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

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.

  • 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...
  • But, of course, there are no Android fan boys.
  • Critique for critique's sake is cheap and easy. Anyone can score a million blog hits by calling anything and everything stupid, and many do. They often look extremely ill-informed in hindsight, but the internet has no short-term memory, let alone long term. I'm still at the stage of trying to understand why Apple is doing what they appear to be doing. Why take the risk? What are the rewards? What internal logic is driving it? My mom —loved— iPhone 5c, but the market didn't. Subjective vs. objective. If you want critique, go back and ready any of my reviews. They all contain a substantial amount of criticism that I think has stood the test of time.
  • The 5C would have been a fine device had it not been completely hobbled by only having 8gb of storage. A dozen music albums and a couple of months of photos completely filled up its memory entirely, meaning that any updates had to be done via iTunes, an experience no one should have to suffer. I agree that critique for critiques sake is indeed annoying (an example lambasting a device for not having ports that line up exactly). However I think a bit of objective criticism wouldn't go amiss. You managed it when bemoaning Apple's decision not to update the Mac Pro, but failed to comment about workers rights in an article about Apple's supply chain. Your knowledge of Apple is exemplary and as an Apple user of the last three decades is why I still frequent this site. However first hand experiences of Apple's missteps and subsequent hubris (the eMac, Antennagate, touch disease) means that Apple should not be considered to be infallible and journalists should critique every action with both the positives and negatives being presented.
  • "substantial amount of criticism" my a$$. You were never at the stage of understanding anything. You have been stuck at the stage of a blind fanboy with a microphone that has made his living purpose to defend Apple blindly to protect your career and your financial investment in the company. You have time and time again been ridiculed and criticized for your unintellectual defense of apple's flaws (a criticism that no one else at mobile nations has been consistently accused of) and your defense has been that those who criticize you are ill-informed You are the definition of a click-bait-hungry closed-minded self-serving individual that has put his own financial interests before honest education of your readers.
  • Renee can't even write properly. I think most people have given up waiting for any objectivity on this site. We only come for the news, armed with our Ad Blockers, and move on to a search engine or YouTube to get the details after we are "tipped off" here. I think you people need to let it go. This site exists to cover Apple in the most positive light possible, and tear down the competition. The only time others are covered favorably is when it furthers Apple's products (iWork was being pushed as an Office replacement, until Office came to iOS). Apple received almost no criticism, even when there are blatant missteps. Most readers come here exactly for that. They want their biases confirmed, not challenged. This is the new world. Discussion, debate, and objectives is dying everywhere. Get over it and get used to it. It's not going to change. If Apple were the Clintons, I More would be CNN and Rene would be Acosta.
  • Never ind
  • I hoped that this fragmentation wouldn't happen, but I guess that was wishful thinking. I think this is the start of an increasing level of fragmentation.... actually it has already started. But I hope they can at least keep the main parts of the iPhone the same across all models released in the year.
    The only reason I can somewhat accept for this fragmentation is that certain parts cannot be sourced in the quantities they want.
  • That's interesting; I hadn't been thinking about that. What kind of fragmentation are you worried about? Broadly speaking, the devices will be similar just using variant technologies. From a developer viewpoint, I'm not sure there'll be any more difference between iPhone 8 and iPhone 7 than there already is between iPhone 7 and iPhone SE, for example?
  • 8 would have that laser based scanning for VR applications, while the 7S would rely on the camera. Unless it got that too, but then the points towards the 8 start to dwindle...
  • Apple is about to create quite a mess if it releases the iPhone X at $899 and up. I don't think consumers will happily purchase the 7S/7S Plus if they can't afford the iPhone X. Or simply they won't pay that much over a long period of time in installments. You are simply going to anger and frustrate consumers by doing so. Gruber made such a big deal last year about how the iPhone was like a coke and everyone was using the same great product. This year? Not so much. And that's a huge risk for Apple.
  • Having a $5000 Mac Pro doesn't stop anyone from buying a $1200 iMac, nor does having a $3000 MacBook Pro stop anyone from buying a $900 MacBook Air, nor does having a $700 iPad Pro stop anyone from buying a $300 iPad, nor does having a $2000 ceramic Apple Watch stop anyone from buying a $300 aluminum Apple Watch.
  • What I'm curious about is if the internals will be the same despite different screens, cameras, 3D mapping etc. If they both get the A11 and there's nothing special about the 8's, that would make 7S buyers a bit less uncomfortable, but on the other hand if the 8 increases resolution (as it should for VR/AR, the 7 Plus is ok but the 7 you can occasionally see grain on at some angles, and is horrid in VR) then the same GPU working at higher resolution would actually perform worse on the 8. There's also the question of if RAM would be the same, see iPad 2 vs iPhone 4 resolution impacting RAM usage. What I wonder is if a 1K+ Pro would dampen people's enthusiasm at buying the 7S, which would then be a 4 year old chassis essentially.
  • There are always rumors about each new iPhone release, but this year is really crazy. There will be an updated 7 with minor bump in spects. There will be a 7S, and the 8 will all the bells, and whistles. 10 year anniversary of the iPhone. Then there are the rumors stating no new iPhone this year at all. They are not ready. September, or October will tell the tell.
  • Every year we all get crazy rumors about the new iPhones. Sometimes the rumors are based on things that are not in this years iPhone but a protype of the next years model (or possible alternates). I really wish people would get a grip. Does Rene really know there will be a super iPhone? It could be there will just be two new iPhones (the big & the small), the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus--just like the last few years. Time will tell and wasting too much time arguing about the prices of the new iPhones or its features based on unreliable sources is time that could be spent on reviews of real apps or features in iOS 11.
  • I'd really like fewer rumours. I like the idea of the 'big reveal' to have surprises and delights for the users. It will be a letdown if we've seen all there is to see (major features that is).
  • Will apple do something that we can consider new and innovative or will it continue to be a "we take the old and make it better" deal like past years? For what I can tell the only "innovation" they are going to do is allow the screen to use the apple pencil but wait, samsung did that in the past, then nope I dont foresee anything that would be called new. Sadly with the passing of Jobs, apple has gone back to be a reseller of old technology inside a casing with an apple on the outside.
  • Looks like Apple marketing machine is making sure their usual apologists like Rene/Gruber are making sure they are setting up expectations right. Where is your Apple waits until it can get everything right and manufacture at huge scale? They are under massive pressure to show something new otherwise they will be bombared by tech press other than iMore and daring fireball as a boring company. So they have no option but to come up with a new innovative iPhone. If they don't come up with it will they not sell millions and millions of iPhone? **** no they will sell great irrespective of there come up with something innovative or not. But they don't want to be perceived as a boring tech company so they have got to impress come this fall.
  • Just feedback. I find iMore's current layout not very user friendly and quite cluttered. I preferred the strict scrolling chronological stories. I frequent it far less now because I don't immediately know what the recent stories are and i'm just not going to expend the time to decipher it. My two cents.
  • 100% after with this comment. The new layout and way of organizing content has completely killed usability. I too am frequenting the site less because of that. I never have any idea what is new and what is old.
  • Have you seen the "our recent stories" on the front page?