iPhone X: My Week With the Future of the iPhone

on November 3, 2017
Reading Time: 6 minutes

All my regular readers will know I don’t do product reviews the same way as most people. While I enjoy using a product and experiencing it for the first time, my mind always turns quickly to what my experience with new technology can tell me about the future. That is the primary reason the iPhone X became so interesting to me because of Apple’s statement about the product at the fall launch event. Apple framed the iPhone X as the technology that will set the tone for the next decade in tech. To make a statement like this, Apple must believe core elements of the iPhone X represent the future direction of not just the iPhone but other categories as well. Within this view, I’d like to share my experience with a few of the technologies in iPhone X I believe are the most tone setting for the next decade.

Face ID and the Future of Security

You are your password. This is the premise of Face ID, and Apple even clearly calls out this exact idea in their recent commercials for the iPhone X. I have to admit that the iPhone X is not the first time I’ve used my face to log into my computer. My first experience was actually with a Windows PC and using Microsoft Hello. That experience immediately turned me onto how frictionless, and yet extremely secure, logging into your devices should become. It isn’t until you try something like this that you realize how much additional friction exists in typing in passwords and even using your fingerprint to log into your device.

I came across this post from Daniel Miessler from his blog and pulled these phrases which I think perfectly articulate what is excellent about Face ID:

Face ID is an upgrade not just because it’s more accurate than TouchID, or because it’s a faster way to authenticate—it’s an upgrade because you are removing the authentication step entirely.

That’s what FaceID is, and why it represents such an improvement: it adds security while removing friction.

He phrases it by saying Face ID is adding increased functionality by way of subtraction and that is exactly right. Having to touch a button to authenticate you are who you say you were, while secure, was adding a step to the user experience. Now, all authentication is done just by looking at the screen which removes a step while simultaneously making it more secure. This applies not only to log into your device but say when you want to authenticate a purchase in the apps store or iTunes, or access your password protected banking account. Now, you don’t even have to touch a button to log in you merely keep looking at the screen as you normally would, and you are instantly and securely authenticated. You do nothing and in the process added new depths of security to your experience.

A few key things stood out to me with the Face ID experience. Every application that uses it for authentication feels more secure. Seeing the Face ID animation on the screen that shows it is and then successfully authenticated, you add to the overall experience of the solution feeling more secure. You would think logging in biometrically with a fingerprint felt the same, but I never noticed it that way. However, having my face be the password presents a more secure experience overall for the consumer. Having your overall smartphone experience feel more secure could lead consumers to trust it more with sensitive data.

As more of our lives become digital, and more of our sensitive information like government documents, credit cards, banking information, family information, etc., security and privacy will sit at the core of personal devices. Devices that don’t have security and privacy built in will be nonstarters for consumers because the stakes will simply become too high in the coming digital world. For Apple, Face ID is the first step in more security while still maintaining the customer experience Apple is known for. I expect Face Id to come to iPad, Mac’s, and more.

True Depth Camera System and a New Era in Imaging

There is a lot going on in this very small space at the top of the iPhone. The Dot Projector, Flood Illuminator, IR Camera, and Proximity Sensor are all key parts of the new True Depth camera system. And, I could argue, every one of these components is in Apple’s thinking when they say the iPhone X sets the tone of the next decade. These components play a role in Face ID, but also in Apple’s face mapping and tracking that is ARkit, which is the basis for their Animoji’s, but also a new set of technologies developers can take advantage. The sophisticated depth mapping is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the True Depth camera system.

While the underlying technological system making Face ID possible is learning about my face, meaning the more I use it, the more accurate it is, for the moment it stops there. But what if, over time, things like eye tracking were added to the system. A use case for this could be automatically scrolling when I reach the bottom of a page in an app or website. Or what if this system could understand my emotions like if I am happy, sad, or angry. This could serve as the basis of my iPhone, or perhaps, Siri becomes more personalized and in touch with my emotions. The basis for a smart assistant to start to be able to assist me more, and potentially be even more helpful.

Ultimately, things can get even more interesting when some of these components make their way to the rear-facing camera system. For example, much more sophisticated depth mapping of physical space can allow for much richer augmented reality experiences. Once the rear-facing cameras can do deeper spacial analysis, we can see some fascinating augmented reality apps that take physical space and allow us to change it, alter it, and engage with it in richer ways than we can today. Another use case could be games or entertainment type experiences. While Animoji’s are great, they are giving us avatar’s from the neck up. Imagine if you were videoing a friend dancing an instead of just the head of a unicorn or monkey it was his whole body transformed into an avatar.

Who knows what kind of creative things developers will come up with around the True Depth camera system but anytime we give developers new toys they like to play with them and push the boundaries. The True Depth camera system will be the basis for these new kinds of software experiences and innovations.

The A11 Bionic and the Learning Computer

Lastly, the A11 Bionic. I have not been shy in my analysis and writing of Apple’s semiconductor prowess. Apple designs as good of SoC’s as any company out there and they have the luxury to tune them and build silicon solutions that fit their needs but don’t exist in the market. While the CPU and GPU of the Bionic are cutting edge, it is the Neural Engine in the new A11 Bionic (which is also in the 8 and 8 Plus) that is the most interesting new development in Apple’s silicon roadmap.

I’ve argued this point, and many like to argue with me, that Apple’s building a learning computer. Our iPhones are learning about it but in a secure and private way. They are learning our name, location, a route to work, our friends and family, the unique language we may use, and all of this learning today is isolated to iOS which if you think about it customizing itself to you. This learning computer has a learning operating system that is customizing itself uniquely to its owner. All of this is done on the device, and parts of it are moving to the cloud, and all maintaining industry-leading encryption, but this is the first step to truly having a computer that is smart, personalized, and emerging as a true assistant.

All of this falls under the category of machine learning, and Apple is using many machine learning techniques to begin to have iOS customize itself to its owner. However, there is still a long way to go for until we get to a truly smart personal assistant like that of Jarvis from Iron Man. However, at the center of Apple’s machine learning strategy is dedicated silicon and accompanying sensors (like the True Depth camera system) which establishes the base for Apple’s machine learning platform. Which is the basis for future artificial intelligence applications but that is too far away to talk about today.

These three things make up, what I believe, are the fundamental technologies that will be innovated upon in the coming years from Apple. Like everything, the hardware is nothing without great software, and developers love new hardware innovations to play with. If the iPhone X is truly setting the tone for iPhone for the next ten years, then there is a lot to look forward to.