Reaction to the iPhone 7: Can it turn around Apple's fortunes?

Until this year, Apple never had to report a dip in iPhone sales. Never. Not in almost a decade of smartphone selling.

Then along comes two “see me” reports in a row.

The January and July earnings figures both showed declining revenues from the iPhone. And we’re not talking small declines either:

  • In January 2015 sales of the iPhone grew by 46%
  • In January 2016 sales of the iPhone grew by 0.4%

Perhaps we shouldn’t feel too sorry for Apple’s shareholders, since the tech giant can still claim to earn over $2000 every single second. Plus, how realistic is it to expect Apple to continue to grow at the same levels that they have done in the past? If economics tells us anything, it’s that periods of plateau are inevitable.

However, just because you’re one of the most loved consumer brands in the world, shouldn’t encourage a degree of complacency in your primary products. In a never ending battle to bring new exciting features to the hardware market, you either play the Game of Phones, or you die. Just ask Blackberry.

Today, the iPhone 7 goes on pre-order, having been unveiled at a glamourous Apple launch event earlier this week. So does it look like it will help entice people back to the device that started it all?

Upon unveiling the new phone, Tim Cook said, “It’s the best iPhone we ever made.”

It’s not like I was expecting him to say, “This is the second best iPhone we’ve ever made,” but as soon as he said that, my anticipation escalated.

Apple’s iPhone Twitter team were obviously also chomping at the bit to get the news out there, because they accidentally tweeted this announcement whilst Apple were busy unveiling a new Super Mario game for iOS (nostalgia alert!) and hadn’t got around to the whole iPhone 7 thing yet.

By the way, Apple famously don’t have a company Twitter account, but they set one up especially for the launch event. Don’t bother trying to visit it now as all their tweets are promoted and not on their feed. However, after it appeared that the timing of the tweet had gone very badly wrong, one Apple developer joked:

Anyway, here’s the ‘big news’ about the iPhone 7:


1) There’s no headphone jack

The rumours and leaked information were all spot on; there will be no headphone jack in the iPhone 7. Instead you will have a choice of using the lightning adaptor cable which comes free in the box (it will mean you can’t charge your phone and listen to music through your headphones at the same time though). Or you can use a pair of Lightning-powered Earpods.

Or, in October, you’ll be able to buy ‘AirPods’ – these are wireless headphones which do actually look quite neat. Which is good, since they’re going to set you back £159…

There has been a lot of backlash to the removal of the headphone jack, but when Apple took away our floppy disk drives, our 30-pin connectors and our CD Drives, most of us cried for a few months, and then got used to it.

I suspect this will go the same way, plus it was a very clever bit of marketing to refer to the headphone jack as ‘ancient technology’. As soon as you label it as such, you’ll find a lot of people looking at their perfectly functional, “happy-with-them-until-yesterday” wired headphones in a whole new light.

I really like this poll by Forbes though – upon taking one look at the new AirPods, Forbes asked, “When will you lose your first pair?” I’m going for ‘Whenever I’m outside at the same time as there’s a slight breeze…”

2) It’s ‘water-resistant’

The iPhone 7 should be able to survive in water that is 1m deep, for up to 30 minutes. So if you want to read this blog in the shower, then the world is now your oyster.

Mind you, Apple won’t cover ‘water damage’ in the warranty, so it’s best to err on the side of caution for now. I wouldn’t take it swimming if I were you.

So, there’s no headphone jack and you can drop it down the toilet. Is that it?

Most of the other changes brought to the iPhone 7 are incremental improvements – they’re going to be well received, but they are what you might expect from a mid term ‘S’ model rather than a biannual generation release (the spec jumps from 3 to 4, 4 to 5 and 5 to 6 were huge in comparison).

These include:

  • Longer battery life – Apple say you can get 2 more hours out of the iPhone 7 than you can from the iPhone 6s.
  • Better camera – there isn’t a huge jump in the iPhone 7’s camera over the 6s, but you’ll now be able to take a much better picture in low-light surroundings, and a higher quality front camera means better selfie taking…the iPhone 7 Plus does have a dual camera now though, which is a decent step up and will make zooming in and out a lot easier.
  • Improved sound – ok this is actually a really big benefit. The iPhone 7 will come with two speakers – one at the top and one at the bottom. It’s not going to replace your stereo system at a house party, but this will be a big plus for those who like to watch movies on their phones in bed or show their mates the youtube clip of the moment down the pub.
  • Two new colours – now there’s shiny black, and not so shiny black.
  • New storage options – Apple have finally done away with the puny 16GB model. The iPhone 7 starts at 32GB and tops out at a whopping 256GB (with a 128GB model in between). Which should keep even the most avid media and app users happy.

What would we have liked to have seen? Well, an upgrade from a 720p screen to a 1080p resolution would have been nice. Samsung have offered this for a while, and it does make the iPhone’s screen look dull by comparison.

Many thought Apple might have finally been able to offer wireless charging, which would have been a very big deal.

Design-wise, apart from the removal of the headphone jack, the iPhone 7 is pretty much identical to the iPhone 6. Again this is a break from Apple tradition, which up until now made dramatic changes to the chassis for each new generation.

So why have Apple chosen to make relatively modest improvements for their latest iPhone?

I can see 3 possible reasons:

  1. There’s the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ argument. Maybe Apple reached the peak of smartphone design with the 6s and think they should plateau this design until something genuinely intuitive comes along?
  2. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. Perhaps Apple want to tie this massive PR opportunity in with a special release? Maybe that’s when we’ll see wireless charging, a competitive screen resolution, and…maybe even a bit of VR…?
  3. Apple could have decided to focus more on the one aspect of their business that is increasing its revenues at the moment – Apple Services. Apple are trying to find ways to keep people coming back to their ecosystem – whether that’s Apple Pay, Apple Music, or a venture into the Internet of Things such as Apple CarPlay. With all that effort going there, perhaps they just didn’t have time this year…?

Either way, the iPhone 7 isn’t going to light many fires (then again that might be a good thing, given Samsung’s recent misfortune with the recall of their Galaxy Note 7).