Despite the usual flurry of rumours about the new iPhones I failed to get too excited in advance this time round. But I watched the live presentation last evening (in London) and managed to regain a bit chunk of my previous enthusiasm.
The new iPhone X (the Ten) is a radical departure from the fodder of the past ten years and is indeed a fitting way to start the second decade of Apple’s communication device. Apple has also pulled a fast one in neatly sidestepping the well-established series numbering for the more humble offerings — 5, 5s, 6, 6s, 7. Instead of calling the new “standard” phone the 7s, as was expected, this upgrade to the 7 and 7 Plus is called the 8 and 8 Plus. From a marketing point of view this is a decision that will encourage a greater update among upgraders. Legions of 6 and 6s owners are ripe for the plucking, although I suspect many who bought the iPhone 7 last year will solider on for another year — unless, that is, they are attracted by the all-new iPhone X.
Wanting the latest
Despite the high price (more on that later) the iPhone X is just the model to attract the large proportion of Apple’s customers who always want the latest. And the differences between the rather pedestrian 8 and the X are remarkable.
The design, incorporating edge-to-edge screen technology, brings Apple right up to date in comparison with competitors. Unlike the two-size offerings we saw with the 6 and 7 with the larger, Plus alternatives, the X comes in just one middy size.
For me, this is one of the biggest attractions of the new device. It is slightly larger than the iPhone 7 and 8 but smaller than the Plus versions. Yet because of the screen technology and the absence of a home button, the iPhone X has a larger screen than the Plus models (5.8in compared with 5.5in). It therefore offers all the advantages of the larger phones without the extra width and height which I always found a problem when slotting the 7 Plus into a pocket.
The demise of the home button also has consequences for security. Instead of Touch ID, using fingerprints, we now have Face ID. Just look at the screen and the phone unlocks immediately. There are other tricks in the new system, including expression tracking for use with messaging emoji characters and the use of various fun masks in conjunction with FaceTime. Judging from yesterdays’ demonstration, the FaceTime tracking is faultless and I can see this become fun feature.
Look at the phone, now!
I can see security implications, however. While face recognition is accurate to one in a million, compared with Touch ID’s one in 50,000, there could be problems. Since Touch ID was introduced there have been few reports of thieves forcing donors to use their thumbprints, despite some apocryphal stories of chopped-off digits. But in future it will be a simple matter to point the phone at the victim’s face before running off to a quiet place in order to mine all the data. No doubt Apple has thought of this and I will find there is a neat solution. But it is potentially worrying.
This aspect aside, face recognition (if it works as reliably as Apple says) will be a boon. Many of us consult our phones dozens of times a day. Moving from having to enter a PIN code to Touch ID was a great advance; but FaceID is quite revolutionary. The astounding thing about it is that it learns as you use it. It can adapt to changes in your face (such as adding glasses or a beard) and is not fazed by caps, scarves or other partial coverings.
Apple now has a range of phones to suit most tastes and price points. Only the top tier of smartphone addicts (including me, I confess) will immediately choose the iPhone X. Others will stick with the more traditional iPhone 8 and 8 Plus for another year or so. By that time, I fully expect, the ground-breaking X will become the new norm.
Price is something else. Since the launch of the iPhone ten years ago we have become used to a gradual escalation in price. At that time even top-line phones and PDAs cost no more than £300. Now we are being asked to pay £999 for the iPhone X. For a phone! But, wait a minute, the iPhone X should not be thought of as a mere phone (in fact, you could argue that the original iPhone broke the phone/communicator barrier for the first time).
Is it still a phone?
Making phone calls is now a relatively minor attribute of today’s smartphones. They have become our portable computer/communicator of choice and, as such, the higher prices are more justifiable. We also should not forget inflation and, in the case of the UK, the result of the fall in value of the Pound).
ButI wonder how long it will be before the “phone” is dropped from the smarpthone generic. Sometimes events just take over as they did, for instance, with the British retailer Car Phone Warehouse. This company was founded when the only cellular phones were to be found in cars. That was the big business of the time, hence the name of the company, and the few portables were enormous and thoroughly impractical. Now, the car phone is dead but Car Phone Warehouse soldiers on with an out-dated moniker. So it is these days with the smartphone. Smart communicator would be nearer the reality.
Apple has just surprised everyone again with the iPhone X and I believe it will be more successful than pundits are saying. It will again cream off the top segment of the market and prove ultra profitable for Apple. And the trail of older models, down to venerable iPhone SE, keep the aspirational buyers happy. It’s a bit like seats on a plane — the premium classes pay for all the operational costs while economy passengers are the icing on the cake.