After a not-so-successful iPhone 6s cycle, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) needed to release a pair of compelling smartphones with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. There were numerous reports in the press ahead of the launch that suggested that the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus wouldn't be all that interesting.
Well, the new phones are here. Although the phones might not be a radical departure from the prior-generation models, Apple appears to have done a really good job in delivering a lot of improvements in areas that really count.
An improving competitive positioning
The iPhone 6s was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of competitive positioning. It easily had the most robust processor of any of its contemporaries (and this now only gets better with the A10 Fusion), and the 3D Touch feature was unique and innovative (although apparently not really all that appreciated, given that Apple saw a year-over-year sales decline during the iPhone 6s cycle).
However, the iPhone 6s family of phones weren't quite leading the pack in terms of display technology and, perhaps most surprisingly given its historical positioning here, camera technology.
With all of the enhancements that Apple says it's brought to the iPhone 7 and, in particular, the iPhone 7 Plus cameras (both front-facing and rear-facing), it seems reasonable to expect that Apple has remedied any competitive deficiencies with respect to the camera subsystems (though we'll have to wait for third-party tests to verify that hypothesis).
As far as the displays go, Apple says it's made two major improvements: support for the wider DCI-P3 color gamut and significantly improved brightness. According to the specifications page for the iPhone 7/7 Plus, the contrast ratios on the displays remain the same as the ones found on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s smartphone families.
We'll have to see how the new iPhones stack up in terms of display performance, but I suspect that Phil Schiller's -- Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing -- claim that the displays on these phones are the "best displays on any smartphone" might not hold up to objective scrutiny.
However, I do think Apple's competitive positioning improves in this area, so that's a plus.
In addition to an improved competitive positioning, the new iPhones get better in other ways that should make them more attractive, both to potential non-iPhone users looking to jump ship as well as to users of current iPhones that Apple is trying to get to upgrade.
Apple has finally done away with the space grey color and has instead replaced it with a black color as well as with a cool "jet black" phone. Although the color of the device might seem like a trivial thing, it's probably more important than you might think. The new colors and generally improved aesthetic (there's no more antenna lines running straight across the backs of these new phones) could help demand.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Apple is touting improved battery lives on these new devices relative to the prior generation iPhone 6s/6s Plus. The company claims that iPhone 7 delivers a two-hour battery life improvement over the iPhone 6s, and the iPhone 7 Plus lasts a full hour longer than the iPhone 6s Plus.
Better battery life is hardly a whiz-bang feature, but it's of genuine practical use. If third-party reviews verify that Apple's battery life claims hold up, then this could not only serve to compel users of older iPhones to upgrade, but it could get users of other phones who have desired iPhones but wanted better battery life to move over, too.
A strong play from Apple
All told, the new phones represent a solid, if straightforward, smartphone release from Apple. There aren't any Earth-shattering improvements (at least as far as the typical customer is concerned -- the engineering that went into the A10 Fusion chip is nothing short of breathtaking to this chip geek) -- but these look like all-around great devices that are the best in their class.
We'll see in the coming quarters whether the general smartphone-buying public agrees with me or not.
Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.