When I watched Apple’s iPhone presentation last week, one of the biggest surprises to me came when they unveiled the iPhone 8, because it wasn’t the 7S!
First, a brief history lesson (scroll down to “HOW” to skip to my thoughts on the iPhone X):
In 2008, Apple released their first upgrade to the iPhone, the iPhone 3G. Its biggest improvement was, naturally, its ability to make calls on the 3G network. Otherwise, it was the same shape and size as its predecessor, the original iPhone (never actually called “2G” or “Edge”).
One year later, Apple added voice command interactivity—a precursor to Siri—and other improvements in 2009’s iPhone 3GS. The “S,” according to Apple’s Phil Schiller, stood for “speed.”
Then came the iPhone 4, which, if you’re counting along, was indeed the fourth iPhone—incidentally, this was also the last time that number would indicate which iPhone release it was.
Following that, in 2011, came the 4S (this time, the “S” stood for “Siri”). With the 4S, a pattern was established of a “numbered” iPhone, followed the next year by the “S” version of that model. This pattern gave us the iPhone 4 and 4S; the 5 and 5S; and the 6 and 6S. In 2016, true to form, Apple released the 7. Unlike previous “numbered” iPhones, this one was mostly the same shape and size as its predecessors in the 6 line. The biggest (and most controversial) change was the removal of a headphone jack. For a reminder, check out my blog from that time.
By this point, many iPhone owners had gotten into the habit of waiting every other year to get their phone on the “S” cycle. This would allow Apple time to work out the kinks in design (such as the structural issues in the iPhone 6, resolved with the 6S); as well as allowing third-party manufacturers time to release appropriately-sized accessories, such as Mophie’s Juice Pack line of battery cases.
So imagine the surprise in the tech community to hear that the next iPhone would not be the iPhone 7S, but instead the iPhone 8!
In the 8, the most prominent hardware update beyond the camera—they do that with every new iPhone—came in the form of wireless charging, via the Qi wireless charging standard. Not only had Apple defied expectations by not naming this phone the 7S; now they were adopting established standards, instead of inventing a proprietary technology! What’s next?!
And then they showed us what’s next.
In a rare move, Apple launched another phone at the event (and I don’t just mean the larger iPhone 8 Plus). No, this is where X marked the spot. But forgive me, I don’t mean to misspeak. It’s pronounced “Ten,” as in the Roman numeral. Just like how the tenth incarnation of its computer operating system, Mac OS, featured an X in its brand for over 15 years. And that was pronounced, “Oh Ess Ten.” Ironically, just as they’ve abandoned the Roman numeral X in their macOS software, they’ve brought it back front and center for a whole new generation of users who will no doubt pronounce it, “iPhone Ex…” at least, until the next model comes out: the “XS?” The “10 S?” I’m sure the brain trust is working hard on that name already.
Strictly speaking, the X (or 10, whatever) doesn’t represent which iPhone model this is. It’s actually either the 18th (if you’re counting 5C, Plus, and SE models); or just the 12th (if you’re ignoring them).
So if they wanted to match their numbering system the way they did with the iPhone 4, that ship has long since sailed. No, this number represents the tenth anniversary of the iPhone (which, strictly speaking, came and went in June to no official fanfare).
I have to admit, announcing the X at the same time as the 8 is a bold step by Apple. Sure, they’ve done “parallel” releases before, such as the colorful, plastic iPhone 5C (it practically looked like a co-venture with Fisher-Price!). Or the compact iPhone SE, targeted at those who preferred the smaller form factor of the 5 and 5S. But the 5C didn’t call itself the 6. And the SE, released at the same time as the 7, certainly didn’t call itself the 8!
For most users, the 8 is fine. It’s got the 7’s familiar shape, size, and interface. Good ol’ home button where it should be, fingerprint sensor and all. Now it’s got a couple more bells and whistles—the wireless charging is certainly an idea whose time has come—but otherwise, there really isn’t much to adjust to with this new phone.
The X, on the other hand, is for the “bleeding edge” types. The kind who don’t mind beta testing a new design. “Facial recognition? Let’s try it out!” They’d say. “If it fails and I have to type in my passcode because there isn’t a fingerprint sensor anymore, well, that’s the price of living on the edge!” And thank goodness for them. We need them to carry the banner for the latest, crazy ideas. For everyone else, a good, dependable iPhone experience is just fine.
Apple has boasted that the iPhone X is the culmination of ten years of research and development. Whether it lives up to the hype remains to be seen. The official release date of the iPhone X is 11/3/17, with pre-orders starting on 10/27/17. And yes, I’ll be getting one—when I can.
I used to wait every other year, starting with the 3GS. I didn’t have to suffer the “antennagate” headache that accompanied the iPhone 4; likewise, I missed the “bendgate” controversy with the iPhone 6 (see the video below). But when it was time to get my patiently-awaited 6S, I was presented with a new way of getting my iPhone.
I signed on for the iPhone Upgrade Program upon its debut in 2015. I got the 6S—the Plus was a bit too beefy for my pocket—and, as long as I kept up my monthly payments, I would be able to “trade up” to the new release each year. And so, last December, I was able to turn in my 6S for a 7 (I still don’t miss the headphone jack, truth be told).
When the X is readily available, I intend to turn in my 7, and begin the cycle anew. I understand that the monthly payments will go up—it does retail for $999, after all!—but I appreciate the freedom of a no-interest financing plan. It means I don’t have to shell out a healthy chunk of change for a device that, let’s face it, comes with a limited lifespan under the best of circumstances. I’m thinking about the future!
Okay, but couldn’t I get the iPhone 8 on the iPhone Upgrade Program when it comes out on 9/22 (available to order now)? Certainly. But it’s not enough of an upgrade from my 7, if I have to choose between the 8 and the X (seriously, they should have called the 8 the VIII to avoid confusion!). I don’t use the phone as a camera enough to justify the upgrade just for the new camera; and for the vaunted wireless charging, I’ve got a great case by Mophie on my 7 that does that job just fine. Here’s a review!
Besides, Apple’s native charging pad, AirPower, won’t be available until 2018.
So why upgrade at all?
I’m tempted to ignore such a silly question; but since I’m the one who asked it rhetorically, I’ll indulge it.
In my specific use case, it’s my job to introduce my clients to new technology. I have one client who lives on the cutting edge. He’s already told me, he’s definitely getting the X when it comes out. It would behoove me to be as expert in that phone as possible when he, and clients like him, have questions about learning the new interface. The fact of the matter is, not enough has changed from the 7 to the 8 to justify that purchase. The big changes on the 8 will mostly be software-based, in the form of iOS 11, which will be available to all iPhone users as far back as the 5S, starting 9/19. I’ll be putting that on my iPhone 7, so I’ll be pretty much ready to go to help any 8 users with usability questions. But when the X comes out, I’m going to want one… but not just so I can keep up with my clients.
The X has two major selling points for me, and they’re both in its screen.
IF IT FITS, I SITS
I’m a bit envious of those iPhone owners who have the Plus models. Those glorious 5.5-inch screens look like a dream come true for those of us who find ourselves squinting at our 4.7-inch screens from time to time—a literal sight for sore eyes, if you will. But those big screens come at a cost: the body of the iPhone 8 Plus, like its predecessors from the 6 and 7 lines, measures 6.24 inches long by 3.07 inches wide. And that’s just too big for my pockets. Compare that with its little sibling the 8, measuring a much more pocket-friendly 5.45 inches long by 2.65 inches wide.
The X, on the other hand, measures only 5.65 inches long by 2.79 inches wide, so it’s closer in shape and size to the 8 (it’s under 10% larger than the 8) than to the 8 Plus, which is over 20% larger than the X.
But even with the compact body, the X has the biggest iPhone screen yet, at 5.8 inches, measured diagonally. Apple was able to achieve this feat by nearly eliminating anything on the face of the X that wasn’t part of the screen.
It wouldn’t be an iPhone announcement without some controversy, I suppose. Last year saw the absent headphone jack; this year, while the 8 series gets away essentially unscathed, the X endures the slings and arrows of its critics for “The Notch.” This strip on the top face of the X contains the front-facing camera and the facial recognition sensors (another neat feature exclusive to the X, but not a “dealbreaker” for me). The primary criticism here is its unusual shape. Unlike past iPhone screens, this would be the first model not to be a pure rectangle, with this small chunk cut out of one side.
Personally, I don’t see the big deal (it’s still so much more visual real estate than I ever would have had before), but I’ll have to see if it truly bothers me when I see it in person.
OLED UP THE GARDEN PATH
The other killer feature, that standout aspect of the X that the 8 models just don’t have, is the “Super Retina HD display,” running at a resolution of 2436 by 1125, with a pixel density of 458 pixels per inch. That’s a 32% increase in resolution over the 8 Plus, and a 14% increase in pixel density. And remember, that’s all in a body still smaller than the 8 Plus.
But what I’m really excited about is the Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display, a first for iPhone. With OLED, there is no need for a separate, prone-to-failure backlight; the pixels generate their own light! This means the lights are lighter, the blacks blacker, and the phone itself can be thinner and lighter-weight.
Hopefully, this will be just the first in a new wave of OLED screens: first on iPhone, then iPad, then MacBook screens, even iMac screens. The final dream would be a large (maybe 30+ inch?) desktop OLED monitor running at 5K or greater. And since Apple hasn’t made their own standalone monitors since the Thunderbolt Display was retired in June of 2016, I’d say it’s about time.
Again, the proof is in the pudding. I need to see this screen for myself. So…?
I was lucky when the iPhone 7 came out. I wasn’t in a particular rush to get one, waiting until Mophie would come out with a new Juice Pack case for it. Once that case hit stores, I was able to waltz right in at the end of December 2016 and pick up the iPhone 7. No pre-ordering, no waiting in line. Sure, I wasn’t the “first on my block” to have one, but that’s really never been a priority for me. I did a piece on waiting a while back, take a look.
With the iPhone X, I don’t really need any external accessories. After all, wireless charging is built right in, and my usage never really demanded an external battery. I’m pretty much ready to go, when it comes out. So we’ll just have to see if Apple can meet demands in a timely manner. Given what I’ve been reading about part shortages, I have to admit I’m not particularly optimistic that I’ll have the iPhone X in my hot little hands before 2018.
But what I lack in optimism, I make up for in patience. After all, I’ve been doing this dance with Apple for… how many years is it, now? V? L? M???