The iPhone X is the first big change to the iPhone since the iPhone 4 introduced a radical design and front facing camera, and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus brought iOS to more useful and productive size classes. Apple has had a trend of reusing the same basic design for several years, as seen with the iPhone 5, 5S, and SE, and the iPhone 6, 6S, 7, and 8. This new design will probably be the platform that the iPhone grows on for years to come. It’s also the first iPhone in a long time that feels much different to use day to day.
Gpuoing from an iPhone 7 Plus to the X is somewhat of a weird compromise when it comes to screen size. On one hand, the 5.8” screen is larger than the 5.5” screen on the Plus. But the device is closer in dimensions to an iPhone 8. I personally have never owned a 4.7” iPhone, since I went from the Note 2 to the iPhone 6 Plus and have owned a plus sized device ever since. It was nice to have a smaller device in my pocket and made it seem more manageable. When I used a plus sized phone, I always felt like I was using close to an iPad, whereas this feel much more personal. Its definitely nice not having a large rectangle in my pocket.
The first thing you notice on this device is the screen. Its by far the best screen I have ever screen. The only thing that comes close could be the iMac 5k screen. The two main things you notice are the vibrancy and the levels of black. The colors pop more than any other iPhone that I have seen in the last. In addition, my wallpaper fades to black towards the bottom, which makes it look like the bottom of the display is off. Certain apps such as Overcast and Apollo have been update with pure dark modes. Traditionally, dark modes use a dark grey since that looks better than true black on LCD screens. But with an OLED panel, dark grey looks really weird, and true black makes it look like there is white text floating on a phone thats turned off. Another aspect of the display that stands out is the bezels on this phone. In addition to being very small, they are uniform around the entire device, save for the notch. A lot of other phones are starting to have smaller and smaller bezels, but none of them have uniform bezels on all sides. This has a really weird effect, but in a very positive way. It really makes the whole device look like a screen. The only blemish on the display is the notch. While I don’t consider it a problem from day to day, its definitely something you’ll notice at first. You’ll also notice it again when you’re watching video (although it does provide a nice location to hold the device while in landscape). I almost never consciously notice the notch from day to day. I think a lot of this is due to the changes that Apple made in iOS 11 to Navigation Bars; they trained us for a lot of useless space above the view title. Instead of seeing the notch as removing from possible screen space, I see the area next to the notch as extra space I wouldn’t have otherwise. The menu bar has been changed to fit into this area and shows more symbols and less text. I wish that the carrier wasn’t wasted on the entire left side, since that isn’t something that really changes from day to day. I wish that indicators like battery percentage, activity, and bluetooth connectivity were there instead. I do like how the right side fades to a headphone symbol for a second when you connect a pair of bluetooth headphones. Overall though this area is defiently a net gain instead of a net loss.
Face ID is probably the other major platform change that comes along with the iPhone X. Since there is no home button, Apple needed a different authentication solution. A lot of other phones put the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone, which I wouldn’t have been opposed to. But Apple went with a different approach and created Face ID by adding a bunch of special hardware to the from of the phone, hence the notch. Face ID uses a combination of IR sensors and emitters to obtain a depth map of your face. It uses this map to make sure that you’re the person looking at the phone. Furthermore, it can detect that you’re actively looking at the screen, and just not in view of the sensors. It uses this information to only show notification details when you’re looking at the screen. So if someone else picks up your phone, then they won’t be able to see your notifications. This feature alone is almost enough of a game changer to justify the slight increase in unlock time. Many have said that TouchID gen 2 is so fast that FaceID is slightly slower. In day to day use, this is somewhat noticeable. However, the animations and new lock screen mechanics help to hide this fact pretty well. Only about 20% of the time I would say I am waiting on the phone to unlock. And even then it’s only for a few milliseconds. FaceID is also seamlessly integrated throughout the OS where TouchID was before. Since it provides the same API endpoints as TouchID, even apps that haven’t been updated for the iPhone X will work for it. 1Password is fantastic with it. Going forward, its clear that this is the future of biometric authentication. I’m sure that a second generation FaceID will be even faster to the point its as good, if not better then where TouchID was. I do wish that you could set the phone to bypass the swipe gesture to unlock the phone, and instead go immediately to the home screen. I realize that this would prevent you from reading lock screen notification, but I would like to see it as a control center option, or maybe something where you blink and it will automatically unlock the phone.
Design wise, the iPhone X has a lot of iPhone 4 DNA, which I really love. The iPhone 4 was my first phone, and it felt so good in the hand. The glass back made it feel so precious in your hand. The stainless steel sides are a first for an iPhone, and they feel dramatically different than previous iPhones Combined with the feeling of the glass back, this iPhone feels really premium. The camera bump is also much more pronounced on this phone, which is one thing to consider if you type with your phone on the table a lot. The side button (previously referred to as the power button) has a much more prominent role in the OS and is therefore much bigger now. Its almost double the size and it make it much easier to use, which sense because you will be using it more.
Overall, the iPhone X doesn’t seem like the tenth iPhone, but iPhone 2.0. The iPhone hasn’t had any real usability changes since the first version. This model, with FaceID and the edge-to-edge screen make a real usability difference. Its clear that this is future of the iPhone for Apple. It’ll be interesting to see how they refine and evolve this design over the next 10 years.