By John Gruber
Next-generation Apple device management for macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS. Request access.
Apple, in a small print footnote on the iPhone 7 web page:
The high-gloss finish of the jet black iPhone 7 is achieved through a precision nine-step anodization and polishing process. Its surface is equally as hard as other anodized Apple products; however, its high shine may show fine micro-abrasions with use. If you are concerned about this, we suggest you use one of the many cases available to protect your iPhone.
I just got home from San Francisco two hours ago, and took a look at my old 3G and 3GS. They were somewhat-glossy black plastic, not highly-glossy anodized aluminum, so it’s a far from perfect comparison. But the backs of both my 3G and 3GS are scratched as hell. It didn’t bother me at the time, and they still don’t look bad per se — they just look well-used.
I didn’t notice any scratches at all on the jet black phones in the hands-on area Wednesday, but some did. It seems clear that if you don’t put it in a case, it’s going to show wear to some degree through micro-abrasions. It might still look good — only time will tell — but it’s not going to look pristine.
If you’re going to put your iPhone in a case, then it doesn’t really matter whether you get regular black or jet black, because when encased, they’re nearly indistinguishable.
If you don’t want to use a case, my hunch is you shouldn’t get jet black unless you don’t mind fingerprints and accumulating wear and tear. If you want your phone to look as close to pristine as possible, get the regular black.
As for feel, the matte black iPhone 7 felt (to me) identical to the gold and silver models, and they all felt very similar (if not identical) to year-old iPhone 6S. It’s more or less the same matte aluminum finish.
The single most frequent question I’ve been asked since the event is whether the jet black iPhone is slippery. It’s not. Again, much like the old 3G and 3GS iPhones, the glossy rear surface has a very pleasant tackiness — certainly not sticky, but grippy. Based on my (admittedly limited) time in the hands-on area, I’d call it the least slippery iPhone Apple has ever made.
Personally, I’m utterly torn. I love both of them — far more than space gray. I think Apple’s product photography doesn’t do the regular black iPhone 7 justice. In their photos it looks dark gray. In real life it looks black. I much preferred the anodized black iPhone 5 over the subsequent space gray models, even though the black iPhone 5 showed wear and tear easily. I thought it added character — call it a Millennium Falcon look. The black iPhone 7 is blacker than the black iPhone 5, and better looking for it.
My gut feeling from my time in the hands-on area is that in the real world, the black iPhone 7 looks better, and the jet black iPhone 7 feels better. I say “in the real world” because in the perfect vacuum of a retail display or photo studio, the jet black iPhone looks like the most stunning device I’ve ever seen. There’s no way it’s going to look like that in the real world. But I think it’s going to feel great in your hand even when it’s smudged with fingerprints.
I hope this helps you decide if you’re pre-ordering later tonight. The white iPhone people have had to make hard decisions on color for years. We black iPhone people have had it easy. Not this year, though.