Wednesday 28 September 2016

7 heaven: is the new iPhone a must-buy for  your business needs?

Should business users upgrade to the iPhone 7? Are the benefits to professionals as pronounced as they might be for punters? Or are you better off sticking with what you have until next year?

Published 15/09/2016 | 02:30

Apple ceo Tim Cook launches the company's latest phone, but is it worth the upgrade. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Apple ceo Tim Cook launches the company's latest phone, but is it worth the upgrade. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
The new headphone jack might be an issue for some users

In Ireland, the iPhone has become the default business user’s handset. With more enterprise apps and customised corporate software for it than rivals, Apple’s device has become the business phone favoured by company IT departments nationwide. As such, the decision to upgrade can be subject to a different set of criteria than for ordinary users. Having spent a week with both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, our Technology Editor rates the new models

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1. The battery life is better than previous iPhones

The battery life on the iPhone 7 is slightly better (between one to two hours) than the iPhone 6S and significantly better than the iPhone 5 or the (woefully short) iPhone 4S.

This is largely down to the reduced energy consumption of the phone’s new A10 processor.

I used both the iPhone 7 (and the iPhone 7 Plus) fairly constantly throughout the day for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email and Spotify. I also used the camera reasonably frequently, as well as a couple of photo-editing apps to play with pictures.

In that context, I found that the iPhone made it to around 5pm (from a 7.30am start) before it needed a recharge. For me, that’s pretty good – I’m a heavy user and I find that many phones run out in the early afternoon.

The battery on the iPhone 7 Plus model unquestionably lasted a bit longer, with one caveat: the big screen on it and the added camera invited me use it more, especially for photos and videos. So while I technically got more juice out of it than the smaller iPhone 7, I still didn’t make it past teatime due to the heavier application rotation I threw at it.

It should be said that this isn’t the market-leading phone for battery life. Of the big sellers, that title probably rests with Samsung’s Note 7 (yes, the overheating one that has been recalled).

2. The extra storage memory is great

It’s hard not to welcome the (long overdue) bump in storage that the iPhone 7 brings. The basic model now has twice the storage (32GB) of previous entry-level iPhones. And the other storage levels are doubled, too, to 128GB and a new top-end storage capacity of 256GB. This will be a welcome development among those of us who quickly run out of space due to files, documents and photos clogging up the system.

The new headphone jack might be an issue for some users
The new headphone jack might be an issue for some users

3. The screen is better, but only a little bit

The screen on both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus is bright and vivid, even it’s very close to the same screen you got on the last iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6 before that. The pixel resolution is actually identical – 401 pixels per inch (ppi) for the iPhone 7 Plus model and 326ppi for the iPhone 7. But it’s about 25pc brighter than last year’s iPhones. And Apple has also added a colour-enhancing ‘wide colour’ feature first introduced on the iPad Pro and 5K iMac.

In terms of pure pixels, the iPhone 7’s screen is a semi-notch down on what you’ll get from one or two other top-end phones which boast ppi figures of 500 and over.

But in reality, the difference is pretty very hard to make out on a 4.7-inch or 5.5-inch screen.

Unless you’re an absolute pixel nerd, I can’t see any reason why ‘only’ getting a HD screen would put one off getting this handset.

4. It looks the same as the iPhone 6 and 6S

The new iPhone 7 is almost identical in design as older iPhone 6 and 6S models, with the exception of the Home button and the removal of the 3.5mm earphone port. (The iPhone 7 also has a second camera, which changes the rear of the handset slightly. There are two ways of looking at this. On one hand, the lack of a totally new design – which might have made it more ergonomic in the hand – might suggest that those using an existing iPhone 6S may not miss out on much. This is especially so given that Apple is reportedly working on a new shape for the iPhone in 2017.

On the other hand, the lack of a new body design means that the iPhone 7 works pretty well with many (though not all) of your existing accessories, from cases to stands and wallets. This means that you’re getting the big power upgrade in a shell you’re already familiar with.

5. You won’t miss the headphone port unless you have specialist accessories

This is one of the biggest changes in the iPhone 7. Apple has ditched the traditional 3.5mm jack headphone port completely. So the earphones you get in the box plug into the Lightning charging port. And there’s a small wireless adaptor in the box that connects your old headphones to the same Lightning port.

For punters, this may not be a big deal. Many of us now use our own wireless headphones or whatever comes in the box with the phone. However, it could be an issue for a niche of business or professional users.

Some may have invested in specialist accessories that use the 3.5mm port for other purposes. These could range from mobile payment terminals to professional audiovisual equipment. If this is you, you might want to think carefully about upgrading.

Bear in mind, however, that this is a permanent change from Apple: the 3.5mm headphone port is not coming back in any future iPhone. So if you stick with this brand of phone, you’re going to have to ditch the 3.5mm connection eventually.

6. The changed home button feels odd for a few minutes

The new home button is a ‘button’ in name only: it’s actually a fixed solid-state panel that gives the impression of being pressed without much actual mechanical movement. (So when the phone is off, nothing happens when you go to press it.)

In this ‘haptic’ environment, you can choose the virtual ‘depth’ of the home button’s pressing technique in settings, although there isn’t much of a difference between them.

Apple has introduced this change partially to make it more “durable”. It probably helps a lot with the phone’s new official water-resistant qualifications (and boy, does this work – see our video test on independent.ie). It also gels with the general progression of the phone’s 3D Touch screen, which offers already offers haptic-powered virtual pressing on apps.

At first, it feels a little strange. Whether it’s nostalgia or muscle-memory, there is something satisfying about pressing down on an actual button. But the new system is not hard to get used to at all. And the new mechanism hasn’t interfered with my operation of the phone.

7. The iPhone 7 is properly water-resistant

This iPhone is really, really water-resistant

Technically, the new iPhone 7 has an officially-recognised IP67 certification, which means that it can remain operational for up to 30 minutes at a water depth of one metre (covering almost all toilets). This doesn’t actually mean that the phone is “water proof”, or even that Apple will replace your phone if it succumbs to water damage (its terms and conditions rule this out).

But we can testify as to its credentials in keeping out water and other liquids. We gave this phone a pretty good ‘water’ test (see video on Independent.ie). Specifically, we dropped it in a pint of stout. The iPhone 7 came out with flying colours. Not only was there zero sign of any ill after-effects, but the phone kept on working perfectly even as it remained sopping wet with the black stuff. Two days later, it was still operating flawlessly.

Obviously this isn’t something anyone would plan to do on a regular basis. But it’s nice to know that if you’re out and about, your new iPhone is more than capable of putting up with splashes or even the occasional fall into some liquid-filled vessel.

8. There is a serious power upgrade under the hood

The iPhone 7’s new A10 chip makes the iPhone 7 as fast as many laptops and PCs. It also positions it at the top of the current smartphone heap. This is ultimately of note because it’s going to let developers push the boat out more when it comes to more powerful, more useful apps. And it means that if you’re really pushing it with the apps you currently have, it won’t freeze or suddenly crash from being overloaded.

9. iOS 10 performs really well here

Anyone with an iPhone under four years old (from the model 5 up) gets to upgrade to iOS 10. But it shines with the newer iPhone 7 and iPhone 6S.

There’s too much in iOS 10 to fully cover here. But the things I enjoyed most were the new messaging features and the iPhone 7’s 3D Touch for ‘quick actions’ and ‘peek and pop’ moves within apps.

For those who haven’t used a 3D Touch screen before, it feels like you’re double-pressing the screen when you apply a little more pressure to it. If you do so on an app, a little menu pops up inviting you to perform some action within the app.

For Mail, it’s a choice of a new message, a search or to go to the inbox. For Messages, it’s an option to write a new message or go directly to one of the last three numbers you messaged. (I’m using this one a lot.) And so on.

But iOS 10 piles on more functionality. So within Mail, for example, I can now add a ‘widget’ (of frequent or VIP email correspondents, perhaps) onto my quick action menu. In Messages, if I 3D Touch any of the messages I see, I get a view of the last couple of messages sent as well as the ability to swipe up for a list of possible responses.

Speaking of Messages, there’s now a bunch of new animated effects you can use, ranging from emoticons to ‘invisible ink’ messages which only reveal themselves when the message is opened.

In Photos, the 3D Touch in the iPhone 7 let me select individual photos (or videos) for a quick peek without opening them and then a quick menu on what to do with them.

And while we’re Photos, iOS 10 now has a new movie-stitching engine that automatically pulls together some of your photos and videos to make related collages. Being a bit fussy about my photos, I didn’t really jump into this. But I can see its appeal in an era where many have thousands of photos on their phone without any apparent archiving order in place.

10. Finally, the camera is pretty special

Whether or not this is regarded as a business feature, the iPhone 7 Plus camera is insanely good and, on the iPhone 7 Plus, is the biggest driver to upgrade phones. On the 7 Plus, it’s actually two cameras (with two sensors, according to Apple) on one device. There’s a wide-angle 28mm lens and a telephoto 56mm lens.

This allows the phone to ‘zoom’ from one angle (or view) to the other without compromising much quality in the photo. Typically, a single-lens phone’s ‘zoom’ is only the process of artificially stretching the photo to give the impression of a closer view. It generally results in poorer quality.

On this phone, to switch between the two optical lengths, there’s a small on-screen button that tells you whether you’re at ‘1x’ (28mm equivalent) or ‘2x’ (56mm). You can either toggle or slide between them. You can also extend the zoom to a 10x setting, although this is mainly a case of digitally stretching (hence diluting) the image.

I found myself using the 2x zoom (56mm lens) an awful lot. Going back to a single-lens camera would now feel like a step backwards.

Of critical importance to this is the iPhone 7’s optical stabilisation (also now available on the smaller iPhone 7). We first saw this in the iPhone 6S Plus but it’s worth restating here. When used with video, even a zoomed-in, apparently shaky filming process results in a nice, smooth video result. You have to see this to believe it: it’s a huge advance.

The amount of light that the camera lets in is much improved, too. The 28mm lens has an f1.8 aperture while the 56mm is at f2.8. From some of the shots I took this week, these give pretty impressive detail on photos, even in fairly shabby light.

What all of this really means is no more blurry, shaky photos or videos. This is going to have a big effect on photos at events where the ones we currently take are pretty awful.

There’s one other feature of the iPhone 7 Plus’s camera system that has yet to arrive (via a software update, we’re told). That is its ability to create DSLR-style depth of field.

This sounds technical but it really does provide a beautiful effect: when you take a photo of someone, their features are sharp while the background is mildly blurred. (Photographers also call this ‘bokeh’.)

When this lands, it’s going to significantly impact the casual portrait shots we take of friends and family.

Lastly, the selfie-camera on the iPhone 7 Plus (and the iPhone 7) has been upgraded to 7 megapixels. And there’s a better selfie-flash system that measures the light in your background to come up with what it things is the optimal lighting for your skin tone.

As for DSLR comparisons, they are limited. Neither the iPhone 7 nor the iPhone 7 Plus are, optically, at a DSLR level. Indeed, much of the detail and quality in the photos coming out of the new camera system are digitally sewn together by clever processors and engines (performing 100bn operations per photo, according to Apple).

This is a key difference to DSLRs, which still mostly rely on the optical quality of the (huge) lenses to provide the real quality. But DSLRs are still clunky, large and complicated to master. This iPhone 7 Plus is easy to use.

So while an expert handling a DSLR will shoot a (far) more technically accomplished photo than that from an iPhone, hardly any of us will get to that level. Neither will we have a DSLR in our pocket, ready to shoot a photo or video whenever the occasion arises. So the DSLR comparison is a bit of a false one. The real competition is with other phones. And in that context, the iPhone 7 Plus (in particular) is now ahead.

VERDICT AND PRICING

If you buy one of these, you’re getting a proper upgrade. The iPhone 7 may look and feel the same to pick up, but there’s a lot more going under the hood. And in the iPhone 7 Plus’s camera, the range has a genuine killer application. Personally, I’d opt for a Plus is you can afford the stretch: the extra functionality of the double-camera is just too enticing to pass up.

As for price and availability, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are currently available to pre-order and go on general sale tomorrow.

The 4.7-inch iPhone 7 costs from €779 for the 32GB model. The 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus costs from €919 for the 32GB model. Irish mobile operators have 24-month contract subsidy deals ranging from €99 upwards.

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