Have we all got over our collective shock at the iPhone 7’s lack of 3.5mm headphone jack? Sure? Then, perhaps, we can begin assessing the phone’s true worth. And that’s important, because, much as I love a controversy – and the removal of the headphone jack is a doozy – the iPhone 7 has several other important features. Really, it does.
There’s still a little residual shock at Apple’s big decision. Removing a socket that has been around since the days of the Sony Walkman and before is a big, big step – and not completely necessary either.
Apple called the decision “courageous”, a move that would save space in the chassis and bring other advantages to the table. It’s done now, but I’m not convinced. You have to question how much space is really saved by not including the headphone socket – other smartphone manufacturers seem to cope fine – and the inconvenience visited on those who still want to listen via wired headphones is unarguable.
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Simply put, you won’t be able to charge and listen at the same time without purchasing a £35 adapter, or a £49 dock. That is a pain.
Still, Apple isn’t being completely bloody-minded about it. In an unexpected act of largesse, it’s including an adapter in the box, and no, this isn’t terribly inconvenient to use. It’s a couple of inches long, and once you’ve connected it to the end of your headphone cable, it will stay there. No fuss, no hassle, and it’s much less easy to lose than you might think.
And if you’ve already invested in a decent pair of wireless headphones, nothing changes for you. The iPhone 7 still has Bluetooth, although it uses the standard SBC Bluetooth codec as opposed to the more exotic, less lossless aptX codec.
And there are advantages to connecting your headphones to the Lightning socket, which are evident in products such as the JBL Reflect Aware: active noise-cancelling headphones that don’t need a cumbersome power source, because all the processing takes place aboard the phone.
It’s when you come to replace your trusty cans that you may come to regret Apple’s decision to remove the headphone socket (and yours in buying an iPhone 7 in the first place). Why? Because there will be less choice for you, and at least initially, Lightning-enabled headphones will be more expensive.
Bye-bye home button
So, there are positives and negatives about the removal of the headphone socket. The next big change, however, is all good: the replacement of the physical home button with a Force Touch one.
Apple has had a bit of an obsession over the years with removing mechanical parts from its products – think back to the iPod, where it moved from a physical scroll wheel to one that didn’t move at all. As phones move closer towards full edge-to-edge displays, the physical home button became a headache for Apple. Removing it should make it easier, at some indeterminate point in the future, to shrink it or build it into the display in some way.
There’s another, bigger benefit, though, one that helps both users and Apple alike. Any moving part, no matter how well-engineered, will always be a point of failure. Mechanical things tend to break down more often than parts that don’t move, for reasons that should be obvious.
Over time, they attract dust, grease from your fingers, fluff from the inside of your pocket, and all kinds of unpleasant dirty stuff. Removing mechanical parts improves the reliability of iPhones, which means fewer breakdowns for users, and fewer warranty replacements for Apple.
So what is this new home “button” like to use? In short, it’s excellent. Thanks in large part to Apple’s “taptic engine” haptic feedback technology, which the company uses in both the Apple Watch and the latest MacBook touchpads, it’s responsive and feels uncannily like a real button when you push down on it. It’s far more effective than the OnePlus 3’s touch-sensitive home-button-cum-fingerprint reader, which doesn’t have localised haptics like the iPhone 7.
It does a little time to get accustomed to the way it feels, however. At first, you sense there’s a tiny delay between pressing down and the feedback engaging, and the lack of physical movement is disconcerting. But this sensation soon disappears, and it becomes second nature very quickly. Even if you don’t like the way the new home button feels at first, it’s possible to tweak the strength of the feedback dig in the iPhone 7’s settings.
The one caveat here is that when the phone is sitting on a flat surface the buzz is reduced in effectiveness. It still works, but with a less intense haptic nudge.
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