The new iPhone 7 and 7+ were announced this morning at a release event in San Francisco.
This year, Apple pretty much abandoned any pretense of keeping the details under wraps, so much so that the previous day I was receiving press releases from accessory suppliers, clearly indicating that the new iPhone 7+ would indeed have a dual lens camera, and indicating the external dimensions of the new phones. Amazon already had 165 iPhone 7 accessories on its site, prior to the release event!
And several days earlier, accessory suppliers were clamoring for attention with their new Bluetooth adapters to enable regular headphones to now be connected via Bluetooth to new iPhones. These succeed in making a formerly brilliantly simple process – plug the headphones into the phone – into a much more complicated process, complete with another battery powered gadget, another interface to learn, and so on. Progress is a funny thing, or so it sometimes seems!
Perhaps the insubstantial nature of Apple’s new iPhones was hinted at by the sequence of events at its release. After a very cursory obligatory recitation of a few sparse statistics attempting to suggest all is well in the Apple universe, the ‘big’ first announcement was that Apple is about to add a new computer game to the iPhone. That might excite my 12 yr old daughter, but does it make me want to rush out and spend almost $1000 on a new iPhone so I can play some Mario Brothers game? Not so much!
Further playing up the lack of excitement about the new iPhone, Apple then proceeded to talk about its smart watch. While this device is definitely overdue for an update (the original watch was first released in April 2015), the watch failed to capture the public’s imagination or to sell as well as hoped, and the new updated watch announced today, while a welcome step forward in abilities, does nothing to address the core problem that the watch is a limited and overpriced solution in search of a problem.
The growth of iPhones has made traditional watches less universal – some would even say, obsolete, and now as much a fashion item as it was formerly an essential companion. Duplicating limited functions from a phone onto a micro-screen sized watch (which still needs the phone nearby to do all the ‘heavy lifting’ of the data connection and processing) is a concept of limited sense or appeal to most of us, and many people saw it as merely another gadget, adding to the complications in our lives rather than simplifying them. Apple’s attempts to sell the highest priced versions of the watch and to make it into a fashion icon seem to have failed entirely (as witness this story coincidentally appearing today).
The ‘big news’ for the new watch product? Pokemon Go will be available on the Apple watch. Again, something for my daughter, but truly not for me. But, as commented in the preceding paragraph, who needs it on their watch when it is already on their phone? Where is the value add?
The new watch will be called the ‘Apple Watch Series 2’, which means that its name is almost bigger than the watch itself. It has a faster CPU, a brighter display, is more waterproof, and has a built in GPS. Prices start at $369, and it seems Apple will continue to sell remaining stock of the original watch for $269.
Next up was a restatement of some of the new features of the new version 10 iOS soon to be released. Nothing new, just telling us what we already knew. *Yawn*
At Last – the iPhone 7
All the preceding took up the first full hour of the not quite two hour launch event. Finally, CEO Tim Cook turned to the main reason most of us had any interest in the event at all – the new iPhone. Cue the tired old hyperboles and rhetoric – would you believe that this new iPhone is going to be the best and most advanced iPhone yet? That is has a gorgeous new design? And so on and so on.
As expected, there is a re-designed home button that now vibrates when you push it. As expected the phone is now available in black as well as the previous colors. As expected, the phones are now more waterproof than before. As expected, the larger screened version will have dual lens cameras. Both model phones have slightly improved camera specifications, and brighter flashes. The screen is slightly brighter.
The most anticipated/dreaded change was removing the headphone jack. As largely expected, this was indeed eliminated. You now either connect headphones through the one remaining ‘Lightning’ connector at the bottom of the phone, or wirelessly. Apple is also including a converter – a plug that fits into the Lightning jack at one end of a short cord, and a regular headphone connector at the other end.
This might seem like a good solution to a trivial problem, but it means you could not be playing music through wired headphones and charging your iPhone at the same time. That might sometimes be a problem, or at least, a pinprick of annoyance – for example, you’re on a long flight and using your phone to play music, possibly watch video, etc – now you’ll have to do without sound while topping up the battery.
Apple will be selling new wireless headphones too, of course, but is also including a Lightning connector equipped set of standard ear buds with the phones. It is not entirely clear if Apple’s new wireless headphones use industry standard Bluetooth or a new proprietary Apple protocol – it seems that Apple, unavoidably being Apple, is spurning the concept of “industry standard” and using its own proprietary specification for its headphones. Yes, the Bluetooth standard is still being supported as well, but Apple seems to be designing extra features into its wireless protocol to ‘encourage’ you to only buy its compatible headphones rather than to use any generic (and much lower priced) headphones and/or adapters.
Two more comments about wireless headphones. First, I’ve never yet encountered a wireless set of Bluetooth headphones, at any price point, with sound quality as good as an under $10 generic wired headset. Second, I can never remember how to control the BT headphones – even how to turn them on and off. Does that tone mean I’ve turned them on? Or that I’ve turned them off? Does pushing this button increase the volume, or disconnect the call? And so on.
What else? The obligatory/inevitable boast of faster processor speed. Does anyone even care any more? Is your iPhone 5 or 6 ‘too slow’?
Battery life? Now that’s something of scarce and precious value. Like the 6 and 6S series phones, the larger screened 7+ phone has more room for battery in its case and so has a longer battery life than the smaller screened 7. It seems there is slightly more battery life available for internet browsing (another hour or two), slightly less for listening to music (but at 40+ hours, more than enough for most of us). Nothing revolutionary here, unfortunately.
Now for the final facts and figures. The iPhone 7 starts at $649 for a 32GB version. The larger 7+ starts at $769. Both are also available with 128 and 256GB versions (costing another $100 and $200 respectively), but it is very difficult to think of any sensible reason to have 256 GB of memory on your phone, particularly because Apple also refuses to support industry standard lossless music encoding formats.
The phones are identical in size and shape to the two phones they replace, and 0.1 ounces lighter.
The phones will be available for pre-order starting on Friday, 9 September, and will be available for sale on 16 September. The new iOS 10 will be released on 13 September (and this will be available for some earlier model iPhones too).
The first model of wireless headphones will cost a pricey $159 and go on sale in late October.
So – Bottom Line : Should You Buy an iPhone 7?
I’ve owned an original iPhone, and then subsequently a 3GS, a 4, a 5, and a 6+, in other words, buying alternate year models. People like me are therefore ‘due’ to buy a new iPhone 7. But, the two big unanswered questions are :
- Why spend $650+ on a new iPhone when the old iPhone is perfectly good?
- Why spend $650+ on a new iPhone when similar Android phones can be had for less than one quarter the cost?
Unless you can personally come up with credible answers to both these questions, you should leave your money in your pocket and the new iPhone in its box in the store. The new iPhone 7 and 7+ are of course ‘better’ than the phones they replace, but their improvements are more on paper than tangible improvements that will impact on how we use our phones every day.
So – a slightly faster processor, slightly brighter screen, slightly better camera, and a new inconvenient way to connect headphones to the phone. All very much exactly as already leaked and expected. Does that see me rushing out to buy an iPhone 7?
Maybe if you have an old original version iPhone 5 or earlier phone, it might make sense to consider upgrading, but in such a case, don’t overlook the new high value Android phones that are available from many suppliers at bargain prices.
In my case, I need to buy another phone (to replace the iPhone 5 my daughter lost). I’d been hoping the iPhone 7+ would persuade me to buy it, and then I’d give Anna the hand-me-down iPhone 6+ I currently have. But instead, I am keeping my 6+ for another year, and buying Anna a lovely brand new Motorola G Play phone for $99 on Amazon. If you are a Prime member, it is $99.99; if you are not, you can become a Prime member for a 30 day free trial, buy the phone for $149.99 and get a $50 discount voucher to be used for anything else on the Amazon site. Any way you slice it, that’s a tremendous deal on a great phone.