At first glance, the measured tone of many of the iPhone 7 and 7-Plus reviews that came out on Tuesday contrast greatly with the strong pre-order figures that were announced Tuesday morning by Sprint (S) - Get Report and T-Mobile (TMUS) - Get Report, which have propelled Apple(AAPL) - Get Report shares higher.
But a closer look at the reviews tells a different story. The commentary on Apple's latest smartphones is mostly positive, but reviewers often fixate on certain issues -- a lack of major design changes, and the removal of the traditional headphone jack -- that many consumers drawn to the new phones' nuts-and-bolts improvement seem willing to ignore.
The reviews generally have positive takes on the feature improvement that has gotten the most attention: The phones' improved cameras, and most notably the iPhone 7-Plus' inclusion of a dual-camera array featuring a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens. The wide-angle lens found on both new iPhones was found to deliver much-improved low-light shots, and the 7-Plus' telephoto lens naturally yielded better pictures at 2x zoom. The revamped front camera, which now takes 7-megapixel shots, was also well-received.
Battery life improvements, something bound to matter a lot to everyday consumers, also got a thumbs-up. Re/code's Walt Mossberg found the 7-Plus "easily turned in 13- to 15-hour days, often with power left in the tank," and that the regular iPhone 7 typically delivered 12 to 14 hours. The 7 and 7-Plus respectively lasted 726 and 803 minutes during a Wi-Fi browsing test done by Ars Technica's Andrew Cunningham; the iPhone 6S and 6S-Plus respectively lasted 679 and 681 minutes.
Other features that could appeal to a subset of iPhone users also got praise. The phones' waterproofing is as good as advertised, with The New York Times' Brian X. Chen stating his reviewed models "survived a swim in a water pitcher."
The same is generally true for the A10 Fusion processor powering the phones: The iPhone 7 delivered a score of 178,397 on the popular AnTuTu benchmark, 33% above that of the 6S and also 27% above the highest-ranking Android phone (the OnePlus 3). And reviewers consider the phones' displays, which (along with the new cameras) support a wider range of colors, moderately improved from last year's models.
And then there are the storage improvements: Apple has doubled iPhone storage capacities across all price tiers, both for the 7/7-Plus and older models. Reviewers understandably didn't spend much time on this, but it should be a selling point for many existing iPhone owners -- especially those with phones sporting 16GB or less of storage.
In spite of all this, the concluding paragraphs to many reviews were quite restrained in their praise. A lot of this has to do with the removal of the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, which (although Apple ships an adapter with its latest iPhones) reviewers often consider to be an annoyance. "Audiophiles with lots of wired accessories, for example, may find using a converter too inconvenient," observes Chen. Consumers who pair just one or two wired headphones with their iPhones (most of them) should be less inconvenienced.
And the fact the 7 and 7-Plus look a lot like the models preceding it also rubs some reviewers the wrong way. Cunningham points out the devices have the "same basic design with the same basic quirks as the 6 and 6S."
Mossberg: "I am impatient for Apple to do a top-to-bottom redesign of the iPhone, and the iPhone 7 isn't it." He might get his wish next year; Apple reportedly plans to house its 2017 iPhones in all-glass casings, and release a high-end model with a curved display.
Regardless, the first pre-order figures suggest many iPhone owners -- particularly a large chunk of those who have gone two years or longer without an upgrade -- care less about the lack of big design changes or the headphone jack removal than about feature improvements. Both Sprint and T-Mobile state their iPhone pre-orders are up nearly four times from a year ago.
That helped Apple rise 2.7% on Tuesday, and also helped suppliers Skyworks (SWKS) - Get Report, Qorvo (QRVO) - Get Report, Broadcom (AVGO) - Get Report and InvenSense (INVN) close higher on a day the Nasdaq fell 1.1%. Shares rose another 2.3% on Wednesday morning, although shares are about 18% below their all-time high of $134.54 set in April 2015.
The cautious commentary that has existed for months about the iPhone 7 has given Apple and its suppliers a pretty low bar to top. Sprint and T-Mobile's pre-orders, along with the details found in iPhone 7 reviews (if not always their tone), give reason to think that bar will be beat.