If you were paying attention to the pre-event scuttlebutt, Apple’s product launch on Tuesday carried few surprises when it came to specs, features, prices, and names. That removed much of the drama which Apple might have manufactured if it had kept its secrets secret. But as usual, much of the most intriguing aspects of the company’s new lineup weren’t going to be announced onstage anyhow. They’re things Apple isn’t going to tell us, either because they involve uncomfortable truths, unpredictable consumer reactions, and the sort of long-term plans that Apple doesn’t disclose.
Herewith, a few of the questions I had after I sat in the audience for Apple’s show and then got some hands-on time with the new stuff.
1. Will Anyone Prefer LCD Over OLED?
Android phones have had OLED displays for years; early ones looked weirdly, unnaturally vivid, but the current crop of models with screens manufactured by Samsung are pretty darn impressive. On the new iPhones, the difference between the subdued look of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus’s LCD screens and the intensity of the iPhone X’s OLED is striking. I’m guessing far more people will prefer the latter, but it wouldn’t shock me if there’s a certain picky type–the sort of person who wasn’t bothered in the past by the iPhone’s lack of OLED–who will continue to think that an LCD display has a more subtle, iPhone-esque quality.
2. What Are The Chances You’ll Smash A New iPhone By Dropping It?
All the new iPhones sport glass backs rather than aluminum ones, and Apple says that they have “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone, front and back.” The company doesn’t disclose whether that glass is Corning’s famously robust Gorilla Glass, and its phrasing leaves open the possibility that the iPhones’ glass is as durable as that of the most robust other phones on the market, but no more so. Speaking as someone who dropped a glass-backed Samsung Galaxy S8 onto a linoleum floor from only a few inches’ height and shattered it, I remain somewhat wary of phones whose backsides, as well as their fronts, are at risk of damage. Unless both sides really are close to indestructible.
"The iPhone X has glass that won't break"
Me- "hold my beer"
— TracyinAustralia (@Feministnerd) September 13, 2017
3. Will Concerns About Face ID Blow Over?
The arrival of Touch ID in 2013’s iPhone 5s led to pundits talking about grisly scenarios involving bad guys chopping off iPhone owners’ fingers to gain access to their phones. Now the iPhone X’s Face ID is prompting concern about the possibility of police officers pointing an iPhone X at its owner’s face to get in. The worries that people have about new Apple products are often quickly forgotten—either because they they’re not actual problems, or rarely come into play in the real world, or are real but counterbalanced by a feature’s virtues—but we don’t yet know whether this Face ID angst will similarly turn out to be no big whoop once the technology is in the wild.
4. Will The Existence Of The iPhone X Make The iPhone 8 And 8 Plus Look Less Appealing?
I don’t think there’s any question that the X will be the phone most people would buy if price were no object. But I’ve heard people speculate that the fact it’s the new flagship will lead people to look at the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus as being second-class citizens in the lineup, thereby lessening their desirability. That’s not an irrational line of thinking, although it also seems like excitement over the arrival of the X could lead some people on less-than-unlimited budgets to buy the 8 or 8 Plus, which share many of its features.
— Patrick Moorhead (@PatrickMoorhead) September 12, 2017
5. How Long Will The iPhone X Be In Short Supply?
The new top-of-the-line iPhone is arriving more than a month after the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, and Apple apparently won’t be able to crank them out in massive volume, at least at first. It’s not unusual for new Apple products to be scarce—I’ve still never seen AirPods in stock at an Apple retail store—but the iPhone X is really the flagship of Apple’s entire line of products, so the stakes are particularly high.
I'm told that iPhone X will be scarce for 6 months after launch. This will probably make people want it more.
— Mark Sullivan (@thesullivan) September 13, 2017
6. Will The iPhone X Take Meaningfully Better Photos Than The iPhone 8?
Apple’s comparison chart shows only two differences between the two models’ rear cameras: The X has optical stabilization and a slightly larger aperture on its telephoto lens. Both features are welcome, but I wonder if they’ll be enough to make the X the clear device of choice for the most serious iPhone photographers.
7. Is Wireless Charging About To Take Off?
Nokia built wireless charging into phones eons ago, and it didn’t help the company’s fortunes. Samsung does it now, and I don’t think many people consider it a major selling point. Even the Qi standard which Apple is embracing has been around forever without changing the world. There doesn’t seem to be anything spectacularly innovative about Apple’s approach to wireless charging, but maybe the technology arriving on the world’s highest-profile line of phones will mark the moment it got real (even though Apple is selling charging pads as an extra-cost accessory). Or maybe it’ll turn out that most people just don’t see plugging in a cable as that big a hassle.
8. Is Wireless Charging About To Take Off? Part II
During the event, Apple’s Phil Schiller talked about a world in which places such as coffee shops and hotel rooms have charging pads built into tables, letting you replenish your battery without providing your own charging equipment at all. That vision has been around for a long time without becoming reality. (Starbucks already took a stab at it, but it was more trouble than it was worth, since it required you to plug a dongle into your phone.) But again, it’s possible that the availability of wireless charging-ready iPhones will make a difference.
9. Will Apple’s Stated Battery Life Make Sense To People?
Instead of giving actual hours in estimates, the company is saying that the iPhone X runs up to two hours longer on a charge than the iPhone 7, and the 8 and 8 Plus run for about as long as the 7 and 7 Plus. Rationally, I understand the company’s thinking: People use phones so differently that the battery life they experience is anything but consistent—making precise figures meaningless–and if you currently own an iPhone, the main thing you want to know about battery life is whether a new iPhone will offer more life, less life, or about the same. Let’s see if Apple’s oblique way of addressing this issue sticks.
10. What Phones Will Be In Next Year’s iPhone Lineup (And Those Thereafter)?
Will there always be a standard iPhone, a Plus iPhone, and an X iPhone? (When Apple introduced the cheaper-and-more-colorful iPhone 5c, a lot of us thought that it was a new permanent tier, and were wrong—and we don’t yet know whether the current lineup’s iPhone SE is a similar one-off.)
11. Will The iPhone X Display And Form Factor Migrate Downward, And If So, When?
Is Apple’s aim to ditch LCD screens, home buttons, and Touch ID and replace them with edge-to-edge OLED, gestures, and Face ID on every iPhone model when it’s feasible from an economic and production-scale standpoint? Maybe. But I’m not sure whether even Apple knows when it can do that, which could mean that the two distinct types of iPhones could continue on for the foreseeable future.
12. When Will The Apple Watch Become Autonomous?
The first two generations of Apple Watch rely on an iPhone for connectivity. The new Series 3 comes in a version with built-in LTE wireless, which means it can make phone calls, stream music, receive messages, and perform other tasks without the help of a phone. But as Mashable’s Jack Morse points out, you still need an iPhone to set up an Apple Watch. I’m not sure whether it would be possible to borrow a friend’s iPhone once, set up your new Apple Watch, and then use it without further access to an iphone. But it’s clear that Apple isn’t yet marketing the Apple Watch as a truly standalone device—one that you might buy even if you’re otherwise not an Apple person. I hope the introduction of LTE is a step in that direction.
13. What’s The Long-term Apple TV Strategy?
My colleague Jared Newman recently argued that Apple needs to sell a cheaper version of its streaming-TV box to keep the platform vibrant and help line up the deals Apple needs to offer a live-TV service to compete with YouTube TV, DirecTV Now, and Sling TV. But the new Apple TV is moving in the opposite direction: It offers 4K, HDR, and more horsepower, at an even higher price. Apple doesn’t like to talk much about its future vision for its products, so we don’t necessarily know where it sees Apple TV being in a year or two, or how the new version might help it get there.
14. Will Apple TV’s Affordable 4K Movies Be A Game-Changer?
One of the few bits of news that Apple managed to keep under wraps until its event was that it would offer 4K and HDR content at the same price it’s charged for HD—and will even upgrade versions that people have already bought. That’s a major victory given that the studios have heretofore seen 4K as a way to extract a few more bucks from consumers’ wallets. If other purveyors of 4K are forced to match Apple’s pricing, it could boost the whole market in a way that might be reminiscent of what Apple once did by pricing iTunes music downloads at 99 cents.
Seems likely the complete silence on Mac, iMac Pro and HomePod mean another smallish event before year end. No? Maybe January?
— Greg Pierce (@agiletortoise) September 13, 2017
15. What About HomePod?
WWDC’s biggest hardware announcement, Apple’s entry into the AI-infused smart-speaker race, went unmentioned at Tuesday’s event. Odds are that this isn’t because there’s nothing to say, but because there’s a lot to say, and Apple plans to reveal more (possibly at another press event) before HomePod ships later this year.
Got any answers to my questions, or questions of your own? Lemme know on Twitter.