Apple’s phones have a reputation for featuring some of the fastest mobile processors around, some of the best smartphone cameras, and sturdy construction. The original iPhone was also the first major smartphone to feature a finger-friendly capacitive touchscreen that changed the way we interact with phones.

But for the past few years, Apple’s been playing catch up rather than leading the pack. That’s OK. Apple didn’t really become one of the world’s top tech brands by being the first to do things. The iPod wasn’t the first portable media player. The iPad wasn’t the first tablet. But by the time Apple does integrate a feature, it’s usually pretty well done.

So here are a few new features Apple is adding to the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and/or the iPhone X… which aren’t actually all that new.

  • Bezel-less design – This trend was arguably started by the Sharp Aquos Crystal, but now phone makers ranging from Xiaomi to LG to Samsung have phones with slim bezels. The iPhone X isn’t even the first phone with a big camera cut-out in an otherwise bezel-less top.
  • OLED display – The iPhone X is Apple’s first smartphone with an OLED display, which it calls a Retina Plus display (which probably has more to do with pixel density than the display technology). Other companies have been using OLED screens for years. Apple says its screen has better brightness and color accuracy than rivals, but that remains to be seen.
  • Wireless charging – I guess it’s nice that Apple is adopting the Qi wireless charging standard, which has been around for ages, because it means you can use existing chargers.
  • Fast charging – Apple says a 30 minute charge should take its new iPhones from 0 to 50 percent capacity. This is something you’ve been able to do with top-tier and even mid-range phones from competitors for a few years. It’s nice that iPhone users are finally getting some fast charging love.
  • Facial recognition – Apple spent a lot of time during the iPhone X announcement talking about its new Face ID system that will let you login, use Apple Pay, and authenticate third party apps just by looking at your phone, even in the dark. Samsung’s latest flagship phones have an Iris scanner and facial recognition, although it’s unclear if Samsung’s version is as accurate or secure as Apple claims its Face ID to be.
  • No home button  – With nearly no bottom bezel, there’s no room for a home button. But most Android phone makers ditched physical buttons altogether a few years ago when Google started integrating the navigation buttons into the operating system with softkeys. Most Android phone makers didn’t get rid of the fingerprint sensor though, with some keeping a home button just to have a place for the fingerprint reader, while others put it on the back of the phone.

Those are some of the first-for-iPhone but not-first-for-smartphone features I can think of. Feel free to point out anything else you’ve noticed in the comments.

It’s not a bad thing that Apple is starting to ship phones with these features. It’s also just not all that exciting, because these are mostly features we’ve seen before, in one form or another.


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29 replies on “Apple’s new phones are playing catch up, but that’s a good thing”

  1. LOL,,we all know Apple pays off these media sites with “free”gifts,,i mean test models, cash etc..nothing but a paid advertisement..but i still encourage capitolism so i encourage everyone to go out and and buy the $1000 dollar Iphone,,,hopefully your i face will work better than the staged one that chuckles tried to demo,,,didnt watch cause i have better things to do than to wait for the starting Gun to fire at 12:01 am and go stand in line for hours for the privelage of spenging a G… for a carrier locked model.. choi baby

  2. I particularly liked the inclusion of Qi wireless charging. I loved it when I had my Nexus 4 but every phone since then hasn’t had it (oneplus one, blackberry priv, missus’s nexus 6p and pixel) and has needed one of those charging coils you stick on the back. Maybe it’ll become more commonplace as a stock feature of android phones now.

  3. A bit off topic, but Apple raised the prices of some iPad Pro models by $50 each.

    iPad Pro 10.5:

    64 GB – $649 (same)
    256 GB – $799 (was $749)
    512 GB – $999 (was $949)

    iPad Pro 12.9:

    64 GB – $799 (same)
    256 GB – $949 (was $899)
    512 GB – $1149 (was $1099)

    Prices also increased in other regions too.

      1. Considering Apple’s generous margins across all their products, those was-$10-now-$11 bits of NAND could have easily been eaten without raising prices.

        They’re (ab)using the shortage to raise prices, it’s just plain greed.

          1. The shocking part is the masses do not know. And those that do know, don’t care. It’s like many fields in tech, after saturation begins the phase to cash in on people. We saw it happen to laptops, then consoles, and now it’s happening to phones.

            I thought the iPhone 6/6 Plus was a pretty poor showing because it was much behind the competitor flagships, and Apple raised the prices, simply because it was the first regular and large sized iPhones so Apple *knew* they would get away with it.

            Despite all that, the iPhone X is a blatant ripoff. It’s very equivalent to the LG G6 which I recently bought Brand New for 1/4 of the price.

      1. How could you forget about that? 😉 I’m in your camp that glass isn’t really a good material for the back, so I remember that decision.

  4. I’m not really seeing what’s driving their pricing decision. Maybe they’re seeing sales of high end devices lag so they have to make more off each one?

    1. That’s not a viable marketing strategy. They’re selling them at that price because people *are* buying them. The latest Apple iPhones have always been positioned as premium products, and Apple makes a packet out of them.

      1. I agree that’s not a viable marketing strategy. I think they’re making a mistake. But there’s nothing in this new phone that would drive someone to pay $200-$300 more than they would have a year ago. So what are they thinking? Were they underestimating the demand before?

      2. On the topic of viable marketing strategies, look how long it took software companies and move studios to properly price for maximum profits! In the early 90s just getting Word probably cost about what Office costs today. And a movie on VHS was probably typically in the $90 range. Lower prices brought greatly increased sales and much higher profits, but it took them a while to realize that.

  5. Some fair points, but I think you failed to address your thesis in the title, “Apple’s new phones are playing catch up, but that’s a good thing”. I’ll be the first to admit to being partisan against Apple, but why is it a good thing that Apple is catching up? Not to turn tech news into meta-ethics, but what do you even mean for it to be a “good thing”?

    As far as I’m concerned, Apple has been a drain on our society, placing memetic barriers in the way of how people think about general computing and how technology can improve life.

      1. Even so, how? They get all these neat new (to them) features, but at what cost? Oh yeah, if you want most of these, one kilodollar, which is a lot more than some comparable flagships who had these features first.

        And about these features being done well… Wasn’t the whole move away from Touch ID because they couldn’t get a good part supply from Samsung, not a step forward or a design decision? I mean, a mix, maybe, but still.

        1. Doesn’t mean it’s *not* a step forward. There are reports that they wanted an under-glass fingerprint sensor but weren’t satisfied with the current solutions available to them. So they developed a different biometric login solution that they *did* find suitable. Apple says it’s more accurate (and less likely to have false positives) than Touch ID and it’s designed to address a number of concerns raised by the technology.

          It’s tough to tell from an Apple keynote whether Face ID is actually any better than competing facial recognition systems. But its introduction will most likely increase consumer awareness of the technology, which could help make similar features more commonplace.

          Whether it’s worth paying $1K for an Apple phone that borrows a lot of ideas from existing devices (and may or may not improve upon those ideas) probably depends on whether you’d pay any money at all on an Apple device.

          But if I was in the market for an iPhone, I’d probably consider the iPhone 8, which has a much less silly looking bezel design, the same processor, and a starting price that’s $300 less…

          1. Bang for your buck, it might be a step back. I am wary of biometrics, and Microsoft’s Hello implementations have been shown to be pretty easily fooled by photographs. I am glad to see that Apple is taking an extra step with their IR dots that should Kinect away basic cheats like holding up a picture of your target. Still, if we’re really talking security and privacy, it’s easier for, say, a police officer to point your phone at your face than get you to cooperate with your fingerprints.

            So does this benefit the state of the art? I’d say no. Does this benefit the consumer? I imagine it’d make someone currently holding a 4S or 5 happy. Is it worth the expense upgrading from a 6 or 7? Harder sell, arguable, but I’d say no. You’re still paying a hefty premium to have iOS on the latest hardware. Does this improve any of the anti-consumer problems that Apple has? Not really, but again, this is only a problem for partisans like me.

            So I mean, yeah, it kinda improves the situation in certain terms, but I’m still having trouble seeing it as a “good thing” without some hefty qualifiers. IF you’re already deep in the walled garden. IF you have $700-1000+ just sitting there. IF you think the iOS premium over Android is worth it. IF you’re fine with losing Touch ID. IF you’re fine with no headphone jack. IF Lightning still makes sense over USB-C. And on and on…

          2. I agree with YCAU, how are these “good things”? If by that you mean better implemented, then of course Apple would claim that, as any company would in an announcement, but we obviously don’t yet know if that’s true.

            I think you’re stretching it by claiming it’s “increasing consumer awareness of a tech” when Apple’s implementing it, which goes against your premise that all these aren’t “new” techs. And even if your claim is true, how is making people “more aware” about facial ID a “good thing”?

            Yes, it’s fashionable to make positive claims upon an announcement of a new popular consumer device, just as it’s fashionable to wax euphemisms upon a death of a popular figure. But you should stay away from filler articles, if only because this site doesn’t get any Apple PR love in free review toys. Or are you angling for one?

          3. Not that I’m making any accusations, you do have a point on the Apple PR love. Apple does have a bad reputation for blackballing reviewers who give them any sort of bad press. That was especially apparent with the countless reviews for the first Apple Watch hedging with things like saying how cool it is while suggesting people wait for the second generation.

          4. I’m partisan against Apple products myself, but this attack on the article using “good thing” feels strange. It should be obvious that he means its a good thing for iOS users who live in that walled garden and pay the iOS premium.

            (To be fair, I live in the Android walled garden and my friend buys older iOS devices to avoid that premium. Even these statements aren’t absolutes.)

            Even if you don’t have $700-1000 sitting there today, it’s a good thing for iOS users to have these now. These devices are going to be $500-750 next year like all tech products. You have to have the new shiny tech to push down the prices of the older tech. Otherwise we are just stuck with the same cable boxes that barely change in function or price.

            Bob, this is far from a “filler” article. I would say that a filler article would be about a notebook getting the latest chip from Intel that we knew was going to happen anyway. It’s useful, but it’s essentially creating a little awareness of a press release. This article provides real commentary and original thought. I certainly wouldn’t say this article is angling for free stuff with a positive review that ends emphasizing that these features aren’t that exciting. If Brad really wanted to push a positive review he might suggest that maybe the combination of the features will be more than the sum of their parts (which could be true) and that would be exciting.

            If you have a problem with Apple’s anti-consumer policies, I can understand that. However, I hope you weren’t expecting that to change with the release of new phones. I think that’s a separate topic from the hardware itself.

          5. Again, but at what cost? Why are they going to be $500-750 in their second year when the iPhone 6 and 7 *launched* at that range? This is a trend in the market that has been much written about due to market saturation, but again, how is this a good thing? Apple catching up isn’t that great for their fans when they push up starting prices to the next level while just playing catchup. If I were to pay double what I paid for my last phone, I would want something, oh, I don’t know, double the value? I just don’t see it, and that’s setting aside the competitors with lower prices. This is a step backwards, but I’m sure it will still benefit the bottom line, because that’s how Apple measures “good”.

            I don’t expect a revolution in culture from Apple, but I hate to hear them praised for fairly incremental and catchup changes, most of which feel like compromises, marketing hype, or just (shudder) “courage”.

          6. Well, Apple fans aren’t forced to buy the new devices. I would think that additional choices are better than no choices, so that’s the “good thing.” I’m not sure that prices are double. It seems like it’s a $50 launch price different between the iPhone 7 and 8 (at least at the lowest level). (Remember no one needs to buy iPhone X.)

            And of course Apple fans have the choice to leave and go to another platform if it provides them a better value. I think I’ve only bought about 3-4 Android apps because I don’t want to be locked into a single platform. (That’s why I championed Palm’s webOS, apps could be ported extremely easily.)

            And it’s not like Google’s Pixel is a much better bargain. The Nexus 5 was a great value, but that was years ago now.

            Finally, let’s remember that Apple still hasn’t caught up to the Handspring Treo’s of 2004 that had external SD storage ;-).

          7. Additional choices are good if they’re reasonable. In the extreme example, me offering you a hamburger to eat for $5 is not appreciably worse than also giving you the choices of $1000 salmon and $60 garbage (which, in fact, might be worse). The point is the extra options should stand on their own at least somewhat, and certainly justify opportunity costs.

            I think we’re moving the goalposts if we’re saying no one has to buy the iPhone X. I thought that a main part of the “good thing” argument was catching up (see title), and you don’t get a lot of the latest features with just the 8. Let’s compare apples to *all* the Apples, unless we’re not really talking about these catchup features.

            Isn’t the Pixel like $500 now?

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