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More Evidence the iPhone 7 is More Than a Modest Refresh

Despite the endless claims that the iPhone 7 is a minor update compared to previous models, the reviews clearly indicate that it’s a whole lot more significant in many ways. To see what I mean, do a little online research about the major changes in new iPhones in recent years. Other than form factor — and the switch to larger displays beginning with the iPhone 6 — there are usually a very few significant enhancements.

So, as I reported in this weekend’s newsletter, consider the iPhone 5s. One memorable change was the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, Apple’s first implementation of technology it acquired when it bought AuthenTec. There was one more change of note, although the benefits are probably more difficult to describe, and that’s the A7 processor, the first 64-bit chip using ARM technology. While the competition at first derided the news, it wasn’t long before they were desperately trying to match Apple’s achievement.

With the iPhone 7, the tech media has been hammering home the claim that it was nothing more than a relatively minor refresh, so might as well wait until next year when the “real” changes will occur. A key addition may be the use of an OLED or AMOLED display. The latter is already in use on the Apple Watch, so it would seem to be only a matter of time before it scales up to an iPhone display. Supposedly.

That would mean this year’s display isn’t supposed to be quite as good, but recent reviews indicate the improvements are significant.

Now before you consider display quality, consider the fact that the competition is touting higher resolution displays on their high-end models. That’s supposed to be an advantage. But all iPhones feature Retina displays, meaning that, at a normal viewing distance, you cannot see the individual pixels that make up the image. Specifically, it’s 326ppi, or 1334×750, on the iPhone 7, and 401ppi, or 1920×1080, on the iPhone 7 Plus. The latter doesn’t provide any visual advantage whatever, nor do even higher resolutions on Samsung’s and other handsets. If you can’t see the difference, what’s the point.

This is the problem TV makers are having with 4K models. Unless you have a set with a pretty large screen, and that can be over 60 inches at normal viewing distances, you won’t see the resolution advantage, for the same reason that you can’t see the pixels on a Retina display. But newer sets, particularly the more expensive models, are offering wider color gamuts. If your source material exploits that advantage, you will see colors that will just pop. But not so if you download 4K content from such sources as Netflix.

Apple has already begun to move in that direction. Last year’s iMac update, in addition to the usual processor enhancements, also sports a DCI P3 color gamut, which makes a noticeable difference, particularly if you compare it to the previous model. This spring, Apple introduced a 9.7-inch iPad Pro with a “True Tone” feature along with a similar color enhancement.

Dubbed Wide Color, it’s on the iPhone 7.

Now this is the sort of change that probably went unnoticed by the media, and was given passing reference by reviewers. But according to a DisplayMate report, the iPhone 7’s Wide Color displays are regarded as the best of the breed, with very high contrast radios, low reflectance, and amazing color accuracy in for both normal and Wide Color content.

Now I mentioned this advantage on my radio show, but it doesn’t appear that my guests really appreciated the difference. It’s one of those things that most customers probably wouldn’t notice either unless they compared it to gear without Wide Color, but it is visible. Or it was to me when I compared the review sample of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro I had here for a while to my wife’s iPad Air 2.

While the early reviews haven’t mentioned battery life specifically, Apple advertises a two-hour improvement in the iPhone 7 and one hour on the iPhone 7 Plus, which already had a pretty decent rating. Assuming those specs bear out in real-world testing, this would definitely answer one of the oft-stated concerns about iPhones. Maybe it won’t reduce sales of battery packs, but if you have to charge the battery less often, it means fewer charge cycles over the year, and a longer lifetime before it has to be replaced. That can be a money saver.

And don’t forget a water-resistant design.

The camera improvements seem to be mostly garnering good press. Reviewers describe noticeable improvements compared to previous iPhones and competitors. It’s not quite at the DSLR level, and Apple isn’t claiming that it is. But for most snapshots and even some portraits, it apparently does a pretty good job. This may be a key reason why the iPhone 7 Plus has what appears to be a larger-than-expected demand due to its twin-camera system.

The solid state Home button may be controversial, and the loss of the headphone jack may be off-putting for some, but for most it isn’t going to make a difference. Apple’s decision to supply the free headphone jack to Lightning adapter, and to sell replacements for $9, does help lessen the inconvenience.

I’m not considering processor enhancements, improved LTE performance and other changes. The long and short of it is, compared to previous iPhones, this one appears to be a pretty major upgrade. But I hope to have a reasonable amount of hands-on experience to offer soon.