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  • Reviewers Gush — Sort of — Over iPhone 7

    September 14th, 2016

    As many of you know, the common tech media meme about the iPhone 7 is that it’s a very modest update, largely because the case looks very much the same. Curious that this has become a defining feature, even though it will do little or nothing to reflect the quality of the internal workings or its performance.

    The lack of a headphone jack also gets a fair amount of coverage, probably more than it deserves. As I wrote previously, once the media latches on to something, it seldom lets go. Consider how long it took for Apple not to be a beleaguered company. Wait, to some it still is, and the lower sales of the iPhone in the past two quarters haven’t helped change that tune.

    As a practical matter, the loss of the venerable headphone jack has had a variable impact in the first batch of reviews, but it’s usually meant as a negative talking or bullet point. It actually doesn’t hurt your experience with the new iPhones, unless you absolutely have to listen and charge the unit at the same time. You then have to spring for a $40 Belkin adaptor, or someone else’s adapter, as I expect there will be more over time, and some will be a lot cheaper.

    I suppose one could invent a faux conspiracy over the ease with which you can lose Apple’s headphone jack to Lightning adaptor. If you’re concerned, they are $9 each, so it’s not much of a deal. You can always buy a few for a rainy day.

    Apple, of course, is looking towards a wireless future — same as with the MacBook and its single USB-C port — where you won’t have to worry about using those old fashioned cables for anything. Maybe if Apple adds wireless charging next year, the circle will begin to close. But supplying free wireless headphones ought to help drive home the point about a cable-free iPhone. I don’t mean AirPods, but basic Bluetooth ear buds. I saw a number of products starting at $19.99 at Amazon, but wouldn’t vouch for the quality of any of them. But if it were similar to the ear buds Apple provides as standard issue, that would be good enough.

    Sorry audiophiles, but most iPhone users stick with Apple’s standard issue headgear.

    Predictably, the shiny jet-black iPhone 7 is prone to scratching, so the advice is probably to get a case real fast. That said, why buy one in the first place if you can’t experience its beauty?

    The other source of criticism is a mixed bag, the solid state Home button. So you sense a click with the Taptic Engine, but there is no physical switch or physical click, which makes it far more reliable. I don’t know about the failure rate, but it’s reported that the Assistive Touch feature, which creates a virtual Home button, is widely used around the world. This move is intended to protect the hardware. Remember that an iPhone is an expensive piece of electronic gear, and fixing anything can be mighty costly. The new Home button, while getting some brickbats from reviewers, eliminates that need.

    Without personal experience, I still suspect you’ll probably get used to it, just as much as you’ll probably get used to the lack of a headphone jack. I don’t see either as a serious negative — to me. But I can see where different customers have different priorities, and the feeding frenzy over headphone-gate — there I said it — is bound to influence the buying decisions of some.

    Or maybe not.

    But consider the negatives: The iPhone 7 doesn’t look very different from the previous model. There is no headphone jack, and a solid state Home button is, well, different. The camera enhancements are important to some, and the wider color gamut will also appeal to a small number of  users. But the latter is most important to people who require accurate color for their work or hobbies. It doesn’t mean a lot to most users. I remember working with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which also sports enhanced color. All well and good, but you don’t catch the difference unless you have a regular iPad handy with which to compare it. The improved performance from the A10 Fusion processor is also a nice improvement, but again mostly in comparison to previous iPhones that will suddenly seem a little laggy. Longer battery life, in response to years of customer requests, is a plus.

    So you’d think this is all just a very modest improvement and it isn’t going to alter the downward sales trend. Worse, Apple won’t be releasing sales numbers after the upcoming launch weekend. The excuse is that there won’t be enough stock to fill demand, but that’s been true in the past, so does Apple expect a less-than-stellar result? Or maybe supplies are more limited this year.

    Regardless, there are early indications of very high demand. Two major wireless carriers in the U.S., T-Mobile and Sprint, report huge increases in preorders over last year. We’re talking about close to four times as many. That doesn’t indicate how many units will actually ship this weekend, but something fascinating is happening here. I just wonder whether similar results will come from AT&T and Verizon, and from carriers around the world.

    And people are still lining up around Apple Stores to pick them up this weekend.

    I suppose Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7, and its burning batteries, may convince some to go iPhone this time. But will a huge sales potential convince Apple that they need to release some numbers? Probably not, but the stock market reacted positively to the early results on Tuesday. Let’s see how long that holds.



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