There’s a certain kind of person who will happily drop $999 (or $1,149 for the 256GB version, all before tax) on the Apple iPhone X when it launches Nov. 3. You probably know at least one of them; some of my best friends are among their number.
It isn’t enough to describe these consumers as mere early adopters. Their mania for the latest thing is so strong, it outweighs all worries about privacy and price; it erases all concern over facial scanning and the odd glass back, all doubts about whether you really need a “Super Retina” screen or whether animoji is a novelty you’ll use for five days at most.
There’s a large overlap between these iPhone X-heads and the people who rushed to be part of the Google Glass program. And more power to them. Where would we be without our pioneers?
For the rest of us, however, the iPhone X may go down in history as the ultimate example of a high-tech folly.
Why? Well, first of all, for the price you’re paying for this pocket device, you could have a nice new Apple laptop, the MacBook Air. And for $999, you’d get twice the storage (64GB for the basic iPhone X, 128GB for the Air.)
You read that right: For a thousand bucks, you get 64 measly gigabytes on what is ostensibly the most advanced phone of our age. For an extra $150, you get 256GB, which swings to the opposite end of the spectrum: it’s more than most people need. There is no 128GB iPhone X.
Then there’s just the pure, full-on, freaky Nineteen Eighty-Four-style weirdness of having your phone scan your face the whole time, just so you won’t have to suffer the indignity of securely unlocking your phone by pressing on a button.
Talk about a problem no one was looking to solve.
Front-facing face-scanning tech isn’t even that new. Amazon’s Fire Phone had four face-scanning cameras in 2014; it could deliver 3D stereoscopic vision because it always knew where your eyes were.
A neat trick. And, as it turned out, completely unwanted in a consumer product.
Let’s not even get into the reasons why you shouldn’t let Apple look at your face all the time. My colleague Jack Morse has a deeper dive on that; the money quote is the security researcher who describes the tech as “like setting your password to ‘password’ then tattooing it on your forehead.”
Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller tried to calm our fears by claiming that only one in a million people would have a face similar enough to yours to unlock the phone. Which sounds nice and secure, until you realize that means at least 323 people could imitate you in the United States alone.
Nothing like surprising your friends and family by making your words come out of a unicorn or a talking poop!
Facial-scanning jokes and fears proliferated quickly on social media. At a time when concerns about authorities intruding on your digital data are at an all time high, the idea of a phone that the police can unlock by pointing it at your face does not necessarily have wide appeal.
(In theory you could force a passcode reset by tapping the phone five times, but who’s going to remember to do that in a stressful arrest situation?)
And at the other end of the spectrum, fears that it may not work at all were stoked when Apple’s senior VP of engineering, Craig Federighi, was unable to unlock his iPhone X during Tuesday’s launch event.
All this for a tiny extra piece of screen real estate and the convenience of not using your thumb? You’d have to be the most rabid of early adopters to accept that bargain.
The animated emoji feature that follows your face seems creepy, though it might appeal to some folks. Nothing like surprising your friends and family by making your words come out of a unicorn or a talking poop!
The novelty of this concept is likely to fade within a few days — especially if you own an iPhone X and none of your friends do. They’ll still be able to see your animoji, but be unable to respond in kind. In time, sending one would single you out just as much as the blinking red light on your Google Glass.
If history is any guide, we may never find out how many consumers fall for Apple’s high-priced folly. The company doesn’t break out sales of the Apple Watch, much less individual iPhones. If the X does have disappointing sales this holiday season, Apple will be able to sweep that fact under the rug and move on.
If you’re still determined to get this first-generation device, more power to you. Just remember, being a pioneer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Especially not at this price.