For the first time ever, Apple has launched three flagship iPhones at a single event: The iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus, and the iPhone X. At first glance, you’d say that customers have a bigger choice than ever.
But I think the opposite is true: People who want to buy a new iPhone have a very limited choice right now, and if something goes wrong with the iPhone X, many might find competing Android phones are a better choice than any of the iPhones.
Two of the new phones Apple showed us on Tuesday — the iPhone 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus — are iterative upgrades. Mashable‘s Michael Nuñez explained this quite succintly: If you have an iPhone 7, there’s probably no need to upgrade to the iPhone 8.
This was true for the iPhone 6S as well, and for many iterative iPhone upgrades before that. This time, there’s another reason why the iPhone 8 or the iPhone 8 Plus aren’t very compelling options for someone shopping for a new phone. The iPhone 6S wasn’t a huge upgrade over the 6, but it was at least neck-and-neck with top competitors. But compared to the huge-screened, nearly bezel-less Android flagships of today, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Essential Phone, or the LG V30, these iPhones look incredibly dated.
Apple got there first, sort of. The company was rumored to be building a phone that’s all screen on the front side for a long time now. But it took forever for Apple to bring it to market, and in the meantime, the competitors caught up.
This is different from that time when Samsung launched a smartwatch a year before the then-rumored Apple Watch. That product, the Galaxy Gear, was pretty crappy, and when the Apple Watch launched, it quickly became the best smartwatch around.
But the new breed of Android phones with enormous screens are, simply put, awesome. I’ve held the Galaxy S8+, the Note 8, and the LG V30 in my hands and I’d have zero problems recommending any of these devices. And honestly, after that experience, I’d have a very hard time switching to the fat-bezeled iPhone 8 Plus.
I’m not saying the iPhone 8 or the iPhone 8 Plus are horrible phones. They’re likely a little better than their predecessors, which were pretty great. Millions will buy them, and love them. After all, not everyone needs a bezel-less phone. But compare their design to a recent Android flagship, and you’ll see just how ancient they look.
The iPhone X is an expensive step forward, into the unknown
This leaves us with the iPhone X — the forward-looking, innovative new iPhone. I’d put “beautiful” in there as well, but I’m not sure that’s true. To me, it’s the least beautiful iPhone yet, but opinions on that will inevitably vary.
Regardless of how you feel about the design, some of the design decisions, such as the “notch” on top of its screen, are brave. I absolutely applaud Apple for trying to innovate in the stale smartphone space. But the iPhone X is a child of too many compromises. The notch shouldn’t have been there at all. The fingerprint scanner was supposed to be beneath the screen. But Apple seemingly wasn’t able to get those features ready in time.
You may be able to live with all this. Wishes are wishes — I wanted distance wireless charging, but hey, what can you do? But now that we know all of iPhone X’s features, is it a good buy?
First of all, it won’t be available for two more months. Rumors claimed that even when it hits the market, it might be in short supply, but we don’t know that. Either way, that’s quite a long wait.
And yes, it’s expensive. I don’t think that’s a problem in itself — the most expensive iPhone variants have often been the first to sell out. But a lot of people simply won’t be able to dish out $999 + tax on a phone.
The mystery of Face ID
Finally, and this is the biggest potential problem Apple is facing, the iPhone X is just different. With no home button and no fingerprint scanner, it relies on gestures and face recognition. Apple says its new A11 Bionic chip and the infrared camera will do a great job recognizing your face, but what does that mean, exactly?
Phones have had face recognition (and even iris scanners on some models) for years. I’ve tried numerous implementations of both technologies. Want to know how many times I was satisfied with the results? Never. Not a single time. It’s not just about the crappy privacy these offer. The fingerprint scanner was always the better and the more practical option. You just touch the button with your finger and the phone unlocks. No need to raise it to your face, no need to look at it. You can even do it in your pocket.
It’s possible that Apple’s face scanning solution will be so amazing that users will instantly get used to it and forget about it, which is the best possible option for Apple. But I can imagine a lot of scenarios in which face recognition won’t work well. In the dark. Or if you’re wearing an extra-large pair of sunglasses. Or a hat and a scarf. If Apple’s face scanner fails in any reasonably common scenario, people will get annoyed.
If you find that hard to believe, just look at Apple’s keynote again, and you’ll see that Face ID didn’t even work for Apple’s Craig Federighi, right there in Apple’s Steve Jobs Theater.
Face ID doesn’t have to be horrible to be a nuisance. Maybe it’ll be just bearable. Perhaps the normal, day-in, day-out usage will be slightly more annoying than using a fingerprint scanner. But I’d notice — I unlock my phone literally hundreds of times per day. If it failed just five percent of the time, I’d sell the phone.
Which one will you choose?
To sum up: The iPhone X is the only new iPhone that can compare with recent Android flagships. But it won’t be here for nearly two more months. It might be in short supply when it arrives. It’s incredibly expensive. And in at least one very important aspect — unlocking the damn thing — it could possibly be worse than basically every other new phone out there.
Apple has an amazing track record when it comes to mobile phone innovation. It’s quite possible that the iPhone X will be great to use. And iPhone users are know to be very faithful to their phones. But if the iPhone X is anything less than perfect, it’ll be hard to justify paying a thousand bucks for it, and the other two new iPhones just don’t cut it for anyone wanting a modern phone.