Dec 17

iPhone X and the critics’ Festival Of Wrong

9.12.17: Critics anxiously await the unveiling of iPhone X

Getting Apple wrong is hardly anything new. Apple naysayers and wrongness share a rich and glorious history.

Remember, Apple failed when it created a computer that works with a mouse; when it left the floppy drive out of iMac; when it forgot how to innovate after iPhone; when it built a watch nobody wanted; when [your favorite fail here].

But history be damned. Following three years of physically unchanged iPhones, iPhone X was a target many critics couldn’t resist.

The result? We were treated to a veritable Festival Of Wrong, served up by countless critics in four distinct phases.

Phase 1: Pre-announcement

A rumor is a wondrous thing. It allows negativity to thrive before a little thing like reality gets in the way.

In the months leading up to the 2017 iPhone launch event, we knew there would be a “10th anniversary iPhone.” We knew Face ID would replace Touch ID. And, horror of horrors, we knew it would have a notch — which served as the naysayers’ starting bell.

Then the rumor emerged that iPhone X was suffering delays. It might not even ship until 2018, missing the holiday season entirely — generating even more negative press.

Good lord, Apple. Is there no end to your ineptitude?

Phase 2: The unveiling

Once Apple revealed iPhone X, the second-guessing could truly begin. Because, although we could see the features, no one would actually spend quality time with the product until it shipped more than a month in the future.

As expected, the notch was a lightning rod for negativity. It was slammed in countless opinion articles, and even took fire from many who have long shared Apple’s values.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber—
It offends me. It’s ungainly and unnatural … I think Jony Ive either lost a bet or lost his mind. It looks silly, and to pretend otherwise is nonsense.

Apple made the wrong choice with the notch… It’s ‘ugly,’ ‘messy,’ and it ‘mars’ an otherwise gorgeous device.

The truth is, design is one of the most subjective things on this planet. What’s “different” to some is a “disaster” to others. But hold that thought.

During the launch event, we got an impressive demo of Face ID — with an untimely glitch that didn’t go unnoticed. In a parade of articles, critics questioned how secure Face ID really was, or if it would really work. Some found it too complicated. How dare Apple take away our beloved Touch ID?!

The kicker, of course, was the $1,000 price tag. Clearly this would scare off all but the most devoted fans. Surveys said so!

Phase 3: Alarming iPhone 8 sales

Bad enough that iPhone X was delayed. Now, for the first time in history, initial sales of iPhone 8 were trailing initial iPhone 7 sales from the previous year. A dispiriting one-two punch of failure.

Except for one little fact. This was also the first time in iPhone history that initial sales did not include the flagship model. But hey, why wait for iPhone X when the warning bell can be rung today?

Apple iPhone 8 Early Sales Data Aren’t Encouraging (The Street)
‘Anemic’ iPhone 8 demand drags Apple shares lower (Reuters)
Concerns over ‘anemic’ iPhone 8 demand, production cuts weigh down Apple (Chicago Tribune)

And, of course, one imaginary problem leads directly to another. iPhone X better sell really well — or else.

iPhone 8 Posts Weak Initial Sales, Pressuring iPhone X (Wall Street Journal)
• Apparent weakness in iPhone 8 sales turns up pressure on Apple (Market Watch)
Apple iPhone Price Under Pressure As Buyers Seek Cheaper Devices (Bloomberg)

Phase 4: iPhone X preorders

For those cataloging iPhone X failures, price was the low-hanging fruit. A thousand bucks for a phone? Ha!

Then preorders opened. Within minutes, iPhone X supplies were depleted, delivery time slipped to weeks and the AAPL stock price hit a record high. The “too expensive” argument vanished in the blink of an eye.

You’d think that after all these years, more analysts would understand the business model that built the world’s most valuable company. Apple sells premium products to people who believe its products are worth a premium price.

Surely a $1,000 price would blow up this model — until it didn’t.

iPhone X ships, the truth emerges

With an iPhone X in hand, reviewers and customers could actually give iPhone X a real-world workout, evaluate its features and judge its horrifying flaws.

The verdict: iPhone X is an undeniable hit. AirPods aside, I’d say iPhone X has received more attention, and more rave reviews, than any product in recent Apple history.

That “ugly, messy, unnatural” notch? Most reviewers felt it disappeared in everyday use. (Personal opinion: never bothered me for a second.)

That overly complicated Face ID? Fear turned into delight. (Personal opinion 2: it’s effortless and instant—worthy of Apple’s favorite word, “magic.”)

No Home button? Turns out that gestures make the Home button feel as modern as the steam engine.

A naysayer’s work is never done

And so it was that one of Apple’s most criticized unshipped products turned into one of its most successful shipping products. Hundreds of negative articles and predictions proved to be flat-out wrong.

True, some will loathe the notch till their last breath, but the vast majority of paying customers see a superb device that’s worth the money.

However, if you’re a fan of endless negativity, cheer up — because apparently nothing can stop a determined naysayer from saying nay.

• Your iPhone X is already obsolete (US News)
Yes, Apple is rumored to be working on three even better models for the 2018 holiday season. Better wait for the good ones.

Now Apple must show what’s next after iPhone X (MarketWatch)
Literally five days after iPhone X shipped, MarketWatch issued their challenge. You’re on notice, Apple!

Embrace the inevitable, enjoy the show

Just as Apple exists in a competitive world, so do its critics. In the Apple opinion business, it pays to be an early responder, and there’s rarely a downside to sticking one’s neck out. Retractions are rare and life goes on.

So the best advice is — enjoy! This show has been playing for more than 20 years, and it won’t be closing anytime soon. Think of it as “fake news for the rest of us.”

Here’s to a happy, opinionated 2018!


  • “Personal opinion: never bothered me for a second” Bugs me (depends on the app I’m in) but I understand why it’s there. What bugs me even more is the white (or grey or black) line at the bottom of almost every screen – the “Home Indicator”. Drives me nuts!

  • lookmark

    In fairness, Gruber’s “I think Jony Ive either lost a bet or lost his mind. It looks silly, and to pretend otherwise is nonsense” is specifically about the notch in landscape. I agree the notch feels a bit goofier in landscape… but landscape isn’t used very often, so it’s not really that big of an issue. Btw, all in on notch here. Like the way some apps deal w/ it more than others, but an interesting decision and very Apple.

  • “but landscape isn’t used very often”

    Don’t make the mistake of assuming your use case is true for many/others/everyone. :) I use landscape mode all the time, not just for video.

  • G.

    Asking for a hardware button on a touch screen device is a dumb argument to begin with, I believe they wanted to get rid of it a long time ago (I wanted it gone in 2013).

    That notch will also go away, wish it was first version but trust me there are ways to get rid of the notch but requires some invention (non trivial), which is great.

    People will pay $1000 for a Phone, they’ll pay $1200 as they do more computing on it than their computers, question is where can you push it and not have a backlash, $1200 is still Apple reasonable.

    As for the floppy, you couldn’t even store an Mp3 on it when they killed it and we had the internet and CDs, the people who wanted the floppy were either too much into being a nerd or flat out hating/crazy, the only port Apple is missing is one USB (along the USB-C) and also turning their charging Cable MagSafe again so your laptop doesn’t fall off your desk, when it does it increases sales a tiny bit but if it doesn’t fall off your desk you think “Apple thought of this, how nice, my laptop would’ve fallen off”, that’s appreciation worth more than an extra sale and brand love and loyalty.

    There’s a huge business around criticizing or supporting Apple and both sites get paid so my guess is it’ll keep going on for a very long time, democracy has 2 sides by default and you can’t have your glory and not get some hate, got to take both and be grateful for it.

  • G

    Btw, love the pitchforks, too good.

  • Hmm. Not sure why you refer to that line at the bottom as the “Home Indicator,” since it allows you to swipe left and right between running apps or up to get home. Thought that was pretty nifty myself.

    But back to the bigger point—

    I’m always awed by the degree to which negativity can shape opinions not because it is true or accurate, but because it is unrelenting. (A basic premise of political advertising.)

    To me, opinions about the notch are a perfect example of seeing the glass half full or half empty. Does the notch intrude on available screen space, or does it reclaim some of the dead space that’s always come with a thick upper bezel?

    But much of the notch negativity was more about design than function. It was “ugly” and “messy” and more. Again, that’s totally subjective. Personally, I think it looks cool. And there’s no denying that it “brands” a phone that wouldn’t look much different at first glance.

    Since no phone is perfect, it’s wise to judge phones on their totality. In total, I think iPhone X is just killer. To me, the biggest knock is that the notch can intrude in landscape mode. I’m rarely in that mode, so it’s a non-issue to me. Those who are deeply offended can (a) watch a smaller image in “notchless” mode where available, (b) wait for app makers to optimize their apps for iPhone X, or (c) don’t buy it! There are a few other choices in this world.

    For those who pass on the current model, it’s a safe bet that next year’s models will offer more choices. The notch will evolve or be eliminated. And I’ll be extremely surprised if Apple doesn’t introduce a larger iPhone X, which would make landscape notchless mode more palatable to the conscientious objectors.

  • G

    Seriously great point that it does brand the phone, that notch is going away for sure as a notch-less design will be more appealing and simpler, but in a weird way the notch does give the phone character. Well spotted, nobody pointed that out, but a bit of weird works especially if it’s easy enough on the eyes, I know that to be true from experience. People who were looking at iPhone 8 sales as an indicator of anything while the X was still not on sale surprised me, it’s obvious most would hold out for the X.

  • datasmog

    The majority of the articles published prior to launch were just clickbait or page fillers.
    Anything with Apple or iPhone in the title is going to get attention.