Apple owes bloggers a big thank you for their boring iPhone 7 predictions

Low expectations are paying off.
Low expectations are paying off.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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In ancient Rome, haruspices and other soothsayers never looked one another in the eye when crossing paths in the streets—they were afraid they might burst into spastic laughter. Do naysaying Apple bloggers fear the same when reading one another’s output?

For months, tech bloggers declared that the upcoming iPhone 7 would be boringlacking creativity, a flop waiting to happen—”So unless something crazy happens in the next few months, the iPhone 7 will look and feel a lot like the 6s” (Steve Kovach, Tech Insider).

For these predictions of inertia, Apple should be grateful. In my native French, we would say that Apple owes the blogosphere a fière chandelle–a debt of gratitude.

Unprayed for, but a godsend nonetheless, the months of deprecation lowered expectations for the unborn iPhone 7. One could say that the pundits did for Apple what the company should have done on its own: Underpromise as an easy path to overdelivery.

Now that the iPhone 7 has been revealed, we can respond to Mr. Kovach’s postulation:

Yes, something crazy did happen, and it was right under your nose: The widely-rumored dual camera. Apple did underpromise and overdeliver, after all…

On stage in early Jan. 2007, Steve Jobs famously teased three separate products: a music player, a telephone, and a web navigation device. He then revealed a single all-in-one device: the iPhone. Jobs may not have called it out at the time, but a fourth function, taking pictures, would become at least as important as making phone calls.

It started when digital cameras were introduced at the end of the 1990s. Within a decade, traditional film cameras were a dying breed:

film camera sales
Image: Provided by author, courtesy photographylife.com

With the advent of smartphones, we saw the decline of digital still cameras (DSCs):

dsc camera shipments
Image: Provided by author, courtesy cipa.jp

In the meantime, the smartphone market exploded:

smartphones forecast
Image: Provided by author, courtesy BI Intelligence

Paraphrasing another Silicon Valley mantra, smartphones are eating digital cameras. InfoTrends estimates that 75% of the one trillion digital pictures we took in 2015 were taken with our smartphones:

Graph of digital photos taken
Image: Provided by author, courtesy nytimes.com

That 80% estimate for 2017 might prove a bit low as “crazy things happen.”

We now reach the absurdity: One of the most popular picture-taking devices on earth (the iPhone is either the world’s number one digital camera, or very close) is heavily rumored to be gaining a significant improvement—a second camera—but no, the blogosphere reached a “nonsensus” and steadfastly stuck to it; “Nothing to see here…move on to the sure-to-be-groundbreaking 2017 iPhone 8…”

How did the pundits miss the obvious advantages of a dual camera? The improvement is indisputable and easy to demonstrate: The second “telephoto” lens is more appropriate for many pictures; faces, for instance, aren’t seen at their best advantage by the usual wide-angle lens.

None of this is rocket science or thin ice speculation. A less…courageous company would have taken a trusted individual to the side and broken the spell. Instead, it seems Apple execs let bloggers stay on message, thus setting easy-to-beat expectations.

(Gratifyingly, we were spared Apple’s often grating overuse of adjectives such as “beautiful,” “incredible,” and “The Best on the Planet™,” terms that contravene the edict against bragging about one’s horizontal performance. Instead, you should let your grateful partner rhapsodize on your behalf.)

Last Friday morning Sep. 16, I went to pick up my iPhone 7 Plus at the University Avenue store in Palo Alto. No easy-to-scratch Jet Black for this klutz, mine is white (aka Silver). Lines were long, but I had a reservation and didn’t need activation. I lingered inside the store and took the temperature: It seems the dual-camera Plus was favored by a majority of purchasers. I passed by again in the afternoon; lines were still long, even for those with reservations…

Anecdotes and observations are not data, of course, so I’ll stop there. We’ll know how the new devices fare next January when Apple discloses its Christmas quarter numbers. In the meantime, Apple’s website says that orders for the Jet Black, which sold out within minutes, will ship “in November,” and more mundane colors in “2–3 weeks.”

In spite of Apple’s decision to no longer release first weekend numbers, Wall Street pushed the stock up by more than 11% in one week:

Apple stock trends
Image: Provided by author

Until the next burst of anxiety…

There are other interesting bits and bobs in the new device and its software. I’ll wait for the third impression to settle in before I decide if I have anything to report here.

But one thing before I go: The tempest surrounding the missing 3.5 mm analog jack.

In the months leading up to the product launch, Apple was warned: “Taking the headphone jack off phones is user-hostile and stupid. Have some dignity.” And we were prodded to be alarmed: “Fewer wires isn’t better. It’s worse. Much worse.” There were many other admonitions in the same vein.

Even if I don’t partake in the indignation, I accept that these sorts of changes are bound to upset some customers…they always have. A friend of mine was outraged when the iPhone moved from the old iPod 30-pin dock connector to the new, smaller, reversible Lightning, and was equally indignant before that when the original iPod dropped the FireWire connector. (That little white bead behind the Lightening’s plug? It includes a small System On a Chip (SOC), and runs a small amount of code derived from XNU, Apple Open Source operating system kernel. Some changes aren’t just for aesthetics…)

Apple didn’t help its case when one of its execs said that removing the analog connector was an act of courage. The backlash and jibes that followed obscure a simple, straightforward decision, easily summed up in one sentence: “We’re going wireless, please join us.”

But bloggers will always be bloggers; their business model feeds on controversy. (I feel lucky to have been writing a doubly free—as in free speech and free beer—Monday Note for more than nine years.)

Still, anecdotally, the customers I saw in the Apple Store last Friday seemed unperturbed by the missing jack, or they wouldn’t be buying. The acquaintances I queried are intrigued or, at worst, mildly flustered, but going with the flow.

Word-of-mouth from real-world AirPods adopters will seal or break the move to wireless headphones. I don’t think Apple execs are losing sleep.