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On September 12, Apple announced their upcoming flagship smartphone, the iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone ten”). With features like biometric authentication via Face ID, an OLED (nearly) edge-to-edge display, the A11 Bionic processor, and several other items, for many of us, the device is a welcome jump forward.
However, reactions have been mixed, with the grand majority of media coverage I’ve seen leaning toward the negative and cynical. Not only do I find that unfair, I find it incorrect. It irks me, just a little. I don’t love Apple, but I do enjoy regularly using several of their products. Apple says and does things carefully and for specific reasons, and I respect many of their philosophies.
My purpose in this article is by no means to speak fanboy gibberish. (In fact, you can ask my wife; she knows better than anyone all about my personal disillusionment with Apple products.) What follows is an informed defense of certain features (and the way they’ve been announced by Apple) that I have found to be the most heavily attacked.
OLED “Edge-to-Edge” Display
Okay, so we can all agree that it took way too long for Apple to get an OLED display in one of their devices. But as was said at the iPhone event, this was the first to meet their standards. Now, before everyone begins with the eye-rolling, here are a few reasons why I’m okay with that:
- The LCDs in all their other phones have been, to my eyes, some of the very best-looking smartphone displays out there. The only ones I’ve seen that appear as bright and crisp as the iPhone 7’s are from the 2017 Samsung phones. Apple has managed to squeeze far more life out of LCD technology than anyone else has, and it’s pretty impressive to me.
- Yes, the ppi on the iPhone X may be lower than a few other current phones. But who can honestly tell the difference? The thing still has nearly as high a resolution as a 2017 13″ MacBook Pro, but at 5.8”. And the brightness is about 100 nits higher in the X than in the Galaxy S8 phones.
- Samsung manufactures the displays. Apple often designs the technology and then outsources the manufacture of certain components. In order to get the rounded corners on the screen, the actual corners have to bend back into the device. Samsung’s devices have had curved screens for a while, yes, but these are a different, deeper curve.
- Apple products, if taken care of, have a reputation of lasting for years. However, up until the past couple of years, some pixels used in OLED displays had a relatively short lifespan. Perhaps Apple didn’t want all the blues burning out before the X’s Time was up.
Addressing the “edge-to-edge” issue, I can honestly say that I really like the fact that they didn’t go with the curved-edge solution. I imagine that someday they’ll either do that or produce a flat-faced iPhone that’s truly bezel-free, but when the functional part of my phone is being touched by my palm or displaying videos or photos on a curve, I really just don’t like that. That’s more of a preference than anything, but seeing as they had to bend the corners back, I can also see why they didn’t want to further complicate things for themselves and the users by adding a curved screen.
The TrueDepth Camera, as they call it, is a sophisticated chunk of technology that is the main reason behind the notch. It protrudes with wild abandon into the top of the viewable screen area, yes, but why shouldn’t it?
After all, the small areas on either side where information such as the time, WiFi/cellular connectivity, and battery life are displayed have been part of iOS forever, and now the empty space that normally takes up a good chunk of that top bar is filled with solid hardware. I appreciate the good use of space there.
Why does their app design guide discourage developers from hiding the notch with differing color schemes? I don’t know. Honestly, it’s just not a big deal to me and I don’t think it should be a big deal to them or anyone else, either. It looks good either way.
A note on protruding into photos and videos: by default, videos display letterboxed so that the notch doesn’t interfere. Which is fine because the default 16:9 aspect ratio of most HD videos has always made it so that viewing them on the iPhone either meant letterboxing or cutting off the ends if the user felt like zooming in. Do I think the wings next to the notch should be blacked out, rather than filled with little bits of video or photo? Perhaps. But guess what? There won’t be a notch-shaped hole in the content you record using the phone. It is annoying you can’t see what would be there. But as with many other things on this list, it isn’t some heinous crime they’ve committed.
There are many unfortunate and underinformed arguments against Face ID. Below are what I hope will be helpful and informative responses to the biggest worries I’ve seen expressed.
- It’s more secure than Touch ID. Apple stated in their keynote that Touch ID can be fooled about 1 in 50,000 tries. Face ID is 20 times less likely to be tricked at 1 in 1,000,000.
- It’s not old technology being called new. Virtually all other devices that have used facial recognition for authentication purposes have been fooled using high-resolution photos. The 30,000-dot projector and infrared camera in the aforementioned TrueDepth Camera make it so even high-quality masks of a person’s face can’t get through. (To be fair, though, your twin might be able to unlock your phone. Sorry.)
- Apple is not collecting 3D scans of peoples’ faces. Just as with Touch ID, the information is stored on a special chip called the Secure Enclave, which physically cannot be accessed by any software on the phone, the Internet in general, or Apple itself. In a nutshell, the phone asks the Secure Enclave if the new scan matches its data, it checks within itself, and then it answers yes or no. No scan data is sent anywhere else. (And for goodness’ sake, people, Apple has publicly announced ways they’ve made it so even they can’t access the information on your devices. They’re not trying to be sneaky here.)
- People can’t just point your phone at your face to get in. Whether it be annoying siblings hacking your phone or cops trying to arrest you, the phone won’t unlock unless you look directly at it. It’s programmed to require your direct attention. You can also disable Face ID by squeezing the side buttons when handing it over, but for general purposes, if you don’t want it unlocked, just don’t look at it.
People said most of the same things about Touch ID. This is going to be one of those warming-up-to-it situations.
Yes, the rear-facing cameras are still only 12 megapixels. The front-facing one is 7. But if we’re being totally honest with ourselves, most of the photos we view from day-to-day need only be a fraction of that because we view most of them on tiny smartphone screens. However, 12 megapixels is still 4,000 by 3,000, which means more vertical pixels than a 4K display. If you really need more than that, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a DSLR. (Also, the rear-facing cameras shoot gorgeous 4K video, so no complaints on that front, either.)
As far as their new Portrait Lighting feature goes, of course it’s cheating, and won’t get the same result as a DSLR. But they did put a lot of professional art-based R&D into it, and it’s certainly good enough for the 99.9 percent of users who will use it for nothing but social media.
That being said, you can certainly stretch the iPhone cameras further with a few photography accessories. In fact, that’s one of the things Apple does when they make their “Shot on iPhone” commercials. It’s not cheating, really. Every good photographer has different lenses for different purposes.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have been rated as the having the best smartphone cameras on the market. The iPhone X has the same software and even better hardware. That math is pretty easy.
Processor & RAM
We’re digressing from the overtly controversial here into a few supplementary comments, but I think they’re merited because they’re more Apple-oriented than strictly iPhone-focused.
The processor in iPhone X is not quad-core, but it does have six cores that can all run simultaneously. It has been in development for about three years, and has about double the multi-core power of the processor found in the iPhone 7. Not too shabby.
It is rumored (but as yet unconfirmed) that the device will have only three gigabytes of RAM. Here’s where a fundamental mobile Apple device design principle comes into play: Apple devices can outclass other modern products in overall performance via deep integration of hardware and software. They won’t win every battle, but they will win many. That’s why they have so many rules for app developers. It’s also why their batteries keep shrinking but battery life doesn’t — even though performance keeps going up.
This principle is the reason why the Macs are the preferred computers for Adobe users. Even though many PCs look more powerful on paper, they don’t run Photoshop like a good ol’ MacBook.
Lack of Customization
… It’s an iPhone. You can pick the color or storage capacity at time of purchase, of course, but that’s about it.
There is a lot to be said about the fact that over-customization can lead one headfirst into a lot of problems, viruses, confusion, etc. I have met more than one friend who have lost apps on their Android phones. Not uninstalled. They can’t find them after installing a new theme or something. Apple devices offer a controlled, user-friendly experience, and the user really just can’t mess that up for themselves.
Anyone who has bought an iPhone 6 Plus, 6S Plus, or 7 Plus with 128gb or more of storage has bought a $1,000+ iPhone. This isn’t new. The iPhone X is more powerful than a 13” MacBook Pro, which costs at least $300 more. These are computers, not your mom’s Nokia 3310, which retailed for around $175 back in the day. In today’s dollars, that would be about $250. (By comparison, though, most phones nowadays with similar power and features to that old brick cost about $30–75. I love progress.)
Apple’s product profit margin isn’t as big as everyone thinks. The components they use aren’t cheap. And for many of their users, they expect them to keep each product for a long time, so a markup for that time between purchases isunderstandable, if inconvenient. It’s kind of like buying a Toyota; sure, there’s a premium, but you know your experience will be good and comfortable and your maintenance will be minimal.
In conclusion, the iPhone X is not a leap forward. But it’s certainly no baby step, either. Many of us, Apple fans or not, will be upgrading to the X because of its many welcome new (and highly-anticipated) features.
If the lack of Touch ID, or the notch, or whatever else is a dealbreaker for you, don’t get the iPhone X. No one will judge you for that. Get the iPhone 8, or the Samsung Galaxy S8, or the Google Pixel 2 (TBA), or something else. Any of the above are beautiful options. But if you don’t like the iPhone X, don’t waste your energy bashing it; instead, spend your energy promoting something you do like.