iPhone X, hopefully not the future

Recognizing Apple’s own introductory words for iPhone X in their website we should ask for all problems inherent to their newest phone to be solved for the sake of the industry.

Technology has always been an enabler. It helps us improve our lives and gives us the ability to create for change. It enables us to evolve and forces our culture to evolve. Without a doubt, smartphones and mobile phones have changed the way we interact and live our lives. I have always said that smartphones have become so successful and important due to the fact that they are “enablers”. With them, we can create, work, play and interact with others wherever we are. They follow us wherever we go and are available when needed unconditionally. Needless to say, developers have unleashed their creativity and have delivered to us extraordinary pieces of software that have become essential tools for everyday use and for all purposes. That is why I am more interested in what the hardware delivers through software. In other words, a smartphone would be useless if the Operating System and applications were not as powerful as they have become. Both hardware and software need to evolve in order to deliver this experience and improve it over time. That is why attention to detail is extremely important.

Let’s reconsider how we consume products and take for granted that a newer iteration is better than previous ones just because they are new.

Apple has long been recognized for its design and polish in all of its products. That fame was conceived for the hardware and most importantly the way software interacted with the devices it offers. Over the years, the Apple ecosystem has grown, and with it, all the things it enables us to do. However, with Tim Cook’s administration, it seems as if attention to detail has become a second hand priority. Since then, it has become obvious. The most obvious example is iOS which has become clogged and flooded with inconsistent UX interfaces designed to fix the problems that Apple has created itself. As Chris Pirillo has noted since iOS 7 was released, software has become broken and I believe that with the newest iPhone, Apple has made a terrible mistake with its flagship phone design. The so called front-facing camera “notch” breaks the phone’s aesthetics.

Apple culture and its dangers

The product presentation produced a strange and creepy feeling as the Apple ideology was taken to an unprecedented level. In a sense, the company wanted Steve Jobs to be present and they may have achieved that. However, it all was a marketing strategy looking to create a consumption culture for whatever product Apple decides to launch. Even if it is good or bad. Apple Stores are now becoming “town squares” according to Angela Ahrendts, SVP of Retail. Although, these ideas may be a genius move towards the future of stores, I believe they are all dangerous ideas. It is as if we are losing our ability to differentiate a consumer product from an essential element in our lives. The iPhone is great for what it does. Not because it is made by Apple, sold in its stores or because it gives you a certain status in society. Technology should be, a tool for improving our lives and completing tasks, but we are losing the ability to make that necessary distinction. James Vincent wrote a piece exploring the same ideas.

We are so ambitious on satiating our thirst for new releases that we have blinded ourselves from seeing the important details that makes a device a great product. A great device is one that delivers the best experience for the average and professional user at the same time.

Probably a successful product launch

I would not be surprised if Apple broke its own sales record from previous years with this latest generation of smartphones. From a business and market perspective, the new phones seem extremely attractive to the consumer market and reception has been good. The target is definitely the high end market and many could argue it now aims toward the “luxury” inclined costumers. However, I believe that this has been Apple’s strategy all the time. They need accesible products to fulfill the aspirational inclinations of all that can not afford the latest release. Following the same idea, they have released, along their newest iPhone X, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus with the same design as previous years but with a few modifications to maintain its competitiveness when compared to other offerings. All in all, it has been a brilliant move. Without a doubt, we could argue that Apple has taken a big step forward and indirectly has increased its profits by offering a higher priced iPhone with a “good” justification. No wonder why they hold more than 80% of the smartphone industry profit margins with a 30% market share.

Broken UX and design

The “notch” at the top of the phone has been highly criticized among tech enthusiast circles. Apple has justified this by indirectly stating that the new screen is making the phone bezel-less and that OLED technology will improve the experience delivered from previous phones. Although this may be true, it was Apple itself who once argued that the eye doesn’t appreciate more pixels in a screen than those offered in a “retina display” (the one present in the iPhone 8 and previous models since the iPhone 4). I feel the introduction of the screen has been in accordance to what the marketplace is now offering regarding screens and a marketing maneuver.

For me, the top “notch” is disgusting. Not due to the fact that it is there. It is necessary for the new Face ID technology, which I believe was unnecessary and may be risky in the end for all those privacy and security conscious consumers. I do not like the “notch” because of the interface design that accompanies it. iOS doesn’t help with the issue at all as pointed by Chris Pirillo (just the “notch” reaction here) and many others. All of what Apple claims to be regarding design, implementation and simplicity is broken with the iPhone X. Once again, I must say that the issue is primarily caused by how software handles the space between the phone’s bezels and the front camera sensor.

I have found a web page that even simulates watching a YouTube video with iPhone X for you to experience what it might feel to use the newest iPhone. The complaints could be endless and the product has not even launched. I wonder what developers might say when they have to redesign their apps to fit the new screen.

The iPhone X’s screen and iOS 11 accommodation of elements.
Terrible placement of elements in Safari running on iOS 11 with an iPhone X. If a webpage or application is not optimized, things could get messy.
Current placement of elements in iPhone X on iOS 11 (left) and a proposal of what should have been done instead with software (right).
One of the many proposals I have found on the internet to fix the screen’s “notch”. A simple software modification would suffice.

Removing the home button may not have affected the general usability of the product above. Apple’s solution of the problem may be good, however, we are not seeing a new feature. Swiping instead of pressing a button to get to the home screen is just a different gesture to perform a task, not a revolutionary feature as Apple markets in its website. Furthermore, Face ID is a security concern, regarding your legal rights. Needless to say, I have been in numerous circumstances where I don’t want my phone to unlock just by looking at it. Someone could take it from you and point it at your face and unlock it. It poses a risk for all its users. In other words, it is easier to force you to unlock the phone even if you don’t want to. This problem is not only present in the iPhone but in all gadgets using this type of technology.

For years, Apple has dragged multiple UX and interface design problems since the release of iOS 7 (watch a review a few years back for more information here), however, only a few seem to care. Only a couple of journalists and apparently no engineers working at Apple seem to be aware of the setbacks. All of what I am stating could be easily fixed with perspective and focus. The iPhone X’s problems come not from the phone itself but from years back and the issues are now magnified by the unpleasant looks of the “notch”. Unfortunately, software issues have permeated hardware design.

Discouragingly, the software problems won’t be fixed as they are not going to be considered an issue. Without a doubt, Apple is more solid than ever. Sales are increasing year on year and the iPhone will continue to be their star product with higher profits as newer iterations come. The iPhone X is not the exception and its sales will excel. As a consequence, media will be pleased and all “tech reviewers” will simply state that this is “the best iPhone ever made”. But in essence it is not. The iPhone X simply put does not go along with Apple’s principles, which made it the most valuable company in the world and created a fan base that we may now consider as an ideology.

I would hope for this issues to be resolved for next year. Maybe an engineer or some high level employee at Apple can visualize the issues that I have stated. It would help reshape the industry again and make Apple recover its pace as to what their main purposes and vision once was. Perhaps I have a hopeless wish. Many could argue that Apple is receiving too much attention and that we are being extremely harsh and scrupulous regarding their products compared to what other companies are expected to do. It is true. The “hype” and expectations of what the Californian company may create or introduce into the market have always been very high. Nevertheless, they are the industry leaders and the most valuable company in the world. Whatever they do might shape the course of the industry, thus, the high expectations. All in all, this words are just a claim for an analysis as to how we are behaving as consumers and that we must not lower our standards as to what to expect from any company in the world. This time around has been Apple’s turn to be criticized, but with every service or product we buy we must maintain our essence and simply consider them as tools. We must not get involved in the endless loop of consumerism and become blind by marketing as it has already happened with technology, especially the new iPhone.

Disclaimer: All the ideas portrayed in the article are based on what I have seen on Apple’s keynote and read in the media lately. I do not consider this article a review, as I have not used the product yet, but an analysis on the newest iPhone and technology in general.