Tech by VICE

The Procrastinator's Guide to the New iPhones

A no-bullshit examination of everything Apple announced.

by Kyle Wagner
Sep 13 2017, 3:06pm

Image: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Apple announced its new iPhones Tuesday in a two-hour-long commercial livestreamed from the new Steve Jobs Mausoleum at the company's new Cupertino campus. As always, this was a pitch for a system of products, a whole ecosystem of devices and software and accessories that, increasingly, don't fucking work together. Rather than obsess over the technical minutia, here's what you actually need to know.

iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus

There are two things you need to know about these phones: They have wireless charging, and the back of the phone is made of glass, so you can once again shatter the back of your phone when you drop it. Otherwise, this is basically the same phone as last year which was the same phone as the year before...as the year before. The difference, of course, being that by now many of those identical phones don't fucking work because they no longer get software updates, their batteries no longer charge, or some combination of feature bloat, bug-addled updates, and basic wear and tear has ensured that your phone today doesn't work anything like it did the day you bought it. (Mine sure doesn't.) Tightly scheduled obsolescence has won out.

The glass is allegedly "most durable glass ever in a smartphone" which is in about the same class as being the most bulletproof nipple pasties, but it's necessary for the Qi (pronounced "chee") wireless charging.

Wireless charging is a neat trick. You'll probably like it if you get around to buying enough charging pads to make it convenient. But! It is 1. a feature that other phone companies have had for the better part of a decade now and 2. so late to the party that it's less useful now than it would have been five years ago. Why? Because wireless charging requires that you actually put your phone down. A few extension cords and a bigass USB cable will get you more mileage at home when you're on the couch or texting in bed or laid out on the floor because if you're old and broken and it feels nice on your mangled back.

Image: Apple

Things you don't need to think very much about: The phone is "fast." It has a new 64-bit, six-core A11 bionic chip that Apple says is the fastest ever, because a new chip that is slower than the old ones is practically impossible to do. Although, that being the case…the GPU is the "first Apple-designed" graphics processor to appear in an iPhone. Apple has spent years building up its chip-making and designing capabilities for a variety of business and manufacturing reasons, and this is probably nothing more than a footnote, but this being Apple's first run at designing a graphical processor adds an element to the always-amusing "We didn't make our phone worse this year!" claim, which is, "Unless we did."

The camera is better because the camera is always better. It takes better slow motion (240fps at 1080p) better 4K video (60fps), and does a little better in low-light (faint, faint praise), but the big new trick this year is "portrait lighting" which promises to help you take more flattering selfies. This could be a VERY BIG UPGRADE for lots of you who take VERY BAD SELFIES but probably not a very big deal overall. I could be wrong. Live Photos, the feature that allows you to press down on a photo to see a few seconds of compressed video taken before and after the shot, is one of the more charming features on the iPhone in a while and that was just a dumb throw-in feature. So maybe making you more appear to be attractive on Tinder will be a game-changer.

Siri won a made-up Emmy, received scant further mention, and can be presumed to remain worthless.

Apple also said that the new iPhone gets two more hours of battery life than the last iPhone but Apple says this every single year and the claim has never meant less. For one, that is a made up number derived from a standardized usage that fits basically no one. For another, every iPhone's battery life is great for the first few weeks—the real test is how well it holds up over time. This past year there was a widespread battery issue with the iPhone 6S (the phone anyone on a two-year upgrade cycle will be coming from) that caused rapid drain and random shutoffs. Apple replaced the batteries on affected devices for free, but only after months of complaints from people whose phones would stop working at random times. Battery life is the most important feature a phone has, and until Apple puts real effort into doing better than incremental gains you can expect typical iPhone performance followed closely by typical iPhone deterioration. Which is to say typical smartphone bullshit.

Storage for the 8 and 8 Plus is only available at 64GB ($700 and $800 for the 8 and 8 Plus, respectively) and 256GB ($850 and $950) which, for once, is a fair mix of just enough space and enough to host the Pirate Bay.

Oh and they once again have no 3.5mm headphone jacks because tech companies have shit for brains. The prevailing trend is trading major hits to usability for marginal gains in design efficiency, like saving space on the jacks, or dropping MagSafe (was just about perfect) for USB-C in the MacBook, or the facial recognition circus we'll get to in just a minute.

Apple Watch

Image: Apple

Ordinarily the watch would be way at the bottom of the list for reasons such as "lmao Apple Watch" and general irrelevance, but we need to pull one feature up higher. Toward the middle of the Apple Watch presentation, Apple COO Jeff Williams threw out a small but ridiculous feature. He said Apple Watch users were often surprised by their heart rates elevating at unexpected times, so Apple built an alert system to notify users when their heart rates rise but they seem to be sitting around. Soooo activities that cause an elevated heart rate while your left arm remains relatively motionless narrows down to, what, job interviews, poker games, and certain sex stuff. Take an honest inventory of how often you do each of those things and you're going to be left with a time-coded list of your jerkoff sessions. Which, sure!

The other shit it gets—built-in cellular data, music streaming, talking Siri—bring it more or less in line with what everyone assumed it would be able to do two years ago. In theory this could mean you can ditch your phone in favor of an Apple Watch, but I'm coming up short for why anyone would do that outside of when you go out for a run. Especially when the "all day" battery life turns out to be ONE HOUR of talk time or four hours of LTE/GPS. The Apple Watch is still a solution to a bunch of problems that can be solved by reaching into your pocket. It is excessive and unnecessary on every practical level, but damnedest thing is, until now it didn't even make sense on an impractical level—it served no purpose and added no value.

IPHONE X

Image: Apple

Baaaahahahaha this costs $1,000 and it's WORSE than the iPhone 8.

The iPhone X (you sound out the "ten") is the fancy new iPhone with an edge-to-edge screen, no home button, and which unlocks via facial recognition. I don't have strong opinions on the home button or facial recognition beyond the fact that they're first-generation tech for Apple, and first-generation tech is to be avoided. Just like batteries degrade over time, other components can break down in unexpected ways. Like, has anyone used this in direct sunlight yet? The shit didn't even work on stage, man.

Biometric facial recognition is not a new technology, but it's new to Apple and replacing a technology that had been rock solid (the TouchID fingerprint scanner). Apple says it's very proud of the work its engineers did to make a facial scanner up to the task other companies' engineers have been doing since 2012 or so. And fair enough! But what it didn't say was that, according to various media reports, its engineers had also been working to find a solution that would allow them to include Touch ID sensors built right into the screen or on the back panel, and apparently came up empty.

(And, Apple says the technology can tell if you're growing facial hair or putting on weight, but twins are fucked apparently? Phil Schiller began talking about how close family relatives throw this system off, and I thought he was going to pivot like, "Actually we're good enough for even this!" but no! He quickly moved along like "Nahhhh watch your back don't get got out there." Twins are fairly rare, and I find family resemblance in general to be creepy and off-putting and so am all for undermining it as an institution, but still: "Can't win 'em all!" as a selling point is a new one.)

Image: Apple

Related: The screen, which is the first OLED screen on an iPhone, is to hear Apple tell it, the "first OLED screen great enough to be in an iPhone." This is a creative way of saying that it is the first time Apple could convince anyone to sell it the good OLED screens (the new screens are made by Samsung), but it seems to be quite nice despite being called a "Super Retina Display" which SHOULD have no appreciable meaning considering the original definition of a Retina Display was that it was as pixel-dense as it would ever need to be.

Anyway, beyond the facial recognition thing, there seems to be very little to recommend about the phone itself beyond the screen. The screen is by all accounts gorgeous. But that's really it. The flunkies on stage literally re-did the iPhone 8 presentation during the iPhone X time slot, reminding the audience about features they had hurried through 20 minutes prior. "And hey, wireless charging!" "Get a load of this chip! Which is in the other, cheaper phone as well but this one isn't any worse!" It was an interesting sell.

You can also use the facial recognition camera to record obnoxious animated emoji messages, which I will use a LOT the first week and then likely never again.

APPLE TV 4K

It, uh, does 4K.