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iPhone 7 – are improved speed and cameras enough to turn the tide?

You know a product has passed its peak when the most animated debate about a new version concerns the headphones. So it is for the iPhone, which – while fans and media still work hard to recapture the excitement of the countdown to launch of earlier years – these days is just another phone. Its stand-out new features – improved dual cameras, weatherproofing – are matched or bettered elsewhere for less money; its lack of headphone jack is divisive. Indeed, CEO Tim Cook had to turn to ‘Carpool Karaoke’ and a Super Mario exclusive to dial up the headlines.

But of course, the iPhone isn’t just another phone. It is by far the most profitable mobile device in the world and it contributes a worryingly large proportion of Apple’s revenues and profits. Cook said recently that he was happy with that situation, but behind the scenes it puts the kind of pressure on him that can break a CEOship. Other products, such as the iPad and Watch, have so far failed to share the burden significantly with the handset – if the iPhone does not continue to deliver huge sales, and/or Apple cannot come up with a new magic device, problems loom ahead. The rising success of services like Apple Music will help, but their size is dwarfed by the iPhone.

In recent quarters, of course, the iPhone has been under pressure, with slowing growth and reduced market share in key areas like China. The iPhone 7 does not look like the product to reverse these trends in any long term way, though it is good enough to deliver the usual holiday quarter bump in sales. Whether that bump will be large enough to sustain Apple through the leaner quarters remains to be seen – and there are the implications of an increasingly inconsistent level of quarterly revenues as the company relies too much on one seasonal product.

Apple’s ‘s’ upgrades are usually the incremental ones, but as its golden child matures, along with the whole smartphone market, even the newly numbered model, the 7, is struggling to deliver high impact new features. The iPhone 7 looks similar to the 6s, with two sizes – 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch. The main changes to the design include water and dust resistance – one reason to abandon the headphone jack, though Apple’s desire to lock users into its own accessories was whispered too, and it duly announced new earphones, called iBuds, which work from the charging port (they cost extra of course).

The cameras have received a major upgrade, though they have never been the iPhone’s best feature, and the 12-megapixel rear camera is overshadowed by Sony’s new Xperia XZ with its 32-megapixel unit. The iPhone 7 sports a ‘dual lens’ design which supports improved long range and low light photos and a quad-tone flash.

Under the hood there is a new W1 wireless chip to support high speed LTE and the new A10 Fusion 64-bit quad core processor to deliver new speeds. It has high and low power cores to manage battery life, which Apple claims is the longest ever in an iPhone.

The latest iPhone will come in two new colors, ‘dark black’ and ‘piano black’, but will dump the classic Space Grey, so there will now be five color options. The new version of iOS is available from September 13 and the iPhone 7 three days later, starting at $599.

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