You can tell when Apple is firing on all cylinders, because it starts showing off
Matt Bolton on Apple’s new direction
The most memorable part Apple’s iPhone X event for me wasn’t a product unveiling, but a bit of fun. Craig Federighi spent a bunch of time just showing off the new face-tracking Animoji feature, sometimes with his impressively elastic face (he’s a natural for a reboot of The Mask), sometimes by just continuing his presentation, with a gigantic cartoon fox face mimicking him in a manner so fluid, I felt kind of weirded out.
This moment wasn’t just memorable because of the confusing dreams I’ve been having since, but because it was Apple doing what it loves the most: showing off insanely advanced tech used for a completely trivial purpose, because that’s how it gets used in real life most of the time, and Apple makes products for real life.
At some Apple events, you feel like it has to push features a little artifically, because it knows they’re not really all that. But when things are coming together, as they are for Apple right now, the showcases are much more relaxed, because the products speak for themselves, even if that speaking is happening through an animated poop emoji.
It really felt like Apple was flexing its technical muscle at this event. The A11 Bionic chip is stupidly powerful from just a standard processor point of view (think: MacBook Pro levels of powerful), but Apple’s customisation of its chips means we get features like being able to change the lighting on a person’s face, or 4K 60fps video, which is basically going to look like just a window when you play it back on a TV, if Apple’s encoder is as good as it says. The old “Only Apple can do this” adage was trotted out again, but it’s never been more true, because it requires an intimate connection between hardware design and software aims.
Even the Face ID demo felt like showing off. Lots of other companies have done this first, but to make it secure, they try things like iris scanning, which never works very slickly, because it’s working with such a narrow and complex window. Apple just strolls in and says ‘Well, why didn’t you scan the face properly?” It was the tech equivalent of the flashy swordsman getting shot unceremoniously by Indy.
(I was wrong about Apple and face recognition last issue – I woefully underestimated the level of tech sophistication it was willing to throw at the problem.)
And on top of that, you’ve got probably the best-looking phone screen on the planet, the Apple TV just became the movie-lover’s hottest platform, the Apple Watch is now your phone (making your phone your laptop, I suppose, which seemed inevitable now I stop to think about it), and even the iPhone 8 was far more than just an afterthought. And we have HomePod and iMac Pro to come, which both look groundbreaking, while AirPods are still unsurpassed in wireless tech… just the Mac mini to fix now! Please?
The iPhone X is Apple’s vision for the future of phones. And that future is in November, when the X is released, as long as your future also has £1,000 in it.
The iPhone 8 looks a lot like the 7, but a new glass back is no small design change; the A11 Bionic chip is a big internal boost.