Here comes the new iPhone, same as the old iPhone? It certainly seemed that way as Apple debuted the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus on Wednesday.
And, in many ways, that's a fair assessment. There are no major feature changes, only a series of small ones that further refine the company's popular smartphones. Not to mention, it's hard to get excited when one of the company's announcements was literally that it had perfected the color black.
That said, I went into the hands-on demonstration room pretty unimpressed but came out with a more favorable view. Even with very little time with these devices, the many small changes add up to make the phones feel like more of an upgrade than they seem to be on paper. It was clear that the iPhone's camera and screen have been improved, with impressive graphics that really popped when spending a few moments gaming.
The zoom feature that is unique to the iPhone 7 Plus gave a particular wow factor — and got me clearly (and suddenly) up close and personal with the journalist trying out the phone across the table.
And then, of course, there is the headphone jack, or lack thereof. This is definitely one part of the iPhone that I'll have to pass final judgment on after spending some one-on-one time with the device. It was hard to judge the quality of the stereo sound in the noisy demonstration room, so it's impossible to say whether the addition of a second speaker makes the trade-off worth it.
I didn't get to try out Apple's wired Lightning headphones, but I did get some time with the $159 wireless AirPods, which were remarkably easy to sync with the phone. They also stayed in my ears despite some head-waggling and jumping around that drew an indulgent smile from my demonstrator. (The things I do for you, dear readers.)
The change makes it impossible to charge your phone and use old-school headphones at the same time. That might not be a dealbreaker for everyone, but it could be annoying for people who listen to music all day at their desks. It also means, generally, having more things to charge each night and keep track of in the course of your day.
On the flip side, I did not get myself tangled up with the lanyard around my neck when I took the AirPods out — something that somehow inevitably happens whenever I use normal headphones.
Overall, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, even at first blush, are wonderful phones. The upgrades here may not be exciting, but they are practical. Waterproofing, additional storage and small design changes fix long-held consumer gripes. Nothing really moves Apple any further away from its competition, but these designs do strengthen the weak points that have been raised about the iPhone in the past.
If you're coming to the phone from the iPhone 6 generation, this should feel like a pretty substantial upgrade — even if it is an iterative improvement on an iterative improvement.
So, at the end of the day, these seem like the best iPhones that Apple has introduced, as the company claimed. The question here will be whether the iPhone experience — even an excellent one — is still enough to draw customers in droves.