The iPhone X is a sham. The epitome of fluff over function. The penultimate step in Apple’s downward spiral toward replacing the Ramsian “Less is more” with the “more, more, more!” of a greedy kid in a cupcake shop. One more brick, at last, on its towering monument to bad design.
Just look at Apple’s own list of features. Rather than focusing on solving problems that everyone has–like battery life that lasts for more than a few hours of usage, materials that are truly durable, or reception quality–the iPhone X is just a shiny jar of candy, designed to be irresistible for fans that are hungry for the latest status symbol. You may think I’m being unfair. Perhaps you’re right. Let’s review the design, feature by feature.
IT’S ALL SCREEN, EXCEPT WHEN IT’S NOT
At the core of Apple’s design is its “Super Retina Display.” Apple says that “with iPhone X, the device is the display. An all‑new 5.8‑inch Super Retina screen fills the hand and dazzles the eyes.” It goes on to argue that it uses “innovative [ . . . ] techniques and technology to precisely follow the curves of the design, all the way to the elegantly rounded corners.” That premise falls apart when you look at the big black tab framing the phone’s front cameras. It’s so jarring that Apple felt it had to ask developers not to “mask or call special attention to key display features.”
Turning a flaw into a feature is nothing new in the land of Reality Distortion Fields. But putting all of that aside, do you really need a 5.8-inch OLED display? What does it really give you that you didn’t have before? Does it dramatically increase battery life? Not really. Does it have better color than the LCD screens used on the iPhone 8? Not really. The iPhone 8 already “has the best color accuracy in the industry,” according to Apple. And exactly the same maximum brightness: 625 candelas per square meter. The X claims a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio while the Samsung S8’s OLED has an “infinite contrast ratio”–both marketdroid specs that will not affect your YouTube, Snapchat, or Instagram experience. Do the few extra pixels add a lot more to its usability? Arguably, no.
And then there’s Apple’s “it’s all screen” claim, which is the biggest elephant in the room. It is simply not true. While Samsung can claim that its latest Galaxy phone is all screen except for the top and bottom, the iPhone X’s screen has a black frame all the way around it–plus that eyesore “feature” on top. It doesn’t feel like the future. It’s just a longer screen with a black bezel.
AN AUTHENTICATION REVOLUTION THAT ISN’T REVOLUTIONARY
The FaceID authentication system was the iPhone X feature that Apple spent the most time defending at its September keynote. I say defending because that’s how it felt–like an excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta, or “an unprovoked excuse is a sign of guilt.”
FaceID doesn’t solve any problem that wasn’t solved before by TouchID. And despite Apple’s claims, it has the same problems as TouchID: It can be tricked and it can fail. And while crappy masks obviously won’t fool it, I can imagine professional hackers (and the FBI) throwing a few hundred of your social media photos into a neural network to print an exact 3D face model capable of tricking this technology, no matter what the Cupertinians say.
But putting that aside, FaceID fails most of Dieter Rams’s 10 design principles. It is not innovative (sure, it uses your face instead of your fingerprint, but it’s just a biometric lock), it doesn’t make the phone more useful than TouchID did, it is definitely not aesthetic (see: the tab), it is not as little design as possible (it’s as much as possible), and it is not honest. It just seems like the result of Apple’s own inability to solve a problem that it created for itself. Since its initial plans to make TouchID work under the display didn’t pan out, it had to find some other new authentication tech and build a narrative to justify it. I imagine the process went more or less like this:
Ive: “Guys, China called. We can’t make TouchID work on that big ass screen.”
Schiller: “Hmm, what about if we use facial identification?”
Ive: “We tried. The cameras on top look terrible.”
Schiller: “So how can we conceal our inability to make a truly elegant design?”
Cook: “GUYS, GUYS! Don’t worry, we can smoke-and-mirror the hell out of this with 3D PUPPETS.”
[Craig Federighi comes jumping into the boardroom dressed in a full chicken suit.]
We didn’t need FaceID and its depth map of 30,000 invisible dots to unlock our phones or pay for a cab. TouchID worked just fine.