Something new is going on with Apple, and it is not just the launch of the iPhone X. Rather, it is the way they are staging the launch week hype cycle. Apple is very good at whetting anticipation the week a new iPhone is to be released. The formula has changed. But the effect is the same.
There is usually an update to the site with new information and videos. There is the buzz about shipping information with tracking numbers. And then there are the reviews, typically the main event. Apple tightly controls the rollout of the reviews. There is a first set of reviews by the heaviest of hitters. An hour or two later, other mainstream reviews start rolling out.
This year, there has been a change in the process. Apple brought in bloggers to get some time with the iPhone X. Besides one or two enthusiasts might have heard of, these are unknowns to the general public. There are people of color as well as non-english speaking bloggers.
But the makeup of the people is not the most interesting part. It is the fact that they are getting an early hands-on time with the device at all, and the way they are getting it. These are not full reviews. These bloggers were not allowed to review the iPhone. None of the write-ups or videos contain photos or videos captured from the cameras.
These are specifically very limited first-impression type previews. I noted that these previewers were not the typical Apple press for the most part. One of the people didn’t seem all that familiar with the operation of an iPhone. One mentioned a comparison to an Android phone he used. It is a little bizarre.
It is nice to get an early look at the device. But I mostly find these lightweight previews annoying. They provide little useful information, and are coming from people who clearly have not spent enough quality time with the device for a fully-formed opinion. So even the good things they say about the phone must be taken with some degree of skepticism.
That said, these previews do tell us something by what they fail to mention, or fail to fully flesh out. Here are a few things to look for when the real reviews start rolling out later this week:
How About that OLED Display?
Android phones usually get a pass for their glaring faults. But we have heard a lot about the dumpster fire that is the Pixel 2 XL’s hot garbage display. If the iPhone X display suffered any of the problems plaguing that Google phone, there would be senate investigations into Apple.
Even the best OLED screens have some problems inherent to the technology. Apple has worked hard to eliminate those problems. I have not heard a peep about problems with Apple’s display. Just know that the real reviewers are primed to be hypercritical of any flaw in the display. The least little problem will be gate-worthy. Don’t expect Apple to get praise for fixing age-old problems suffered by every other vendor. But consider it a major technological win if no problems are mentioned.
Can We Live Without the Home Button?
Believe it or not, there are already smartphones on the market that have ditched the Home button. However, I expect to see a lot of handwringing over whether or not it is too soon for Apple to remove the Home button. To be fair, the Home button is a big deal on the iPhone. It has always been a defining part of the iPhone’s identity.
The first iPhone without a Home button will have to prove itself. Some functions have been replaced with gestures that people will have to learn and get used to. Other functions have been remapped to the large Side button. Keep an eye on how much time reviewers spend talking about the challenge of getting used to something new. Only on the iPhone would that be considered a bad thing.
Let the Face ID FUD Parade Begin
I expect gallons of virtual ink to be spilled over Face ID. It is the face-recognizing biometric feature that completely replaces Touch ID: the fingerprint equivalent on current iPhones. There will be endless handwringing over how safe the face data is.
There will also be a lot of comments over the relatively few times it fails to recognize someone’s face while the phone is at an angle not conducive for proper recognition. There will be many stupid stunts to get it to fail, then a page or two on how it is a failure.
It will be the Apple Watch with LTE all over again. Certain reporters like to set up stunts as a device for their reviews. So they took the watch to places that couldn’t get a good signal and showed how bad it was at connectivity. These types of stunts diminish real issues of which consumers should be made aware.
There was a real issue with the Apple Watch. But the reviewers didn’t really care about that. When Apple promptly came out with a fix, no reviewer went back to update their score or recommendation. The public will never know what the real issues were, and that those issues were fixed. That is the sort of thing I expect to see with Face ID.
Is Animoji Really the Main Feature?
Every review will have a video clip of the reviewer using Animoji. That is the feature that allows the user to control an animated character with just their face and voice. Whatever the user does with their face, the character does with startling accuracy. It is one of the best parlor tricks you will see on a smartphone.
What many pundits have done already is try to reduce the iPhone X to that one, very impressive parlor trick. They poo poo it as a one trick pony. They dismiss the feature as frivolous, something that will wear thin over a short period of time. And maybe it will. Or it may be the next revolution in social media. It is the kind of feature everyone will mock until it is copied by their phone manufacturer of choice. For my part, I’m thinking about doing my entire video review in Animoji. We’ll see.
I don’t think much of the pre-reviews. And I’m not sure why Apple is staging it this way. I should have my iPhone X on day one. And It will be the first iPhone I properly review in a long time. I expect the real reviews to hit tomorrow morning. Expect links and commentary about the commentary a few hours after they appear.