Monday, September 19, 2016

iPhone 7: To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade, That is the Question

Apple has officially announced the iPhone 7 and now we're left with the next round to grand decisions -- to upgrade or not to upgrade. Last year, I enrolled in Apple's Annual Upgrade program, so from a finance / carrier perspective, upgrading to the newest model is an easy consideration for me. And yet, as with so many Apple updates these days (hardware and software), the upgrade decision is not so straightforward.

The main reasons why I have to upgrade:

The Phone is Too Damned Big! After holding out on upgrading my iPhone 5 for an extra-long time, wooed by the idea of a much better camera, extra battery life, and a display I could actually read, last year I opted for the iPhone 6s Plus. My year with the iPhone 6s Plus has been a mixed bag. The battery life on the big phone has been great -- I've never once managed to run the battery down to empty, even on very busy days of talking, browsing, and using location services. The display size hasn't really delivered as much of a benefit though, as Apple's iOS user interface doesn't really scale in any proportional way (You can increase the font size and make some adjustments, but it doesn't scale like the display interface on your computer). As for the camera, it's probably nicer, but frankly, even if it was crappier, it's still the integrated camera, so you'd use it just the same as you did with the camera on the phone for how many generations back. But the worst thing about the iPhone 6s Plus is that it's just too damned big. I can't count the number of times that I've dropped the phone -- or watched others drop the phone -- simply because it's so big, it's awkward. I could give lots of examples, but the long and short is that the iPhone Plus model is just too damned big. When I upgrade, I'm going to get a long-overdue smaller phone.

I think I have other reasons, but I they aren't coming to mind -- other than the phone is too damned big.

Why I would refuse to upgrade if I could:

Following Apple down their upgrade path is a validation of a host of design decisions that I don't agree with. Increasingly, it seems like the company is hell bent on designing to "change for change sake" because "we're Apple, and we have the 'courage' to do things". Even if they're wrong. After all, if they had the courage to make a real improvement, why not make the phone a bit thicker and slightly heavier for longer battery life? Why not "smooth" out the back side so that the stupid camera lens doesn't stick out as a prominent bump? Why not move the power button back to the top instead of keeping in opposed to the volume controls? If Apple had the courage to do these things instead of chasing Samsung and trying to out-Android the various Android phones, that would be a phone that I would want to buy. Imagine a phone that was 50% thicker, but with something like double the battery life.

But back to the upgrade. Let's talk about the stupidest of stupid, the reason why, if it weren't for my current phone being too damned big, I would probably not upgrade.

Removing the analog audio port
During the keynote, Apple describes this as a courageous decision. Instead of the "look how old this analog audio port is" spin, let's distill this down to what it really is -- any wired headphone that plugs into the phone now must use Apple's proprietary Lightning Connector. Or you can use a dongle -- because we all love carrying those! But as you'll note in the dongle post that I've linked to, now you can't listen and charge unless you use a special dongle or you get one of their new docks.

In his review of the iPhone 7, on charging and listening Walt Mossberg says Apple's explanation for the removal is, "Apple says very few people do charge and listen at the same time. I respectfully disagree." I don't just disagree, I think that that explanation is complete horseshit. I think the removal of the analog port is one of those moments when the arrogance of the modern Apple company shines through. It's the rationalization that says "very few people charge and listen at the same time" and "you can still use your existing products, your noise canceling headphones, all your old Beats Audio stuff that we've sold you, everything... you just have to use this dongle," and tries to pass that off as a bold design.

Here's what Apple's not saying. Where once you only needed to carry one set of headphones to use on your iPhone, your iPad and your Macbook (or your PC), now you have to carry two because there isn't a Macbook with a Lightning port. But hey, Airpods (coming soon). Wireless audio is cool and a nice idea for the future, but you know who doesn't like Bluetooth Audio? Airlines. Not to mention that, if you happen to be lucky enough to be on one of those airplanes with power, you're probably going to be one of those few people listening and charging.

In short, I hate the removal of the analog audio port. As the rumors of removing it were flying around, I hoped that launch day would prove them wrong. I hoped that maybe there would be an innovative solution that made the removal not so terrible. Instead, we get dongle. And an incomplete dongle at that.

My Upgrade Path
With my auto-upgrade program, I was able to reserve an iPhone 7 for pick-up on Friday, the first day of availability. And yet, the more I thought about the things that I wanted in a phone -- and the things that I didn't want -- I realized that I just didn't want the iPhone 7. For me, the greatest frustration was that the iPhone 5se was released after I had already upgraded from my iPhone 5 to the iPhone 6s Plus. Had I waited just a bit longer, I would have opted for the SE.

At the same time, my wife needs a new phone. While she has the iPhone 6, she uses her phone much more frequently than I do, and she plays a lot of games on her phone. While she continues to push the performance limits of what her phone is capable of, I've found that the phone has become increasingly less useful for me. And that's where I crafted this a different solution path. Since I already had my iPhone 7 upgrade reservation and since she was interested in the iPhone 7, I gave my reservation to her. And me, I'm switching to an iPhone 5se. Would it be nice to have the newest processor and the newest camera? Sure, but the more that I weighed the impact of the loss of the audio port, the more I felt like the impact on me would be far worse.

So how bad is the removal of the audio port? Answer, for me, no audio port equals no phone upgrade. But after over 25 years of using Apple products, I find that they are increasingly not being designed for my needs.

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