Let me just get this out of the way up front: If you are perfectly happy with your current phone, stick with it. It is not that you wouldn’t enjoy the new devices. But once the new phone smell has worn off, they will still allow you to make and receive calls, send and receive messages, manage your email, stream your favorite music, and watch videos. Oh, and your pictures will still be stunning and more detailed than you really need them to be.
Your current phone will continue to do all of these things just as well this year as it did last year. You are under no obligation to upgrade. So resist the social pressure to do so. This article is not for you. I applaud you for your decision to stick with what you have, and give you leave to stop reading at this point. As for the rest of us who intend to buy one of the new iPhones recently announced, read on. You have an important decision to make. What follows should help:
End of the line
In almost every way that matters, the iPhone 8 is the end of the line. First, we are going into the fourth year of the same basic exterior design. Yes, there is a glass back. Yes, there is a metal band holding the glass sandwich design together. But the size and shape are so similar, the iPhone 8 is case compatible with the 7. That means your iPhone 7 case will fit the new iPhone 8.
That design is also feature locked. Don’t expect to get dual OIS anytime soon. Don’t expect the smaller size to get the dual cameras of the plus size. Forget about the TrueDepth camera system with Face ID and other benefits. I’m surprised that it got wireless charging. The form-factor is the limiting factor. The iPhone X is a complete redesign. It is not the same old design with a couple of new things bolted on.
The 8 feels like a consolation prize. If Apple could have made and offered the X at the same price point as the 8, there would be no iPhone 8. The iPhone 8 is destined to become the legacy phone like the iPhone SE is now. In some ways, it feels like it is already there.
The future, and present of smartphones
The iPhone X is both the future and present of smartphones. It does hint at a not yet realized future. But in most ways, it acknowledges a present that has advanced faster than anyone expected. AR is both future and present. We can imagine all the promise of AR fulfilled in silicon and code. We can dream up exciting possibilities of what could be if the tech advances as expected.
At the same time, AR is here right now. Tech demos already exists. And serious developers are putting the finishing touches on apps and experiences that will be ready when the iPhone X is released in November. We don’t have to wait. The developers are ready. The OS is ready. And now, the hardware is ready. But the iPhone 8 will join the rest of the iPhone lineup as the last of the iPhones designed before the advent of the AR era.
Tomorrow’s experiences will have iPhone X as a minimum requirement. Apple introduced the iPhone X as the future of smartphones, not just the iPhone. And they were right to do so. It is already happening. Android manufacturers are already starting to migrate away from designs that look like the 10 year old iPhone. Last year’s Google Pixel was a clone of the previous year’s iPhone. This year’s Pixel is likely not going to make the same mistake.
Newer phones are starting to shave off the bezels and ditch the home button. The latest Samsung flagship has more bezel than the iPhone X. But the Essential Phone has less. Neither model has a home button. We don’t have to wait for the future to make these comparisons. We can do so right now with shipping, and soon to be shipping phones in the hands of reviewers right now.
When speaking of the future of smartphones, the iPhone 8 is not even in the conversation. It is not the future of smartphones. It barely holds its place in the present. The iPhone X is the new definition of smartphone, today, and for years to come.
There’s no going back home
The Home button defined the iPhone for the first 10 years of its existence. The Home button in the lower bezel was a part of the generic, iconic shape of smartphones in any context. Just to highlight how big a deal that is, the iconic Home button took the place of the iconic keyboard. The hardware keyboard was not replaced by screen. It was replaced by the Home button.
In the same way that Blackberry users rebelled at the death of the keyboard, many of today’s smartphone users will rebel at the death of the Home button. But the handwriting is not just on the wall. It is all over the iPhone X. The Home button is yesterday’s innovation. The iPhone 8 is its swan song.
As bitter a pill as that is to swallow, the truth is actually worse. Apple never wanted to have a Home button in the first place. It was the compromise they settled on because what they wanted couldn’t be done at the time. Apple has been working on the removal of all buttons from all devices. What they want is nothing but a screen of glass mediating the digital experience of the user. When the neural interface is possible, rest assured that Apple will be leading the way.
The Home button is not Apple’s magic button. It is in the way of the magic button, which is no button at all on an uninterrupted expanse of screen. This button that has become so sacred to so many users was never sacred to Apple. They do not use technology to make things simple. Apple creates simplicity by making technology invisible. What they want is to present you with a piece of glass that you interact with as directly as possible to achieve the desired task. Everything else is an obstacle to be overcome, and eventually removed.
Apple has overcome and removed the Home button. And it is not coming back. At the moment, Apple is engaged in a war to remove buttons from the standard keyboard. The latest MacBook Pro laptops are the first shots fired. They came for the mouse and the trackpad years ago. They are coming for the keyboard. And they have already delivered a death blow to the Home button. The volume buttons can’t be too far behind.
Will the real iOS pleas stand up
I will be writing an article about the state of iOS very soon. But the upshot is that we currently have three distinct shipping versions of iOS across two categories of device: iPad and iPhone. iOS 11 is a completely different animal on the iPad than it is on the iPhone. And iOS 11 on iPhone 8 is completely different from iOS 11 on iPhone X. The different experiences between the iPad and the iPhone are a welcome advance. The differences between the 2 iPhone versions is a problem.
There is no way Apple will continue development for 2 flavors of iPhone operating systems. One is legacy that continues until current devices are no longer supported. The other is the present focus of innovation that takes us into the future. If you are on a phone that has the legacy version of iOS, you will find yourself locked out of all the great new advances just around the corner.
Apple is pushing hard for a gesture-only system. If you insist on sticking with the legacy style, you will fall further behind the gesture-based iPhones. When it is time for you to upgrade, you will be further behind than you would have been had you chosen the newer iOS stream.
There is no doubt in my mind that the version of iOS 11 that is on iPhone X is the real iOS as far as Apple is concerned. Going forward, that is what they are building for. And that is only one part of the challenge. The real problem with going legacy may be developers.
iOS developers love targeting the newest hardware and the latest version of the OS. In the past, this has not been a problem because the operating system was the same code base, design, and operation on all devices. For the first time, this is not the case. Now, developers have to choose. While the vast majority of iPhone users will be on the legacy system for a while, high end iPhone users will be eager to seed their new devices with new apps and capabilities.
One of the factors driving a wedge between the legacy and new flavors of iOS is the fact that the legacy devices will not be able to run the new style of OS. That means that even if you wanted to ease into getting to know the new way of doing things, you won’t be allowed to experiment with it without owning the new style of iPhone.
I do not believe that Apple is going to completely abandon what I am calling the legacy style of OS any time soon. There will be feature and security upgrades for a few years. But there will be more and better offerings for the new style. That is because as far as Apple is concerned, the iOS running on the new iPhone is the real iOS for the real iPhone.
If you get on board right now, there will still be a learning curve. After all, you have spent the last few years developing muscle memory for the way things are done on the iPhone. Very little of that is transferable to the iPhone X. Instead of muscle memory, we are all going to have to develop muscle amnesia.
I suspect that the techie crowd will adjust much more quickly than the general public. But they will still make a lot of noise about how steep the learning curve is. It is not just about learning new behaviors, but unlearning the old ones. The longer you continue with the old behaviors, the harder it will be to transition when Apple decides to drop the old way of doing things altogether.
In some ways, the iPhone 8 is the most inscrutable device Apple has ever made. It is not the best of the best that Apple makes. It is neither the most nor least expensive device. It does not represent the cutting edge of technology. It is expensive, and represents a price hike for that line of phone. It maintains technology that Apple is in the process of deprecating.
It features Touch ID as the authentication method. It was the best authentication method before Face ID was unveiled. Minutes later, Apple was onstage pronouncing that Touch ID was orders of magnitude less secure than the new thing they were presenting. It wasn’t even close. It is the kind of stat you throw out when you are poking the competition about how much worse their old thing is than your new thing.
The iPhone 8 has an LCD scree with Retina display. But let the presentation run a little longer, and you will here Apple touting a much better screen technology with a Super Retina display. The iPhone 8 has a front-facing camera. The iPhone X has a TrueDepth camera. It goes on that way for a long time.
One gets the feeling that Apple is trying to send the not so subtle message that while the iPhone 8 is a nice upgrade for older phones, the phone you really want is the iPhone X. The iPhone 8 is in a strange market position where its presence is hard to justify.
Reasons the iPhone 8 exists
So how does a company find itself in this position? There are many reasons we find ourselves in a world where Apple is promoting both an iPhone 8 and an iPhone X. I seriously doubt that desire is one of them. Apple would have loved to end the classic iPhone style. But they couldn’t just kill it and declare the new iPhone the only iPhone. Here are some of the possible reasons:
- Transitional curves - Major transitions don’t typically happen at sharp right angles. They happen on gently rounded curves. Otherwise, the change in direction would be too abrupt. When Apple removed the headphone jack, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. They let it be leaked to the press long before it happened. We had plenty of time to get used to the idea. The iPhone 8 is clearly a transitional form. It is a transitional point along the way to where we are going, not the destination.
- Short supply - Even if Apple was willing to make a hard right turn in the product line, they couldn’t have done it. They simply could not make enough of the iPhone X to satisfy demand. Had the iPhone X been the only new phone announce, Apple would have lost a whole quarter in revenue trying to produce enough of them to sell. There is no evidence they had any problem manufacturing the iPhone 8.
- Price - For the last many years, Apple has sold a new iPhone with a starting price of $649. The iPhone X starts at $350 higher than the previous price point. The price gap is simply too wide. Had the price gap been $200 and the supply plentiful, Apple might have done it. But between supply and price, there was simply no way.
Reasons a person might choose the 8 anyway
Despite all I have said, there are still a few reasons a person might decide to go with the iPhone 8 over the iPhone X. Here are a few:
- 8 is enough - Despite the existence of the iPhone X, the iPhone 8 is still a very good upgrade, especially if one is coming from a phone that is older than 2 years. In that case, the iPhone 8 is a massive upgrade. The TrueTone display might even be a compelling enough upgrade for iPhone 7 owners. So while it does not represent the top of the line, it is a sufficient upgrade for most people.
- The price is right - For many people, it is time to upgrade their current phone through their carrier. Although the iPhone 8 has a starting price that is $50 more than the iPhone 7, the upgrade will be free, or practically free. The iPhone X will almost certainly carry a stiff deposit. If one is upgrading two phones, that deposit could be prohibitive.
- There’s no place like home - Some will take the attitude that you can pry their Home button out of their cold, dead hands. The Home button is the thing that keeps them buying iPhones. They are afraid they will not be able to learn the new way. And even if they could, they simply have no interest in doing so. As long as Apple offers a phone with a Home button, that is the one they will buy.
- Touch ID - As with the Home button, many people are convinced that Touch ID is the most secure method of personal authentication. They have noticed that everyone else who has tried facial identification has messed it up. They don’t believe that Apple could solve those problems, or that there could be anything better than a fingerprint reader.
While I believe there are good counters to each of these reasons, there is an even better one to be considered: availability. The analysts are projecting that it could be well into 2018 before supply comes within shouting distance of demand. The chances of you actually getting a day 1 iPhone X is very low.
So even if you agree with all of my points, it won’t matter if you can’t get an iPhone X due to lack of availability. The iPhone 8 is here right now. And at the time of this writing, is showing no critical supply issues. That might change as people come to the realization that it is the only new iPhone they might be able to get their hands on this year.
When you combine that fact with the low upgrade price to the iPhone 8, it almost makes sense to go for it. I have a plan that allows me to upgrade twice a year at any time. That means I could get the 8, then later get the X when it becomes available. I would just be out the downpayment and taxes for the 8. If you have the scratch, I approve of this conspicuous geekdom.
I was personally hoping to do something similar myself considering that I need to be able to write about the new iPhones. T-Mobile says I can return it in 20 days for a full refund of deposit and taxes. That should be plenty of time for review purposes. And they don’t seem to mind if I do it.
Despite all the reasons I can come up with to go for the 8, the better thing is to just stick with what you have until the iPhone X is available.
Conclusion: No iPhone for old men
The iPhone X is not your father’s iPhone. He very likely has no interest in owning one. The problem with the iPhone 8 is that it is clearly a placeholder. It is not a phone Apple wanted to make. It is a phone Apple had to make. Had they been able to produce the iPhone X in sufficient quantities at a low enough price point, there would be no iPhone 8.
The news to watch for over the next 12 months will be about how well Apple’s manufacturing and supply chain have adopted to the iPhone X. If they can fine tune the process so they can produce plentiful supply at a low enough cost, we are looking at the last year new iPhones look like the ones from 10 years ago.
That said, I can see a world where there is an iPhone 9 that represents an updated version of the iPhone 8. I do not have confidence that Apple will get its OLED situation handled by the time the next iPhone is due. But I am certain Apple is doing everything in their power to keep that from happening.
The last thing they want to do is create real fragmentation for developers and users. Those devs writing for that TrueDepth array on the front of the phone will have a small addressable market. And users will be confused about which apps they can and can’t run based on their hardware. The alternative is that devs will target the classic style and ignore the iPhone X. In some ways, that would be even worse.
Right now, the iPhone OS is bifurcated. Apple will do everything in their power to reunify the interface. When they do, we all know which they will be dropping. If at all possible, it is better to get on board now. At the very least, avoid investing more money in the style and system that Apple is doing their best to abandon.