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iPhone X: Apple’s vision for the future of smartphones

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It’s a week since Apple unveiled iPhone X to the world – let’s take stock of what’s to come in November

Apple had “one more thing” to announce at the end of its recent Special Event, echoing the phrase Steve Jobs used to employ for something a little special or unexpected.

While the ensuing iPhone X reveal was hardly a surprise thanks to a number of earlier information leaks, it certainly turned out to be something a little out of the ordinary.

The iPhone X – pronounced ‘ten’ rather than ‘ex’ in reference to the smartphone range’s tenth anniversary – is full of daring, forward-looking features that could indeed represent the future of smartphones.

All-screen, no home button

After three years of familiar phone designs, it’s good to see something completely new from Apple in the iPhone X. Aside from a 7.7mm-thick stainless steel band around the middle, which is somewhat redolent of the very first iPhone, it’s a fresh start.

Gone is the large chin and forehead of previous models in favor of an all-screen approach. The front of the phone is utterly dominated by a 5.8-inch display, with only an oblong sensor array breaking the thin border of the phone.

This also means that there’s no space for the iconic iPhone home button. Replacing its functions are a series of gestures, so you swipe up to get to the home screen and swipe up and hold for multitasking.

Meanwhile, an enlarged Power button – renamed as the Side button – can now invoke Siri with a long press and launch Apple Pay with a double tap.

The back of the iPhone X, like the front, is covered in glass. That might sound like an accident waiting to happen, but Apple assured us that this is the most durable and crack-resistant glass ever used in a smartphone.

All of this amounts to a phone that isn’t much bigger than an iPhone 7, despite having a larger display than that of the iPhone 7 Plus.

Apple embraces wireless charging

There’s a genuine purpose to Apple’s choice of glass as the primary material for the iPhone X. Like the iPhone 8, the iPhone X supports wireless charging technology, which wouldn’t work through a metal casing.

This means you’ll be able to lay the phone down on virtually any third party Qi charging pad and it’ll start juicing up without the need for plugs or ports.

Apple also showcased its own AirPower charging mat, which will be capable of charging multiple devices simultaneously – your iPhone X, Apple Watch and AirPods for example – though it won’t be available until 2018. The status of all these devices will be displayed on the iPhone X during the charging process.

Even without this fresh enhancement, the iPhone X is apparently capable of two hours more battery life than the iPhone 7, or roughly the same as the iPhone 7 Plus.

OLED Super Retina display

The iPhone X display isn’t just bigger than in any previous model, it’s also sharper. At 5.8-inches and 1125 × 2436, it packs the pixels in to the tune of 458ppi.

For reference, the iPhone 8 Plus display produces 401ppi – the higher the figure the more closely arranged and less individually distinguishable the pixels are.

This is also a much more vibrant display than in any previous iPhone. Apple has followed in the footsteps of its long-time rival Samsung in switching to OLED panel technology. In fact, Samsung even manufactures these displays for Apple, which are similar to the type you’ll find in the Apple Watch.

OLED technology produces far richer colors than LCD, with Apple claiming a massive 1,000,000-to-1 contrast ratio. Blacks are also much deeper on OLED than LCD thanks to the lack of a backlight, which in theory means the status bar could be set to blend seamlessly with the sensor cut-out along the top.

Add in HDR, Dolby Vision and True Tone for greater color accuracy, and it’s little wonder Apple is calling this a Super Retina display.

More stable, better-lit photography

Apple introduced a second rear camera with last year’s iPhone 7 Plus, and it’s continued along that path with the iPhone X. Accompanying the main f/1.8 wide angle lens is an f/2.4 telephoto lens for a 2X physical zoom and more pronounced portrait images. Both lenses are assisted by optical image stabilization this time around, which means your zoomed-in shots will be less blurry and more usable in low light.

The aforementioned Portrait mode feature has been taken even further in the iPhone X with a new feature called Portrait Lighting. This analyzes the lighting of your subject in real time, and enables you to adjust the general look of your pictures in a way that’s far more professional than simply slapping a filter on top. For example, you can black out the background for an arty stage lighting effect.

The iPhone X’s dual 12-megapixel sensors are larger than before too, capturing 83 percent more light and boasting “deeper” pixels.

Video capture has been improved to the point where Apple claims this is the highest quality video capture ever in a smartphone. It’s the first phone to be able to capture 4K video at 60fps, while it can also do 1080p video at 240fps for super slo-mo in Full HD.

Finally, a quad-LED True Tone flash provides twice the light coverage in extremely dark conditions.

TrueDepth camera and Face ID

There’s another iPhone X camera element that deserves its own separate mention. The TrueDepth camera is the name Apple has given to that somewhat incongruous cut-out section along the top of the display. This area houses a 7-megapixel front-facing camera, which is now sophisticated enough to be used with Portrait mode and Portrait Lighting. Say hello to a new wave of professional-looking selfies.

Beyond a selfie camera, TrueDepth actually incorporates a whole array of sensors, including an infrared camera, a flood illuminator, and a dot projector. The main purpose of this sophisticated amalgam of technology is something called Face ID.

As you’ll recall, the home button is no more, which means that Touch ID is no longer an option for unlocking your phone and authenticating Apple Pay payments. Face ID accomplishes the same thing through facial recognition.

The TrueDepth camera detects when you’re looking directly at the iPhone X and scans your face, mapping more than 50 facial muscles in real time into a detailed three-dimensional representation of your face. This is a unique personal signature that can be recognized irrespective of lighting, hairstyle, facial hair and accessories.

Despite this impressive flexibility Face ID is said to be very hard to fake, short of roping in an identical twin. Apple claims there’s a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that a random person could unlock your phone using Face ID, which compares favorably to 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID.

Augmented Reality

All of Apple’s recent iPhones are compatible with its new Augmented Reality focus, but the iPhone X has been fully optimized for AR. This includes a new gyroscope and accelerometer, which will help pin digital graphics to reality through the iPhone’s camera and display.

The front-facing TrueDepth camera can also use its face-tracking capabilities to provide custom AR animations, while Apple has designed a set of 3D animated emoji called “Animoji” that respond in real time to your own facial expressions.

Apple expects plenty of third party apps to start following its lead once iOS 11 hits later this month. At the iPhone X launch event, it invited one developer to the stage to show off a new AR-infused game called The Machines.

This was a multiplayer strategy game designed to be played entirely in Augmented Reality. The idea is to battle friends in real time, with the sci-fi battlefield seemingly beamed onto a nearby table or flat surface through your iPhone’s screen.

This kind of gaming won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s an impressive example of a budding technology. A handful of other AR demos showcase some broader uses, including projecting constellations onto the night sky and tracking baseball stats in real time by pointing your phone at players from the stands.

Bionic power

The iPhone X contains an all-new 64-bit A11 Bionic chip that bumps the processing core count up from four to six. More cores means more power, and better multitasking.

Four of those cores are high-efficiency cores, which are 70% faster than the equivalent setup in the iPhone 7’s A10 Fusion chip. There are also two high-performance cores, which are 20% faster than the previous model.

Apple’s second-generation performance controller means that the A11 can use all six cores at once if it needs to, and there’s also a new Apple-designed three-core GPU that’s 30% faster than before.

It all amounts to a phone that’s considerably more powerful than even the iPad Pro, which was Apple’s previous power player.

The A11 Bionic also includes a dedicated neural engine to help out with Face ID and AR without drawing too much power. These kind of stats are hard to get your head around if you’re not a tech nerd, so just trust us: this new A11 chip looks incredible.

Price and availability

You’ll be able to pre-order the iPhone X from October 27, with availability set for November 3. That’s more than a month later than the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, and you can expect supplies to be limited.

There’s a considerable cost for all this cutting edge technology, too. Prices will start from $999/£999 for the 64GB model, and will top out at $1,149/£1,149 for the 256GB model.

The iPhone X will be available in either silver or space gray. Will you be grabbing one?