Black and Jet Black. Dual camera. No headphone jack. Apart from this, the iPhone 7 apparently broke Apple’s tick-tock strategy of ‘redesigning’ the phone every 2 years. Without delving much into the merits of modifying the physical aspects of an object (that’s another discussion), let’s evaluate the iPhone 7’s physical design in more detail. Head over here for extensive photos.
The looks remain largely unchanged; the earpiece is converted to a second speaker. This is one of the design cues that the iPhone has borrowed from HTC flagship phones (HTC 10 in this case). At first, I felt the positions of the stereo speakers (the second one is firing from the side) would sound weird, but it surprisingly works well. It’s taken a while to reach the HTC One sound quality. Also, the home button isn’t a physical button anymore, but the familiar depression remains. It’s a similar step to force-touch track pads and Apple’s continued push to reduce physical parts and rely on (varying levels) hap-tic feedback. It seems unnatural at first, but with time it will feel better.
Apple has a little incoherent strategy with their devices; other than the iPhone and iPad, all their devices feature black bezels around the screen irrespective of colour. I do prefer black myself as it’s a perfect background for the display to pop and become the centre of attention. I do think a lot of people prefer the white face for its looks (contributing failure of the 5C model). It will be interesting to see if the iPhone mirrors the Watch look when it switches to an OLED screen in the future.
Side – Speaker
The lack of headphone jack is the most visibly apparent, and the left series of holes is simply to mirror the speaker on the right (it does have a microphone). This aesthetic is in line with the first iPhone; the holes (same height as the port) replaced the grill in the iPhone 5 to look in place next to the re-positioned headphone jack, while iPhone 6 did away with it. Personally, I’d prefer if it stayed slightly asymmetrical, where only the two extreme holes stayed on the left. Side note: We’ve got used to it, but keeping these components in line (and centre) is harder than you think.
Side – Buttons
The volume buttons are no longer recessed in a cavity and are flushed with the rest of the body. It’s a minor change, but it looks much better and it’s one of those confirmations that all details were re-evaluated, even if left unchanged. One issue: the power buttons on the Plus model are placed too high, and symmetry with the volume keys is unnecessary.
Side – Grip
Even though most people use the iPhone with a case, it’s genuinely slippery without one. The Jet Black version (which ironically is recommended to be used with a case) is the only colour offering grip. The HTC 10/ Google Pixel do a much better job with chamfered edges for finger rest.
Back Face – Antenna Lines
The antenna lines are one of the more visible changes made. It looks obvious and better, and I’m sure it required re-engineering as the HTC 10 and the recent Google Pixel (basically a tweaked HTC) continue to have the additional band cutting across. Incidentally, HTC brought this kind of design to market first, but haven’t felt the need to modify the bands. The iPhone back face now looks more complete and less broken up, as the antenna bands hug the top and bottom ends. The iPhone would look even better without them, which is evident in the Jet Black version, but unfortunately signals cannot transmit through metal (yet). However, I feel Apple missed a detail in the Gold versions, where the bands are white, and stand out too much against the coloured backs. It would go a long way if the plastic was of a similar colour, like the Silver and Black options.
Back Face – Apple Logo
The logo has always been glossy plastic on the iPhone and recently in the new Macs, but the logo on the Jet Black iPhone 7 looks very different than the others as it matches the finish of the back plate (like the antenna lines) and blends beautifully. It’s similar to the leather case, and there’s a chance a matte logo works better on the other colours. This is subjective; I know a lot of people preferred the glowing Mac logos, but it’s much in line with their aesthetic.
Back Face – Camera
The iPhone camera improves every year. The iPhone 7 lens is bigger and its centre aligns to that of the phone curvature. Another aspect which may have involved a fair bit of engineering, but makes the same difference as typography not set right. This isn’t as prominent as in the 7 Plus with the dual cameras. Aesthetically though, the biggest change is to machine the back plate with the camera hump. In ideal circumstances, it would be idea to have the camera flush with the body but Apple prefers to have its body as thin as possible rather than match it to the camera depth (the Google Pixel’s back solves this by a sloped back). The ring around the iPhone 6 was tacky, and it shows: all Apple marketing material hid the back face as much as possible earlier; now all their product shots highlight the camera bump.
Finish and Colour
‘When complete iPhone 7 is the most singular, the most evolved representation of this design.’ It isn’t surprising for Jony Ive to express the iPhone 7 as the peak iPhone, and its particularly evident in Jet Black. It’s also ironic that what it brings, it takes away from the other colours. For obvious reasons Apple tends to show its newest colours, but the Jet Black version isn’t any colour. From a purist sense, it’s highlighted the curves, subdued the antenna bands, and merges with the glass front. This monolith appearance explains why it looks so desirable in product shots, but it falls short when you hold it. To get such a high polish on aluminium is remarkable but it’s not playing with the material’s inherent qualities, and it’s shown with the micro abrasions and Apple’s own caution to use with a case. I’m not bothered with the fingerprints, but it does beg the question whether a similar constructed iPhone of glass, sapphire or ceramic would be more scratch-resistant and bring out about the effect more naturally. Sapphire and ceramic look unlikely and coupled with Apple’s prowess in aluminium machining, the Jet Black iPhone 7 is the closest there is to offer.
A lot of people like the Black colour as well, and it is miles ahead of the Space Grey which was more silver than black. I just feel the monolith look suits the current design of the iPhone better, over the Black’s transition between the glossy black front and matte body. Another factor is the current aesthetics of consumers, especially Apple customers, to be more familiar with understated aesthetics and the glossy Jet Black screams otherwise. As with all design some objects need time to be appreciated; it’s harder to use flashier colours like gold, but the results can be better.
Consumers are too focused on perceptibly new products but refinement is much harder to appreciate. The iPhone 7 is similar to the iPhone 5, understanding the shortcomings of the previous phone and building upon it. (I didn’t even touch upon waterproofing.) Jony Ive himself admits that sometimes it’s all too easy to design for the sake of new than it is to evaluate and build upon current work. These designs hold up better; the iPhone SE is proof of that.