When I was asked whether I thought the iPhone X was innovative, naturally I went out and did what I do best: reached out to my global ecosystem of entrepreneurs and investors, and asked.
For a brand as much-loved such as Apple, the reaction was inconsistent and polarised. It is clear to me that the iPhone X is, as the old trope says, generating a “Marmite” reaction. You either love it or you hate it.
When looking at general consumer needs, it’s a contrarian melange. Features such as FaceID, an OLED exterior, and improvements in software come with a very punchy price point.
But as always, it’s all about the brand. Apple has long had the reputation for understanding its consumer and building the best products and best designed devices, services and applications.
I’m actually a relatively recent iPhone convert (2014), having been embedded in other mobile ecosystems over the years. But when I made the leap to Apple, for the first time I had early adopter access to all the cool new applications and services. Consequently, I was better able to serve the needs of the startups I was advising.
Reaching the top of the app store in any territory was a core metric and an indicator of early success for so many of these app-based startups.
But that was then.
Fast forward to September 2017, and with the advent of innovation from the likes of Samsung and Huawei and the increasing market share of Google’s Android, Apple certainly has its work cut out.
“As someone who uses both the iPhone and Android because our company develops software for both, I moved from iPhone to Samsung about three years ago and haven’t looked back,” says Daniel Murray, co-founder of shopping app Grabble.
“As my chief technology officer colleague said straight after the unveiling: ‘Wow, the iPhone Galaxy s7 Edge looks great, but hasn’t Samsung already brought out the s8?’”
Is that fair?
When I think about what I need as a consumer of mobile devices, I want the ability to navigate my work and personal life. I want to be able to make calls, hail taxis, pay for goods and services, get from A to B, access my work emails and calendar appointments, take photos, post on my social media platforms, and generally stay connected.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – I want the battery to last all day.
The new iPhone X features are important, but is Apple really listening to consumer needs?
Or are the Apple engineers forcing their views of innovation on unwilling consumers?
“I think they stopped listening to their customers after iPhone 6,” says Matt Lerner, partner at London-based 500 Startups. “Most normal people mainly want a longer battery life, faster processor, better camera, simple UX and a won’t-break-if-you-drop-it phone. Apple thinks we want an OLED screen, face recognition and a flatter handset.
FaceID is one of the more polarising features. Yes, cyber security specialists know that facial recognition will secure the vast amount of personal data on our phones. But from a simple user perspective, I’m trying as hard as any of you to envision a scenario at rush hour on the Tube.
Imagine stopping among the commuter melee at the ticket gates, taking your phone out, using FaceID to unlock the device, and touching your phone on the Oyster card reader. Cue ensuing London commuter wrath.
Aaron Ross is the managing director of Vix Technology, which manages more than five billion annual (and global) passenger journeys on rail, bus and trams across the globe. He disagrees.
“FaceID will be a real game changer. Facial recognition has been around for a while, but as anyone who has used the ePassport gates at Heathrow knows its viability has been questionable. If Apple delivers on the promises in their keynote, facial authentication will become mainstream. Apple has done what it does best, take a nascent technology and reinvent it to take it to critical mass.”
What of the look and feel of the iPhone X? The edge-to-edge OLED display certainly invokes scepticism. It will only be a matter of time before we start hearing stories of device screen breakages – both front and back – increasing the cost of ownership.
Some critics, such as Seth Godin, have been forthright. “Apple launched a $1,000 phone. The engineers and designers had unlimited time (10 years since the first one), unlimited resources, unlimited market power. And, yet, all they could build was an animated emoji machine,” he said at the launch.
But despite the variety of views, I believe consumers will continue to upgrade their devices, accepting the new high price point.
As Vitaly Golomb, partner at HP Tech Ventures in Silicon Valley, points out, “Apple has a lock on its customer base and it is more than likely than not that their user base will stay loyal.”
As for me, it’s a good thing I’m a Marmite fan. I’ll probably take out that mobile insurance and bravely incur the wrath of London Underground commuters. At least I will have a cool shiny new device.
Time to start saving up the pounds, shilling and pence for that November release… probably.