Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

X Marks the Spot?

As I write this, it’s the afternoon of Halloween and people everywhere are anticipating the arrival of the iPhone X at their doors. If you got up early and placed your order, or if you’re willing to stand in line, you might be getting it Friday. You might have to wait a little longer if you didn’t wake yourself up in the middle of the night, at least for United States orders.

I have had the iPhone X for a day (see below) and I like it a lot. The high-resolution OLED screen is gorgeous. Face ID threatens to turn the act of unlocking your phone into something that’s completely invisible—it just happens, and you don’t need to notice. I am happy to have ordered one (the one I’ve got now is an Apple review unit) and look forward to spending quality time with my iPhone X for a while.

But last weekend I bought my wife an iPhone 8 and neither of us has any regrets. She loves it. It was replacing an iPhone 6, so she got all the features of the iPhone 6S, 7, and 8 in a single upgrade. Plus her three-year-old battery was pretty toasty and iOS 11 does not run particularly well on the iPhone 6. Put it all together and she’s got a great phone that does everything she’s used to doing with her phone, but it’s better across the board.

Sometimes I think that there are two different iPhone audiences, but the distinction between them has been hidden by the fact that they all buy the same model. There are the tech early adopter, who legitimately care about having the latest and greatest technology. These are our people. This is you and me. We are the ones who are the largest audience for the iPhone X. (This doesn’t mean that every tech adopter is going to buy an iPhone X, of course—many of you will opt for an iPhone 8 or be happy with your iPhone 6S or 7 or SE.)

The other audience is people like my wife, who rely on their iPhones heavily but aren’t caught up in the day-to-day nonsense of specs and Apple OS updates and the like. Every two or three years, they upgrade to a new phone. Up to now, the obvious choice has been the latest iPhone, though Apple has muddied the waters a bit by offering old models at discounts and introducing the small but mighty iPhone SE. Still, every time my wife has upgraded her iPhone, it’s been to the brand-new model.

But this year there are two brand-new models. The iPhone X will attract the early adopters, to be sure. But a lot of regular users will look at the price tag and turn to the iPhone 8 instead. I think this is a rational decision, and it doesn’t suggest that anything fundamentally is wrong with the iPhone product line. In fact, it suggests that the iPhone product line is working as designed: Apple makes different phones at different prices for different audiences, but if you buy an iPhone, Apple wins. It doesn’t matter which one. Apple is more than happy to sell you an iPhone 8 or iPhone 7 instead of an iPhone X.

Still, the iPhone X is exciting, because for people like us who get excited about getting a glimpse of the future, that’s what the iPhone X gets us. Face ID is like a feature from a science-fiction novel, and I’m holding it in my hand right now. What put me over the edge with Face ID is its ability to detect my attention—in other words, I have to be looking at the iPhone to unlock it. If it can see my face but I’m not looking at it, the phone stays locked. Similarly, the screen won’t dim due to inactivity if you’re looking right at it—it knows you’re watching the screen, so it won’t do the (rather rude, when you think about it) typical device thing of turning itself off while you’re right in the middle of reading something.

How amazing is that? Fun stuff, and one day it will be ubiquitous and won’t require a $1000-and-up price tag. We get the privilege to see it early, but we pay for the privilege. It’s great to have an iPhone X in my pocket, but there are other great options out there too. There’s nothing wrong with deciding that a particular product is not the right choice for some reason. And one of the great advantages of waiting for new technology is that the next year’s version will be more seasoned, have fewer bugs, and might even cost less.

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