Apple took the stage last night (Kenyan time) in San Francisco to announce the new iPhones.
As expected, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus keep the display sizes of their predecessors i.e. 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch respectively. A lot of the other specifications have received the usual annual upgrade. There’s a new A10 Fusion processor, the smaller iPhone is finally getting optical image stabilization, there are new cameras that are going to kick ass for the next one year (if you’re picking up the larger iPhone 7 Plus you’re getting that dual-camera setup), there’s a new colour option (Jet Black, wait what?) to fawn over and Apple is finally dropping the 16GB iPhone. All good.
However, what many will remember about the iPhone 7 is not these feature upgrades but essentially what a device in its position does to an entire industry. The first generation iPhone, whose graphics processing power the new iPhone 7 has improved 240 times over, is mainly credited with the gains that have been made in the mobile industry for nearly a decade. Apps, app stores… name it. It all goes back to that launch in 2007 and eventual release a year later.
Apple is never the first to rush out to adopt new and exciting technologies and incorporate them in its consumer devices. It takes its time, sometimes too much time, but when it eventually does it, the whole world takes a moment to take in what just happened, listen, watch and then follow. With over 1 billion iPhones having made their way to the hands of consumers everywhere in the world, the iPhone today is not just your average tech product. It is a lifestyle product whose use cuts across all fields and cultures. The iPhone 7 makes some bold steps, at least by Apple standards, but it won’t be long before whatever it is that it brings to the table, new or not, becomes an everyday mobile device standard.
1. Water-resistant phones will now become a thing
The iPhone 7 is the first ever iPhone to have IP67 certification which means that it is water and dust resistant. This means that the iPhone 7 is dustproof and can be immersed in water for up to a metre deep for at most half an hour. That’s not a big deal considering that some of the notable devices it is coming up against like the Samsung Galaxy S7 have an even better Ingress Protection rating. For what it’s worth, Sony has had water-resistant smartphones for like forever. However, with Apple finally including this on its iPhones, expect most of the devices coming to the market at that price to start having the feature. Going forward, water-resistant smartphones will be the norm rather than the exception. It will no longer be a feature worth spending a few minutes of an important keynote gloating over. Wired‘s Andrew Ackley accurately captures my feelings on the matter.
2. It’s the age of the dual camera and now that Apple has issued its blessing…
The iPhone 7 Plus arrives with a dual-camera setup at the back. The iPhone 7 Plus has two 12-megapixel sensors. One is a wide-angle lens and the other is a “telephoto”. What that means is that users will be able to play around with the focal length hence bringing that optical zoom that was being hyped up on stage last night. Now, normally this is not supposed to be the big deal that it will become but it will be thanks to Apple. Forget that the likes of Huawei and LG have walked this path before; they’re not Apple! Over the next one year, everyone who hadn’t implemented such will rush to include it in their next smartphone.
3. The evolution of the physical home button
The iPhone 7’s home button is just but a button in the name. It’s more like a placeholder for the button that has existed in past generations of the iPhone. The mechanical click of the button that many have known over the years has been done away with and replaced by the iPhone 7’s Taptic Engine… simply elaborate tech-speak for the haptic feedback from the capacitive buttons on your Android smartphone. The end result? The home button doesn’t feel like home. HTC is already doing this with its HTC 10 smartphone, the button there is less pronounced and simply exists largely for the fingerprint scanner embedded. Good or bad, your feelings on this hardly matter. Expect everyone to follow this route.
4. It’ll be one more year before wireless charging can really take off on smartphones
Every flagship smartphone out this year from everyone but Apple includes support for some form of wireless charging standard. However, since with the iPhone 7 Apple sidestepped wireless charging, again, it will be another year-long wait before hopes of it ever becoming a thing surface again, same time next year when another new iPhone drops. Inclusion in the iPhone 7 would have given wireless charging the attention and legitimacy it so desperately needs. Not because it was lacking any of those but a guaranteed 10 million smartphone units that support wireless charging flying off the shelves on the first weekend of a product’s availability is everyone’s dream.
5. It’s the end of an era for the 3.5mm headphone jack
Now, Apple not including it is a big blunder and not even a bogus reason like “courage” (Apple Marketing chief Phil Schiller’s reason as to why the company was leaving it out) or Apple VP Greg Joswiack’s explanation can change that. However, once the dust settles, the world will move on. The iPhone 7 officially makes it less awkward to not include the 3.5mm headphone jack on a smartphone.
Even though I am not advocating for its removal (I am known to walk around with a pair of wired headsets), you can actually tell that the only reason the Huawei P9 is not thinner than it already is, is because of the headphone jack. By taking the bold step to alienate an open standard that has been around for over five decades in favour of its own proprietary standard (Lightning), Apple has returned the favour. It has done for others what they do for it (use something for ages before it eventually chimes in). Huawei can just decide that it wants the P10 next year to rival a foolscap in terms of thinness and it can go ahead and do just that without any sense of remorse.
In case you have forgotten, Oppo went that route a while back. In October 2014, the Chinese device maker released the Oppo R5 which was too thin to have a 3.5mm headphone jack. Like Apple, Oppo also included a microUSB-to-3.5mm adaptor. When it came out, I was among those who simply brushed it off for omitting such an important feature. Now, Oppo and others will be very much at home not listening to us and doing as they please without feeling a bit guilty. Sure, Motorola has been trying that with the 5.19mm thick Moto Z which, you guessed it right, lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack. And so do several new smartphones from Chinese device maker LeEco. What have you done, Apple?
6. The AirPods are cool and it’s how everyone should do their wireless earphones
Everyone can borrow a leaf from the AirPods. I’m not particularly a fan of Apple’s decision to scrap off the headphone jack from the iPhone but guess what I’m a fan of? The accessories they’re fronting to the futurists in place of the EarPods that go into the Lightning connector, the pair of totally wireless earphones, the AirPods! They have no buttons and they don’t need any form of turning on then pairing every other time. If anything from last night’s event, they’re the product one can always expect from Apple. One that “just works”. For many out there who’ve never known the struggle to get a pair of Gear Circles to work on a Galaxy Note 5 every damn time, they’ll have a pleasant experience going wireless thanks to the new iPhone. This is the one thing everyone needs to copy. Fast!
[Sidenote: to be fair to Samsung, the Gear Circles aren’t fully cord-free as there’s a wire connecting the two pods and I haven’t tried out Samsung’s new truly wireless earbuds which debuted earlier than Apple’s]
Eeerm, not so fast, though. They shouldn’t copy the tie-in with a cloud service. Apple is pushing iCloud so either of the devices that the AirPods can be paired with need to be signed in to an iCloud account. No! That’s not the way to go. The $160 price of the AirPods while obviously steep, shouldn’t be much of an issue since they are an option and not a must-have item (unless you are one of the Twitter cool kids). What everyone should do is make more affordable wireless headsets that, to use Apple’s words, just work.