Yesterday’s keynote was not without its challenges for Apple. First, thanks to our digging into the leaked code, there were few surprises.
Second, there was the fact that Apple had to kick-off with the understudy. The iPhone 8 – for all the features it borrowed from the iPhone X – looked very much like the iPhone 7, which itself looked very much like the iPhone 6. It was hard to make an iPhone 6sss seem too exciting – especially when everyone was waiting for the main act.
And then there was the failed Face ID demo. The flagship iPhone X feature falling over the first time it was demonstrated. (This was apparently because the specific demo phone hadn’t been unlocked since its last restart, and just as with Touch ID, you need to use your passcode the first time.)
But for my part, the keynote didn’t have much of a job to do …
In my first iPhone X Diary, I ran through the four arguments against buying one – and the four reasons I knew I was going to anyway. So the bar Apple had to clear where I was concerned was a rather low one. It didn’t need to wow me. It didn’t even have to impress me. It just had to leave me satisfied that it would deliver on what we were, by then, already expecting.
The iPhone X did clear that bar with some margin to spare. It didn’t wow me, but it did impress me.
So, let’s talk specifics, beginning with design …
“It’s all screen,” claims the large banner on the Apple website. Jony Ive also said that had been his aim for the iPhone all along, and finally they had achieved it.
Well, no it’s not, and no they haven’t. There is still a significant bezel, it’s just that – like the Apple Watch – it’s very well disguised. With the phone switched off, you can’t see where the screen ends and the casing begins.
Powered-on, the bezels look pretty obvious in photos and videos, but Jordan said that hands-on it’s less obtrusive thanks to the way it curves away from you, and I can believe that.
So Apple’s hyperbole aside, to me it’s a great-looking phone. It also makes sense of the design direction Apple has been taking since the iPhone 6. I always preferred the slab-sided look to the iPhone 6/6s/7/8, but with the iPhone X design goal in mind, the curved edges now make sense as interim steps.
Interestingly, while some had speculated that Apple would disguise the notch in software, by always using a black status bar to blend in with the hardware, it hasn’t chosen to do. Apple has instead embraced the notch, featuring it prominently in its promotional materials.
Indeed, this even extends to video views, where the notch is still present when the iPhone X is used in landscape mode. That, frankly, looks terrible, so I was pleased to learn that you can choose to display video only in the full screen area.
I suspect Apple may have deliberately chosen to make a feature of the notch so that the device is instantly recognisable. With so many phones now having much the same bezel-free screens, the notch immediately identifies it as an iPhone.
Personally, I’d have been happy with either approach when used in portrait orientation – disguising it or making a feature of it. My only quibble is photos: if I’ve carefully framed a shot, I don’t want some of it cut out of the frame. I’m hoping there will be a way to have photos default to displaying without the ears.
As expected, Face ID was the other headline feature of the iPhone X. While some had expressed skepticism about this given the laughable nature of some implementations, I was confident there would be nothing to worry about. As I wrote beforehand, about photos unlocking Samsung devices:
There is not the slightest possibility that Apple would ever release a face-recognition system that could be so easily defeated, even if it were only used to unlock the phone. With all the signs pointing to it being used for Apple Pay too, we can be extremely confident that the version used in the iPhone 8 (read: X) will be extremely secure.
Apple noted that not only can its system not be fooled by a photo, it can’t even be fooled by a lifelike cinematic mask. The company noted that Face ID is far more secure than Touch ID, which is already used for payments. The chances of anyone else’s fingerprint unlocking your phone, said Apple, is 50,000 to 1; the chances of someone else’s face doing so are a million to one – though it did caveat that there’s significantly more chance of this with a close family member.
Like my colleague Benjamin, I was disappointed to see that Face ID unlock requires a swipe-up.