Whether we like it or not, there is a symbiotic relationship between Apple and Android. Yes, Apple continually “invents” features Android has had for years (stereo speakers you say! Waterproofing? My lawd!) but you’d be deluding yourself to say Android doesn’t borrow from Apple on occasion too. More to the point though, the iPhone shapes public opinion a lot more effectively than Android phones do. With that in mind, how will the iPhone 7 affect Android devices?
In the grand scheme of things, not much. But several things that have already happened on Android will now be “accepted” by the general public much more willingly than they were prior to the iPhone 7 announcement. First example: while Android devices were the first to remove the 3.5 mm headphone jack – for better or worse – now that Apple has done it too there’s no turning back.
Last rites for the 3.5 mm port
Apple has a history of removing features in their laptops that the rest of the computing world relies on – remember floppy drives, optical disk drives, ethernet ports and the move to flash storage? And yet, slowly but surely, those features steadily start to disappear from other laptops too. Like it or not, the general attitude towards them gradually turns towards Apple’s way of thinking. So it will be with the headphone port.
While we’re all in for a not-so-fun transition period full of dongles and adapters, the Apple-shaped asteroid that will bring about the extinction of the 3.5 mm port on smartphones has officially entered the atmosphere. Android will take up USB Type-C and Apple will stick with Lightning. It’s definitely a shame to lose the ubiquitous 3.5 mm port, but it’s too late to cry over spilt milk now.
It's a shame to lose the ubiquitous 3.5 mm port, but it's too late to cry over spilt milk now.
We can expect an increasing number of next year’s Android flagships to ditch 3.5 mm for good, because what Apple does, consumers accept. Not everyone will be so quick to follow suit, because there’s still value in giving the people what they want. So a few stalwarts will hold out for a while, but sooner or later they’ll cave in. After all, no one wants to be the company that refuses to accept a technological inevitability.
While this is really great news for Bluetooth headphone makers and Lightning and USB Type-C headphone companies, it’s definitely going to be an expensive and irritating shift for most of us. But all generational shifts of this kind are, so we’re just going to have to deal. It’s highly unlikely that the 3.5 mm jack will have so many loyal fans it will force its way back onto our phones.
If anything, we should be complaining that Apple and Android will now adopt different standards.
The good news is that the change does actually have some benefits (like batteryless noise cancelling headphones) even as our own Rob Triggs argues there’s very little improvement in audio quality. It’s going to be a prickly transition, much like making the switch from microUSB chargers to USB Type-C.
If anything though, we should be complaining that Apple and Android will use different standards moving forward. Don’t even get me started on the idiocy of the AirPods.
See also: 3.5 mm audio vs USB Type-C
Waterproof all the things
I know, I know, water-resistance hasn’t exactly just appeared, but if the iPhone is now water-resistant (or “swimproof”, whatever that means) then it is officially mainstream. As such, more Android manufacturers are going to have to include an IP rating if they ever plan to lure iPhone owners over to Android.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the likes of LG and Huawei drop water-resistant phones in the near future.
On this front, Samsung and Sony are all set already, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of LG and Huawei drop water-resistant phones in the near future. Fortunately, this means we should get better speaker performance sooner rather than later despite an IP rating and gaskets. The more folks we have trying to outdo each other on audio quality on water-resistant phones the better.
16 GB base models
While there’s arguably no reason for Android OEMs to follow Apple on this one (as many of them are ahead of the curve already), when Apple doubles storage essentially for free, you know the days of the 16 GB base model are over. Many Android devices support microSD card expansion so there is definitely still room for smaller internal storage options on Android, but we’re still hoping they get phased out sooner rather than later.
Android's support for microSD means there is still room for smaller internal storage devices.
The available storage space on a 16 GB phone, even straight out of the box, can be as little as a few measly GB. With storage demands constantly increasing on mobile, 8 GB models should vanish like a bad dream.
It should only be acceptable for an entry-level unit to ship with 16 GB (if they must), but 32 GB would be better. No flagship should roll out with anything less than 64 GB of storage these days, with or without microSD expansion.
Dual cameras might be a thing
I don’t necessarily have anything against dual cameras. In fact, I think the ability to switch between a normal lens and wide-angle is pretty handy. And in all fairness, I have to give Apple credit for not only doubling the internal storage on the iPhones but also adding a second camera without really increasing the price of the iPhone 7 Plus since the iPhone 6s Plus (OK, there’s a $20 discrepancy on the high and low end models, but you get my point).
Dual cameras aren't necessary when no one has delivered the level of low light photography we deserve.
But I’m still not convinced that dual cameras are necessary when essentially no one has delivered the level of low light photography we all need on our smartphones. I couldn’t care less if my phone can’t take wide-angle shots or de-focus the background for sexy Bokeh if the photo itself sucks because it was taken in low light.
Just think about how many great moments occur at night that you only have grainy, blurry images of. Tackling this failing is, at least for me, far more important than fancy software tricks or having two lenses. We already expect all OEMs to deliver perfect photos in daylight – and they largely do – so we now need to start tightening the screws on low light performance rather than dual cameras. Let’s just hope Android OEMs don’t take the bait and focus on what’s really important instead.
This is now the third iPhone in a row we’ve seen that looks pretty much exactly like the others before it. Some of you will remember I called out Samsung for being lazy with the Galaxy Note 7, including with its design a while back – it’s largely the same as the last few Galaxy devices before it with just a little refinement. Just as I think Samsung is resting on its design laurels again, so too is Apple.
Apple is being just as lazy as Samsung when it comes to design right now. We deserve better than what we're getting.
Apple can pretend it’s refining a great design just as Samsung is, but I’m not buying it from either vendor. I’m not saying we need radically different designs every year, but you’ll remember the backlash against HTC in the slight shift from the HTC One M8 to the M9 and in basically every Xperia Z device ever. We may not need a design revolution but we do deserve better than what we’re getting.
Of course, Apple has already pulled the lazy design card by recycling the iPhone 5 chassis for the iPhone SE. But if I don’t think Samsung should endlessly recycle the same designs, nor should Apple. Market leaders should be braver than this.
But if everyone is going to let both Apple and Samsung get away with pumping out essentially the same design with only minor changes then perhaps the upshot is that there’s less expectation put on other OEMS to constantly reinvent the wheel. Maybe Apple and Samsung can afford to be lazy, but I doubt smaller manufacturers can.
At least there's less expectation put on other OEMS to constantly reinvent the wheel.
As with my argument about dual cameras above, I’d much prefer OEMs spend their R&D budget finding better ways to make batteries last longer and to get cameras delivering outstanding low light performance than have a shiny new design in each new phone.
But no matter which way you feel about how the speed of smartphone design iterations, we should at least be consistent in our acceptance or rejection of the pace of change.
A new hope
I know you guys are going to slaughter me in the comments for this, but I sincerely hope Apple now using a solid state home button will convince Samsung ( and others) to do the same. The clicky home button on Samsung devices feels cheap and inconsistent. I see absolutely no reason why Samsung and other companies like it can’t make the switch to the capacitive kind of button OnePlus and HTC occasionally use.
Finally, with a global smartphone market hitting saturation point and analysts telling us that consumers are increasingly happy to stick with a phone “that’s good enough”, the kind of iterative changes Apple has made in the iPhone 7 simply aren’t enough to capture the world’s attention like they once did.
The same goes for Samsung and LG and Huawei. After all, why do you think Samsung came out with the edge screen and both LG and Lenovo tried their luck with modules? It is increasingly difficult for the big boys to stand out against increasingly excellent (and lower-cost) devices from China. So we get gimmicks and smoke and mirrors as a way to justify a premium price tag rather than drop prices.
If you’re not excited by any of the phones you’ve seen announced recently, you’re not alone. If you’re thinking about sticking with your current phone for a bit longer than you would have a few years ago, I can’t say I blame you. As much as all phones are “good enough” these days, we’re entering a great phase for consumers where companies need to try harder than ever to convince us to part with our money. In that regard, any competition is good competition.
Do you think the iPhone 7 pushes any boundaries? What do you think is the next frontier for smartphones?