Iphone 7 Hands-On: Perfectly Adequate, Still Underwhelming
Macworld|Macworld October 2016

Photographers get a better camera, and the accident-prone get water resistance. What about everyone else? 

Susie Ochs

The iPhone we’ve been hearing rumors about for months (go.macworld.com/iphone7rumors) is finally real, so let the anguish over its confirmed lack of a headphone jack begin. (Since this might have been the worst-kept secret in Apple history, hopefully you’ve worked through a few stages of grief already.)

It’s true. Apple used the space freed up by removing the headphone port to add a Taptic Engine under the hood, as well as a second speaker to the bottom of the device. The company says this will give you stereo sound, and the speakers did sound louder, but the busy demo area was just too crowded and noisy to properly evaluate how much of a difference the second speaker makes. In fact, during my limited hands-on time after Apple’s September 7 event, I found the iPhone 7 ho-hum—it’s faster and it’s got a better camera, but a lot of the changes (the new Home button, the dual speakers) are too subtle to make much of a first impression.

CHANGES TO THE HOME BUTTON

About that Taptic Engine, for example—it’s there to enable a completely flush, motionless Home button. One of the rumors about 2017’s iPhone is that Apple may ditch the Home button, embedding it in the screen instead. For the iPhone 7, Apple kept the “chin” at the bottom of the device, with the Home button and its shiny Touch ID ring in their familiar place. But the button no longer physically moves up and down. Instead, you press it and get a little vibration of haptic feedback so it feels like it’s going down.

This is similar to the Force Touch trackpad in the 12-inch MacBook, which doesn’t physically click but still mimics what a click should feel like. As on the Mac side, iOS developers will get access to the Taptic Engine for building more subtle vibration effects into their apps, reacting to your touch. In my hands-on time at the event, the new Home button felt pretty odd to click, with a split-second lag before I felt anything. Two of Apple’s demonstrators mentioned that it takes a little adjustment before it feels normal. Luckily, there’s a setting where you can customize the haptic feedback somewhat.

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