The Benchmark iPhone 7 Plus

Tim Cook said, “The iPhone is the industry gold standard. The phone by which all other phones are compared.” I articulated for subscribers yesterday how this is true of Apple at an industry level, not just with the iPhone, but any reasonable person understands Tim Cook is right. Apple sets the bar and brings cutting edge technology to the masses like no other technology brand.

I’ve spent some time with the Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus and I’d like to share some thoughts from that experience.

Thinking about Design
I said of the iPhone 5 upon seeing and using it that it felt as though it were a piece of jewelry. I still feel that way of that design. It was iconic in many ways. With the new Jet Black and Matte Black designs of the iPhone 7 Plus, I’m reminded of sports cars. The Jet Black color is the reason I’ve been telling folks that I’ve never loved a piece of electronics this much before.

Reading the tea leaves about Apple’s design strategy around colors and materials, a few things stand out. First, a high level observation is the colors are not staying entirely the same. First, it was gold, then rose gold, and now two entirely new blacks. Things will get very interesting if this is a continuing pattern. We have already heard rumors Apple is looking into ceramics for future versions, maybe doing new things with glass, etc., which makes for an interesting design point with each passing year. The key here is we can expect new colors, materials, or variations to deliver some dramatic new finishes each year. Yet, they remain grounded in high-end or luxury coatings like high-end cars strategically span certain colors and materials. The idea that, each buying cycle, consumers may be confronted with new types of innovative colors and materials is an interesting idea. Again, it reminds me quite a bit of how car manufacturers use color innovation and new types of materials (carbon fiber, mesh, or types of metals) to add design flair to their cars each year.

Similarly, sports car designs are iconic. You know a Porsche 911 when you see one, for example, no matter what year it was made. I feel similarly about Apple sticking with certain design language and thus establishing it as iconic. Iconic car designs have slight variations year to year but never dramatic departures from the iconic look. I feel Apple is on a similar design path.

I was curious about the car choosing parallels with where Apple is going in color and design materials. I quickly polled iPhone owners in our panel and found only 2% say they always buy the exact same color car. 65% said they generally lead toward buying the same color as their last car but they like to look around at new colors/materials in case something stands out. 33% of the market tends to switch colors in order to use something new or have variety.

It is possible I’m reading too much into the car/luxury car parallels but I tend to do that from time to time.

Thinking About the Camera
What happens when everyone can take professional looking photos? This goes far beyond the resolution of the pictures to the ability to take a simple photo of a sunset or your kids and have the camera do all the hard work.

In early research with consumers who have no photography background whatsoever, we looked at motivations and drivers for their purchase of a DSLR. It came back to the quality of the photo. We often heard the remark, “It lets me take so much better pictures of my kids or family.” Which makes sense. DSLR camera technology is great at taking professional looking photos on the Auto setting. Which is the only setting most consumers use to take pictures with on their DSLR. Bottom line is, they bought the DSLR because the camera did all the hard work of taking great pictures. I jokingly nicnamed these point and shoot DSLRs because that is basically what they were for the mainstream, non-photography, consumers who purchased them.

This has always been the clear value proposition of smartphones and the quality of smartphone photos has undoubtedly gotten better over the years. But this time around, it feels like even professional photographers are making bold claims about the iPhone 7 camera. Emphasizing my point about the value perception of a DSLR. In consumers’ minds, “professional” is now achievable in a smartphone and will continue on this path for years to come. I’m not saying this is a total DSLR replacement. I’m saying the core value of a DSLR for the mainstream can now fully apply to the smartphone.

Certainly, there is more to my statement with the iPhone 7 Plus dual lens camera, which many professionals have remarked are best in class when it comes to a smartphone camera. This is where Apple’s tight integration of hardware, software, and custom silicon gives them an advantage. The combination of the hardware and the software designed to focus on a single thing, better pictures, is exactly why DSLRs helped the average consumer take a better-looking photograph. Just point and shoot and get near professional photo pictures in terms of exposure and focus. This is what the mainstream values.

One of the best values of the dual lens approach that Apple is taking is with the 2x optical telephoto. Having taken many photography classes in my life, you learn that, when taking portrait photos, you want the subject to “fill the frame”. Basically, get as close as you can to fill the subject in the entire frame, or close to it. In the past, doing this with a smartphone meant getting right up in your subject’s face. With the 2x zoom, you can now be standing at the distance most normal people do from their subject yet use the 2x zoom and fill the frame. This is a subtle yet powerful change in how people can use the dual-lens feature to get better photographs. Smartphone cameras were about as good as point and shoot cameras. Now, I’d argue we are seeing the path for them to take on DSLRs. Key point for me is that all the best photos of my family, the ones in frames and on the walls, were taken on DSLRs. I’m certain this will no longer be the case going forward.

Thinking About Silicon
I maintain one of the most underappreciated things about the “new Apple” is their custom designed silicon. They design their own processors and even many of the sensors in all of their products now and the number of Apple designed chipsets in every product seems to be increasing every year. I expect this to continue. We know Apple’s iPhone and iPad stand out from their competitors because they have iOS, an operating system no competitor can use. Much of Apple’s objective differentiation is tied to the fact they run an operating system no one else has. I’d argue their efforts in custom silicon designs are as important as their work in custom operating systems as a differentiating factor. Both are best in class and both are exclusive to Apple products.

Apple’s software plays a key role in making their products stand out. Their custom silicon makes the experience of that software stand out even more. While this experience can come in the way of more quality apps, graphics, or other visuals, perhaps the best example of this advantage is the increase of battery life of the new iPhones.

Having tested many devices and being among the top 1% of heavy mobile users, I routinely run out of battery life on every smartphone I try. For most of the past two years, I was on an iPhone 6s and, near the end of every day, my battery life was in the 10-20% range. Since June, I’ve been on the iPhone SE and was routinely under 10% at the end of each day. With the iPhone 7 Plus, I have yet to get below 30% by the end of day on heavy usage days and, on light days, my battery life stays in the 40% range by the end of day.

Apple’s custom designed A10 chip, and their ability to tune their software for better battey life, is a key reason for these gains. The A 10 Fusion processor uses a mix of two low power efficient cores which can handle most tasks by most users and keep the higher performance cores from turning on. When users need it, the higher performance cores kick into gear and power the more intense graphics and visual elements of iOS. By not having to run these larger, more powerful cores all the time, the new iPhones are getting much better battery life than other devices in my initial testing. While there are many other objective benchmarks we can point to which highlight Apple’s silicon advantage, battery life is one of the many consumers will latch onto because it is a known pain point.

When we polled consumers on certain features and pain points regarding both waterproofing and better battery life, we discovered 51% of iPhone owners say they have run out of battery by 5pm on their smartphone before and had no way to charge it and had to go some time without a working smartphone. 45% of consumers have, at some point, dropped their phone in the water and, of those, 16% had to get a new phone because of the water damage.

Similarly, of existing iPhone owners planning to upgrade to the new devices and those strongly tempted to upgrade now they have seen them, the better battery life story resonates the strongest with the improved camera the second biggest motivating factor.

These are practical improvements which hit a key pain point in the market today, and these features alone, could move the needle for Apple the next few quarters.

While pundits may look at the current iPhones and claim it doesn’t meet their expectations, the bottom line is both the new designs and even more so, the improvements to the fundamental experience like camera, battery, performance, etc., is what will speak most powerfully to the mainstream consumer. This market represents the 80% and it is worth remembering Apple makes products for the mainstream, not the tech elite, even though the tech elite can find many things innovative about the new iPhones should they only try.

After Thoughts

Observation on live photos. I think it is incredibly significant that there are APIs Apple has made available for Live Photos. I can’t wait to see what developers do to integrate Live Photo support into their apps. Primarily because I discovered something interesting about Live Photos. As nice as they are for your photos, they become incredibly interesting with other people’s photos. I discovered this with my 13-year-old daughter as she was taking many pictures on our recent family vacation. With my Live Photos, I took the shot so I know all the little secrets behind the picture. Going and looking at her Live Photos is an entirely different experience because I get to discover the moments behind the photo for the first time. This is surprisingly delightful and will add a dimension to friends and family posts on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or elsewhere that people will really love.

People have asked if the Jet Black is slippery. The answer is no. To give you a sense of the feel of the Jet Black version just feel your iPhone’s screen. The feel of the screen is very similar to the feel of the back of the Jet Black design.

People also wondered if the Jet Black easily scraches. I’ll echo what others have said about the Jet Black getting small micro-abresions but not scratches. Mine has very little micro abrasions which you have to try really hard to see. Doesn’t seem to scratch easy as I’ve bonked it on hard objects on accident.

Low Light Photos. Here are two pictures I took on my porch last night. This is a tough photo because it is only using the ambient light from my porch lights. One is from the iPhone 7 Plus and the other from the iPhone 6s Plus. You can see they are both great, but the 7 Plus has more light on my siding and cushions, less noise, more dynamic range, and overall less darkness.

iPhone 6s Plus

iPhone 7 Plus

Here is the 2x portrait technique in action. Both photos are shot from the same distance from our dog Nutmeg. I can’t emhasize enough how different of an opportunity this presents for smartphone photography. Many subjects, like little kids, animals, etc., are less coopoerative and thus taking a true portrait, due to how physically close you have to be, is an frequently an aweful and frustrating exprience.

Photo at 1x

Photo at 2x

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

724 thoughts on “The Benchmark iPhone 7 Plus”

  1. Sure, people desperate for juice will take anything they can get, like any junky. But is the extra battery life enough to make a difference to customers on the fence about an iPhone (either considering an iPhone or considering ditching the iPhone)? That extra 1-2 hours still doesn’t get that group to the end of the day.

    And the camera improvements, while unarguable, are they, also, enough? I remember back in the 3gs days when several professional fashion photographers showed what was possible with even that primitive (by today’s standards) camera of that device. As we Apple proponents retorted back then, a better camera (however measured) doesn’t necessarily make better pictures. A better photographer makes better pictures. Was Apple losing customers because of the old camera? Does this just solidify the base? Or do you think this will extend the base of users?


    1. Of course a better photographer will take better pictures with almost anything, but a better camera will still take better quality pictures than a worse camera. I don’t understand why people are complaining or discounting camera improvements, let alone the other improvements. These are not the magic beans you’re looking for?
      Don’t get me started on the port removal obsession though, it’s starting to feel like I’m losing at musical chairs again.

      1. I don’t think I’ve discounted the camera improvements. I am just curious of the effect on sales. People have always been able to buy better cameras, but they haven’t. So how much is a better camera worth in a phone? Is it the deal maker? Or does it only keep iPhone users using iPhones? Were iPhone users leaving because their camera _isn’t_ what it is now?

        And how many would get better pictures by simply learning a bit ore about composition? I had an architectural photographer tell me the secret to taking great pictures of buildings is simply making sure there is a vanishing point and horizon, the whole perspective form. Rarely (but still sometimes, depending on the facade design) is the most interesting picture of a building a straight on shot. Give the shot some movement by taking the picture off axis.

        That was a simple enough tip to actually improve my picture taking without needing a better camera.


        1. I don’t think any single spec bump is definitive in influencing choice one way or the other. I still feel that for people that don’t have an obsessive bias, Android itself, and the software layers/inclusions that are forced on customers, are the best motivators to choose or switch to iOS (iThingies). iStuff isn’t perfect (shock, horror, surprise), but I don’t have to punch myself in the face repeatedly to know I won’t enjoy it (being punched in the face that is, or other self destructive behaviours).
          As far as cameras go, I can take very good photos of many subjects (I’ve been told this, it’s not my opinion), but because of the size/weight of smartphones, and the difficulty in controlling it, even with well designed apps, I get very few good/pleasant/inspiring ones with a smartphone. Obviously I’m not good enough and too lazy to persist with them when I have more suitable alternatives (dSLR), but having better quality snapshots, etc is always good, as is learning to improve your skills. I’m not particularly happy though with the technical quality of my iPhone pics anyhow (currently 6s+) as they appear to have excessive and aggressive JPEG compression and are horribly smeary at 100%.

  2. Is the design flare for when there’s a fashion emergency ? ;-p

    I’m having ever more issues with the high end, not just Apple, on the Android side too. I think we’ve reached a point where phones are wildly overserving. A well-designed all-rounder ($150-$200 Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Pro, I got the 6.44″ Mi Max version of that) has good (not just OK) everything (performance, screen, camera, sound, storage, build quality, looks, TouchID, tap-to-wake, FM radio, official Google Play + official international ROM w/ all languages and LTE bands… including nice battery life at 9hrs SOT). An Iphone (or GS/GN 7) is 4x that at minimum, and won’t do 4x as much, actually in most people’s hands it will do the exact same things.

    The Redmi does lack the ability to do VR, awesome indoor pictures, good 4k video, and to charge wirelessly.

    The cases where that hardware isn’t enough are few, indeed mostly people insisting of the best possible pictures/movies. Even then, camera improvements have slowed so last year’s $400 flagship is probably a much wiser choice.

      1. When I think of future jobs-to-be-done and the user experience as a whole, it seems to me that it is very, very difficult to actually overserve.

        1. Yes, I’d tend to agree. I was being sarcastic.

          I’ll need to dive into some discussions Horace, from Asymco, and I have talked about on this. There are important new learnigns around low-end disruption that are worth sharing.

          1. I’ve long thought we’re seeing the start of an Apple Network of Things, a distributed wearable platform, and that requires a lot more ‘juice’ to borrow jfutral’s word. Where Apple is headed there is no ‘good enough’.

      2. No, those are truly valuable and make a bigger statement.
        Apple is like the mass produced Stradivarius from that Judd Herschel/Eddie Arnold movie who’s title I can’t remember.

      3. Actually, yes ? These are more about making a statement about how much money you have/are willing to spend and which group you identifiy with, not the object per se (you can get custom-made suits for not much more than the Armani label, you won’t use 1/3rd of your Porsche’s prowess outside of German highways…).

        Hence my pov that they’re all luxuries, not tools, not premium.

        1. The deeper point here, is $5 jeans will keep you just as warm as Levi’s $45-50. Yet most people don’t buy the $5 jeans..

          There is more to brand than meets the eye, even outside of luxury brands.

          The analogies, and true challenges to low-end disruption theory are vast and wide in pure post mature consumer markets. Brand is the variable that changes much of the equation.

          1. Yes, but

            1- Kardashian is one of the most valuable brands in entertainment, and Mc Donalds in burgers. Does that mean Kardashian is good entertainment, and McD, good burgers ? Sometimes, there’s nothing but what meets the eye to brands. If that.

            2- Levi’s $45 is lower-midrange for jeans. We’re talking the very upper range of phones, so that’s not Levi’s, but say the Armani you brought up earlier, whose jeans seem to go for $180-ish.

            3- For phones, we’re not talking 1:10 ratio compared to the highest end, but 1:4 or 1:5. Apply that to jeans, we’re back from Armani’s $180 to Levi’s $40. Most people do buy Levi’s (I’m actually not sure, but I guess ?), or would be OK with those.

            There’s indeed something about clothes that makes them a deep part of one’s persona, as opposed to say, a hammer. I do think a large part of Apple’s genius is realizing phones could be attire, and energetically moving things that way.
            That’s a very successful approach, but I don’t think that it means that iPhones are axiomatically better, any more than Kardashian entertainment, McD bugers, or Armani jeans are better. Levi’s probably is a better choice for most.

  3. On single-core benchmarks, the A10 already beats 12-core Intel CPUs. For a computer you keep in your pocket, that is AMAZING.

        1. yes, but that’s very fake: take the worst Intel Core that’s used in very rare situations, and benchmark the A10 against that knowing people will shortcut it to “A10 beats Intel”, which is utterly untrue: regular Cores handily best the A10.

          Half the power of an iCore is already impressive. I’m always amazed Apple feels the need to PR that up, and the press/analysts/bystanders never add the necessary trowel of fact-checking.

      1. As you said, the A10 is in the same ballpark as the i7.
        Intel CPUs have reached a ceiling on how fast they can go.
        Apple CPUs have not. And Apple CPUs are in devices that go IN YOUR POCKET.
        The fact that an Apple CPU on single core processing can pass an Intel CPU is simply amazing.

        1. again, Apple can’t pass an Intel CPU, except when carefully picking the slowest possible server Core. In a realistic match-up (client CPU to client CPU, current-gen) , Apple is 50% the speed of a run of the mill Intel Core.

          That impressive. But we must stop with the “Apple beats Intel” PR. That’s just not true, not when you don’t cheat.

  4. a few preliminary pictures w/ side-by-side (use the in-picture slider slider) between the 2 iPhones and the GS7:

    on the one with the river it gives the impression that Apple is using HDR (that’s from an iP7, so OIS but single cam):
    – the sky isn’t burnt like on the GS7
    – but the picture is a good bit hazier

    The secondary camera seem quite weak by itself (see bottom portrait: white balance is off, skin grain is mostly missing).

    That’s preliminary, more info and analysis to come.

    1. What I am interested in and ask you since you wade through the Android morass and I don’t, do Android dual lens phones resort to digital zoom instead of optical zoom in low light conditions?


      1. I don’t even think Android dual-camera phones use their dual lenses to do optical zoom at all even in full light.

        There are phones with actual optical zooms, not dual-lenses, though none recent:

        Apparently, best pictures = Galaxy series 7 (S, S Edge, Note) or LG G5:

        The more detailed photo test of the dual-lens G5 doesn’t say anything about optical zoom ( )

        The didn’t even like the Huawei P9 that much, only gave it 4* in photo in the overall review, detailed photo review here:

        Not sure what Google translate will make of all that ^^

        I’ll dig deeper tomorrow if you’re still interested, there might be a more recent Asus zoom model.

        1. No worries. I just thought you may have come across something since you navigate that world and I don’t, yet. I have to start thinking of a non-iPhone future. I would rather go Windows, but work related software is currently only iPhone/Android. I just don’t know how long this SE will last me.


          1. Frankly, if you want a smooth transition from iOS, I’d get a Nexus 6P, maybe wait for the upcoming Pixel phones pending reviews.

            If you want the best pics and sound, the LG V20 has the same camera has the G5, and a tricked up jack ;-p

            Don’t know what your size and budget preferences are though, that’s premium stuff. Sorry, I meant luxury. You gonna have to buy a new manpurse too ;-p

          2. Budget isn’t much of an issue, as along as I am getting what I want out of it. As for camera, I am definitely interested in optical zoom, but I almost always use it in low light. I have an iPro lens set up that does a pretty good job, except I have to use the special case and carry lenses around, which is annoying. But I get true optical zoom and not digital.


          3. You shouldn’t tease poor Bart about maybe jumping the fence (shark?). The grass isn’t actually greener, it’s just the angle of view. You’ll get him over excited.

          4. I’m not teasing. Apple is clearly going in a direction that I am not interested in following. I don’t like large phones. The 5s was going to be my last phone until they released the SE. With the ditching of the 3.5mm jack, they are definitely leaving me behind.

            I’ve already been very unhappy with the level of complexity the OS is taking on as they keep shoehorning new features in, either through hardware (there is no such thing as a simple swipe any more. If it isn’t perfect in its trajectory, who knows what will pop up on the screen. 3d touch? Really? That was necessary? And Haptic/Taptics?) or software (the whole merging of Beats/Streaming, Cloud storage, and old fashion iPod playback has been disastrous. Purchased songs that I deleted years ago popping back up? WTH?)

            The whole premium value proposition that used to attract me has be realigned to something that leaves me behind. If it is going to be a confusing mess, at least give me the features I want in there somewhere.


          5. Agreed. I’m finding a lot of the choices/gimmicks unsatisfactory, but I’m using a 6s+ because my eyes and fat fingers prefer it, the battery is a huge improvement over my (beautiful and delightful) 5s, as is the optical stabiliser and faster Touch ID. I immediately turned off Live Photos, I don’t understand the point of 3D Touch and I hate, hate the position of the sleep/wake button, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the best choice for me. I’m just picky, like you apparently. Having used the plus for nine months now, the 5s seems unbelievably tiny and I can barely type on it, and that’s when I haven’t lost my glasses.
            I also like gestures, especially on the unbelievably fabulous trackpads, even though I don’t use all of them. I’m surprised you don’t find the instant access to major controls, notifications, etc and swiping backwards/forwards through web pages useful or helpful, even if you sometimes accidentally activate things unintentionally.
            Port removal is super irritating, as is iToons and the continuing degradation of the music apps. At least you’re not having music become unavailable as I have since activating (mis)Match. I’m still psyching myself up for the days I’ll need to spend repairing/recovering my media library that the regular improvements in iToons have blessed me with.

          6. After communications, my second use is music, then a few retail and airline apps and Safari. I’ve never needed the Notifications shade no matter how many times I pull it down. I turned off TouchID for unlocking because every time I just want to read the Text abstracts on the lock screen or even just want to see the time—because of how I grab the phone—I always unlocked it. So then I am left with going through two or three swipes and clicks to get to the Message app. I hate that. I tried changing which fingers I used for TouchID, but that just complicated matters. It is easier just to use the code to unlock.

            I use my phone one handed easily 80-90% of the time. The other times I may be playing a game, usually Boggle.

            And I really, more than ANYTHING ELSE in the world, want the phone to auto silence/vibrate mode when I get a phone call and turn back up after I am done. That feature alone would almost make me want to jump to whoever has it right now. Almost.


          7. The main issue is that Android right now has now Compact flagship, the closest thing is the Sony Compact line, but that never quite made it to flagship level, and others’ (Samsung != Compact line where hijacks of the flagship name w/ low/midrange specs). Hopefully now that iPse has validated the size, we’ll get some Compact love. In the previous gen at least Android flagships had OIS on 5″-ish when iP6 didn’t, but iP7 has it too now.

            As for messaging/unlocking, you’ll get notifications of the lock screen, and/or (a) widget(s) so no swipes/clicks. My ex-iBrother misses iMessage the most though, especially because group iMessages get converted to individual texts IIUC.

            [dammit, Disqus ate most of my answer… retyping….]

          8. Thanks. Right now I still feel like the SE is a bone Apple threw out there. Looking at what Apple thinks is important, I don’t expect it to last, either.


          9. Or you could get an LeEco phone they’re jack-free, that is sooo much better ! I can feel that jack weighing down and bulking up my Xiaomi as I write. And such an eyesore !

  5. For many better pictures are just sharper pictures per se.
    To be a better photographer takes more than better specs.
    Btw even for the pros they shoot hundreds of shots just to find the best ones.
    Yes the law of average also works here.

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