The rumors were true: At a private press event today in San Francisco, Apple unveiled the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the latest versions of the company’s now-flagship product, both sans headphone jack.
We’ll get to that unfortunate development in a moment, but first let’s check out the new features. The iPhone 7 includes a new force-sensitive, solid state Home button to replace the prior mechanical one. The phone is now both water- and dust-resistant to IP67 standards, responding to competition from Samsung. Under the hood, a new A10 Fusion chip moves the iPhone to a big.Little configuration for the first time, with two high-performance cores that beat the A9 by 40 percent and two high-efficiency cores that run at 1/5 power. The hexacore GPU is supposedly 50 percent faster than the A8 — which should help what is honestly already a great gaming platform. The combination together promises to deliver 12 hours of Web browsing on LTE and 13 hours with the 7 Plus, or an average of two hours or one hour better than the prior versions, respectively.
The biggest upgrade, though, is probably the camera. The new rear camera now includes optical image stabilization on both models, a wider f/1.8 aperture, a new six-element lens, a 12-megapixel sensor, and a two-tone flash with four LEDs and a flicker sensor. A new image signal processor (ISP) delivers twice the throughput and uses machine learning to distinguish people and foreground objects. Apple’s SVP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller claims the ISP does 100 billion ops on every photo in a span of just 25 milliseconds. The front camera gets a bump to 7 megapixels and wide color gamut support.
The larger iPhone 7 Plus gets a special upgrade in the form of an entire second lens on the rear panel. The second one is a 56mm “telephoto” (not a real telephoto range) that helps deliver a DSLR-like shallow depth of field when necessary, complete with a bokeh effect to blur the background, and also serves as a de facto 2x optical “zoom.” Schiller says the phone uses the ISP to scan the scene, to use machine learning to recognize people, and create a depth map of that image from the two cameras in the software. That keeps the people in focus and applies a blur to the background.
The new style is called Portrait; it jumps to using the telephoto lens and automatically adds the depth effect. It’s coming in a free software update later this year, which means it won’t be available immediately on launch.
The phone also includes a display that’s 25 percent brighter, with a wide color gamut and end-to-end color management. New front-facing stereo speakers should finally match some of the better Android phones in sound quality and volume.
That brings us to the much-maligned decision to remove the headphone jack. Instead ,the phones ship with Lightning-compatible EarPods, and new $159 wireless AirPods will land in late October that don’t require pairing, include a tap function to activate Siri, and also work with the Apple Watch. Beats will also have several models available that support the iPhone 7’s proprietary wireless audio system. An ugly dongle ships in the box if you want to keep using your $400 Sennheisers.
For the first time, the base model iPhone now has 32GB instead of 16GB, and the two upgrade versions are 128GB and 256GB. The iPhone 7 offers a new jet black high-gloss finish on the higher-storage versions, and also comes in regular black, gold, silver, and rose gold. Pre-orders begin September 9th, and the phone goes on sale September 16th in 28 countries, with 30 more to follow a week later. Pricing is similar to before aside from the storage bumps, with the base 4.7-inch iPhone 7 starting at $649 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus this time $120 more instead of $100 more, at $769.
Is this enough to get people to upgrade from an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s? We’ll have to wait and see how well the camera performs, if the A10 is indeed up to spec in testing, and whether there are any issues like exploding batteries or latent logic board manufacturing problems. Early indications are that Apple did what it needed to do — except for removing the headphone jack, which we’d argue it didn’t need to do.