Depending on who you ask, Apple has a long and glorious history of innovating in the smartphone industry. Or, Apple has a long history of stealing the best ideas from other manufacturers and platforms. Sometimes, Apple fans will remark something along the lines of, “well we weren’t the first, but we were the first to make it work!” Yes. Flexible smartphone chassis designs and antenna arrangements that required the customer to hold it just right. Make no mistake; it isn’t just Apple that release faulty products, but Apple quickly move to silence complaints about defects in their products. This last week has seen the best ever iPhone (again) with a raft of new features to wow customers and potential customers. Let’s take a look at seven features that Apple are belatedly bringing to the market and then consider why this is a good thing.
Firstly, Apple’s chipset designers have produced a big.LITTLE chipset for the new iPhone. The term “big.LITTLE” is used to describe a chipset with two or more clusters of application processors optimised for a certain computing workload. At low processor loads, such as idle in the pocket, picking up email, or waiting for the user to interact with the device, the chipset uses the least powerful but most efficient application cores. At higher workloads, the chipset introduces the next tier up and depending on the architecture, when things get really busy the chipset can plug in all application cores. Apple’s new chipset for the iPhone 7 uses two tiers of dual core application processors after years of designing their own chipsets and not using the big.LITTLE concept. In the Android world, big.LITTLE chipsets are commonplace. That Apple have not introduced big.LITTLE until 2016 highlights just how powerful and efficient their chipsets already are.
The second new iPhone feature is dust and water resistance. Here, Apple likely followed Samsung by introducing this device hardening, but both Apple and Samsung are several years behind Sony, which has been building water and dust resistant devices for three years now. Apple’s IP67 rating isn’t as high as some competitor devices and isn’t as great as the Galaxy S7 and Note 7 range, but in an industry where liquid damage has caused many devices to be abandoned, this is a positive step from Apple. A third feature of the iPhone is related to the water resistance, which is where the company have removed the 3.5mm headphone socket. There are several reasons why a manufacturer deletes the old port including how it is an old piece of technology requiring additional space inside the device and how for a water resistant device, it is one more component that needs hardening. We’ve seen other device manufacturers remove the 3.5mm headphone socket, such as Motorola with the Moto Z, but we will only see one company use the Lightning standard for headphones, whereas other manufacturers are adopting the USB Type-C standard.
The fourth new feature is that of dual rear cameras, available on the new iPhone 7 Plus. We’ve seen Android devices with dual cameras for a long time now, as more recently the 2014 HTC One M8 came with a dual rear camera set up. In 2016 we’ve seen the Huawei P9 and LG G5 with dual camera set ups and going further back into history, we’ve seen HTC experiment with a 3D camera set up. Apple’s new camera technology leverages the technology for optical zoom, which we’ve already seen although perhaps not so elegantly. The iPhone 7 Plus can also use both cameras for very respectable low light shots, which Huawei P9‘s already achieves. Yes: Apple’s rear cameras have a low aperture of f/1.8 – but as photographers will remind us, good digital photography is so much more than the hardware. It also depends on the software, which is something Apple devices have traditionally gotten more right than wrong, and of course the technique – in other words, the photographer!
Feature five is something that we’ve seen in the Android world for several years now: stereo front facing speakers. HTC’s BoomSound, introduced with the One M7 back in 2013, introduced the world to the idea that a relatively small smartphone can produce a respectably loud and good quality sound set up. Apple’s on-device speakers in recent generations have not been poor by any stretch but are not in the same league as the many stereo speaker devices that we’ve seen. Apple’s adoption of stereo front facing speakers is good news for Samsung fans, as it should encourage the next Galaxy to come with at least a front facing speaker and ideally a stereo set up. Apple are also introducing Cat. 9 LTE wireless networking on the iPhone 7. It should be no surprise that Apple’s LTE technologies have lagged behind the Android competition in 2016 as the company has lagged behind the rest of the industry to date, and the current jump allows a theoretical download speed of 450 Mbps from the iPhone 6S’ 300 Mbps. Today’s networks do not typically provide this sort of performance, meaning that current Android devices that benefit from Cat. 12 LTE aren’t able to leverage this advantage, but surveys show that the average iPhone customer keeps his or her iPhone for almost four years and it could make a difference in 2020.
The seventh change is Apple have dropped the 16 GB iPhone from the iPhone 7 range and the new minimum is 32 GB. This is a welcome improvement: applications have grown in size over the last few years, which means the utility of a 16 GB iPhone is similar to a 16 GB Android device: it can very quickly become full of data, which restricts the device. 32 GB gives customers opting for the least expensive device in the range a bit more breathing space, but Apple have not introduced the MicroSD card slot: instead they want customers to pay more for a higher capacity iPhone. To wrap up, Apple’s new iPhone 7 borrows many ideas from the industry, but it is increasingly difficult not to borrow ideas from competitors. And it’s a good thing. Most Android users likely have no problem with Apple borrowing what their engineers believe to be the best ideas from the current breed of smartphone. It means that those Android devices next year may have some features that might otherwise be missing, such as Samsung bringing stereo speakers to the Galaxy S8, or HTC making their 2017 flagship water resistant.