Shiny new iPhone lacks lustre

10:39 am on 9 September 2016

By Paul Brislen* - @paulbrislen

Opinion - Oh Apple. Once, not so long ago, that would have been, "Oh, Apple!" But now there's a definite downward inflection and a certain amount of lethargy in my response to the launch of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

It's not Apple's fault. Well, it is … in its early days Apple set the bar really high. Let's create an entire new market segment and let's create a product that will sell a billion units. Let's build a phone with no buttons at a time when phones had more buttons than a Cockney pearly king's flared trousers.

Let's build a place where customers can buy apps and build their own device (in a software way) to their own ends. Do you want a phone that's also a musical instrument? We have an orchestra. Do you want a phone that's a camera? We have a suite of tools for you. Productivity, gaming, television, health, fitness … each and every category created anew and all at the low, low price of free. Or a dollar. Maybe two at the most.

And then there's the battery life and the industrial design itself, which is still a thing of beauty (those curves, that screen, even the one button which now isn't a button but is a touch pad which feels like a button because they know that's what customers want) and of course the removal of the sacred headphone jack. Oh, how we wailed! Oh, the humanity! It's OK though - you can still connect through the power socket - itself a marvel of capability.

Apple's Phil Schiller launches the iPhone 7.

Apple's Phil Schiller launches the iPhone 7. Photo: AFP

But now we're all somewhat jaded and less easy to impress.

The new iPhone has astonishing capabilities. It has a camera (two if you get the big version) that takes remarkable photographs. Photo quality photographs. They take the amateur out of amateur photography, and suddenly everyone can make art. (No-one, however, can plug in their old headphones as Apple have, controversially, axed the headphones port).

The screen is sumptuous. It's an oil painting. It's nicer to look at than the real world.

The processor is more powerful than than ever before - 120 times more powerful than the chip in the original iPhone and that was more capable than the first home PC you used.

And then there's the sound and the battery life and the industrial design itself, which is still a thing of beauty. Those curves, that screen, even the button that now isn't a button but is a touch pad (which takes up less space inside), but which feels like a button because they know that's what we expect. It's glorious.

The iPhone 7 lives up to all the hype, all the expectation and yet is underwhelming because Apple used to surprise us. We'd be stunned by the audacity of their play, we'd come away gasping at the extent of their daring.

Instead, at the iPhone 7 launch, one of the key product announcements was that the phone comes in two new colours - black and even more black.

When you're reduced to telling us how excited we should be by a colour choice, and that colour choice is 'black', then something has gone wrong.

Apple made an era-defining product that will live along side the mini-skirt, the digital watch, cloth caps and all the other products that represented a place in time. 100 years from now, school children will study the iPhone age and marvel that we ever coped without them.

Apple created an almost perfect device and now all they can really do is tinker with it, and that's a crying shame because it takes away some of the shine from a product that truly does shine.

I'm looking forward to the day when Apple announces the end of the iPhone, that they've killed the product off and are unveiling the Next Big Thing.

And then we can go back to going nuts about it again.

* Paul Brislen is a technology commentator based in Auckland.

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