Seventh heaven – Apple launch the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus

iphone-7-launch-event-8As any die-hard iOS musician will be aware, Apple held one of its super-slick launch events yesterday with Tim Cook and the crew taking us through a number of new Apple product enhancements. Yes, sad that I am, I sat through the whole 2 hours (I multi-tasked though!)….. :-)

The focus was very much on the iPhone and  Apple Watch so, if you are more of an iPad-based iOS musician, and maybe also run a desktop-based music system using a MacBook or iMac, then there was perhaps less to get your teeth into…..  Even so, it is always interesting to see just what Apple are doing in terms of their hardware range as technologies in one area often then feed into another…..

The new iPhone 7..... a contender for the iOS musician?

The new iPhone 7….. it looks great but is it a contender for the iOS musician? The dual rear cameras on the ‘plus’ version will certainly appeal to photography fans…. :-)

While the event mentioned iOS10 – which is due in just a few days – and some of its new capabilities (a number of them very useful for the general user experience), there was little by way of reference to the needs of iOS music makers on this front. Here’s hoping that – somewhere under the hood of iOS10 – there is a little more certainty for iOS music app developers who are grappling with the AU protocol. In the absence or anything more concrete at the event, it is still a case of ‘watch this space….’ on this issue.

Leaving the Watch aside (although this iteration does look like a much more credible option for sports and exercise fans), the major item on the Apple agenda was the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. As expected (although no less welcome for being expected), as well as some cosmetic changes, this iteration of the iPhone includes some significant (on the test bench at least) performance hikes and, for photography buffs (that’s me), the new camera options are petty impressive, particularly on the larger iPhone 7 Plus with its dual camera option.

The new iPhone does include stereo speakers so, as with the iPad last year, this should improve the audio listening experience....

The new iPhone does include stereo speakers so, as with the iPad last year, this should improve the audio listening experience….

For musicians, it is the new CPU performance figures – and perhaps also the improvements in graphics performance – that will be the biggest bonuses. The (somewhat inevitable) CPU performance chart suggests another jump in technical performance (of the order of 20%) and, all other things being equal (although they never really are), that ought to mean more music apps at any one time or more tracks in your music projects before your hardware starts to press the panic buttons.

With the annual cycle of equivalent iPad upgrades probably due in October (if Apple stick to something close to their usual timetable in these things), then I guess we would all expect this same sort of performance hike to also reach the next generation of iPads. Whether you can justify the cost of a new device on this annual basis is another discussion all-around, but it is obviously a good thing to see performance improvements, especially as Apple also seem to be able to achieve these without a significant reduction in battery life.

However, for iOS musicians (and, it has to be said, for lots of general iPhone users), perhaps the ‘highlight’ of the launch event was confirmation of the widely reported rumour that Apple have ditched the analog headphone jack on the new iteration of iPhones. If you want to connect headphones, it will now have to be done via the Lightning connector or, if you are prepared to cough up for suitable headphones, wirelessly.

The downside - well, perhaps a downside - is the loss of the analog headphone jack. That said, the AirPods do look kind of cool even if they look very easy to lose.

The downside – well, perhaps a downside – is the loss of the analog headphone jack. That said, the AirPods do look kind of cool even if they look very easy to lose.

I think there is both good and bad for iOS musicians in this change. Phil Schiller outlined the various reasons for this decision all of which are perfectly reasonable and, for the music listener and general iPhone user, aside from needing some suitable Lightning-equipped headphones (or the UK£9.99/US$12.99 adaptor) or wireless headphones, it would have little impact upon the way they might use their phone and makes reasonable sense from a design perspective. He also described the change as ‘courageous’….  although I don’t think this is intended to make us all feel like hi-tech super-heros as we plug in out Lightning headphones….  more courageous as a marketing/business decision given the long-standing and ubiquitous nature of the analog headphone jack.

For the iOS musician perhaps it is easier to see more obvious downsides? However, at a personal level, while your mileage might vary, I don’t think I’d overplay these. In my own iOS music making, the only time I really rely on my iPhone or iPad analog jack socket is when I’m in a more casual music-making mode. This might be lying on the couch or sitting in the park (or some other ‘on the move’ location). On these occasions, I don’t have other peripherals in use, I’m not hooked up to mains power and I’m happy to use my Apple earbuds and whatever performance interface my app(s) offer. In these sorts of circumstances, whether those headphones occupy the analog jack or the Lightning port doesn’t really matter.

One of these will allow you to carry on using your analog headphones with the iPhone 7 should you wish.... but the headphone jack on your audio/MIDI interface might be a better bet for music production work.

One of these will allow you to carry on using your analog headphones with the iPhone 7 should you wish…. but the headphone jack on your audio/MIDI interface might be a better bet for music production work.

If I’m in a more workmanlike mode, then I will have my usual audio/MIDI interface hooked up to my iOS hardware via a Lightning-to-USB connector and, as that interface features an analog headphone jack, I’d be using that anyway over any jack built into my iPhone or iPad. Where it might be more of a pain is if said audio/MIDI interface doesn’t include a headphone jack….  and a case in point is the very popular iRig Pro. OK, so you can still use the standard in-built speakers to monitor what’s going on but that’s not ideal if you are also recording an acoustic audio source in a multitrack recording context (for example).

The other obvious issue is that if your headphones are occupying the Lightning connector (perhaps you don’t have a suitable audio/MIDI interface?), you can’t also be charging your iOS device or, for example, have an external (wired) MIDI keyboard connected. Whether Apple’s (rather expensive) Lightning/USB3 splitter cable would allow you some flexibility here I don’t know…  but hopefully some keen iPhone 7 users will try it out and report soon enough…..

I'm not sure if the Lightning to USB3/Lightning adaptor might help those struggling with the loss of the analog headphone jack.... Feel free to leave a comment below if you get a chance to try this....

I’m not sure if the Lightning to USB3/Lightning adaptor might help those struggling with the loss of the analog headphone jack…. Feel free to leave a comment below if you get a chance to try this….

Of course, the other possibility is wireless connectivity….  either for that MIDI keyboard or – as included in the Keynote – wireless headphones. Apple’s new AirPods look cool and will, for consumer in-ear ‘buds, probably deliver decent sound, but they are neither cheap nor do we know much (yet) about their likely latency or the reliability of the connection. For general music listening, I’m sure the performance will be great…  but for music production…. well, the jury will be out until a few folks can suck it and see. I can’t imagine the bulk of iOS musicians heading off down this route just yet though, however ‘courageous’ it might make us feel.

As ever, the new iPhone is certainly a slick looking device....

As ever, the new iPhone is certainly a slick looking device….

Yesterday’s event didn’t include any iPad news or, as some had expected, any news on a MacBook refresh. Fingers crossed, we will soon see a similar launch event for these product lines with some equivalent performance improvements and product enhancements. Before that, however, we have to negotiate the launch of iOS10, which will be available as a free update from the 13th of September. I think for most general iOS users, the update will be a bit of a no-brainer but, for us iOS musicians, who perhaps tend to push the boundaries of what our iOS devices can do, and rely on the OS letting us flow audio and MIDI data between multiple apps, a little caution might be required.

How brave do you feel?  I will, of course, put on my Music App Blog branded hard hat, and press the upgrade button as soon as iOS10 becomes available. Hopefully, my iPad and iPhone will survive the experience long enough for me to report further here :-)

Be Sociable; share this post....

    Comments

    1. I think you mean 7 plus rather than 7s.

    2. Are users really going to cough up the money for those wireless ear buds? An extra $160.00 some bucks? In addition to the small fortune they are already paying for the i phone? Just wondering.

      How do you charge those wireless things? If I had the new iphone, and I had to worry about keeping those things charged, well it’d be a pain in the ass. I don’t loose my earbuds ATM, prob. because there is a wire attached. I’m sure I’d loose one of those within a week or so.

      So….With the Lightning to USB3/Lightning adaptor, does this allow a person to charge the ipad/iphone while using earphones? I don’t quite get how this particular adapter would work for a situation like that? I’ve watched Youtube vids, and I still don’t get it? Plug the adapter into the ipad/iphone, then what? and……..it only works with the ipad pro’s, and this new iphone? I guess that’s all it really needs to work for…..

    3. ConfusedKitten says:

      I only recently realised (BBC article with Steven Fry) that Apple put up the price of all their hardware in UK only (POST Brexit) which is harsh. Apparently the top iPhone 7 in the UK now costs £100 more than anywhere else! I also wonder if they’ll put the price up again after they’re forced to pay back the tax they dodged in Ireland? I guess it doesn’t really matter about the headphone jack if an adapter sorts the issue out. The camera(s) on the 7S are really interesting but I’m devastated that the shallow depth of field advertised in the run up is actually done in software (rather than optically) but it is a very cool upgrade regardless (if you can afford the inflated price)!

      • yeah, no big deal if the adapter sorts it out. But there is still only one lightning port, and if the phones are there you can’t use it for anything else.

    4. It’s not just that the buds cost 160$, it’s that they probably deliver poor quality audio, as it’s been the case with their earbuds up to now. Add to that the fact that Bluetooth audio is most often compressed. There is technology for delivering lossless audio bluetooth transmission (such as AptX) but if they were using it they would be boasting about it.
      And what about lag? Say that you are using the iphone to play an instrument. Is lag low enough for it to be playable? Did they provide any spec at all on this? You could of course use corded headphones with the lightning adapter but what if you are already using the lightning port for your keyboard?!
      Apple is apparently not concerned with high quality audio, otherwise iTunes would provide lossless audio.

      • ConfusedKitten says:

        Yeah I agree with the points you’ve made joaven, it is a somewhat selfish move by Apple but they’ve never shown any indication that they care about how the decisions they make affect their user base etc. The people this won’t affect will use an external soundcard; something like an Apogee Duet that provides its own headphone output, midi connections etc and charges the iDevice also but it’s expensive so only a minority will be using it! With regards to wireless listening and latency, wireless headphones are not something I’ve ever considered (being an audiophile) with the exception of a research project I was working on which used AudioEngine dongles (wireless proprietary 44.1 kHz lossless I think?). At least with AudioEngine you can use high quality headphones (albeit clumsy). The reality is hardly anyone will likely bother with wireless headphones and just walk around with their existing headphones and that awfully designed converter thingy flapping around instead lol. :0 Perhaps they will release a further adapter with lightening pass through? If they don’t I’m sure someone else will (provided they’re willing to pay for a licence)! Good point about iTunes – that’s why I’ve never bought anything on it, and it’s so bizarre as they have their own lossless codec and just haven’t bothered to apply it to the iTunes Store… maybe one day! :p

    5. Apple have always been greedy gits, but now they’re just taking the mickey. Removing the headphone socket is madness, and who the hell will buy those ludicrous – and ludicrously expensive – Uhura style earbuds. As for using Brexit to jack up thier already high prices, all they’ve done is make sure millions of Brits won’t buy. Way to go Timbo… you muppet.

    6. I think any less connectionppossibilitiesare a bad thing if the headphone socket also goes on the ipad. At the momentiIcan get an analog input with monitoring via the headphone and still havethe lightning port for charging/midi keyboard etc. If they do this on the ipad I hope they at least give us two lightning ports instead!

    7. Doug Worthen says:

      My main concern is using a jack less iOS device with guitar in a live setting. I currently use an iRig Pro in to the Lightning port on my 6s Plus and out the headphone jack to the board. I guess IK Multimedia will have to come up with some kind of solution. If not, I’ll be sticking with my 6s Plus for as long as possible.

      • Hi Doug…. I really don’t think it will be long before there are lots of solutions offered including something from IKM. Very best wishes, John

    Speak Your Mind

    *