A numerical increase in a new iPhone’s name is usually representative of a significant change in the device’s physical design. The original iPhone, 3G, 4, 5 and 6 models, for example, all had noticeable changes in appearance. The iPhone 7, however, breaks with this tradition and looks remarkably like the 6 and 6s models of the past two years. The only visual cues that distinguish this new iPhone from its predecessors (aside from a lack of headphone jack, which we’ll come to) are two new finishes — Black and Jet Black — and, if you opt for the larger ‘Plus’ model, a second lens has been added to the rear camera.
So what has changed? Firstly, in a move that was long overdue, Apple have doubled the storage in the cheapest model from 16 to 32 GB. And if you store a large amount of audio on your phone, you’ll be pleased that the storage has also been doubled in the other iPhone tiers, so you can now choose between 32, 128, and 256 GB of flash memory.
Powering the iPhone 7 is Apple’s latest system-on-a-chip, the A10 Fusion, which features four ARM-based cores: two 2.34GHz high-performance cores, and two high-efficiency cores that consume 80 percent less energy. While you can’t use all four cores simultaneously, the chip intelligently decides what type of core should be employed to run an app. So more demanding apps like GarageBand or Korg’s Gadget, for example, will run on the high-performance cores, while less demanding apps, like Mail, will run on the high-efficiency cores. This architecture, which Apple refers to as ‘Fusion’ (and ARM terms ‘big.LITTLE’), is aimed squarely at conserving battery life if your phone isn’t being taxed, leaving more available for when it is.
Apple claim the high-performance cores are 40 percent faster than the iPhone 6s’ A9, and twice as fast as the iPhone 6’s A8. Geekbench 3 roughly confirms this, with the A10 Fusion achieving a multi-core score of 5537 — by comparison, the iPhone 6s scored 4433, while the iPhone 6 scored 2908. However, although these numbers are impressive, there’s another number that’s even more impressive — or depressing, depending on how you look at it. Geekbench’s single-core score for the A10 Fusion is 3302, and, to put this in perspective, the single-core score for the current 12-core Mac Pro is 3266.
This isn’t to suggest an iPhone will ever out perform a Mac Pro, of course, although I guess that partly depends on whether the Mac Pro is ever upgraded. With a multi-core score of 22995, the 12-core Mac Pro clearly outperforms an iPhone 7 — the iPhone 7’s closest Mac equivalent is a mid-2012 MacBook Air. But what these comparisons highlight is just how capable the A10 Fusion is, especially if you’re running demanding music and audio apps. And, if its size appeals to you, the iPhone 7 Plus now includes 3GB memory, over the 2GB offered in the standard model, which is useful if you run many instrument and effects apps alongside each other.
No article about the iPhone 7 would be complete without mentioning the departure of the headphone jack. And, as if to acknowledge the problematic nature of this change, a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adaptor is included in the box (when you lose it, you’ll have to pay £9$9 for another).
Apple say that gaining back the space previously occupied by the jack affords them the opportunity to add new functionality, and claim that audio is going wireless as consumers begin purchasing wireless headphones in any case. Which is all well and good, but for readers of this magazine the headphone jack had more usage cases than simply listening to the latest band Apple deem to be ‘cool’ whilst strutting down the street. For example, there have been so many times I’ve been in a studio and someone wants to play something from their phone through the speakers. And what about those who use jack-based accessories like IK Multimedia’s iRig?
In the latter case, the jack on Apple’s adaptor is at least TRRS, so it should be compatible with audio input and output. And if you want to output music via a headphone jack and charge the phone at the same time, Belkin are charging £35$40 for a ‘Lightning Audio + Charge Rockstar’ adaptor — what a name! So while it’s still possible to achieve the same functionality as before, it means purchasing and carrying around these extra adaptors, which clearly isn’t ideal.
In addition to removing the headphone jack, Apple have also essentially removed the Home button, replacing it with something that looks like a button but which is actually a pressure-sensitive pad. This works in much the same way as Apple’s latest trackpad design, introduced with the new MacBook Pro, where haptic feedback is used to simulate the feel of a press, removing the need for a moving part and offering configurable sensitivity. The effect isn’t quite as convincing as it is with the trackpad, but it’s good enough to let you know that an action has been performed.
If you’re a perfectly happy iPhone 6s user, it’s probably not worth upgrading to the 7 — unless maybe you have the 16GB model. And rumour has it that Apple could have something special planned for the 2017 iPhone to celebrate what will be the device’s 10th anniversary, which doesn’t seem completely implausible. The iPhone 7 isn’t a bad device — it’s clearly the best and most powerful phone Apple have yet made, and is certainly the best choice for mobile musicians and audio engineers thanks to the App Store — it just lacks the excitement of significantly new features usually associated with a new iPhone.