iPhone X Impressions

15 September 2017

I don’t think Apple’s marketing of the iPhone X as the ‘future’ is really appropriate. Android manufacturers have gone far down the bezel-less line for a year now. The iPhone X is more drastic, boasting the highest screen-to-body ratio of any phone, but it doesn’t feel like something that should be applauded as debuting the technology of tomorrow, today.

This kind of design is what I expect top-end phones to look like in the here and now. Despite the X and 8 sharing so many component upgrades (SoC, camera, True Tone), I feel like I will never be able to recommend an 8 to anyone. I am so done with bezels, foreheads and chins.

For people needing a new phone, I would seriously consider saving money and picking up a discounted iPhone 7 or 7 Plus if the X’s $999 starting price puts it out of reach. Maybe carriers offer good promotions for iPhone 8 series that could tip the balance; I just know I do not want to pay full price for a bezelled device. Alternatively, hold off on upgrading until you can afford the X tier phones (whether that’s three months or next year).

This sounds negative but it is really a commendation of how much better the iPhone X is as a product. The design is beautiful. This is what I’ve wanted for a year and a half. The concept of a screen that traces the edges of the chassis is as good as I imagined it to be.

The iPhone X doesn’t fully realise that idea, of course. It has the already-infamous notch area at the top of the screen. A future generation of this phone will not have a notch, making the vertical symmetry as perfect as the horizontal. That is years off, though.

Waiting to realise the vision in its entirety would have been a mistake. Putting all those components below the display is going to take at least another three years of development. It’s not feasible to sit on a radical new iPhone design for that long. The other option would have been to take an Android-esque approach: no bezels on left and right with a slimmer top forehead and bottom chin.

The notch brings its own downsides, particularly with landscape layouts, but going all the way to the edge, mirroring the rounded corners of the body, is impressive, fresh, cool and a competitive advantage. Apple are the first manufacturer to achieve this look and it makes them stand out. Going with a typical candy bar style would have drawn criticisms that they were copying Samsung and the design had no unique characteristics.

It’s a nuanced discussion that will no doubt span months of conversation but that’s my guess at the high-level business chatter. Luckily for me, the conclusions match up with my personal preferences of what looks good. I hope iPads, MacBooks and iMacs adopt these style of screens as soon as possible. I can’t wait to see the iPhone X in real life.

Whilst everyone on Twitter rattles on about the sensor housing placement, I take more offence with the home indicator. I don’t even have the phone yet and I already want it to never be there. Right now, iOS 11 always shows the home indicator apart from a few select cases where it can be temporarily hidden, like watching a full-screen chrome-less video. This is a sensible default, the mainstream population will benefit from having a permanent visual cue for system navigation.

But I’m technically minded, I won’t forget to swipe up from the bottom of the display to go back to the Home Screen. For me, that indicator is wholly redundant and offers basically no value in exchange for limiting usable screen space for actual content. I hope a future iOS update adds a toggle in Settings to permanently hide the indicator.

The ramifications of dropping Touch ID for Face ID are hard to reason about until I have an iPhone X to use. For now, I’ll take Apple’s marketing of its convenience at face value. I’m sure there will be times when I miss the ergonomics of fingerprint recognition and other times when I appreciate the benefits of facial recognition. I would not rule out a return of Touch ID at some point, when they can eventually integrate it seamlessly behind the screen.

Pricing for the iPhone X is pretty much inline with what I predicted months ago; the most expensive model doesn’t exceed $1200. Amusingly, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus actually cost $50 more than the 7 and 7 Plus did. Apple blames rising NAND costs for the increase. Regardless, it’s worth noting that the 6s and 7 phones stay in the lineup. Apple is defending against the price hikes at the high end by keeping around older generations. If some portion of the user base are drawn to lower tiers, that’s okay. There will be an influx of people spending more money than ever on their next phone to balance it out.