The iPhone I want versus the iPhone I need

I've been using the iPhone 7 for the past week. I've also been using the iPhone 7 Plus. It's complicated.

During that time, what has become increasingly obvious is that one embodies my ideal form of a phone, and the other largely impresses for its function. Sure, the argument can be reduced to sports car versus truck, but in this case it's not as simple.

To be specific, both are fantastic phones, and truly significant updates over their respective 6s counterparts (though it's worth noting that most people upgrading to the 7 will be coming from the iPhone 6 or earlier, which is an even more sizeable upgrade). But after using a Jet Black iPhone 7 for a few days, and then switching to a matte Black iPhone 7 Plus, it's clear that if one intends to make their smartphone a primary computer (as I have in many parts of my life — I'm typing this on my iPhone right now), there are some necessary tradeoffs.

Such is the prevailing opinion of the public, too, judging from early sales statistics from Slice that claim the Plus models are outselling the standard iPhone this year for the first time. That could merely be an acknowledgment of a wider trend towards larger phones, but it also speaks to what I've experienced since the IPhone 6 Plus debuted in 2014: what is desirable is not always what's practical.

Ultimately, the iPhone 7, like any phone, is a tool.

The Jet Black iPhone 7 is probably the most interesting and beautiful product Apple has ever made. Its higher-cost manufacturing process alone justified skipping the base 32GB storage model. But in the days since receiving it, I managed to deplete its battery by 3pm each afternoon, and despite heeding Apple's advice to embrace a case, I scratched the heck out of the phone's polished edges. By contrast, the iPhone 7 Plus has been tremendous in assuaging any anxiety about regression: It has easily lasted a whole day of use, and the matte Black coloring has been more resistant to scratching than any model I've previously used. There is a gentle seduction to the matte finish, an appreciation of its inevitable longevity opposed to the Jet Black's immediately arresting charm.

Ultimately, the iPhone 7, like any phone, is a tool. It's going to be smudged and scratched and dropped, probably mishandled and, after a few months, considered just another thing in your life. An important thing, an essential thing — perhaps the most essential — but it is designed to work, and be put to work. But that's just it: the compromise between design and function, or function as a tenet of a product's core design, is what makes the Jet Black iPhone 7 so intriguing. This is a product Apple knew would scratch, for which they encouraged people — prior to it even going on sale! — to buy a case, and yet naked it is the least slippery iPhone since the 3GS. John Gruber at Daring Fireball, in his piece Design as Branding, sums it up well:

With a highly successful product and brand, new versions need to strike a balance between familiarity, the foundations of the brand, and hot newness.

A fairly loud part of me knows that the Jet Black iPhone 7 confers no true benefits over the other four colors, and that its size allows me to use it with one hand, an activity I often enjoy to my detriment. I also know that it scratches, and that with those scratches the "hot newsness" of the Jet Black polish diminishes. Couple that with the irony of knowing that the phone is at its most usable when naked, removed from a case, and I am left asking myself whether by investing in it I'm setting myself up for disappointment.

On the iPhone 7, I've yet to experience the extra two hours of battery promised by Apple — or at least, it hasn't made a difference to my intra-day charging routine. Apple dug deep and decided to remove the headphone jack, knowing full well it would piss off a lot of its more loyal users, mainly so it could squeeze extra uptime from the components. But, knowing how I use my phone, the extra hour from the iPhone 7 Plus is a more valuable proposition in the long-term. When I look at the Jet Black iPhone 7, I see a product optimized to be held and marvelled, one that, through use and wear, becomes more the tool that I need.

There is a gentle seduction to the matte finish, an appreciation of its inevitable longevity opposed to the Jet Black's immediately arresting charm.

Which is why I am hedging, turning towards the practical and more familiar matte Black iPhone 7 Plus. For me, it's the keyboard. The size of the Plus keyboard is perfectly suited to long(er) form writing, working with QuickType to correct predictable mistakes. It's the comfort in knowing I can wake up in the morning, leave the house sans battery pack, and likely return in the evening to a quarter tank of gas.

It's the appreciation that, after a year or three, I have derived the most utility from what is ultimately the most important daily tool in my life. For that I'm willing to forgo the bittersweet and fleeting pleasure of owning Apple's most beautiful product.

Daniel Bader

Daniel Bader is a Senior Editor at iMore, offering his Canadian analysis on Apple and its awesome products. In addition to writing and producing, Daniel regularly appears on Canadian networks CBC and CTV as a technology analyst.