The revelation that the iPhone X, or at least its technologies, were meant to appear in 2018, has answered loads of questions, or maybe raised a few more. In a sense, it also confirms rumors dating from 2016 that Apple was working full bore on a special iPhone to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Apple’s best-selling smartphone.
Yes, I said best-selling. True, such companies as Samsung will sell more handsets overall, but those numbers are spread over a number of different models. With its limited product lineup, the iPhone blows away the competition. Sales of the Samsung Galaxy series don’t even come close.
Now before I cover what Dan Riccio, head of hardware engineering at Apple, disclosed in a Mashable interview with editor Lance Ulanoff, it’s important to point out that the iPhone X isn’t being referred to as a 2018 model, although it seems Apple could follow the auto industry routine and do precisely that.
So many customers buy a motor vehicle that’s technically the following year’s model. 2018 sales began as early as August or September of this year. Sometimes a car will be introduced in the spring but that’s so late in the year, it must be identified for the following year.
It means that if you buy a 2017 model in the middle of that year, it’s already destined to be a closeout model, and should thus be heavily discounted. I say that as someone who has purchased new cars over the years well into the model year, and not felt that I was somehow being gypped, except, of course, when the next year’s model is expected to sport major changes. But that often means you can save even more when you make a deal on an older vehicle.
In any case, in that Mashable interview, Riccio says such features as an OLED display and Face ID were meant for 2018, but Apple decided to accelerate development, which meant they had to make some hard choices really fast. That included settling on OLED and Face ID, and never considering Touch ID, or the Home button. “We actually locked the design, to let you know, in November . We had to lock it early.”
The use of an edge-to-edge display was, according to marketing head Philip Schiller, something that Apple has wanted to do since the very first iPhone.
Does this all come across to you as corporate hype? A decision to accelerate development to go all in on new technologies, and to work overtime to get it right? It has such dramatic elements, it’s a little difficult to believe, but I’ll grant that Apple is giving us what’s essentially the truth, perhaps somewhat sanitized for marketing reasons, or maybe not
What is surprising in this story is the admission that the OLED display was being built by Samsung, and that the two companies worked together to perfect the design. This all happens as Apple is still fighting with Samsung in the courts the latter’s alleged theft of iPhone design elements.
Then again, Apple and Microsoft were embroiled in a series of legal entanglements in the 1990s over the Mac OS interface while, at the same time Microsoft was developing Mac software. But Apple’s tight cooperation with Samsung ought to mean that the two companies are meant to settle the case eventually.
While other smartphones have sported OLED displays in recent years, Apple’s concerns were reportedly about ensuring color accuracy consistent with its other products, and to solve the burn-in problem. The symptom is a remnant of a static image that may or may not be noticeable.
Burn-in was a known problem with CRT and plasma TVs, and there were software fixes for the latter that were designed to somehow massage the retained image away. Supposedly it’s less of an issue with OLED, but still a potential problem. I’ve owned exactly one plasma TV, from Panasonic. There were settings to subtly move a static image around to avoid retention, with the suggestion that a cleaning operation of rapidly flashing images be run periodically. I had the set for six years and never noticed any burn-in effects, even when watching stations, for hours on hand, containing static banners at the bottom of the screen.
Apple being Apple, it had to be prevented somehow. Supposedly that, and color accuracy, were the reasons why there have been no iPhones with OLED displays up until now. It seems credible enough, because nothing otherwise prevented them from using this technology before, except, of course, the ongoing supply problem. Apple is often late with some features until they are perfected. Consider the LTE iPhone. Earlier baseband chips were notoriously power hungry, and Apple didn’t want to reduce battery life on products where it was already regarded by some as too brief.
The story about the development of the iPhone X has the right amount of dramatic flair to be enjoyable and all. As early adopters await the arrival of their merchandise, it also helps, for the time being at least, to drown out the constant fear-mongering about the product that polluted tech sites for well over a year, even before the iPhone 7 arrived.
Apple’s publicity machine is in full force now. If the 4Q 2017 financials are positive, Apple’s guidance for the current quarter is favorable, and supplies of the iPhone X are decent, it’s shaping up as a great holiday season for our favorite fruit company.
So would I buy an iPhone X, assuming I had the extra cash around? It’s a tempting prospect. Maybe I should start saving pennies and give up on such “luxuries” as a cup of coffee. Or maybe I should wait until the real 2018 models arrive.
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