Four phones and three years ago, I took the first iPhones to “go big” to the “happiest place on earth” for a road test. It was a watershed year for iPhones, and I started thinking about how best to push them through my brain and out the other side in some way beneficial to the reader.
Most iPhone reviews are done by technically savvy writers that put them through their paces locally or in a lab. This just wasn’t how most people actually use their phones, and that it created a focus on the wrong things.
Instead, what if you took an iPhone to a place where millions of people travel every year and use the absolute crap out of it for several days straight? That, I thought, would lend itself to a much more accurate through line between me fiddling with an iPhone for a few days and what the average buyer might be able to divine about how it might work for them.
The review struck a chord, and it remains the one people talk to me about the most. So I’m back on my…business…and did it again. I’ve had the iPhone X for a week and decided to put it back through the same gauntlet.
Disneyland is a vacation spot that has you using your iPhone like crazy every day. You take pictures, you look up directions, you use it for ticketing and FastPasses for rides. It’s hot and you’re distracted, and if you have kids you’re trying to keep them alive and in proximity while keeping them fed and hydrated enough to actually have fun on vacation. If a character walks by you need to be able to flip your phone up, shoo your kid over to them so they pause for a minute and be able to nail that in-focus shot. You’re bound to get that work call or need to reply to that email while the screen fights a battle against the nuclear fire of our star. Your fingers are greasy with churro grease and sunblock, your battery is getting hammered and there’s (almost) no Wi-Fi. It’s hell week for your phone and still, it just needs to work.
Most importantly, it’s about how the phone works in a practical setting and less about how two bars on a graph compare to one another.
Early last week, I went to Cupertino to pick up the iPhone X. While I was there, I participated in an interview with four Apple executives: SVP of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller; SVP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio; SVP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi and VP of User Interface Design, Alan Dye. I’ll be including some of their relevant answers to questions about the iPhone X’s technology here, but stay tuned later today for the full story of the iPhone X’s development.
“Arguably the toughest challenge that we had is to replace Touch ID,” Apple’s Dan Riccio says. “It was very, very hard. If we were going to replace it we wanted to replace it with something that was at the end of the day both better and more natural.”
Riccio also flatly counters the narrative that Apple was still trying to use Touch ID in the iPhone X this year.
“I heard some rumor [that] we couldn’t get Touch ID to work through the glass so we had to remove that,” Riccio says, answering a question about whether there were late design changes. “When we hit early line of sight on getting Face ID to be [as] good as it was, we knew that if we could be successful we could enable the product that we wanted to go off and do and if that’s true it could be something that we could burn the bridges and be all in with. This is assuming it was a better solution. And that’s what we did. So we spent no time looking at fingerprints on the back or through the glass or on the side because if we did those things, which would be a last-minute change, they would be a distraction relative to enabling the more important thing that we were trying to achieve, which was Face ID done in a high-quality way.”
Going in to this review, my threshold for “success” was whether Face ID worked as well or better than first-generation Touch ID. I didn’t expect it to nail the speed of the second-gen sensor, which is incredibly fast. As long as it landed between the two I would be happy.
Face ID works really well. First, it’s incredibly easy to set up. You choose to enable it and then rotate your nose around the points of a clock twice. That’s it. Second, it worked the vast majority of times I tried it, it never once unlocked using a picture of myself or another person’s face and the failure rate seemed to be about the same as Touch ID — aka almost never. As hoped, it’s definitely faster than the first generation of Touch ID, though perhaps slightly slower than the second gen.
At several points, the unlock procedure worked so well in pitch black or at weird angles that I laughed out loud. You get over the amazement pretty quickly, but it feels wild the first few dozen times you do it.
It works so quickly and seamlessly that after a while, you forget it’s unlocking the device — you just raise and swipe. Every once in a while you’ll catch the Face ID animation as it unlocks. Most of the time, though, it just goes. This, coupled with the new “all swipe” interface, makes using the phone and apps feel smooth and interconnected.
And, more importantly, it enables a whole new set of use cases and behaviors that feel organic, natural and just plain cool.