design
The physical design of the iPhone 7 is very similar to that of the iPhone 6/6S. This marks the first time that Apple has used the same basic design for three iterations of iPhone, and that seems to irk people quite a bit. If you look closely, there are some improvements that have been made though. For example, those ugly antenna lines have been reconfigured and moved to be less prominent. Apple is also introducing a couple of new colors to its iPhone lineup. Space Gray has been retired in favor of Jet Black and the aptly named… Black. The Jet Black finish is achieved through a 9-step process of anodization and polishing, which creates one of the glossiest iPhones we’ve ever seen. However, with that comes what is sure to be a very controversial side effect. Scratches. According to Apple’s own website:
The high-gloss finish of the jet black iPhone 7 is achieved through a precision nine-step anodization and polishing process. Its surface is equally as hard as other anodized Apple products; however, its high shine may show fine micro-abrasions with use. If you are concerned about this, we suggest you use one of the many cases available to protect your iPhone.
Translation: This phone is going to scratch, so either buy a case or STFU. In all seriousness I expect this to be somewhat of a problem for Apple. Every time a new iPhone is released the press (and the public) immediately look for anything that they can turn into a scandal. My guess is that we’re merely a few weeks away from #ScratchGate taking over our social media timelines.
In addition to the new black colors, you’ll also be able to purchase the iPhone 7 in silver, gold, and rose gold. It’s also important to note that the Jet Black color option is only available on higher storage tier models (128GB and 256GB).
Overall I’m satisfied with the design of the iPhone 7, but if case redesigns are your primary reason for upgrading your phone, I can see how this might be a bit of a let down. My guess is that Apple is planning something big for the 10th anniversary iPhone model next year, and so that is why we’re getting a subtle redesign this time around. If you look at what Apple did with things like removing the headphone jack and changing the home button, it appears that they’re laying the groundwork for something. So for those wanting a radically new iPhone design, maybe sit this year out and wait for next year’s model, because I’m expecting it to be something to see!
The Headphone Jack
Ok, here we go. This is what everyone seems to be talking about. Yes, Apple has removed the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7. This is something that we’ve known was coming for some time now, but many people still seem caught off guard, and some are even downright angry about it. Personally, I’m not going to be very upset about this because I’ve already converted to Bluetooth headphones for 99% of my iPhone listening. However, I get that there are some people out there that don’t have or want wireless headphones. Here are some things to consider:
- Apple is still including a set of WIRED EarPods in the box with the iPhone 7.
- Apple will also include a 3.5mm adapter in the box with your new iPhone 7.
- Accessories (like Square Readers) will still work with the included adapter.
On the one hand I totally understand where some of this hate is coming from. Change is hard. But it seems to me that this entire thing is being blown way out of proportion. This is what Apple does. Apple makes decisions like this every so often, people get really pissed off, and in a year nobody even remembers why they were mad in the first place. Now, just because I think that this isn’t a huge deal breaker of a problem doesn’t mean that I agree with the move. I don’t. And I certainly don’t agree with the way that Apple phrased its reasoning for doing it (I’ll get to that in a minute).
This is a perilous time for Apple to pull a stunt like this. iPhone sales are down, for the first time in history, and the folks in Cupertino don’t have a whole lot of political capital to spend with the general public to begin with. Everything Apple does is put under a microscope. They’re a polarizing company with rabid fans and fervent haters. Doing something like this without rock solid justification is just misguided, in my opinion. I firmly believe that they’re setting us up for the iPhone 8 next year, and as I said before this is a preemptive move, but it still stinks of arrogance whether they want to admit it or not. Couple this with the fact that their reasoning for this was simply “we have courage” and you’ve got a kerfuffle of monumental proportions on your hands. Again, let me reiterate, I HAVE ZERO PROBLEM WITH REMOVAL OF THE HEADPHONE JACK PERSONALLY. It won’t affect me in the slightest. In fact, most tried-and-true Apple fanboys won’t even stop to think twice about these changes before they whip out their credit cards. But for thousands of Apple users, some of whom were on the fence about whether or not to switch away from iOS to begin with, this could very well be the nail in the coffin, and that’s a problem for Apple.
I don’t begrudge anyone for having a problem with Apple removing the headphone jack. If it pisses you off, then by all means, be pissed off. What I do have a problem with, however, is the inevitable click-bait storm that will descend upon the internet as a result of it. No, Apple doesn’t hate its customers. No, Apple isn’t deliberately trying to make you angry. Apple is a company with firm convictions and (at times) unapologetic arrogance. Personally it’s what I love about the company. Their stance on privacy and social issues fall right in line with mine. However, to some this comes off as anti-consumer, totalitarian, and evil. There’s an easy solution to this problem though. If you don’t like what Apple’s doing, don’t show them with your Facebook posts, show them with your wallet! If Apple suddenly ceases to make money on something, you can bet they’ll change course faster than you can say Bluetooth Headphones!
The final thing I’ll talk about regarding the iPhone has become yet another sore spot for many. AirPods. This is Apple’s new set of wireless headphones, and boy are people opinionated about these little guys! Obviously Apple envisions a world without wires or ports, and AirPods are carrying that vision forward. However, the design of the AirPods leaves a little something to be desired if you ask me. I mean, come on, they just cut the cord off of a pair of the old headphones and basically exclaimed “Ta-da!”. By Apple’s standards, this is lazy.
Design aside, there is some interesting tech happening with the AirPods though, so let’s take a look at that before we totally dismiss them. Apple has developed an all new Bluetooth chipset called the W1 for these headphones, and supposedly they’ve fixed a lot of things that BT headphone users have been complaining about for years. From Apple’s press release:
AirPods eliminate the hassles of wireless headphones, by just flipping open the lid of its innovative charging case and with one tap, they are instantly set up and ready to work with your iPhone and Apple Watch. Advanced sensors know when you are listening and automatically play and pause your music. Using Siri, AirPods allow you to access your favorite personal assistant with just a double tap. This revolutionary experience is enabled by the new ultra-low power Apple W1 chip, which enables AirPods to deliver high-quality audio and industry-leading battery life in a completely wireless design.
If this holds true, and Apple has truly fixed the hassle of pairing and poor audio quality, then the idea of AirPods becomes more intriguing to me. I’m more excited about the technology they’re shoving into these little things than the actual device(s) themselves. I’d like to think that maybe Apple would license this chipset to other manufacturers, perhaps through its MFi program, and allow them to take advantage of this increase in speed and quality. That would be awesome. I’m a diehard Bose headphone user, and while the audio quality is ok and pairing is somewhat painless, it could be improved. I’d love to see Apple help push the world of Bluetooth audio forward. Sometimes it takes someone like Apple to take the first step before true change in an industry begins. Apple’s no stranger to this either. Look at what they’ve done (good or bad) for the music, mobile phone, and mobile app market(s).
I won’t be picking up a pair of AirPods. At $159 I don’t think many others will either. Much like Apple’s high-end headphones of the past, I expect these to fade into obscurity within a year or two. However, I think there are some great advancements happening here, and I’m excited to see where it goes in the future.
The Apple Watch
The other major product announcement(s) this week revolved around the Apple Watch. Apple unveiled the Apple Watch Series 2 on Tuesday, marking the first major update to the device that we’ve seen since its introduction almost two years ago. While watchOS 3 will address many issues that v1 owners have with the device, Apple also added some much-needed hardware improvements to the Apple Watch Series 2 that are sure to make it a solid and desirable upgrade for a lot of people, especially fitness enthusiasts and runners.
The design of the Apple Watch Series 2 remains largely unchanged this time around, and I personally think that is a good move by Apple. Many people have invested into the Apple Watch band ecosystem, and in some cases spent hundreds of dollars on them to accessorize their original Apple Watch. If Apple had completely revamped the design of the watch, they probably would’ve faced a ton of backlash from their user base. Even though the design of the watch didn’t change, that didn’t stop Apple from introducing new casing materials. Gone is the $10,000 gold Edition of Apple Watch. It has been replaced by a much more conservatively priced (and better looking) ceramic version that will retail fro around $1,300. This is still more than I’d ever spend on a watch, but it brings the Edition of the Apple Watch within reach of a lot more people, and removes a stigma that I feel has hung over the product since the beginning when Apple first announced the gold monstrocity.
Runners rejoice! The Apple Watch Series 2 comes with onboard GPS (finally)! While I’m still a little skeptical about its impact on battery performance, I’m excited for this new feature! There are times when I’d love to go for a run or walk without my phone, and I love the idea of a more accurate, untethered GPS tracking experience. Not much else to say here, it’s all thumbs up from me!
This is another one that I knew Apple had to do if they updated the watch. The first iteration of watch hardware felt incomplete without this one, and really left a huge segment of the fitness community (swimmers) in the cold. The Apple Watch Series 2 is water resistant up to 50 meters, so you should be able to swim with your watch without any limitations. In addition to the water resistance, Apple is also going to add some swimming workout tracking to its activity app, which should make it easier to measure your swimming workouts.
Apple also announced that the display on the Series 2 watch would be 2X brighter than its predecessor. Personally I’ve never had an issue reading the Apple Watch in direct sunlight, but if you have or if this has been a concern of yours, this should theoretically help with that a lot. This is, however, yet another improvement that could have a negative effect on battery life, and given that battery life improvements weren’t on the new features list, I’d say we might be making a trade off for these new features that might not be so great after all. We’ll see.
The heart of the Apple Watch, its processor, gets a huge bump with Watch Series 2 as well. Apple’s S2 chipset is a dual-core processor that will almost certainly improve the zippiness of the Apple Watch, and Apple claims that it’ll make certain operations fly by at almost a 50% improvement. What’s really great about the processor upgrade isn’t necessaryily the processor though. Apple is upgrading the original line of Apple Watch (now called Series 1) with these dual-core processors as well. That’s right, the “old” models are getting the new chips and being discounted to stay in the lineup. This is an unprecendented move by Apple and one that I think makes a lot of sense and will pay dividends down the road.
Apple Watch Nike+
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this little tidbit. Apple also introduced a completely new version of Apple Watch called Apple Watch Nike+ which they’ve developed in partnership with Nike, and is geared specifically towards runners. This model of watch sports a new series of bands, which are more breathable and very Nike in terms of aesthetic appearance. In additon to the new bands you’ll also get some exclusive Nike watch faces, deep integration with Nike’s Run Club app, and several motivational/tracking tools to help you on your runs. This was a no-brainer partnership from the beginning with Tim Cook being on Nike’s board of directors, and we now know why Nike killed its FuelBand project a few years ago as well. Look for more partnerships like this in the future, especially if this takes off. The Nike+ Apple Watch retails for $369 and will be available in late October.
Overall I think this was an awesome announcement by Apple. They upgraded two of their best products with some really great new features that are sure to make people swoon over them this holiday season. I was disappointed at the lack of Mac upgrades this time around, but we still have time for that to happen later this year, I suppose. I’ve already placed my pre-orders for both the Apple Watch Series 2 and iPhone 7 Plus as of this writing, and I’m very much looking forward to their arrival in the next few weeks! What did you think about the Apple event? Are you ordering anything? Let me know in the comments or drop me a line via social media. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Once I have my device(s) I will be doing a full review of them here on the blog, so stay tuned for that in the near future. Thanks for reading!