After months of rumour and speculation, peaking feverishly in recent weeks, Apple has finally unveiled its iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus mobile phones, along with Apple Watch Series 2, the second iteration of its wearable device.
The headline features of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are the new camera systems, the fact that they are now water and dust resistant and that the headphone jack has gone. Both phones have the same physical dimensions as their 6 model counterparts. The 7 models now come in five colours, Apple adding a high-gloss, all-black, top-end model to the range.
The 7 model phones use Apple’s new A10 Fusion chip, estimated to be 40 per cent faster than the 6 model phones. Water and dust resistance was achieved by using all-new seals and materials, such that an iPhone 7 can apparently withstand being submerged in up to one metre of water for 30 minutes. With this goal in mind, the Home button has become a touch-sensitive button with haptic feedback, rather than a physical button, to reduce water ingress.
Apple made a considerable show of the new camera features in iPhone 7, especially the dual-lens configuration of the iPhone 7 Plus. This model will have two 12-megapixel lens, one a wide-angle lens, the other a telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom. Both lenses can also work together to produce depth-of-field image compositions and other photographic effects typically associated with DLSR cameras.
Both iPhone 7 models also have a front-facing 7-megapixel camera, for improved FaceTime and selfie images, and optical image stabilization and a larger ƒ/1.8 aperture and 6-element lens to enable more detailed and vivid photos and videos. The Apple-designed Image Signal Processor can process over 100 billion operations on a single photo in as little as 25 milliseconds. The Quad-LED True Tone flash is also new, 50 per cent brighter than iPhone 6s and featuring an innovative sensor that detects any flickering in lights or other illuminations and compensates for it.
“iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus dramatically improve every aspect of the iPhone experience, reaching a new level of innovation and precision to make this the best iPhone we have ever made,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “The completely redesigned cameras shoot incredible photos and videos day or night, the A10 Fusion chip is the most powerful chip on any smartphone while delivering the best battery life ever in an iPhone, and an entirely new stereo speaker system provides twice the sound, all within the first water and dust resistant iPhone.”
During the event, there was a video presentation from Apple’s chief designer Jony Ive explaining the precise, high-spec manufacturing process by which the company achieved the high-gloss “piano black” finish on the new colour iPhone 7.
However, the appeal of the impressively mirror-like black finish was diminished somewhat by Apple’s own admonition that it will scuff and scratch as easily as any other finish – and being mirror-black, these marks will be very noticeable – and that owners should strongly consider buying a protective case. Many people noted that this somewhat obscures the beauty and undermines the effort Apple has gone to in producing the all-black model.
One of the long-standing rumours about iPhone 7 has been that Apple would drop the 3.5mm headphone jack. That did indeed prove to be the case, with both iPhone 7 models having Lightning connector only. This single jack is now used for all data flow and charging, in and out of the devices.
Speaking to Buzzfeed News, Apple’s Dan Riccio voiced the company’s take on the headphone jack, outlining the technological reasoning behind the decision to remove it.
"We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space. It was holding us back from a number of things we wanted to put into the iPhone. It was fighting for space with camera technologies and processors and battery life. And frankly, when there’s a better, modern solution available, it’s crazy to keep it around."
Dropping the headphone jack has also allowed Apple to create stereo speakers on the iPhone 7 models, with twice the volume output of previous iPhones.
While Apple hopes to lead users towards an entirely wireless future, it is including a pair of Lightning-connector headphones in the box, as well as acknowledging that millions of iPhone users also already own and love wired headphones, so a Lightning-to-3.5mm jack adapter will be in the iPhone 7 box.
With the headphone jack gone from iPhone 7, Apple also launched new wireless in-ear headphone alternatives at the event, the AirPods – five-hour battery life rechargeable ear-buds.
Internet reaction to them was mostly comedic, given the Pods slightly unusual appearance and tiny size, with many people immediately concerned about routinely losing them. Given their size, there has also been concern expressed about them being a choke hazard for babies and children.
However, it has also been noted that Apple’s wireless future – of which the AirPods connecting to iPhone 7 is a first step – is about more than enjoying cable-free music. There are already moves being made from other companies about wireless technologies enabling greater, more effective communication with AI engines, freeing hand and eyes from having to constantly interact with a touchscreen device, such as a phone or tablet computer. AirPods could thus be considered an all-day, in-ear communication device, with applications beyond music consumption.
The iPhone 7 range will be available from September 7 2016, in 32GB, 128GB and 256GB configurations.
The second key hardware announcement made by Apple at the event was Watch Series 2. Apple revealed that since it launched Watch Series 1 (as the original Watch is henceforth to be known), the company has become the number one smartwatch retailer in the world. More surprising was the revelation that Apple is also now the number two retailer of watches of any kind in the world, second only to Rolex.
The key improvements debuting with the new Watch Series 2 range are that Apple’s smartwatch is now water resistant to 50 metres (the watch industry standard measurement), which means swimming and surfing can now be tracked as fitness activities. Watch also now has its own built-in GPS, so it can be used independently of a paired iPhone, such as when out running or hiking. This means Maps can be used to track location and at the event a demonstration showed offline hiking trail guides being used on Watch for navigation.
The new Watch models also have noticeably brighter screens, so the face can be read more easily in bright sunshine (not that Watch Series 1 was any slouch in this department), and will be up to 50 per cent faster, thanks to the new dual-core processors used.
A new premium ceramic Edition model was also shown, an all-white pearl-like finish four times stronger than stainless steel, along with a new space-black stainless steel model.
Apple also announced a Watch Series 2 partnership with Nike, showing exclusive perforated Nike Sport Bands and motivational Watch faces, encouraging people to run more and keep up their running program.
“We’re thrilled with the response to Apple Watch and how it’s changed people’s lives. We are committed to fitness and health and think our customers will love the new capabilities of Apple Watch Series 2,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer.
Also announced at the event were further details of iOS 10, the iPhone and iPad operating system, as well as Watch OS3, compatible with both Series 1 and Series 2 Watch models.
Some of the biggest audience cheers of the day came with the announcement that Pokemon Go will be coming to Apple Watch as an app later this year, meaning that the Trainer won’t have to keep their iPhone on the whole time while walking, as the Watch app will notify them whenever Pokemon or Stops are nearby. The live demonstration of catching Pokemon and hatching eggs drew considerable applause.
The audience were equally enthusiastic about the news that - for the first time ever - Nintendo’s Super Mario character will be coming to the App Store in his debut mobile iOS game. Nintendo has been criticised in the past for missing the opportunites of the mobile gaming market and being left behind by both rival companies and new players, but with the success of Pokemon Go and now Super Mario coming to the iOS platform, Nintendo is back in the game.
In spite of the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the event - which concluded with an exclusive live performance from singer Sia - there was a slight tinge of disappointment for some attendees given the absence of any updates to both the iPad and MacBook Pro lines. Some commentators had hoped for update news on these products as well, such as a refresh of the 12.9" iPad Pro, which currently lags behind its smaller family member the 9.7" iPad Pro in terms of feature set and technological equipment, or new MacBook Pro models, given the swirling rumours about new features expected there.
It is likely that these products will feature in their own Apple event later this year, once the back-to-school season is over, as has been the case in past years and given the natural cycle length of each product range.