iPhone 7: Apple kills headphone jack, improves camera

New iPhone adds water-resistance while dropping the headphone jack. Did Apple make enough of a splash in launching the iPhone 7? KING 5 Technology Reporter Brian M. Westbrook has a look at the improvements.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple added new features to its smartphone and smartwatch Wednesday, spotlighting the company’s game plan of improving on its successes as opposed to diving into new categories.

After a quick reference to Apple’s new iOS 10, Apple CEO Tim Cook told the crowd at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, "Of course, the world’s most advanced mobile operating system deserves most advanced smartphone, and here it is."

Indeed the biggest news from the two-hour event here was the unveiling of Apple’s new iPhone 7. The smartphone, which now comes in black, boasts long-rumored features such as water-resistance, stereo speakers, longer battery life and, on the larger 7 Plus, dual cameras that allow for telephoto photography.

iPhone 7 is due out Sept. 16, and starts at $649 for the smallest 32 GB version.

Also unveiled was a second generation Watch that is now waterproof and has a built-in GPS feature. A new Nike-edition Watch dials up the runner-focused features of the product, which has a heavy fitness focus. Watch starts at $349.

Perhaps the only truly new product from Apple was a new wireless earbud called AirPods ($159, due next month), which look like the company’s current white earphones minus the snaking cord. AirPods can be used in stereo or in one ear only.

Apple (AAPL) shares rose 0.5% to $108.24 on the updates.

The Cupertino company has deliberately stayed vague about its plans in hot tech arenas such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality. And its involvement in self-driving cars remains but a rumor. Instead, it appears to be doubling down on a group of products that have helped cement its name and filled its coffers.

More than a billion iPhones have sold around the world, and Apple Watch has, over the past 18 months, become second only to Rolex in sales revenues. Apple’s market cap is $570 billion and the company is sitting on more than $200 billion in cash, much of it generated by iPhone.

Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller took the stage to run down a range of iPhone 7 details, starting with it being water and dust resistant. He went on at length about the products prowess as a camera.

“What we have here is a huge advancement for photography for cellphones,” he said.

iPhone 7 has a new optical stabilizer, a larger aperture lens and a new high-speed sensor that's 60% ore efficient, Schiller said. The flash produces 50% more light. The new image signal processor in the phone uses machine learning to find bodies in a frame, sets exposure, color balance, tone mapping and noise reduction.

"This happens every time you take a picture, it's 100 billion operations every time, in just 25 milliseconds," Schiller said. "t's a super computer for photos."

The larger iPhone 7 Plus features a long-rumored dual lens setup: a wide-angle a new telephoto lens, a zoom feature that is unique to smartphones and more common to larger DSLs with interchangeable lenses.

By tapping the screen of the phone before taking a photo, a "2x" icon appears on the screen indicating the beginning of the zoom process.

The digital zoom can go all the way up to 10x of the original image size. The result is sharper images than when pinching-to-zoom on the current iPhone 6, as well as the ability to take pictures with a shallow depth of focus that is common in portrait photography. A new Portrait setting on iPhone 7 Plus automatically dials in the required setting to make such images pop.

iPhone 7 also has dual speakers, which can play at twice the volume generated by the iPhone 6. Wired headphones are moving to a connection through the phone's Lightning port, typically used for powering up the device.

New iPhone 7s will come with Lightning-connected headphones as well as a connection jack that will enable owners of old headphones with the new phone.

The new AirPods deliver five hours of battery life, using the device's new W1 chip.

"The pundits were wrong," says Patrick Moorhead, analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy. "Apple 7 and 7 Plus was a major upgrade, not a minor one with every major subsystem improved."

Moorhead predicts that "Apple did enough to keep the base happy with upgrades and arguably did enough to attract some Android users. The iPhone 7 is a completely new phone."

In other news, attendees gave Super Mario creator Shigero Miyamoto a big round of applause as he introduced an iPhone-friendly version of the venerable Nintendo game for iPhone. Super Mario Run is due in the app store in time for the holiday season, Miyamoto said.

Apple fans tuned into the Internet early Wednesday would have gotten a sneak peek of Apple’s iPhone 7 news. The notoriously secretive company actually scooped itself by posting - and quickly deleting - a few promoted tweets that featured photos and details about the new smartphone.

"New cameras. Water-resistant. Stereo speakers. Longer battery life. This is 7," read the tweet.

A video also showed a black iPhone 7 getting doused with water. Making the iPhone water-resistant pulls it even with rival Samsung, which has been touting the water-friendliness of its smartphones for some months.

These paid advertising tweets which can be targeted at Twitter users with specific attributes, such as users of iPhone6’s, or people who live in California, for example.  Promoted Tweets have a little known but long available feature called “null casting” in the ad industry, which Twitter sometimes calls “dark tweeting.”

This allows a company to send out promoted tweets that show up in the Twitter timeline of the person receiving the tweet, but not the timeline of the person sending them.

Online retailing giant Amazon also jumped the gun, launching a specialized iPhone 7 accessories page before the event started.

A performance by Sia brought the Apple Event to a close.

The event wrapped in typical musical fashion, with an eclectic song-and-dance performance by singer Sia.


Contributing: Elizabeth Weise

Follow USA TODAY tech reporters Marco della Cava @marcodellacava

Copyright 2016 KING


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