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The iPhone X and Muscle Memory

Unlike some reporters who write about things they know nothing about as if the opposite were true, I freely admit that I never never touched an iPhone X. I have read a number of articles on the product from people whom I trust, so I think I have a reasonable handle on what to expect, at least until I have some hands-on experience to report.

So far, aside from what Apple presents on its site, the only direct experiences comes from the journalists who showed up at Apple’s iPhone media event in September. They had, at best, a few minutes to spend with late prototypes of the iPhone X, or maybe the first true production units. For the most part, the reaction was positive enough, although some wondered about the reasoning behind the “notch” at the top of the smartphone.

However, tech pundit Steven Levy, who was one of the first reviewers of the original iPhone X in 2007, was also one of the very few to receive an iPhone X for testing. He offers his early observations in a piece at Wired magazine.

While it’s somewhat short of a full review, there is enough information to get a sense of what it offers, particularly the changes to which you’ll have to become accustomed.

I can believe the OLED display is marvelous, and having a big screen in a smaller case may be a revelation to anyone who finds an iPhone 8 Plus, or a similarly sized handset, a bit daunting. I’ll also avoid the challenge of a price that starts at $999, although the media has made a big deal of Apple’s decision to charge more for a product that costs more to build, not to mention development costs. Besides, monthly payments won’t increase all that much if you opt to purchase one.

Levy makes a huge deal about its “Animojis,” or animated emojis, and the powerful technology that powers them, but I’ll pass.

I’m more interested in the possibilities of day-to-day use, and here’s where Apple no doubt faced some challenges, particularly due to the fact that a key feature of the iPhone, the Home button, is no longer there. Apple has already removed a mechanical button, choosing one that only clicks because of an adjustable Taptic Engine. That was no doubt one of the changes made to make them water resistant; also the loss of the headphone jack that never became the nasty issue the critics ranted about.

As any longtime Apple watcher can testify, the company is not shy about throwing out features when new designs call for a change. So in addition to the lack of a Home button, Touch ID is gone as well. This may be the result of the reports that Apple wasn’t able to successfully embed one beneath the OLED display, or maybe it was destined to depart anyway. A big deal is being made of the Face ID sensor as a more robust replacement.

Together, they mean you have to unlearn a few things. It brings to mind Apple’s decision to offer the iPhone scrolling scheme on Macs, including hiding the scroll bars unless you’re scrolling. I opted to choose the “Always” option, but I grant that Apple felt customers are probably more comfortable for things to work the same on both platforms.

But what about the things that require you to learn some new tricks?

So, without the Home button you have to swipe upwards to accomplish the same result. Doesn’t sound so bad, but, according to Levy, “A little trickier is the swipe-and-stop required to get to the carousel of open apps; it took me awhile to get the hang of pressing down on one of the little cards representing an app in order to evoke a minus sign that allowed me to close it.”

All right, not so bad. The maneuvers aren’t altogether complicated, but what if you have an older or “traditional” iPhone around, or an iPad? Suddenly you may find yourself, as Levy did, using the new actions on your other devices. Instead of placing your finger on the Home button, you expect the unit to unlock by recognizing your face.


Obviously, this situation isn’t a forever thing. You can expect that other iOS gear will, over time, lose their Home buttons and Touch ID. What you master on the iPhone X, you’ll be able to take to your other devices, at least once they are similarly upgraded.

For now, you can expect to have to think twice before acting, unless an iPhone X is your only Apple mobile device. In that case, it won’t matter so much once the moves become natural parts of your muscle memory. In the meantime, the critics will attack Apple for its foolish decision to make changes that, in fact, are necessarily in light of the changed hardware. But to Apple nothing is forever.

This is not an argument not to buy an iPhone X. Levy appears to love the new device, but is making it clear what the tradeoffs are. If you’re uncertain, I suppose you can wait till Apple has sufficient stock at hand to have demo units at their stores — or at third-party shops — so you can try it out for yourself and see what you want to do.

But remember that you are seeing a harbinger of the future at Apple. Things are going to change, and it’s up to the user to decide whether or not those changes are for the better. Apple will get the memo from ongoing sales figures after the initial demand is satisfied.