Technology

iPhone X makes its debut

iPhone X makes its debut
Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, discusses features of the new iPhone X at the Steve Jobs Theater on the new Apple campus. Photo: AP
Published: 5:16 AM, September 13, 2017
Updated: 2:58 PM, September 13, 2017

CUPERTINO — Apple unveiled the iPhone X, its first premium-tier phone, at an event in Cupertino, California, on Wednesday (Sept 13) , that included other product premieres. (Pro tip: The X is pronounced 10, and not "ex.")

The US999 (S$S$1,648) iPhone X has a newer screen technology known as OLED, a type of display that can be made thinner, lighter and brighter with better colour accuracy and contrast than its predecessor, LCD.

The screen on the X has a so-called edge-to-edge display that takes up the entire face by eliminating the borders around the screen. Apple also eliminated the physical home button that has been a signature on the iPhone for a decade.

iPhone 8 is also here, as well as its bigger sibling, the iPhone 8 Plus. The models include a glass body and a faster chip.

Singapore customers can pre-order the iPhone X from Oct 27 at 3.01pm, while Apple will take orders for the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus from Sept 15 at 3.01pm onwards.

Apple TV, the company's set-top box that has never been a blockbuster hit, got an upgrade. The device will now be able to stream so-called 4K resolution, which refers to screens with two times the vertical resolution and twice the horizontal resolution of older high-definition TVs.

Apple took the wraps off a new Apple Watch. Called Apple Watch Series 3, it has cellular capabilities. There's also a new Watch OS.

The iPhone X is the first redesigned iPhone in three years, and Apple says it is the blueprint for "the future of the smartphone." Many of the design details had leaked to the press before Tuesday's unveiling - including that it would sport a new display that stretched across much more of the phone's front, and that it would do away with the trademark home button.

Much of that turned out to be true. The iPhone X is essentially the same size and overall shape as the iPhone 7, but because the screen occupies all of the front of the phone, it is far larger than that of older models. The screen uses a technology new for Apple (which many competitors already use), called OLED, which produces better image quality than Apple's older LCD screens.

What wasn't leaked was how Apple would integrate the new button-free design with the operating system - how would you navigate the phone without an actual button?

It's quite simple: You swipe. To go home, swipe up from the bottom of the screen. To see other apps, swipe up from the bottom and pause - now you see the multitasking pane.

Whether people will adjust to the button-free system remains to be seen. For better or worse, Apple has used essentially the same interface for the iPhone for the last decade. Swiping is easy, but it isn't as easy as hitting a button, and it may throw some people off at first.

The brand-new feature in the iPhone X that has never existed on any other iPhone is infrared face scanning.

The technology, called Face ID, uses an infrared camera system on the front of the phone to scan a person's head - not just the face, but the contours and overall shape - to unlock the phone and authorise mobile payments. The technology works by spraying an object with infrared dots to gather information about the depth of an object based on the size and the contortion of the dots. The imaging system can then stitch the patterns into a detailed 3-D image of your face to determine if you are indeed the owner of your smartphone before unlocking it.

For Apple, Face ID has been years in the making. In 2013, the iPhone maker acquired PrimeSense, a company that developed sensors for Microsoft's Kinect, a camera system that scanned people's bodies so people could play Xbox games using body movements.

Face ID is a direct response to the face-recognition feature in smartphones offered by Samsung, Apple's fiercest rival. Experts have criticised Samsung's face-recognition feature, which could be tricked by holding a photo of the smartphone owner's face in front of the camera.

The new iPhone 8 and the 8 Plus include a six-core processor that will handle more complex tasks and 3D games more quickly and efficiently than previous iPhones. The phones generally look the same as their predecessors, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, with the exception of glass bodies, as opposed to aluminium.

Apple improved the phones' cameras with new sensors and added new motion sensors to better support applications made for augmented reality, which use data to digitally manipulate the physical world when people look through a smartphone lens.

In particular, the dual cameras in the iPhone 8 Plus take photos with sharp details in low light. Apple also added a new portrait mode to improve the lighting on faces regardless of the background.

Another notable new feature is the introduction of magnetic induction to the iPhones. Similar to Apple Watch, the iPhones can now be charged by being placed on a charging pad as opposed to being plugged in with a cable.

The new iPhone 8 line will be one of the most important for Apple. Wall Street analysts have estimated that more than half of iPhone buyers will buy the 8 and 8 Plus over the next year. The models have a slightly higher starting price than their predecessors: The iPhone 8 starts at US$699 (S$S$1,148), up from US$650 for older iPhone models.

Apple unveiled an upgrade for Apple TV, its set-top box. While Jobs referred to Apple TV as a "hobby" because it was not a hot seller compared to the company's smartphones, computers and tablets, the product is becoming increasingly important to Apple as it, along with other tech giants like Facebook and Google, moves into creating original video content.

The new Apple TV, called Apple TV 4K, it is an iteration of the last model, which introduced a touchpad remote control. The new box will now be able to stream so-called 4K resolution, which refers to screens with two times the vertical resolution and twice the horizontal resolution of older high-definition TVs. Eddy Cue, Apple's head of internet software and services, added that 4K titles would cost the same to rent as traditional high-definition titles. The set-top box will cost US$179.

Apple said the new Apple TV 4K is also two times faster than the last one and includes support for a new colour technology called HDR, or high dynamic range. This software feature enhances the contrast and colour profile of a picture. In bright colours, you will see brighter highlights; in dark colours, you will see more details.

The Apple Watch has been a sleeper hit for the company. Though early reviews were mixed, Apple has steadily improved the device, and now the smartwatch is the best-selling watch in the world, according to Apple.

On Tuesday, Apple unveiled the third version of the device. It looks identical to the old version, but the new one carries a much-requested feature for the first time: It will come with a cellular chip, meaning it can access the internet even if it isn't connected to your phone. Among other capabilities, the cellular version can make calls, send texts and stream music when you're on the go.

"Now you have the freedom to go anywhere with just the Apple Watch," said Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer.

The cellular version completes a long-term vision for the Watch - to liberate you, in some small way, from Apple's best-selling phone. In a demo, an Apple employee made a live call to the keynote address from a paddle board in the middle of a lake.

This is a slightly risky strategy, of course; Apple doesn't want to kill its golden iPhone goose. But the new cellular watch is unlikely to be a replacement for the phone, just a high-priced complement.

The new cellular version sells for US$399; a Wi-Fi-only version sells for US$329, and you can still buy the older version for US$249. The new watch will begin shipping Sept 22.

The highlight of Tuesday's event isn't something you can buy. It's Apple Park, the company's new US$5 billion spaceship-shaped campus, which the company showed off to the media for the first time.

The press were penned off just out of range of the main building, at the Steve Jobs Theater, the 1,000-seat venue with a commanding view of the spaceship. A quick review: This place is just what you'd imagine an Apple-designed campus would look like. Think of the aesthetics of an Apple Store - lots of wood and glass, everything in muted tans and grays, all signage in white-on-black Apple Sans type - set on an otherwise barren landscape.

It is, unsurprisingly, very pretty, but its beauty comes with a deliberate touch of fright. Nothing here is to human scale, and the overall impression is one of being overwhelmed by Apple's sheer might. THE NEW YORK TIMES