iPhone X: a soft "apple" revolution

iPhone X: a soft "apple" revolution

Only the laziest of people have not made their review of the tenth iPhone. But for the most part, people viewed Apple's new product as purely stylish and technologically advanced. But what is its place in history? The famous blogger John Gruber thought about it.

The more popular a computer platform becomes, the more bound hand and foot it inevitably becomes. The platform becomes "perfect" when it is forgotten. It needs to evolve to stay relevant, but it is difficult to change in unfamiliar directions lest it piss off a base of active users. Adding new features on top of a familiar foundation leads only one way-it gets too complicated over time, especially when something needed now conflicts with a design solution that made sense a decade or so ago.

Over time, and inevitably, successive improvements drive the platform into a blind corner. Something has to give way.

This happened with the classic Mac OS in the mid-90s, when certain technical limitations of the axis made the platform seem obsolete. The classic Mac OS did not protect memory and used cooperative multitasking instead of preemptive multitasking. Without protected memory, no system process could write to or read from arbitrary areas of RAM - both the memory of other processes and the memory of the OS itself. Cooperative multitasking meant that each application decided for itself when to put the processor at the disposal of other processes. If a program needed to fully utilize the processor, it could do so. From today's perspective, the first Mac effectively worked with only one software process, and the applications were sort of plug-ins that worked within that process. In 1984, it was a perfectly defensible solution. Protected memory, preemptive multitasking and a powerful core operating system were simply unrealizable on a computer with an 8 megahertz processor and 128 (!) kilobytes of RAM. In fact, the first Mac did not have multitasking as such until Andy Herzfeld wrote the first multitasking environment for the Macintosh, Switcher, the forerunner of MultiFinder.

The problem Apple faced in the '90s was that the Macs were popular because of their ever-growing collection of great third-party programs, while the operating system on which they were based was already giving a crack. However, Apple couldn't seriously upgrade the Mac OS without disrupting the applications - which is exactly what happened with Mac OS X. The old software ran in a virtual "classic" environment - essentially a virtualized classic Mac OS running inside Mac OS X. The new software - programs that took advantage of Mac OS X's modern software libraries, new features and looks - had to be written with different (Cocoa) or updated (Carbon) libraries. The transition succeeded, as evidenced by the popularity of Macs today, but it took years - perhaps a decade. And it was a painful process that involved everyone: users, developers, and Apple itself.

In the case of the iPhone X, Apple has set out, it seems to me, to do something unprecedented - a fundamental rethinking of the incredibly popular and successful platform without a devastating and painful transition.

There are several parallels between the first iPhone in 2007 and the first Mac in 1984. Both introduced new fundamental paradigms that quickly became standards for competing platforms - the graphical interface in 1984 and multitouch in 2007. Both devices were created by relatively small teams under the leadership of Steve Jobs. But the biggest similarity-at least for these reflections-is that both products were initially burdened by severe technical limitations. An 8 MHz processor, 128 KB RAM, and 400 KB floppy disks (the only type of storage for the first Mac) were not enough. Neither was the processor of the first iPhone, 128MB of memory and an EDGE-enabled cellular module enough. The success of both products - which became rightly beloved despite their technical limitations - is proof of the genius and talent of the designers and engineers who brought these products to life.

There is also a fundamental difference: the barrier that the iPhone overcame during the ten years of its existence was not technical (like the previously mentioned shortcomings of the classic Mac OS), but rather conceptual. Here are some of the iconic changes the iPhone as a platform has undergone in ten years:

  • iPhone 4 (2010): Retina display.
  • iPhone 5 (2012): the aspect ratio of the screen has changed from 3:2 to 16:9.
  • iPhone 5s (2013): Touch ID fingerprint scanner.
  • iOS 7 (2013): A visual restart of the user interface.
  • iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (2014): screen enlargement.

Basically, all of these are the stages of the evolution of the first iPhone. You can clearly trace the path of development from the first iPhone in 2007 to the iPad Pro and iPhone 8 in 2017. The home button was given a superpower by the iPhone 5s - but only Addendum to everything that came before. There have always been two and only two elements on the front of an iOS device: the touch screen and the home button. In fact, the iPhone X changes iOS in a more global sense than the iPad did. Speaking of the role between the display and the home button, the iPad really was - and still is - "just a big iPhone.

The iPhone X, on the other hand, generates a split akin to a franchise relaunch.

Apple hasn't really focused on it, but there are actually two versions of iOS 11 - I'll call them iOS 11 X, which runs on the tenth iPhone, and classic iOS 11, which runs on everything else.

The basic assumption of classic iOS 11 is that the active app gets the entire screen, and the home button is the way to interact with the system to exit the current app and move to another. Before Touch ID, the home button was even marked with a blank app icon, a tiny diamond of iconography.

Over time, the responsiveness of the home button has increased to cover these important functions:

  • Single click when the display is off: brings the device out of standby mode.
  • Single click when display is on: opens the home screen.
  • Double-click: activates the application switcher.
  • Triple-click: a customizable shortcut to invoke the Universal Access feature.
  • Fingerprint: User identification using Touch ID.
  • Double-tap (no click): Enable Reachability.
  • Press and hold: Activate Siri.

In iOS 11 X, almost every role of the home button has been taken over by the display, giving the rest to the side button:

  • To bring the device out of standby mode, touch the display.
  • To open the home screen, swipe up briefly from the bottom edge of the display.
  • Activate the application switch is a longer swipe from the bottom.
  • An even better way to navigate between apps is by side swiping on the "home indicator".
  • Calling the Universal Access function is a triple-click on the side button.
  • User identification - just look at the screen.
  • Reachability - swipe down on the bottom edge of the display.
  • Siri - press and hold the side button.

The first few days of using the iPhone X were a bit of an obstacle course for me. My thumb was constantly searching for the missing home button, mostly to switch programs. After a week, everything started to come back to normal. Now, after two months, I have forgotten about the home button. Moreover, having got used to the tenth iPhone, I now want to swipe from the bottom up with the iPad as well - the tablet now feels like something outdated.

In short, with the iPhone X, Apple took a platform with two main elements of interaction with programs (the touch screen and the home button) and removed one of them, creating a better, more complete interactive system.

To do this, Apple created one thing that got a lot of attention, Face ID. But several other things designed to do the same thing have largely escaped the limelight. Touching the display anywhere to wake it up is so natural, making me wonder how we did without it for so long. This is another reason for annoyance when I use the iPad: I touch the screen expecting it to turn on; and it seems silly to have to press a button. Alas, the iPhone X display doesn't have the ProMotion feature introduced in the latest iPad Pro, which allows you to increase the screen refresh rate to 120 Hz. But it does track touches at 120 Hz, twice as fast as the rest of the iPhones. As a result, the gesture animation tracks your finger better. It's less like the animation that happens in response to your gestures and more like your finger actually controls and moves objects across the screen as if they were real. Among the many new technologies hidden in the iPhone X, the 120 Hz refresh rate for touch tracking is definitely the least important, but it does contribute to the natural and singularly correct feeling of gestures when interacting with the system.

Touching the screen to activate the device, viewing a list of truncated notifications on the lock screen, and watching those notifications expand for a detailed view once you've been recognized by Face ID makes it seem like the iPhone X live in a way that you can't say about any other device. You touch it to get its attention, and it realizes that you are you.

The lock screen is much more useful now: now you can just touch any notification to go to it. With the Touch ID scanner, after you touch a particular notification in the middle of the display, you have to move your finger down to the home button for identification. This has always annoyed me. After using my tenth iPhone, I find it unbearable.

Face ID is not better than Touch ID for everything. There are tradeoffs, primarily situations in which Face ID loses. For example, it works with most sunglasses, but not with Ray-Bans, which, alas, are my favorite.

Take the previously described process of opening a notification from the lock screen. Touch ID requires an extra action, every time, even when it works perfectly. Face ID is not perfect - it is true that you have to re-identify a second time or enter your PIN more often than with Touch ID - but it does require additional action, When it doesn't work for some reason. When Face ID works perfectly, which it did in the vast majority of cases, the effect is indescribable in words. It really feels like my iPhone has no password at all. That's not really the case with Touch ID. With Touch ID, it's a more convenient way to unlock the device. With Face ID, it's like the device never locks.

That's how the iPhone was meant to be used. When Steve Jobs showed the first iPhone on stage at Macworld Expo in January 2007, it was a simple "slide and unlock" gesture. There was no PIN code back then, either. The world has changed in the last ten years and in the sense that we are no longer so naive about device security. I'm pretty sure I used my iPhones for a few years without any PINs. Sliding that slider was fun. Entering a PIN was no fun.

Thanks to Face ID, "slide and unlock" without entering a "pin" is back. In my opinion, this is embodied in the iPhone X. In a small and big way, it changes the fundamental principles of iPhone use. But it changes it in the spirit of the first iPhone.

It's the big picture that interests me most about the iPhone X. Not the device itself, with its display (amazing) and camera system (also amazing) - but how it changes the fundamental features of the platform, laying the groundwork for the next decade of annual improvements. But some specific details of this device are worth noting:

  • Apple Pay's switch to Face ID is a definite plus for me. Now the function is turned on by double-tapping the side button. There is one aspect associated with this change that I find interesting: calling Apple Pay on the iPhone X is different from how it is done on the rest of the iPhones, but it is exactly the same as on the Apple Watch. The same with tapping the screen to turn it on is the same as on the Apple Watch.
  • The camera protrudes more and more prominently than on other iPhones, but somehow that makes it less alien. Now that's a thing. Whereas on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the cameras looked ambiguous. Since you wanted to make a freaking protrusion, make one already. I also like that the camera ends of the tenth iPhone are perpendicular to the main plane, not beveled. This way it looks less like the lens on the back of the phone and more like entire camera on the back of the phone.
  • Within a few weeks I began to get annoyed with the "home" indicator. For new users, it may be a good idea to color it white or black. But once you get used to it, it's always a nuisance. I'd like to make it more inconspicuous, maybe translucent. I would like this indicator to be less noticeable in future versions of iOS.
  • When the regular alarm clock goes off, its sound is muted, you just have to look at the screen. It's absolutely lovely.
  • The hardware sound switch remains in place. If there was ever a time when Apple should have gotten rid of it, it should have happened with the iPhone X. But since the iPhone X still has the switch, that means, at least in the foreseeable future, Apple won't be taking it away. If you, like me, like to mute, you might think, "Of course they kept the switch, it would be awful to lose it." But they removed it from iPads years ago, and Apple is famous for its dislike of physical buttons (think of the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro). And for some reason I could never understand: the android manufacturers copied everything they could copy from Apple (and something they couldn't) - but almost no one copied its sound switch from the iPhone, despite the fact that it is incredibly useful.
  • Stainless steel looks much more luxurious than aluminum. In my hand or pocket, the iPhone X doesn't look any bigger than the iPhone 7 or 8 - but it feels heavierand more serious.
  • True Tone is a feature that you stop noticing on devices that have it, and that you miss terribly on devices that don't have it. "Retino resolution is the same thing. When I switched to the iPhone X, I didn't think about True Tone for weeks. But as soon as I looked at an iPhone without this feature, I was disgusted.
  • One of the best ways to evaluate the iPhone X after a few weeks of using it is to go back to the iPhone 7 (or any other iPhone model). What I noticed right away: the display looks very small, the colors are too cold in the dark (due to the lack of the True Tone feature mentioned above), and the perfectly straight corners of the screen look absolutely rough. The rounded corners of the display may seem like a show-off, but in fact they are perceived as natural and appropriate. As a wise man once said, rounded corners are everywhere. As with True Tone, I stopped noticing the rounded corners of the iPhone X, but the right angles of other iOS devices started to annoy me.
  • In portrait orientation, the "bangs" of the tenth iPhone did not draw attention to themselves, and horizontally I held my smartphone only when I watched videos, used the camera or played games. And I don't play that often. But in landscape orientation, Apple could really hide the "bangs" (which in fact it does in the Camera app). Last week I was playing Desert Golfing, and on one of the holes the ball rolled over the edge of the display, just under the "bangs". I got out of the situation by turning my smartphone 180 degrees so that the "bangs" were on the other side - but that's silly.
  • Now the stripes at the bottom and top of the screen of other iPhones piss me off much more than the "bangs" of the ten. For me it is a wasted space.
  • On the iPhone X, to the left of the "bangs, iOS 11 uses small indicators in different colors: blue when the hotspot mode is on, blue when the navigation mode is active, green when the phone is in background, and red when the screen is recording. In classic iOS 11, these indicators are colored the same, but take up the entire status bar, making them unnecessarily prominent and completely depriving you of the ability to touch the status bar to scroll up. It never made sense that you couldn't use the scroll up command because of such an indicator - every time I encountered it, I wondered about a design flaw. On the iPhone X, this element of the system is finally arranged as it should be.
  • On the new status bar, there is no room for a numeric battery level value. You can see it in the Control Point and on the lock screen while the smartphone is charging, but it is no longer possible to constantly display the percentage of charge. I have never been a fan of this feature - for me it has always been just a means of calming down. As for me, displaying the approximate amount of charge in the battery icon itself is almost always enough. But someone might disagree with that. If this point remains controversial, Apple should consider choosing to show the icon or the percentage of charge.
  • They also removed the name of the cellular operator from the status bar (it is still displayed in the Control Panel and on the lock screen). Personally, it has always annoyed me - it's like a permanent operator, even if I have already paid it.
  • The glass back of the tenth iPhone doesn't collect scratches like it does on the black iPhone 7. On my ten in gray, I noticed all two tiny dings - and that's all I landed in a month of use without any covers. My wife has a white 10, and she has very few scratches on hers as well. And you have to look very closely to notice them.
  • I still think the iPhone X is too big to be considered the smallest iPhone. The device does not feel too big in your hand or in your pocket. For someone who has carried a 4.7-inch iPhone since the iPhone 6 came out three years ago, the iPhone X really feels the same size. But the larger edge-to-edge screen makes it much harder to use the device with one hand. In addition to the larger "Plus" size version of the iPhone X, which is expected next year, I'd like to see Apple introduce a smaller SE size model with the same features and design elements. I'm not keeping my fingers crossed, but I'd really like to see it. I won't even say that I would like such a model myself (although I would try it) - but it would be great for those who prefer to use a smartphone with one hand.
  • Is the higher price of the iPhone X, compared to the iPhone 8, justified? In a premium smartphone, you get a better camera, a steel frame (not aluminum), an edge-to-edge OLED display with TrueTone and Face ID. But on top of that, you get something that can't be compared on points - something of the joys of life. Those who criticize the higher prices of the iPhone X, in my opinion, prove not what exactly this a smartphone shouldn't cost that much, and any A smartphone can't cost that much. But as I wrote earlier, if we have laptops that cost more than 1,000 $, why shouldn't smartphones cost that much? Especially when you consider that for many, the smartphone is the most frequently used and most relevant device for personal and professional tasks.

I can't recall a single iPhone 8 review that didn't mention the much more coveted iPhone X. But one cannot understand the tenth iPhone without mentioning the eighth. A few months after the release of the first iPad in 2010, I wrote - trying to reassure those who saw the iPad as the sunset of the Mac - that the Mac's heaviness allows iOS to remain conceptually light. In the same vein, the familiarity of the eighth iPhone allows the ten to redefine anything, up to and including the destruction of the platform's basic conventions.

No one is forced to get used to the innovations of the iPhone X. If you want a familiar iPhone, you can buy an iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus with the same A11 Bionic processor, almost the same camera and almost The same good display, the tried and trusted Touch ID and even new (for iPhones) features like inductive charging - while saving a serious amount of money.

In the short term, this splitting of the platform is a blow to its integrity. Unlocking the lock, going to the home screen, switching apps, biometric identification, calling Siri, taking screenshots, turning off the device - all these tasks are implemented completely differently on iPhone X than on the rest of the iPhones, including iPhone 8.

It is unique in the history of Apple - if not in the history of all consumer electronics - within a single OS to present two different interfaces, organized according to the hardware base on which the operating system runs. From a developer's point of view, iOS 11 is one operating system with different sizes (SE, regular, Plus, X, iPad, iPad Pro) and layout of elements. From the user's point of view, however, the operating system is a set of tools for interacting with the device. Again, it's like two different versions of iOS 11 - and I can't stop thinking how weird that is.

Of course, going from an older iPhone to the iPhone X is in no way comparable to going from an iPhone to an Android device, for example. But it's still different - it's fundamental.

Why not bring more iPhone X differences to the rest of the iPhones with iOS 11? The 10 needs all of these gestures because of the lack of a home button. But the classic iPhones could support them, too - there's no reason Apple wouldn't add the swipe up gesture from the bottom edge to go to the home screen on all iOS devices. And then they would have moved the Control Point call to the top right corner, too, on all devices. I think they didn't do that because they wanted a clean break, a clean separation between new and old, between familiar and unfamiliar.

And some features of the iPhone X won't work on older devices. On an older iPhone, you can swipe up to go to the home screen, but you can't do the same to unlock the lock because it requires Face ID. Conversely, the iPhone X has no room for Touch ID. There's no "put your finger here" action in its command system. Whether the fingerprint scanner was under the screen or on the back of the device, it would simply be unnecessary.

However, we find ourselves in a unique situation. Apple is trying to get away from the historical iOS interface one device at a time. This year, only the iPhone X. Next year, maybe several models. And then the iPad Pro, too? But what happens next, you know: all new iOS devices will be arranged in a new way, and in a few years most iPhones in use will be like that - without the need for a one-step dramatic (or, if you prefer, traumatic) transition for the entire platform.

The tenth iPhone is not the fruit of the labor of an overly cautious company. Such a fundamental transition is a big risk for the world's most profitable platform. But Apple bets on the flair of the team that lived with the iPhone X during its creation. Stiffening is also a risk for a platform as popular and successful as the iPhone: the fear of introducing unpopular changes can discourage the manufacturer from making any noticeable innovations. But there's also a third risk: hubris, which forces change for the sake of change itself, which shows how smart the guys at Apple are even now.

After two months of using the iPhone X, I am convinced that Apple has succeeded. The tenth iPhone is a triumph, a delightful conceptual modernization of a decade-old platform, which I thought, before switching to the iPhone X, needed no modernization at all. Virtually nothing in the ten is obscenely interesting - everything is perceived simply as the new norm, and it's a lot of fun.

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