Do iOS devices get slower over time? No and yes.

Software

Futuremark, in a recent post:

Last week, a story went viral that claimed Apple was intentionally slowing down older iPhones to push people to buy its latest models.

The claim was based on data which shows Google searches for “iPhone slow” spiking dramatically with the release of each new model.

And while plenty of reputable sites debunked the logic of that claim, no one looked at actual performance data to tell the true story.

Fortunately, we have plenty of real-world data we can use. Since 2016, we have collected more than a hundred thousand benchmark results for seven different iPhone models across three different versions of iOS.

These benchmark results provide a unique insight into the everyday performance of each iPhone model over time. And, as you’ll see, there are no signs of a conspiracy.

As Shawn King remarks at The Loop, This is a charge that has been leveled at Apple since they released the second iPhone.

While logic and data have demonstrated that there’s no one at Apple with a ‘remote Slow Down switch’ aimed at older iPhones and iPads, like other people I have observed two main phenomena related to performance and older iOS devices:

  1. After installing the latest iOS version on an older, yet still supported device, there is usually a perceived slowdown in the responsiveness of the interface. Certain actions and UI animations appear slower, and the device appears to be struggling more when carrying out certain tasks.
  2. Performance of older devices that aren’t getting system updates anymore appears to degrade over time anyway.

The most likely explanation for №1 is that the latest version of iOS is especially tailored to work at its best on the latest hardware, and while I’m sure there are optimisations in place to make it work just as fine on older, supported devices, the user may still notice the occasional slowdown or delay here and there during everyday use. Except for extreme cases, users simply get accustomed to the new ‘feel’ of the latest iOS on their devices, and it all becomes a non-issue over time. It happened for me in the past after installing iOS 4 on the iPhone 3G, or after installing iOS 7 on the iPhone 4, to make just a couple of the most classic examples.

№2 is worse, as I’ve observed personally. It’s worse because, over time, you notice it more, not less. Especially if you’re still using iOS devices with a 32-bit architecture (all iPads that came before the iPad Air; the first iPad Mini; all iPhones that came before the iPhone 5s; all iPod touch models that came before the 6th-generation iPod touch).

What happens, I think, is that as third-party apps get updated, they are generally optimised for the most current iOS version; new features are added to work with the latest iOS version; compatibility and bug fixes are tuned so that the app can work at its best with, say, iOS 11. But when the system requirements of that same app are, e.g., “iOS 9.0 and higher”, your devices that are still running iOS 9.3.5 or 10.3.3 get that update too, and from personal experience in most cases that updated app won’t be as optimised for older devices as it was before. Sometimes in the release notes for an app update you notice entries like Fixed crash on launch under iOS 9, or Fixed crash issues on older iOS versions, which I find somewhat telling of the optimisation process behind the scenes.

Mind you, I’m quite understanding towards developers. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of work and debugging they have to do constantly to prevent anything from breaking on the many different iOS devices out there. Still, sometimes I wish I could revert to a previous version of an app, because it felt more stable and responsive before an update which was meant to improve things on newer iOS versions anyway.

Another factor that has impacted performance on older iOS devices more and more noticeably over time is Web advertising. Content blockers, which appeared in iOS 9 for the first time, don’t work on 32-bit iOS devices. Browsing the Web on older iPads and iPhones has progressively become a pain because the browser has to render everything and execute all ad-related scripts. I’ve had my iPad 3 since 2012: all Web-related tasks have slowed down considerably in five years. My workaround is to use Brave, the only browser with ad-blocking and script-blocking capabilities built in (i.e. they don’t depend on system content blockers, so the browser blocks ads even on 32-bit iOS devices — read this past article for more information).

The issue, however, persists with all apps with an internal Web browser using the system’s UIWebView to render Web pages. So, even if an app is still usable in iOS 9 on an older device such as my iPad 3 — like Flipboard, for example — whenever I need to access one or more Web pages from inside the app, and such Web pages are riddled with ads as it happens so often now, the app’s performance is noticeably impacted. Sometimes this even leads to freezes and hangs where the device stops responding entirely and a force-reboot is needed. In extreme cases I witnessed the device self-rebooting, even.

The most unfortunate device in this position is the iPad 2 running iOS 9.3.5, whose overall performance has taken a huge hit due to both these factors (poorly optimised apps, and Web advertising slowing down Web browsing). Every time I pick up my wife’s iPad 2, I keep thinking that Apple should have never allowed this device to be updated to iOS 9 in the first place.

To conclude: as Futuremark demonstrated through all the data they’ve gathered, no, hardware performance in and of itself doesn’t degrade over time. CPUs and GPUs still perform today as they performed when the device was new. It’s the software that, update after update, becomes more demanding and impacts performance more and more severely. Sometimes the drop is just limited to specific areas or apps. In other cases, like with the iPad 2, the snowball effect is such that the whole device becomes barely usable.

But look at the bright side

Tech Life

It’s been a while since I read an article by Joshua Topolsky. The last one was probably before he started The Outline, which is a space I rarely visit because I find its design to be a bit confusing and visually abrasive. Coincidentally, these are the terms he uses to describe iOS 7’s design in his latest Apple is really bad at design piece.

Here’s the twist — I liked Topolsky’s article. His tone does come across as the tone of someone with an axe to grind, but you should try to ignore it while you read, and focus on the points Topolsky makes, because most of them are valid. In certain places he gets a bit carried away with the nitpicking (I do find the Back button on the status bar a useful UI detail, for example), and in others he appears to enjoy a vocabulary of destructive criticism, but the result isn’t just a checklist of baseless observations.

Dave Mark at The Loop, writing about Topolsky’s piece:

I find it remarkable when people write with judgment, with venom. Joshua Topolsky’s “Apple is really bad at design” post is full of both.

The tone is over the top, the headline clickbait, and there’s a constant sense of “Apple is doomed” and “Steve would never have allowed this” that there seems no shortage of in the press.

Superficially, maybe. But this wasn’t the takeaway I got from that essay. Topolsky’s conclusion is harsh but not outrageous:

But with victory often comes complacency, and in Apple’s case, that complacency comes in the form of design without thought, a self-congratulatory sense of your gadget stores as “town squares,” and an increasing lack of concern for what is coming next.

Over the years, Apple has accustomed us to good design; the company has really turned expressions like easy and intuitive interface, and constant attention to detail into trite-but-true attributes of its approach at designing hardware and software. Apple has been offering premium products whose premium status is usually justified by their overall better quality when compared with similar products from the competition. In my 28 years as a Mac user, I’ve always found Apple’s computers and devices to have better-designed internals, better-quality materials, better manufacturing, simpler and clearer operating systems (and user interfaces), and more. The sum of these qualities has always been a superior user experience.

When you have this kind of reward, you happily spend more when choosing Apple products. It’s an investment. In my experience, the reliability and longevity of Apple hardware alone have quickly repaid whatever sum I may have spent at the time of purchase.

But, as Topolsky writes, things [have] changed.

Every now and then I get the occasional message from long-time readers of my blog, in which I’m told I’ve been getting more critic of Apple in recent times. That I used to ‘defend Apple much more in the past’, implying that I was somewhat more forgiving and accommodating towards certain things Apple had done (design choices, strategic choices, and so forth).

The thing is, back then I felt that Apple was making the right choices in several contexts, but that a lot of people (even certain long-time, inflexible Mac users) didn’t understand such choices. The absence of the floppy drive in the first iMac. The iPod as a potentially revolutionary device. The transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X. The transition from PowerPC to Intel architecture. I spent long months full of long days as a consultant explaining Apple to bewildered users and clients who, more than once, thought that the company was “losing its mind”. And so on and so forth. If you’ve ever done tech consulting and/or support, you’ve surely been there too.

But now — now I’m criticising Apple more not because I suddenly developed a grudge against the company. On the contrary, I still care a lot about Apple. I’m surrounded by Apple hardware at home, I’m still quite invested in the ecosystem, and even vintage and obsolete machines are put to good use in the household. It’s because I care that I feel, strongly, that Apple should be criticised — mercilessly, provided it’s informed criticism — whenever there’s something truly worth criticising. And in recent times I’ve been more critic of Apple because I simply think there’s more to criticise.

There are questionable design choices, both in the hardware and software departments. There has been a drop in hardware and software quality, manifesting in more units with hardware issues, and long-standing software bugs both in Mac OS and iOS. There have been moments where I truly felt — and in some areas still feel — a lack of direction, or at least a lack of focus on Apple’s part. And, as I already mentioned multiple times in the past, I think that part of that perceived lack of focus stems from Apple wanting to have their hands in too many pies. Or having to take care of too many product lines in this unstoppably-growing ecosystem, and ending up neglecting some (the Mac) to concentrate their attention to others (iOS devices, Apple Watch). All this, of course, within a self-imposed schedule that has got too tight for Apple’s own good.

Since Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite, Mac OS X versions have felt more rushed, with the introduction of features that ended up breaking something in the older code, or changes introduced for no apparent good reason (discoveryd) that created new unnecessary bugs. For me, from OS X 10.9 Mavericks onward, updating to the next version has gone from ‘no-brainer’ to ‘let’s carefully evaluate costs and benefits’ or ‘let’s wait at least a couple minor system updates before diving in’.

But enough with this. The real point I want to make here is that there’s something worse than the kind of criticism Topolsky makes. It’s the attitude of those tech writers who make excuses for Apple. Those who always have to find some silver lining even when Apple does something ridiculous like the iPhone X’s notch. Those who respond with But look at the bright side… Those who reassure you that no matter what, Apple has a plan or must have a reason behind this. Those who — sometimes in an involuntarily condescending way — suggest we should be patient and understanding. Apple is notoriously iterative, so it’s gonna get better. Next round. It’ll get better.

Well, no thanks. To hell with this attitude. You feel like paying more than $1,000 for the design experiment that is the iPhone X? Be my guest. You feel like investing time in trying and troubleshooting Mac OS and iOS public betas, having your Mac’s filesystem changed to then have to revert back to the old one because something something incompatibilities etc.? To then end up with Golden Master versions that are no less buggy? Feel free to do so[1]. You’re free to rationalise aloud while you do all that, but don’t make excuses for Apple. I expect more. For what I have to pay, I expect more. I expect the striving for excellence that has been touted for years. I expect great products whose premium prices are amply justified by their sheer quality and the guaranteed seamless productivity they provide. I expect the attention to detail. I expect thoughtful design choices. I expect the It Just Works to just work. And I know it’s not asking too much, exactly because these are all things Apple used to provide everywhere, consistently.

Making excuses for Apple means behaving like enablers. It’s an invitation to that complacency Topolsky, with reason, warns against.

 


  • 1. Ignore this part of my rant if you’re a Mac/iOS developer, of course. It’s your job to stay up-to-date with the hardware and software. ↩︎

 

280

Tech Life

Twitter is testing a longer limit for tweets — 280 characters instead of 140. Aliza Rosen and Ikuhiro Ihara, on Twitter’s official blog, write:

Trying to cram your thoughts into a Tweet – we’ve all been there, and it’s a pain.

Interestingly, this isn’t a problem everywhere people Tweet. For example, when I (Aliza) Tweet in English, I quickly run into the 140 character limit and have to edit my Tweet down so it fits. Sometimes, I have to remove a word that conveys an important meaning or emotion, or I don’t send my Tweet at all. But when Iku Tweets in Japanese, he doesn’t have the same problem. He finishes sharing his thought and still has room to spare. This is because in languages like Japanese, Korean, and Chinese you can convey about double the amount of information in one character as you can in many other languages, like English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French.

We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean).

I think this is a good idea. I was a very happy user of App.Net (2012–2017), and one of the most pleasant features of that social network was that each post had a limit of 256 characters. Having stayed both on Twitter and App.Net during the entire lifetime of the latter, I can say the difference in communication and exchanges in the two networks was striking.

In ADN shutting down in March — A love letter and a rant I wrote:

ADN [short for App Dot Net] felt like the early days of Twitter, possibly even better. A basic feature like having 256 characters available in a post, instead of Twitter’s 140, turned out to make a huge difference. Conversations lasted longer, got deeper, and with longer posts, people could explain themselves in a much better way than the average quipping in Twitter’s exchanges.

Still, Twitter being Twitter, some reactions to this upcoming new character limit have been ridiculous. The argument that it’s a bad idea because the 140 character limit encourages brevity and there’s creativity in constraints and so on and so forth — this argument sounds a bit weak to me. Having to express yourself in 140 or fewer characters may have encouraged brevity and all, but it has also led to misunderstandings, oversimplifications, ambiguity, and sometimes even illegible tweets because of too many abbreviations and acronyms employed to cram a desperately overflowing thought in that silly limit.

Such limit, such constraint, has also led to another, more recent habit: resorting to the so-called ‘tweetstorm’, a chain of tweets used to express a thought or point of view more articulately. Sometimes it’s also referred to as a ‘thread’, maybe to differentiate it from the typical rant-oriented nature of the tweetstorm. It’s all good in theory, but when you stumble on tweetstorms/threads made of 30 to 45 tweets, you start wondering if perhaps there’s a better platform to indulge in such verbosity. Like — I don’t know — a blog?

Anyway, like I said on Twitter, having 280 characters instead of 140 doesn’t necessarily mean you have an obligation to be verbose. But it is indeed an opportunity to be more articulate and communicative. If brevity is your forte, I’m sure you’ll still be able to deliver your snark in 140 or fewer characters.

Returning to my aforementioned article on App.Net from January 2017, I also wrote:

The whole atmosphere was different than Twitter’s. To me, it felt more like certain close-knit forums or mailing lists or user groups driven by people who share the same passions, willing to help and have a conversation. I felt a level of camaraderie and ‘tight ship’ I never really experienced on Twitter. ADN felt like a place where people paid attention and cared, not a social network where basically everyone shouts and spills sarcasm from their pedestal, broadcasting themselves more than having a real two-way conversation, like on Twitter (with exceptions, sure, but I have to generalise here, you understand).

Among the things that contributed to give App.Net that atmosphere of community, I would mention the fact that App.Net users were magnitudes fewer than Twitter users — for a long while there were no free accounts on App.Net; having to pay even a small amount of money monthly or annually certainly acted as a filter and subsequently as an incentive to ‘keep the place tidy’ and give it your best. But the longer character limit compared with Twitter’s undoubtedly played a significant part in creating a better social environment. A less crowded place, with users expressing themselves better thanks to longer posts meant having to parse a richer timeline that also progressed at a slower pace than Twitter’s. This was good because you could catch up with your timeline easily, and you could even take a peek at the Global timeline and maybe find someone interesting to follow. On Twitter, I gave up glancing at the Global timeline about two weeks after joining (and it was March 2008; if I joined today, trying to find someone to follow by looking at the Global timeline would be an exercise in futility from day one).

However, I suspect that having such features in place since the beginning (paid accounts, longer posts) was crucial in shaping App.Net’s culture and environment. With this in mind, I would say that extending the limit from 140 to 280 characters for a tweet is something that should have been implemented sooner. Twitter today has a very characteristic culture, nature, attitude. When I manifested my optimism in Twitter users getting more articulate and communicative thanks to this change, one of my followers quipped: Why is it that articulate and communicative are not the words that come to mind when discussing Twitter? He’s right, and he’s directly referencing that culture, nature, and attitude that have been shaping Twitter over the years. Sarcasm, snarky remarks, quick exchanges rather than meaningful conversations, misunderstandings, provocations, bullying, abuse…

Maybe having soon the ability to write longer tweets won’t be enough to change the more toxic corners of Twitter, but to the person who tweeted something along the lines of OMG what am I gonna do with 280 characters? I’ll say: Try to do better.

8 & X

Tech Life

Next things first

It’s like standing on a train station platform: the iPhone 8 is the last train coming in from the past. The iPhone X is the first train going out to the future. Or, if you prefer another image, it’s a relay race: the iPhone 8 arrives to the designated point, then passes the baton to the iPhone X. We’re witnessing the transition, the rite of passage. It’s a feeling I’ve been having since the Apple event keynote ended the other day, and I started thinking about next year and the iPhone naming scheme. What are they going to do? Introduce an iPhone 9 when they’ve already introduced the iPhone Ten? Introduce an iPhone 11? ‘Nine’ feels out of place — and sequence — while ’11’ just feels weird to me, I can’t exactly say why. Even when there’s a tag line — “Turning iPhone to 11” — that practically writes itself, though it sounds trite after iOS 11.

In presenting the iPhone X, Apple has insisted on the concept that this iPhone is the future, so my cautious prediction for next year is that we’ll see a new iPhone, that it will have the same design as the iPhone X, and come in two sizes: big and smaller; the two models will be called just “iPhone” and “iPhone Plus”. And, just like this year, if people prefer to stick with the older design for some more time, the 8 and 8 Plus will still be available at slightly reduced prices. If Apple solves the notch problem (more on this in a moment), these two iPhones won’t have it. Otherwise they’ll still feature the notch, and it will go away the year after.

This is just a ‘gut prediction’ and I may end up being horribly wrong, but this is the scenario that has been playing in my head these days, and it makes some sense to me.

The notch

Let’s talk about that notch right away. First from a hardware standpoint, then from a software standpoint. In case you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, what’s been called the ‘notch’ in the ongoing debate is this part of the iPhone X:

The notch

It’s the section at the top of the device containing all the array of front-facing cameras and sensors. The part that prevents the iPhone X from being ‘all screen’, despite what Apple writes at the beginning of the iPhone X page as you scroll down to have the usual feature overview.

The tech in the notch

From a hardware perspective, the cameras and sensors in that part of the iPhone couldn’t have realistically been placed anywhere else, so what do you do if you want an edge-to-edge display? You either have the display reach them, surround them; or you maintain a minimum of bezel on the ‘front’ and ‘chin’ of the phone, and leave them out of the display area.

Here are two different approaches from the competition. In the Essential Phone, the display reaches and surrounds the front camera:

Essential phone
Image: Android Central

While Samsung, in their Galaxy S8 line, prefer to have an edge-to-edge display wrapping the sides of the phone, while leaving bezels on the top and bottom that are thin enough to maintain an overall sleek design, but thick enough to leave the array of front camera, sensors, microphone, etc., outside the display:

Samsung Galaxy S8
Image: Phone Arena

Well, I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I actually prefer these two design choices over what Apple has done with the iPhone X. Like with the notch on the iPhone X, my eye is immediately attracted by the Essential Phone’s front camera, ‘breaking’ the display’s continuity there in the middle. Yet I think that it’s small enough to get enough out of the way aesthetically, and not be a hindrance to the phone’s user interface. More information can be displayed both to the left and right of the camera. To be fair, Apple had too much technology to cram there to achieve a similar, less visually annoying result. Then why not opt for a Samsung-inspired approach? I have to agree with Mike Rundle here: The S8 family of phones with the Infinity edge screen simply look more futuristic than the iPhone X.

Reshuffling the gestures

The lack of Home button has triggered a general reshuffling of a series of common gestures iPhone users were familiar with since iOS 6 and iOS 7.

  • Now you ‘go Home’ by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.
  • Which is exactly like the gesture that was used to trigger Control Centre up to now.
  • So how do you invoke Control Centre on the iPhone X? By swiping down from the top.
  • But not from anywhere on the top: from the top right corner.
  • Because if you swipe down from the top left corner you pull down Notification Centre.

Note that these revised gestures apply only to the iPhone X. Since the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus still sport a Home button, on these models (I assume) the gestures are the same we’ve been familiar with so far.

Two things, mostly, puzzle me:

1. The primary function of Control Centre has always been to act as a quick shortcut to some of the most used controls. Invoking it by swiping up from the bottom of the display is a very intuitive, fast, and handy gesture. Moreover, it can be easily carried out with one hand no matter how big the iPhone is. It works as well and as reliably on the 4-inch display of the iPhone SE as it does on the 5.5-inch display of the ‘Plus’ iPhones. By changing it to a swipe down from the top right corner of the display, it has become a gesture that can comfortably be accomplished only with two hands (unless you have very big hands or you have enough dexterity to slide the iPhone down a bit and then swipe down with your thumb, but I contend it’s still slower than just swiping up from the bottom). Just look at the Design and Display subsection of the iPhone X page on Apple’s website; scroll down a bit until you reach the heading Intuitive gestures make it easy to get around and select the Control Center animation; you’ll see the gesture is carried out with two hands.

2. If the iPhone X marks Apple’s next direction, and the future iPhones won’t have a Home button, and the new gesture to enter the springboard once Face ID gives access is essentially Swipe up to open, then I don’t get why deprecate the Slide to unlock gesture, present since the beginning and removed in iOS 10 in favour of Press Home to open. I know that Press Home to open is going to stay a while longer given that all the other iPhone models in production (SE, 6s/6s+, 7/7+, 8/8+) still have a Home button, but this doesn’t look like having a clear, forward-thinking plan, gesture-wise. More like a mixture of arbitrariness (the change from iOS 9 to iOS 10 with regard to Slide to unlock and the gestures to navigate Today View, Notification Centre, bringing up the camera from the lock screen, etc.), and compromise (the reshuffling of said gestures on iOS 11 on the iPhone X is a direct consequence of changes and compromises in the hardware design).

Owning’ the notch, and design challenges for developers

In the Human Interface Guidelines for the iPhone X, Apple explicitly recommends developers to avoid trying to hide the notch. It’s curious, yes? Because the effect when you mask it with a black background makes for a beautiful detail, and the iPhone X gains a lot in elegance. Since the OLED screen returns true blacks, the notch positively disappears.
Invisible notch

I don’t really subscribe to Vlad Savov’s theory that “Apple is turning a design quirk into the iPhone X’s defining feature”:

Instead of trying to design its way around the notch — which could have been done by distributing the iPhone X sensors more widely in a slimmer, full-width top bezel — Apple chose to have it there.

And:

Apple took a design limitation and decided to lean into it: as with the Essential Phone’s signature camera cutout, the iPhone X sensor array is cut out from the screen deliberately and purposefully.

And:

Jony Ive, the longtime chief of Apple design, introduced the iPhone X by saying Apple’s goal has always been to have a phone that’s all screen and nothing else. If you peruse the company’s patent applications, you’ll find a litany of technological explorations of “hidden” sensor tech (such as a camera) that sits behind the screen. Apple is even reported to have pushed back iPhone X production by a month in its desperate efforts to integrate Touch ID under the device’s display. Ive is perfectly sincere when expressing Apple’s ultimate design goal, however technical limitations are clearly forcing his team to make a compromise. So what Apple chose to do was lean into that compromise and turn it into a branding asset.

Well, of course Apple has to present a confident attitude towards the notch and the design statement it represents. Jonathan Ive would perhaps use the term ‘unapologetic’ to describe the presence of that notch. Embracing compromises can be bold all you want, but doesn’t change the fact that they’re compromises. All UI examples I’ve seen so far of apps in landscape mode on the iPhone X keep emphasising one thing: the notch is a quirk, and an annoying one at that. It is a design stopgap I believe Apple can’t wait to get rid of. I still think that in two iterations — maybe as soon as one — this class of iPhone will truly be ‘all screen’.

The iPhone X also brings new challenges to iOS developers, and not just because of the notch. Check what Marco Arment, among others, has been saying on Twitter:

  • iPhone X breaks most of Overcast’s UI. I’m going to have to significantly redesign major portions of the app. [Source]
  • The X’s biggest UI-design problem for me isn’t the notch — it’s the home indicator and the rounded screen corners. [Source]
  • iPhone UIs basically can’t use the four corners anymore. That’s not a small deal. We’re going to have to add a lot of margins everywhere. [Source]
  • Will be challenging to have the same UI scale between the iPhone SE, 6/7/8, Plus, and X. SE owners will get the worst UIs forced on them. [Source]
  • It was already a big pain to support landscape on iPhones — now it’s even worse. I bet most apps just drop iPhone landscape support. [Source]
  • Adopting UIs for the X isn’t an unreasonable technical burden. The API gives us the layout metrics. It’s a major design challenge. [Source]

At this point I’m really hoping, for the sake of everybody involved, that Apple’s plan for the next years is to settle on iPhones with the design aesthetic of the iPhone X, but without the notch, and available at different sizes. A sort of hardware design uniformity we’re now seeing with the iPad line. This would in turn bring more uniformity on the software front, both with regard to user interaction/gestures, and with regard to designing iOS app interfaces that work consistently for all iPhones. (This is entering the realm of daydreaming, but can you imagine an iPhone line of truly ‘all screen’ notch-less models, offered in 4-inch, 4.7-inch and 5.5/5.8-inch variants? Boring, perhaps, but quite elegant and consistent if you ask me.)

What about the iPhone 8?

IPhone 8

Design-wise, the iPhone 8 is the culmination of what Apple introduced with the iPhone 6. I for one loved the glass back of the iPhone 4 — which I still consider the best design in ten years of iPhone history — and seeing it coming back with the iPhone 8 is just great. This glass is certainly more robust than what Apple could offer back in 2010: the Design subsection of the iPhone 8 page on Apple’s website states that: The front and back feature custom glass with a 50 percent deeper strengthening layer. A new steel substructure and a stronger, aerospace‑grade 7000 Series aluminum band provide additional reinforcement. And an oleophobic coating lets you easily wipe off smudges and fingerprints.

Another detail I personally like a lot is the progressive disappearance of those ungainly ‘antenna lines’ on the back of the iPhone that first appeared with the iPhone 6:

Antenna lines iPhone6s 7 8
From top to bottom: iPhone 6s, iPhone 7, iPhone 8

It’s a pity that returning to a glass back design means there isn’t a colour choice as cool as what I consider iPhone 7’s matte black (I do look forward to a Product RED iPhone 8, though), but — and this is a first for me — I find the gold option in the iPhone 8 unusually attractive. It is certainly due to the glass on the back, but I find it to have a really beautiful shine and to look more refined and less ostentatious than the gold of previous iPhones.

Overall, I have fewer things to say about the iPhone 8, and not because it’s less interesting to me. As I said at the beginning, the iPhone 8 represents tradition, the ‘up to now’, while the iPhone X represents the next step, the ‘from now on’ — and it’s obvious that the X is getting more attention than the 8. Its design is polarising, and Face ID is a new authentication technology that has started another lively debate among the most privacy-conscious.

I don’t have much to say about the iPhone 8 because I think it’s simply a great phone. There’s nothing I don’t like about it. While I love the iPhone 5 / 5S / SE form factor and design, and was looking into upgrading from my current iPhone 5 to an iPhone SE, what the iPhone 8 offers today performance-wise seems a more future-proof choice. Especially for someone like me who doesn’t change his iPhone every two years. Chances are my next iPhone has to last me at least 3 to 4 years, and getting an iPhone SE now means purchasing a phone with a CPU that is already two generations behind. I’m not a fan of big phones, but at this point I’m willing to compromise on size to acquire a more powerful iPhone.

So why the iPhone 8 and not the X?

For starters, the iPhone X’s design has left me more underwhelmed than I expected. And this has nothing to do with the rumours and leaks that correctly anticipated most of the design and features. The notch, and what it does to the upper part of the display, bothers me. It’s simply something I cannot ignore. For me it’s more or less a deal-breaker detail as the keyboard in the new MacBooks and MacBook Pros.

Then there’s the size. Physically it’s not as big as an iPhone 6/6s/7/8 Plus, but it’s bigger than a 4.7-inch iPhone, which is my limit size for handling a phone somewhat comfortably.

I’m not particularly interested in the dual-camera system and related features either. When it comes to photography, I’m pretty much a traditionalist, and still enjoy using film cameras plus an older Nikon DSLR which gives me pretty satisfactory results (including, you know, real bokeh). The camera in the regular iPhone 8 is more than enough for what I need in a phone.

You may think that I’m choosing the iPhone 8 over the iPhone X because of Face ID, but I’m actually okay with it. In my head, a fingerprint and a face are just biometrics, and the way the iPhone stores them is practically equivalent. I may have been criticising Apple more in recent times, but I do trust the company on this front, and I do believe they wouldn’t have debuted Face ID and had it replace Touch ID in the iPhone X if they hadn’t considered the technology ready to ship. Also, Apple’s famous stance on customer privacy is such that I really wouldn’t mind using and trusting Face ID.

Last but not least, price is the ultimate deal-breaker for me. Here in Spain, the 64 GB iPhone X will cost €1,159, while the 256 GB model will cost €1,329. I’m about to invest roughly €1,600 on a new Mac. I just can’t justify prices in the €1,100–1,300 range for a phone, not even an iPhone. I would think about such an investment if iPhones had similar upgrade cycles as Macs, but they don’t. Furthermore, since I believe the iPhone X is a transitional model, design-wise, I’m not going to spend that much money on what feels like a temporary design (I was about to use the term ‘beta’, but maybe it’s too harsh.)

In choosing the iPhone 8, what I’d miss most of the X are probably the OLED display and Face ID, but those aren’t must-have features for me, either; certainly not worth spending €350 more to have them (I think those €350 would be better spent on an Apple Watch, for example; by adding €50 you could even get a base iPad 5). Overall, I consider the iPhone X an interesting, but transitional and expensive device. I would rather invest on it later on, when the design settles, the UI quirks are ironed out, and it can really be an ‘all screen’ iPhone.

→ Why talk of a $1000 iPhone is not overblown

Handpicked

Jan Dawson, in an article titled Why Talk of a $1000 iPhone is Overblown:

There’s been a lot of talk about Apple releasing a $1,000 iPhone next week, and a lot of pushback from financial analysts in particular on the idea that people would actually buy such a thing. […] But the reality is that talking about a phone in these terms is a bit old-fashioned at this point regardless of the actual price, especially in a US context.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, but what I took away from Dawson’s piece is that, since the iPhone is more and more frequently offered through instalment plans and leasing, the fact that the upcoming iPhone X will be likely priced at $1000 or more doesn’t really matter; that it doesn’t have the same impact it would have if paid upfront in full.

I think this is nonsense.

I think $1000 for a phone is a stupidly high and unjustified price. You can talk about the great technology and that an iPhone is a powerful computer in your pocket all you want. I still think that $1000 — and the rumours talk about this as being the entry price — is an insanely high premium to pay for an iPhone. And since I live in Europe, that premium, once converted to euros and inflated by additional taxes, will be even higher.

Sure, monthly instalments make things more tolerable, but that’s hardly a justification for putting up with this kind of prices. By that logic, who cares if Apple next introduces a $2000 phone? You just pay a bit more every month. Except expenses are expenses, no matter how you frame them. I know, it’s a bit old-fashioned as a concept, but still.

It’s also not uncommon that instalment plans involve interest rates. So that $1000 iPhone X, which may be the €1200 iPhone X in Europe, may end up costing you €1500 after 2 years. It. Is. Insane.

Oh, but the value. Again, I cautiously agree: you get value from Apple products over the long term. This is especially true for Macs (I’m still using a 2009 MacBook Pro that has always worked very well until recently), and to a certain extent for iPads. But iPhones are another story. Speaking hypothetically, a €1200 iPhone should last you at least 4–5 years to be a valuable investment. We all know that iPhones don’t have that kind of upgrade cycle.

So really any survey that asks about a thousand dollar iPhone is asking the wrong question: the real question is whether customers are willing to pay a little extra (or perhaps none at all) for a great new phone. […]

This is the framing you can expect to see from Apple next week: affordable-looking monthly pricing, with the new phone probably coming in at around $40, or $8–10 more than the iPhone 7 Plus. And that’s going to be a lot more palatable than the “$1000 iPhone” headlines will lead people to believe.

The real questions are: Is $1000 a ridiculous price to ask for a phone? And: Is it worth spending $1000 on an iPhone? My answers are ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively. The fact that there are people willing to spend that sum, whether as a one-off payment or in instalments, doesn’t justify turning these price tiers into the new normal. And frankly I’m appalled that a lot of Apple-oriented tech pundits are okay with it. As Adam Banks succinctly said on Twitter, I do get a bit fed up with tech folk on here assuming $1000 is small change to everyone or if you pay monthly it’s not real money.

The sad thing is, in a few hours the new iPhones will be unveiled, there will be aaahs and ooohs, everyone will be talking about the new features, the new technologies, the better cameras, the infrared sensors, the powerful CPU, and so on and so forth, and this kind of criticism towards the iPhone’s price will be buried under an avalanche of articles and reviews talking about how awesome the iPhone X is.

But price matters. And $1000 or more is simply too much, no matter how you look at it. Talking about this isn’t overblown. I think it’s an aspect we should insist on more frequently. The message Apple should get is Hey, you’re going too far now, and not Here, take my money no matter how much!

(Yeah, wishful thinking.)