The biggest surprise for anyone following the most popular phone ever made is that it is not that surprising.
The new Apple iPhone 7 and it’s larger cousin the iPhone 7 Plus are roughly the same size and weight of the previous versions. They are not “impulse buys” but stick fairly close to the Apple recipe for success. There’s a better camera, a faster processor, stereo speakers, and a curiously absent headphone jack.
Even that isn’t really a shocker, though. As Apple revealed at an event today in San Francisco, the phone does still support wired headphones and earbuds. You’ll need to connect them with a simple adapter -- included in the box -- to the Lightning charge port.
We also knew all about the dual lenses on the iPhone 7 Plus, although many pundits didn’t seem to realize the iPhone 7 would retain only one lens. When you snap photos with the Plus version, you can switch between telephoto and wide angle. Also, a new Portrait mode means you can focus on the subject and create a blur effect for the background.
What was genuinely a bit shocking is that the new models don’t break any new ground and make you want to own them now, which is something Apple has done repeatedly over the last 15 years or so. (It’s a curious fact that the original Apple iPod debuted shortly after I left the corporate world, in late 2001, so my own writing career has followed the same chronological arc since I’ve covered the iPod, then the iPhone and the iPad, the Apple Watch, and the brilliant rise of this dominant tech giant.)
But what have they done lately? Not as much. I’m always a bit shocked to see another flagship phone that’s remarkably similar to the last flagship phone. At least with the Moto Z smartphone there’s some innovative add-ons, including backup battery cases and projectors that snap onto the back with a click. Apple seems content to make point releases of the iPhone. The last major reveal was the iPad Pro, a gargantuan tablet that uses the Apple Pencil and makes digital magazine reading easier.
The iPhone 7 does have a faster processor, the A10 Fusion, and there’s some interesting new innovations in how it works. There are four processing cores; two of them run at full power. The other two run at one-fifth power and can save battery life when you text, email, and do other chores that don’t need the speed boost (like playing a game or watching a movie). That makes the iPhone 7 last two hours longer than the 6s.
I like that there are now two speakers, which means audio will sound more realistic. And, the new Air Pods, which cost $159, uses a new wireless chip. I’m sure we’ll find out about the range of the signal, the quality, and if the earbuds actually do last the reported five hours per charge. That might depend on whether you play a folk album or crank up an alt-rock band at full volume.
The iPhone 7 is now officially water resistant. That’s not surprising at all, since we’ve known for some time that the iPhone 6s can withstand light water spills.
One small perk: When you buy the new phones, you’ll be pleased to discover the storage is now double what it was on the previous models for the same prices. The allotments are now 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB but the iPhone 7 still costs $649 without a contract.
That’s a bit ho-hum, too. The iPhone is definitely a cultural touchstone, but the latest model, which ships on September 16, seems like a shinier, blacker, headphone jack-less redux of the last version. Maybe the iPhone 8 will do something amazing.
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