iPhone X - A concept phone from future, literally

I’m not an early adopter of technology. I’ve always loved Apple products for lots of different reasons that I won’t go into here. However, I’ve never bought an iPhone on day of it’s launch except for X [ten].

In general I don’t really doubt the direction Apple takes knowing that historically they’ve always made the right choices [maybe except being late to bigger screen phones]. It usually fits in Apple’s bigger vision for how future looks like. Though it’s a debate for another day.

iPhone X, however, is different from any other iPhone ever launched after the first iPhone. I’ve had iPhone X since launch day and truly it’s been a surreal experience. It may sound really disingenuous when I say that often I feel like this isn’t a device that belongs in 2017. It’s as if it was directly taken from a Sci-fi movie and put into our hands. It feels like holding a huge, hefty gemstone. The feeling of holding it and using the gestures on iPhone X is just incredible. This is the first time where I actually felt I’m interacting with the software and as if there were no glass in-between [iPads came really close]. This, interestingly, leads to a feeling of wanting more from the software that runs it. iOS, for me, is what a mobile OS should be, an OS that’s supposed to get out of your way and facilitate your interaction with the apps instead of hindering it. However, even iOS 11 with all it’s packed feature set, doesn’t seem to justify the grandeur of the iPhone X itself.

There’s a lot to discuss here about this phone, so let’s get started.

Face ID

I wasn’t skeptical of Face ID as a lot of people were when Apple introduced X back in September. Apple just doesn’t introduce such a big change without proper evaluation. And they totally pulled this off as only Apple could have. IT JUST WORKS. Isn’t that all we need? As reliably as anything. This isn’t just Image Facial Recognition, this is 3D Facial Scanning.

Here’s how it compares with Touch ID in unique scenarios.

Setup

Super fast and convenient. You just make a nice round circle [with your nose apparently] twice and you’re all set. NO, you don’t have to do it slowly by making weird faces like those awkward [plenty stupid] Verge, Wired or Youtube reviews. You just do it in one smooth motion, 2 seconds tops.

Unlock

Again, it just works smoothly. Initially I was doing it consciously by holding my face upright and holding phone in unnatural fashion waiting for unlock animation before swiping up. As unlocking became more instinctive, I noticed I didn’t have to do those things. Just pull my phone and swipe up. It just worked. Sometimes, you can see the Face ID unlock screen but it’s just for fraction of a second. Face ID unlock is certainly half a second slower but so was Touch ID when it first came out. So I’m really not worried about it yet.

Unlike Touch ID, Face ID is triggered Automatically. So to conserve battery life, it doesn’t scan the Face after first failed attempt. You must either Swipe Up or wake it up again from sleep. If Face ID after Swipe Up fails, it would directly take you to passcode and it won’t attempt Auth unless you cancel it and swipe up again.

Tricky Unlock Scenarios

a) Lying Flat on Table

One thing that Face ID has somewhat, if not entirely, common with Touch ID on back of phone is that unlocking the phone while lying flat on table isn’t as convenient. Albeit, Face ID still unlocks, you just have to lean over the phone [FTR I hate fingerprint scanner at the back of the phones, utterly unintuitive, difficult to use].

b) Face ID is symmetrical

Yes, you cannot unlock the phone hold it upside down, or in either landscape orientations. Kinda bummer, because Touch ID really didn’t care. It could be easily fixed as a software patch though.

c) Face ID uses infrared

So unlocking in darkness, with spectacles or sunglasses [which don’t filter out IR], is a total breeze. If there’s anything on your face that blocks IR, it could interfere with Face ID.

d) Lying in Bed

Now this is exactly where I really am not liking Face ID as much particularly in winter season since I’m folded up in blanket or comforter. I have to pull my face out of it to unlock it. Though I shouldn’t be using phone in bad anyways, but still.

e) Works with one side of your face

Yes, it’s what helps me unlock the phone when in Bed most of the times. If you put your hand on either Side of the face leaving nose (it’s important), Face ID would work. It doesn’t work if only upper or only lower half of your face is visible.

Where Face ID really shines

Face ID is a true example of technology giving way to product or in this case apps, by completely becoming invisible itself. Having Face ID is like not having a pass code/password [and yet having one], like not having to consciously authorize/authenticate myself again and again. It’s my phone so it really should just work for me. Touch ID, at its time, was leaps and bounds ahead of its time. It really simplified authentication throughout the iOS. Being able to unlock the phone and login to high security apps without having to type in passwords, was super secure and super convenient. But Face ID, is even better.

It’s as if, everything is unlocked and open when I use the phone and it’s in a locked down state when I am not. When I open my banking app, I’m logged directly into the app without having to consciously authorize it with Touch ID. It just takes me directly to the content that matters. It’s hyper convenient [for lack of a word better than super].

Also, with Attention Aware feature turned on, the phone will unlock only if you really intend to [by looking at it].

In-App Purchases

One thing that I really got curious about, was how would in-app purchases work. Would it just authorize as soon as I tap the purchase button? As it turns out, Face ID, in this particular case, doesn’t trigger automatically. You have to double press the side button. One could argue that Touch ID really shined here but I think this additional step would certainly prevent accidental purchases.

The Display

Screen

iPhone X is first phone to truly push the edge to edge display on Top and Bottom. I’ve always liked bezels on sides to hold the phone without interfering with touches. The screen doesn’t extend to the edges but it does transcend into the glass seamlessly, though glass itself does not as the Apple Watch does. You can feel edge of steel rim. Surprisingly, the back glass has no friction with Steel rim.

The notch, isn’t as bad as everybody have you think. I it’s really iconic and peculiar to iPhone. They could remove it in the future, though I doubt they will. They’ve done a really job with using the horns fitting in most common icons. I love how the old background location services usage blue bar, is now just a round background color on time. And same goes for any similar bar like green one for calling, red one for screen or audio recording. Kudos to Apple for a good use of the left over horns of screen.

In fullscreen mode, the notch isn’t noticeable unless you look for it. You’d see it for first few days, just because you want to see how it looks. You brain learns to ignore it rather fast though. Here’s an example, remember the Huge iMax screens when you go watch a movie? You’re always focused on the center of it. That’s where action is, that’s where content is, and so is the case with iPhone X. You’d really not be looking at sides as much as a lot of people on youtube would have you believe.

I’ll take a trade off between Fullscreen and Face ID. I’d take the Face ID any day.

OLED

Apple finally jumped onto the OLED bandwagon. Yes, I’m calling it a bandwagon because I’m still not convinced. It feels like it has way too many drawbacks that need to be worked around. Apple spent a lot of effort in customizing the Samsung’s Diamond PenTile OLED display to fit its needs. It is a really nice display but only if you put it side by side with an older iPhone. It’s certainly better than LCD but I really didn’t get the same feeling I had when I moved from non-retina to retina. I remember, I just couldn’t help but notice pixelated non-retina display. It was a delight like no other. This OLED, really only shines when it comes to black colors. Turning on Night Shift on iPhone 7, really bridges the color gap between two phones. OLED is certainly better but LCD didn’t have color shift or burn in issues and doesn’t decay like OLED.

I feel like all this OLED drama is just marketing BS used by other companies to pretend they are better than iPhones. Just because iPhone used LCD doesn’t mean it was ever inferior. Apple has perfected LCD over last 10 years and produced the best LCD displays on the market. Probably, they’d do the same with OLED.

Aspect Ratio & Videos

Despite the criticism on Apple’s iPhone 5, everybody eventually went taller instead of taller and wider. Apple kind of made iPhone 5 taller again and slightly wider. The 19:9 aspect ratio is certainly not ideal for content consumption. Zooming in on most of the non-professional videos, cuts of hair or sometimes foreheads. It isn’t an issue with professional film making, shows and movies though because they are shot keeping such aspects in mind.

With iPhone X getting this aspect ratio and mobile becoming the bigger consumer of content on web, creators will certainly take this more into account in future.

Wasted Space

The most obvious case is for the keyboard that pops up everywhere. Apple certainly didn’t put enough though into how it could be used. They could’ve simply pushed the keyboard down and kept the extraneous buttons within the keyboard itself. The Home Indicator takes up all the screen below when the curves start. That’s understandable, but it could still work without that space since it doesn’t work on tapping. Swiping gestures can work on top of existing elements say the actual app content. Just like how swipe up for control center used to work or how the notifications gesture works on macOS i.e. in either cases gesture begin off the screen though.

The most obvious wasted space in apps themselves, is whenever you use a tab based application. You can see glaring unused space at the bottom. Try twitter, facebook, instagram or App Store itself. In the future iteration of iOS, I’d really like to hide the Home Indicator and give that space to the apps so they feel more natural. Right now, the only thing apps can do to claim that space is to go fullscreen which of course hides the status bar as well.

The New Gesture System

I have mixed feelings about this. I do think these gestures make the old home button or any software buttons rather archaic. There’s something futuristic about navigating the phone entirely based on gestures [though the idea itself is pretty old]. It is perhaps the most fitting feature of the grandeur of iPhone X.

I really enjoy the swipe up to go home, it’s crazy fast when you flick it right. Again, unlike the most youtube reviewers who make it feel painful, you have to do a quick short flick, less than half an inch maybe.

The Control Center swipe down from top right, isn’t as convenient. I wish it were at bottom right or left [configurable for left/right handed people]. I know it could probably interfere with regular swipe up gesture, but I believe there’s more than enough space there to accommodate both while keeping Notification Center at top. I can live with current configuration since the device is small enough to operated by one hand. However, I do have to slide the phone in my hands slightly to access top corners [not ideal Apple, not ideal].

My most favorite 7 Plus feature is here as well i.e. Reachability. I absolutely loved it on Plus devices. On iPhone X, you have to swipe down from the bottom to access it. And it’s actually far more easier than being told online. You should start swiping down from slightly above the Home Indicator, not from it. It works for me almost every time. You do have to enable it from Accessibility Settings though. It’s turned off by default.

By far the most annoying gesture or at least initially, was the multitasking one. I really couldn’t get a feel for it for quite a few days. Even to the extent, that I turned on Assistive Touch, the software home button. Eventually, I did get it right. The trick is very similar to Face ID unlock; you don’t wait for the haptic feedback. Just swipe up at the level of the top of the dock and lift. Don’t flick it, rather drag it. It comes up every time. Now my only gripe is the Control Center pull down.

Perhaps the most controversially talked about change, is how you now kill the apps from multitasking menu. You now have to tap and hold an app to trigger the App Kill mode. I personally think Apple is deliberately trying to prevent you from killing the apps which makes sense as iOS manages memory pretty well. You shouldn’t really worry about it.

A lot of tech experts online think that background apps in iOS don’t do anything. Although it is true, that apps are not always active in background. However, with the introduction of Background App Refresh in iOS 7, the aforementioned thinking is no longer valid. Apps in the background, may be awakened from time to time to refresh the content as deemed necessary by the iOS based on your usage habits of those apps (Machine Learning).

For the above feature to work, the app must be in the multitasking menu and not killed entirely. By making it harder for user to kill apps, Apple is trying to make sure that you get a better user experience next time you open the app with its content being up to date.

If you’re skeptical of this and don’t want it, you can simply turn off this feature in General -> Background App Refresh either in its entirety or on per app basis.

Final Thoughts

iPhone X truly feels like a concept phone, near perfect hardware design with an OS hurried into fitting that hardware. I have really enjoyed this new experience, Face ID, gestures, an excellent camera etc. But I also think, the OS needs really needs to be improved to take full advantage of this amazing piece of hardware. I hear X was planned for 2018 which makes the iPhone from the future, literally, and perhaps the unoptimized OS is the clear evidence of that.

There are a lot of things I didn’t discuss, like the front and rear camera [and the bump which is bumpier than ever] both are actually pretty good as one would expect, Siri which more or less is still the same, wireless & fast charning, stereo speakers which are pretty decent, loud voice call quality, a very sensitive microphone that I really enjoyed Facetime-ing with my family amongst other things.

Apple has certainly proven its superiority when it comes to software & hardware harmony. And I absolutely love this phone despite little quirks here and there.