iPhone 7 May Not Be Cool Enough for the Money

Sign advertising DijitalFix's wireless headphones. Photo by Sonner KehrtSign advertising DijitalFix's wireless headphones. Photo by Sonner Kehrt

Thomas Verhulst isn’t as tuned into tech news as he usually is. A software designer from Belgium, he’s sitting at Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia Street, with his iPhone 6S next to his coffee mug. He’s on vacation, and he didn’t watch the video of Apple’s roll-out of the new iPhone 7. Still, he says, “I keep hearing about how ridiculous the headphones are.”

He hasn’t heard as much about the iPhone 7’s other upgrades, but he generally likes having the latest features. “They seem cool,” he says.

“But,” interjects Stina Vanhoff, a web-services designer also visiting from Belgium, “not cool enough to spend money on.”

That seems to be the consensus among both the tech-savvy and the more technophobic throughout the Mission: Apple’s newest gambit isn’t quite worth its price tag – $649 for the cheapest model, but with Apple’s new headphones, over $800. The 7 Plus starts at $769 before headphones.

Apple announced the iPhone 7, along with the Apple Watch Series 2, on Wednesday at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. The phone, which is the same size as the 6S, features an extended battery life, a dual-lens camera, a new home button, and more storage with faster processing. It’s also water resistant.

But, it doesn’t have a headphone jack. The phone was designed for compatibility with Apple’s new “AirPods,” wireless headphones that will sell for $159.

On Thursday, a few blocks down on Valencia Street, DijitalFix, “a lifestyle store for the digital generation,” already had a sign out front advertising wireless earbuds. Alex Flores, who was working behind the counter, said they’ve had the sign up for a few days, anticipating Apple’s announcement. Their third-party headphones are retailing for $99, and they are expecting to see a jump in wireless sales when the iPhone 7 becomes available for purchase next week.

But, Flores said, “I’m a fan of wired headphones. The convenience [of wireless] is kind of cool, but at home, I’m still using wired.”

Aaron Trank, a front-end developer between jobs, was also unconvinced about the shift to wireless.

“I feel a bit dubious about losing the headphones,” he said. “I have an older model car, and I want to use my iPhone in the car.” He’s concerned about the hassle and cost of an adaptor.

When the iPhone 7 becomes available on September 16, it will come with a small adaptor “dongle” to allow for compatibility with customers’ current headphones. Replacements are $9, and the dongle fits into the phone’s charging port.

“You can’t charge your phone and listen to music at the same time, which is what everyone does,” said Nicole Poloniewicz, an accountant walking near Dolores Park on Friday. She said she had not been following the phone’s release and only heard about the development from her high schooler brother. She has no plans to upgrade.

“I have my six. I love it,” she said.

Joshua Koller, a cost estimator for a construction company walking with Poloniewicz, had not heard about the update.

“That’s real?” he asked. He said he had seen a picture of the iPhone’s wireless AirPods. “I thought it was a joke.”

Alex Wang, who is founding a start-up, was having coffee at nearby Maxfield’s House of Caffeine with Alex Aguilera, the general manager for the start-up Washio. They said they thought the joke was Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller’s much-maligned declaration that Apple had left behind the headphone jack because of “courage.”

“I thought it was an Onion article,” Wang said. “Courage for what?”

But he couldn’t deny that Apple was paving the way for a wireless future.

“Everyone who’s complaining now won’t be complaining in a few years,” he said. “Everyone will get onboard.”

Benji Jones, a freelance writer who lives in the Mission, agreed. “It will open the door for other companies, because Apple is a leader in tech.”

Back at DijitalFix, Flores said he felt that Apple was acting as a pioneer, but that its innovation was tied to a desire for profits, with “the money being the more important thing.”

Trank, at Four Barrel Coffee, felt similarly. “I wonder how much money Apple makes every time it changes the ports on the phone,” he said.

It was clear that the price point was a problem for many.

“It’s expensive,” was how Gladys Sawinski, who works at McDonald’s, described the new iPhone.

Her friend, Deja Paglinawan, a medical assistant, agreed. “I have the 5S. I’m pretty okay with it.”

Ysabel Flores, a recent college graduate, was waiting for a coffee at Ritual Coffee Roasters on Valencia before a job interview across the street. “It’s a beautiful phone,” she said. “It looks cool to me. I’m probably not going to buy it because I know how expensive it will be.”

Stephanie Porcell, a freelance journalist and editor, also at Ritual, added, “I definitely think it’s kind of a bad call for Apple. When you’re not considering users as a whole and accessibility, that’s a problem.”

Personally, she said, “I’m usually a latecomer, so I’ll probably get the 7 when there’s a 10.”

Wang and Aguilera would love to get the newest version. “Everything they announced seemed really cool,” said Wang.

“Imagine how cool you’ll look if you have it now,” added Aguilera.

But Wang and Aguilera said they are also put off by the price. Wang said he’ll upgrade when his cell plan allows it.

“I’ll upgrade when my 6S breaks down,” Aguilera said.

They both enjoyed the hype of the release and said they get caught up in the excitement of Apple’s new product release videos.

“But,” said Aguilera, “like any movie, you watch it, enjoy, and move on.”

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