iPhones of Future Past: Understanding iPhone 8

Red iPhone unboxing
Red iPhone unboxing (Image credit: iMore)

There's a shockwave that hits in advance of every iPhone launch — one that alternates between spectacular feature hype and devastating delay forecasts. And because we prefer the doom of never learning from history, every year we go on an emotional rollercoaster along with them.

This year, one of the issues that's raised concern is scale. Can Apple get enough OLED displays? Can the company get Touch ID working beneath them? Will Face ID work? What about plug-less charging?

Scale and fusion

Scale has been an issue for Apple for years. Famously, Amazon was able to include more advanced screen technologies on the Kindle Fire much earlier than Apple could on iPad entirely because of Amazon's much smaller manufacturing scale.

It's something Apple has had to balance for a long time. The difference is that, when Apple was still accelerating into new markets, it didn't matter. Now that Apple is selling into all the existing markets, and it has to create new ones, scale can matter.

When you go really high, really fast, you can leave space beneath you. (Poetically, that's why Apple created the A10 Fusion chipset, with a high-efficiency core paired to the high-performance core.)

iPhone 5c was an attempt to fill one such space. By going less expensive and more pop-culture, it was hoped Apple could add a steadier, more TV-like show revenue stream to the current blockbuster, movie-style spikes and valleys of the flagship iPhone business. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way.

More iPhone

iPhone 8 — or whatever Apple calls the higher-end model this year — is another attempt to fill a space, a more expensive and more premium one. Serendipitously, the relatively smaller size of the higher-end market also lets Apple embrace newer and more advanced technologies — the ones that are harder to scale — sooner. This increases attraction, making for a virtuous cycle

iPhone 7

iPhone 7 (Image credit: iMore)

Apple did manage to put Retina in every iPhone 4. The company managed to put Touch ID in every iPhone 5s and Taptic Engines inside every iPhone 6s. Every year, Apple manages to put A-Series processors into every device it manufactures. Those were all industry-leading technologies, all delivered at previously unimaginable scales, and all now taken for granted. iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus will no doubt continue to stealthily impress in exactly the same way.

iPhone 8 will simply let Apple impress in a different way — by including technologies that don't yet reach iPhone scale. In other words, by bringing tomorrow's iPhone to market today.

In terms of the business, it's really no different than getting an iPhone onto Verizon, onto China Mobile, with bigger and bigger displays, or with smaller displays again — it's about annexing adjacent markets and maximizing the revenue potential for iPhone.

As it becomes harder to sell more iPhones — the population of earth is now a limiting factor — selling more of an iPhone becomes beneficial. It's the same benefit Apple gets from selling services revenue on top of iPhone, but in atoms, not bits.

iPhones of future past

Apple sprints to the iPhone finish line each and every year, and every sprint risks stumbles. But as Apple crosses one, the company is already racing towards the next. In a very real way, the product teams inside Apple live in future. What we see in the present are echoes of decisions made in the company's past.

Every challenge, problem, opportunity, risk, and reward gets measured and tested long before a product ships. Years ago, Apple saw all the benefits and problems of edge-to-edge screens, Face ID systems, contact and contactless charging, and everything else you and I have just come around to worrying about on Twitter and Reddit. Likewise the benefits and problems of trying to market a higher end iPhone.

How will bezel gestures work, how will authentication be triggered, how will connection be ensured? Beyond implementation details, there's an incredible amount of design that has to be done to make all of it not just work but work intuitively.

How can iPhone 8 be marketed in a world that also has iPhone 7? Will it be the MacBook playbook, the MacBook Pro, the Apple Watch Edition? What will the market not only accept but embrace? Beyond shipping a product, there's messaging around that problem that has to not only explain the technology but tell the story.

And come this fall, we'll see how much and how well they've done. What features are enabled at release and which ones follow on later with updates. How it's positioned and how well it's accepted.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

40 Comments
  • Except what are they including that makes it the iPhone of tomorrow for that price? OLED screen (nah, android and samsung has had that for years). Maybe the fingerprint under the screen would be about the only thing that is something not already in many phones.
  • We'll see what they end up shipping, but OLED is just a technology, like LED. Apple did some pretty great things with LED (Retina, P3, lamination, per-sub-pixel calibration) and might do similar things with OLED. There were a ton of phones before iPhone, but Apple packaged iPhone better than any of them. There could also be some interesting stuff around the sensors and, if they got it working, distance charging.
  • It doesn't really matter if another phone has had it for years, part of making a great phone is using ideas from others. This goes all the way back to the fact that all web browsers use tabs, whereas that used to be a unique feature to one browser. On the point of OLED though, some OLED displays (not all) have been known to suffer from burn-in, so it's possible that Apple have waited-out for more improved OLED displays
  • You've got a point. Apple is usually at least a couple of generations behind the competition with features but it's usually the inclusion on an iPhone that makes it popular and increases its usage on other platforms. Good examples would be the front facing camera and video calling, 3G, the App Store. I had all of these on a circa 2006 Sony Ericsson but they never really functioned that well. As soon as Apple included them, the possibilities of the tech was properly exploited.
  • What Apple is likely to do is too make a package with the latest AirPods, perhaps with color choices, to celebrate the iPhone X. The ongoing six week delay for orders of AirPods doesn't make sense unless Apple is stockpiling them. Apple could address the risks Rene and others are raising about a premium level phone, e.g., Is there enough to distinguish it from the iPhone 7s? How will moving away from a "egalitarian" approach to iPhones where everyone who buys the latest phone essentially gets the best tech, impact sales model? by packaging the improvements with "free" AirPods and selling it all as a premium package at $1249 or such. That would dampen demand while still allowing Apple to maintain price margin and be more acceptable to customers. Later, 2nd Gen colored AirPods would be available for stand alone sale, and OLED etc., available in next years phone. Again, Apple is generally masterful as solving production problems, thus something seems truly bizarre about zero improvement (ongoing six week shipment delay) for AirPods almost 8 months after shipping. Rene can you posit other reasons besides they are stockpiling and producing other colors for major event?
  • Lol good luck with that.
  • Apple's not notorious for generosity when it comes to in-package additions, alas.
  • Yes, but this is an unique situation, and has nothing to do with generosity, indeed it's the opposite, it would be used to justify the high end. Plus he's right, there must be a reason Apple is stockpiling the AirPods as no one should believe they haven't solved production issues that initially caused delay and six week shipping hasn't changed in 8 months. Including Airpods with the iPhone X would dampen objections to a $1249 phone, as well as demand, to get Apple through OLED shortage.
  • Isn't this normal that there is a lot of pre-release dissent over upcoming features (or lack of) and then Apple seems to pull something amazing out of their velvet hat? Loss of the headphone jack being the exception. I guess I won't worry until Oct/Nov. At this point a 7S+ would be a good upgrade for me, but I won't rule out the 8.
  • A dozen or so paragraphs of blind faith and, aside from inferring that the 5C was a bit rubbish, next to no critique. I can't be the only one that wishes that iMore would occasionally cast a more critical eye. They manage it at Android and Windows Central; why not here?
  • It's Rene, he is never critical of Apple. Everything they do is great. He doesn't want to be negative because he wants to keep getting those free apple devices and invitations to keynotes...
  • Apple does things wrong from time to time like every company. There is however nothing wrong with the Touch Bar, nothing wrong with not using a touchscreen on the Mac, and nothing wrong with the removal of the 3.5mm jack. About the 3.5mm jack situation, notice how no one complains about it anymore except people who don't use iPhones? Pretty much everyone with an iPhone 7 has realized by now that it's a non-issue
  • I (along with many others) complain aboutit every single day, and will continue complaining about it long into the future... and I won't be spending $1000+ on something as non-special as a bloody smartphone in 2017, especially if it doesn't have a 3.5mm jack.
  • Then you won't ever be buying an iPhone again because they're not going to put a headphone jack back on it
  • At some point you have to realize you are in an extremely tiny minority. When two hundred million people around the world buy the iPhone, and most of the estimates are that a quarter of a BILLION will buy an iPhone in the next release period, perhaps that's the time to reconsider if RR is out of touch with his level of criticism. On the subject of criticism of Apple, if you follow RR on his multiple podcasts, you'd hear that he frequently disagrees with Apple or points out something that needs to be changed, but he doesn't do it from "Apple is doomed, Apple is greedy, Apple is evil" in your face approach. Sadly, the Internet has so conditioned folks to focus only on the loudest, most shrill attention seekers, that RR's approach is seen by some as being a shill.
  • I have an iPhone 7. It's still an issue here and there. I just deal with it and spent money to get around it.
  • Do you not use the adapter that came with the iPhone?
  • Sure. But while I'm at my desk, if I need to charge my phone while I'm streaming podcasts it makes it tough. I also use headphones both at home and at work and occasionally I'll be in a car that supports aux but not wireless. Having to carry around a dongle isn't too desirable. Like I said, I've adjusted. But to say it's not an issue simply isn't true. Many of us just have found ways around it and understand there is no changing it.
  • Thanks! Perfect example of how reactionary, ill-informed criticism actually worsens understanding instead of improving it! I'll get review units and invitations regardless. Nilay lambasted the headphone jack and a lot of other stuff and he keeps getting reviews and invitations. My personal opinion of stuff isn't as helpful, I don't think, as explaining a product as fully as I can so that you can form a better personal opinion of your own.
  • Apple do have a history of blacklisting tech sites that criticise them, though... https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/09/07/reg_effort_to_attend_iphone_7_l...