First I’ve heard that iOS 12 was going to feature a Springboard redesign. I still don’t really feel that software quality has particularly gone down at all, but what do I know?
Emojipedia Unicode 11.0
Christmas Eve 2006 I woke up to a weird sound, a kind of sharp yap that I hadn’t heard before coming from the next room, but given the context it didn’t take long for me to realize that we were waking up to a puppy the next day. I still remember trying to hard to play it cool like I didn’t know when we went downstairs the next morning. My sister Sarah immediately saw the kennel with the tiny puppy moving around so excited by all the activity. I, coolly, ignored the temptation and picked up the new skateboard waiting for me, only ‘noticing’ the puppy after 30 seconds or so. “Calvin, how long have you known?” My dad couldn’t be fooled.
That was how we met our Lady Bug.
While my mom and sister were trying to figure out what a good name for her would be we all took turns holding this tiny puppy who could fit in our two hands and playing with the various toys we had gotten with her. I’m pretty sure we still have one or two of those, but it was hard because she was so destructive she never had a toy last without holes more than a day or two. She had such a strong bite, even when she was tiny it was legitimately hard to win a game of tug of war. I would always feel kinda bad but mostly impressed when I would lift her off the ground during a game and she would support her weight with her teeth would batting an eye. Or when I would start to spin her around on a tiled floor and then let go, and watch her momentum keep her going for a few rotations. As soon as she regained her balance she would go right back to the game.
Her favorite game, but our least favorite, was always just running around the coffee table while we chased her. It was such a boring game, but she loved it completely. It never ended because she stopped, always because Sarah or I just got sick of running around the same spot in the living room for 5 minutes. And I don’t know how many dogs you could say this about, but she never fell for the fake throw when playing fetch. She always knew when we were trying to trick her, and came running back as if to say “I see what you did there, now throw the damn ball.” Most of the time, however, you’d find her sitting on the couch, taking a nap next to Sarah. I always joked that she was the biggest couch potato in the house.
Lady was always a bit, well, given the circumstances I’ll say fearless, but during the times I was less forgiving I would call it mean. She had a habit of lashing out at anything smaller than a young human, no matter how out-matched her tiny frame was. It certainly got her into some trouble over her lifetime, but somehow she managed never to cause too much damage, minus a few scratches on infants Sarah would babysit. My sister insists that she grew out of this habit in her later years, but I always knew it was a streak that was there. It was just part of her personality, although she did eventually learn to behave with the other pets my family gathered over the years. But to us, her family, she was as sweet as could be, and no matter how many times people (including my wife) told us how disgusting it was we always loved her excited kisses.
Last night Lady had to be put down. She’s been having health problems over the last year, mostly related to terrible breeding, and finally Sarah had to make the decision to let her go. It was a hard day when we all realized that it was time. I FaceTimed with Sarah and Lady yesterday to say goodbye. She couldn’t lay down because her airway kept getting blocked, so she hadn’t slept in quite a while and she was very tired. And to make things worse it was raining, and she always got scared and hid in the bathrooms during storm. But in a way it was appropriate. She has lived through hundreds of storms in her life, and I’m sure each time she knew it would pass and that everything would end up ok. Her last storm was no exception.
The last time I saw her was beautiful. My whole family had gotten together for my dad’s birthday last summer, and after watching a movie and playing some board games everyone but me took a nap. I sat on the rocking chair and Lady snuggled right up next to me. She sat there and we rocked together for about an hour. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day.
Thank you for the good years Lady. Goodbye.
In addition to the changes to reduce OLED burn in, the new Home Indicator and associated gestures, and support for other new hardware features there are also a handful of little changes to the iOS builds that run on the iPhone X. Some of these, like moving Control Center to the top right of the screen instead of the bottom and the lack of a battery percentage label in the status bar are concessions to the new restrictions of the device and the placement of the sensor housing.
The device's Lock Status Indicator is also much more prominent now than it is on other iOS devices, no longer replacing the time in the status bar on the lock screen but rather living above the time under the sensor housing as a prominent icon to indicate lock status. This has the effect of placing much more importance on the device's current lock state on the lock screen, which is helpful when dealing with private notifications and enabling access to certain control center functions (I have HomeKit locked down when the device is locked for instance.) Because the core experience of unlocking your phone has become much less familiar to many users this seems like a reasonable concession, but there are other choices throughout iOS that make less sense.
There are now two icons near the bottom of the Lock Screen to give you quick access to the Flashlight and the Camera functions. They are small and fade away when you start scrolling through notifications, so they're mostly harmless, and they click with a satisfying taptic response that reminds me of the static Home Button on the iPhone 7. These buttons still live in Control Center, so I'm not sure what the messaging Apple is trying to convey with them is. Is this an admission that Control Center is far less convenient living in it's new position in the top right of the screen? If so, why not make these buttons customizable, like Control Center is? And why give a third lock screen short cut to the Camera app, in addition to Control Center and swiping to the right of the Lock Screen, rather than giving that position to other Control Center functionality. It seems like one of these shortcuts should have sufficed. That being said I am loving having access to the Flashlight right from the lock screen and I find myself using it far more often. I just don't particularly see a reason for these software changes to only come to the iPhone X and not to all iOS 11 devices.
Ditto for a few other tweaks around the platform, such as the 'Done' button that appears when rearranging apps. Users have been trained since iPhone OS 1.1.3 and the January '08 Update to click the Home Button to end 'Wiggle Mode.' The Home Button may be gone now, but in most places the Home Indicator's swipe up gesture still works in the same way, getting you out of various states in the system the same way the Home Button used to. So on the Home screen in 'Wiggle Mode' a quick swipe up from the bottom of the screen performs the same action as the new 'Done' button, making it a curious decision to train users away from the traditional Home Button actions.
The other curious difference between iOS 11 running on an iPhone X and an iPhone 8 is the new action to force quit apps from the multi-tasking view, which typically you should not do but remains a helpful tool when dealing with a problematic app. Since iOS 8 this has been done by entering the app-switcher and swiping up on an app card to dismiss it, and this is still the case on most iPhone models, but on iPhone X the new gesture requires a two step process, tapping and holding on an app card until you see a red dismiss indicator. From there the app can be quit by swiping up like usual or tapping the dismiss indicator. If you try quitting an app the old way without performing this first step you will find yourself returning home as if you never made a stop to the app switcher on the way to dismissing an app.
These changes are certainly minor, but they mark an new chapter in the history of iOS. Even when new features were limited to new hardware, such as when the iPhone 3GS gained video functionality in the camera app but other phones did not, or when actions became more weird on existing devices only to make sense when new devices came out, such as when the App Switcher behavior changed in iOS 9 only to make sense with the iPhone 6S's 3D Touch App Switching, users have always been rewarded for their training on iOS gestures and actions. No matter what iPhone you picked up as long as it was running the latest iOS gestures would work the same way as on your existing phone, augmented perhaps but not replaced. These new changes seems like a distinctive fork in the road however, an indication that not only are core iOS functions changing their shape, but that the experience of using an iPhone X should be not only about learning new gestures and actions, but changing behaviors even compared to those who bought the other flagship iPhone this year. How long this will last and what it means for the future of the platform will be interesting questions to keep up with in the future.
Speaking of the future, the iPhone 8 and iPhone X come with support for inductive charging (not wireless) through the Qi standard now, enabled by the return of the glass back on the devices. This has been a long time coming, Android phones and even the Palm Pre had this functionality years ago, but like many features Apple tends to hold back until they can make a solid implementation, and in 2017 they're finally ready. It seems that this decision was made mostly for the AirPower, the new charging device they will be shipping sometime in early 2018 that can charge up to three Apple devices at a time with a single Lightning cable. So how well does it work?
Not all that well really, at least if speed is your concern. After placing the phone down on a Qi charging pad the phone gives the familiar charging sound and the battery indicator lights up (with a cool new animation on the iPhone X), but charge comes in at a trickle. Most of the time I find it charging my phone at a rate of a few percent an hour if I'm still using it on and off. If I leave it charging overnight it's at 100% by the next morning, but I do sometimes have to fumble to get the device to lay down correctly on the charging pad in the dark. Honestly the struggle is no worse than I used to deal with to get the phone into it's charging dock in the middle of the night though. Apple says there are some software limitations restricting the rate the iPhone can charge from an inductive pad that they will be lifting in a future version of iOS 11 which should help matters slightly, but you still won't be able to do any fast charging without plugging in a Lightning cable.
However, for me the Qi charging has hit that 'good enough' threshold even if it's not fast. I've gotten two cheap charging pads from Amazon, since I really don't want to drop $60 on the Belkin or Mophie models Apple is selling only to turn around and buy an AirPower next year. I keep one on my nightstand where the phone lays flat for overnight charging, and one at my desk at work where the phone is raised and pointing to my face so I can still use it throughout the day. Waking up with 100% charge, by the time I get to work and put my phone down on the charging pad it's still at ~80-90%, and throughout the day it will typically hover around there until I leave work. It's certainly really nice to be able to just pick up my phone and walk away rather than having to remove a cable from the Lightning connector, and with wireless debugging in Xcode 9 I've really enjoyed this next step towards the fully wireless lifestyle. I still need to use the Lightning connector for CarPlay (although now the wireless CarPlay dash unit is much more tempting) and I'm sure every now and then I will be out and about and need to charge up my battery quickly and use my MacBook Escape power brick and a fast charging USB-C to Lightning cable, but otherwise this is a great addition to the wireless iPhone experience.
I'm particularly excited about the AirPower, and really can't wait to get my hands on it. Ever since getting my MacBook Escape in 2015 I've been able to tailor my travel cable box with only USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to Lightning cables. I charge my Apple Watch with Apple's Magnetic Charging Dock which uses Lightning for power, and now that even my Switch charges with USB-C a handful of those cables pretty much charge everything I need to charge while I'm traveling. Adding in AirPower will remove a few redundant lightning cables and the Apple Watch Charging Dock, which will save a good deal of space.
One other change I'll be making when I'm traveling is to actually put a case on this device. The glass back is much grippier than previous iPhone designs, although very similar to my Jet Black iPhone 7, and Apple claims that this is the most durable glass on both sides that has ever shipped on iPhone, but anecdotally my wife was able to crack the back glass on her iPhone 8 within three days of getting the device, so I'm not sure how much confidence that gives me. I do have AppleCare Plus through the iPhone Upgrade Program, so even if something happens it'll just mean a $99 replacement fee rather than the very expensive fees Stephen Hackett laid out recently, so that's enough peace of mind to prevent me from always using a case. I'm still a bit nervous handling the device though, especially in circumstance where I'm distracted, or when I'm wearing gloves during my morning walk, so I'll be keeping my phone safe(er) in its leather case during those times and I should be fine.
So there we are, a week in to life with the iPhone X (exactly a week since I entered the store as I write this) those are my first impressions. It's a fantastic device, with a much more luxurious feeling than many previous iPhones, perhaps since the first one. The usability is fantastic and FaceID is a huge improvement to the experience of maintaining security on the platform, and I'm really excited to see it expand beyond the iPhone X line (I'm hoping for a surprise FaceID module in the iMac Pro.) I've traditionally kept up with every iPhone since the 6, which the iPhone Upgrade Program has really helped with, but this time I think I'll probably hold onto the iPhone X next year and avoid the temptation of whatever comes out next. I think this is a phone I'll want to keep for a long time rather than trading in.
Part II of my iPhone X Review. Check out Part 1
FaceID setup was over before I remembered to pay much attention to it. The process was incredibly easy, even if it made me feel a bit silly. Setup happened during device setup, and while I have wanted to go in and reset FaceID to pay a little more attention to the process I’m holding back because, unlike TouchID, FaceID is backed by machine learning, where not only the original training images but also every successful unlock afterwards contribute to its education. After all, while your finger prints rarely ever change, our faces are always changing and growing. Regardless, the process was much easier than the TouchID setup which, while simple and clear, required far more attention payed to make sure the scanner was getting a good reading of your fingers. FaceID in comparison required only two rotations of your head, and then you’re all set.
I remember when the iPhone 5S first came out there were articles about how you could trick the sensor into recognizing 10 fingers, instead of the usual 5, by just swapping a second finger in during the scanning process. I would be curious to see if something like that would work with FaceID, where I do the first face rotation and swap in my wife for the second. I imagine that would have non-trivial security implications, but I think I could live with reducing the reliability of FaceID back into the range of TouchID for the benefit of not having my wife asking for my passcode every time she wants to access my phone. We both made sure to set up the other’s finger print onto our phones in the past, which I imagine many do, so it would be great to regain that lost convenience.
FaceID has otherwise been working really well for me. I’ve heard a lot of commentators use the word ‘flawless’ and then describe all of the restrictions and caveats, so I’m gonna try to avoid that. Bottom line, FaceID works, and the compromises compared to TouchID easily match the new benefits. So what compromises are those?
First of all there’s the mentioned restriction to one face, but also there are positions I use my device in that just don’t work with FaceID. One is when I’m laying on my side in bed and holding my phone in portrait orientation. Another is when I have my phone resting on a table and want to look over and read some notifications or check Twitter. I can lean over the device to unlock it (tap to wake makes this experience so much easier than it sounds by the way), but sometimes I’m not quick enough or not at the right angle to get it right the first time and it requires some more work (more on that later.)
The last big case where I notice FaceID consistently doesn’t work is when I’m using my phone with my glasses off. Not because it doesn't recognize me without them, it works fine with contacts for instance, but I am very near sighted, to the point where when I use my phone with my natural eyesight I have to hold it so close to my face that it becomes easier to interact with the screen with my nose rather than squeezing a finger between my phone and my face. When you have your face that close to the device FaceID just isn’t able to get a good enough look to be certain it’s you, so I find myself entering my passcode with my nose a lot first thing in the morning..
But there are many benefits to FaceID that augment the TouchID experience. For one, while I really liked the lock screen changes in iOS 10 that gave it distinct behavior between locked and unlocked states I felt that the action of unlocking was too subtle to do consistently. You had to make sure the screen was on and rest your finger on the TouchID sensor without pressing it to unlock the device, and you would know it works because a tiny lock icon in the status bar would animate to an unlocked position. That experience is far easier to trigger now that the acts of unlocking your phone with a glance and opening the lock screen with a swipe are two distinct actions which can be performed either together or independently.
With winter finally coming to Boston I also got to experience the amazing benefit of using my phone with my gloves on this week. With TouchID if I was using my phone a lot I got into the habit of leaving my gloves on mostly but leaving my thumb out in the cold air so I could trigger TouchID. The tech gloves I use are pretty good but fail at entering a passcode quite often. With FaceID the process is just a simple swipe while the sensors authenticate me, scarf, hat and all.
I haven’t been able to trick FaceID up with any accessory changes. It works with my glasses on or off, with my highly reflective polarized MVMT sunglasses, with various hats, etc. It also has a built in method of training, where if it fails to recognize you with enough accuracy to unlock the device but you unlock it with a passcode it will add that new reading of your face to its training set, allowing it to actually learn from its mistakes and get better over time. This is the reason I’ve been hesitant to reset FaceID and try to train my wives face along with mine, because I don’t want it to lose the work it’s already done to get to know me. This is something I need to get better at though. When it does fail, for whatever reason, I find myself putting the device to sleep for a moment and waking it back up to try again. Most of the time that is enough to get it to work, but I then remember that the right thing to do would be to just enter my passcode. Maybe once the novelty of unlocking with my face wears off I’ll remember to fall back to passcode, and hopefully that happens less and less often.
FaceID is one part of the iPhone X's new camera array, which includes two iSight cameras on the back of the device for the first time in a non-plus iPhone model, and the FaceTime camera augmented by FaceID's IR sensor array. For the first time both the iSight and FaceTime cameras are able to produce Portrait mode photos with the digital bokeh effect which debuted last year with the 7 Plus model, and man is it fun. I was really bummed last year to miss out on this in 2016, I switched from the Plus model to the 4.7" iPhone 7, and the dual-camera system was the only thing that ever tempted me about the larger iPhone 7 Plus. Looking forward to the iPhone X the new cameras were by far the thing I was most excited about.
I'm certainly not a professional, or even a well-educated amateur, photographer by any means, but I've always enjoyed taking photos. I would take my family's DSLR camera out and spend hours finding little details of our yard to capture. For the first time in years that habit has returned. The photos are coming out beautifully, and because of the new HEIC (High Efficiency Image Container) image format in iOS 11, which stores the original photo and the associated metadata and depth map to render the photo with various effects, every picture I take can be edited after the fact to remove portrait mode, change the portrait effects, or to crop or edit the image in a non-destructive manner. So even when a Portrait image turns out not so great I can just go back and change it after the fact to get a standard image.
Portrait mode certainly still seems to have trouble in non-standard situations, standard here meaning actually taking a portrait of a person. The machine learning that powers the technology is tuned to focus on human faces, so taking a photo of my cat in profile for instance creates many false edges that stick out like a sore thumb if you look for them. But in most cases, even when not taking an actual portrait, the photos certainly have that 'good enough' feel to them. Anecdotally, Portrait mode photos are the only thing my wife absolutely loves about the new phone compared to her iPhone 8.
I won't spend too much more time here giving my uninformed opinion or comparing the photos to what you would get from an SLR camera with a larger lens and body. Suffice it to say that I'm incredibly happy with my iPhone X cameras and have very much enjoyed this new opportunity to get back into Instagram, and it's so nice being able to zoom to 2X without destruction to the photo quality.
The awesome photos go so well with this new incredible OLED screen. I'm not all that observant of color profiles and such, and I don't have a handful of other devices laying around to compare the screen to, so I'll just talk about what I can notice on my iPhone X.
I watched Atomic Blonde over the week to check out some HDR content. That is a very dark movie and the black level was very impressive. The colors that did peek through were so vibrant it made it a really fun experience to watch even on my phone. And the lack of any 'depth' between the glass and display is hard to believe. These two things together create the illusion when I look at the infamous 'notch' (or 'sensor housing') that it's just made of black pixels resting at the same level as the rest of the screen.
Much has been made of the Pixel 2 XL's OLED screen color-shifting, and the burn-in noticeable after just a week of using the device. Those are known concerns on any OLED display, and things that Apple and Google both had to keep in mind when developing these devices. So how'd they do?
Well by all accounts Apple has tuned their displays to reduce the shifting color profile as much as possible. According to reports Apple is individually(!!!) calibrating each display that comes off of the assembly line, rather than just creating a calibration profile intended to work with all iPhone X OLED displays. This attention to detail has resulted in practically no red-shifting, but blue-shifting quickly becomes visible viewing 30-40 degrees off center. No one at work has a Pixel 2 XL yet though, so I can't compare much better or worse it is at that.
As for burn-in it looks like Apple is being very proactive with the software to reduce the risks of this. Android is not helped by their persistent software buttons at the bottom of the screen, which is where burn-in on the Pixel 2 XL is most noticeable allegedly, but now that Apple has the Home Indicator at the bottom of the screen pretty much at all times it's something to watch here as well. The software is working overtime to make sure that this indicator moves and changes color slightly though to avoid this issue, which should certainly help. And other feature of iOS that used to be 'nice to haves' are now critical for display longevity, such as perspective shifting wallpapers and auto-brightness adjustment.
I've been a fan of Night Shift since it debuted in iOS 9.3, and have never considered turning it off once. With True Tone finally arriving on the iPhone X after two years on the iPad Pro lineup the iPhone finally adjusts light temperature to match the ambient room lighting automatically, an effect that in my opinion doesn't work well at all with Night Shift enabled. For the first time using Night Shift to read in bed after the lights had gone off seemed like more eye strain than was comfortable, but after disabling it and just using True Tone it seems fine. I'll experiment more with this, potentially with a less warm setting, but it seems like with True Tone my days of using Night Shift are over.
Aside from a single experiment in the Plus Club with the 6S Plus I've stuck with the 4.7" iPhone model since 2014, and have gotten very used to the size. When I had the 5.5" phone I really enjoyed having the 'Regular' size class while in landscape and tried to use the phone in landscape whenever I could. I liked the multi-pane view and made sure to keep Plus size landscape screens in mind whenever I designed an app. But for all other uses, on the train, in bed, while walking, the phone was just a bit too much to keep a good grip on. It was hard going back to the 4.7" screen, because at the time it was clear that there were compromises in getting the smaller screened phone.
Finally with the iPhone X not only have they brought these features typically restricted to the largest phones down to a form factor more or less the same as the standard sized devices, but because of the higher price point we also get new features, like OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) on the telephoto iSight lens, which the Plus phones could probably fit but at too high a cost for Apple to maintain its desired profit margins.
The difference between the device size itself compared to an iPhone 7 or 8 is hard to notice. It's slightly wider, but still feels really comfortable to hold in my hands. And the fact that nearly every square centimeter of the device is amazing. Every now and then I will look down at the device while the screen is off and it just doesn't seem right how big I know the screen is.
That being said, I'm honestly not finding the screen size all that much noticeably bigger during every day use. Because it has the same width in points as the iPhone 7, and because a significant portion of the extra screen height is taken up by the Home Indicator, padding, and the extra tall status bar, the iPhone X still has a 'Compact' size class when running in landscape even though it technically has a few more usable points of vertical real estate compared to the 5.5" screen devices. It's not the biggest deal, having rich landscape support wasn't a thing I desperately missed after switching back to smaller phones, but it's a 'nice to have' that I really enjoyed whose absence it felt on the iPhone X. When comparing the phone to my wife's iPhone 8 I am aware that I'm basically getting an extra table view cell at a time, or a couple dozen extra points of space in other apps, but it's not enough for it to be a noticeable difference in everyday use for me.
Where the extra real estate really shines is on the home screen, when watching videos (which, like previous iPhone models, have two scale models. Fit the screen without losing any video content, or fill every pixel of the screen with video even if there's a bit of overflow) in overflow mode, looking at photos, and reading long content (such as this review!) in Safari or News. As nice as those experiences are though, I still find myself lightly underwhelmed by what they're doing with the largest display Apple has shipped on an iPhone before.
That's all for now, Part III coming soon!
TLDR: This is the most transformative iPhone I've seen since the original, and it has the most market potential since the 4/4S. The re-mapping of crucial gestures will keep some people hesitant to upgrade, but there was real thought put into these changes, with only a few questionable decisions. FaceID is a brilliant result of years of product direction, and creates an ease to security that makes it just disappear. Apple still has some improvements to make, especially with their upgrade flow, but the iPhone X is on an exciting path forward.
I've been an iPhone user for over a decade now. That's pretty crazy to think about, but it really goes to show just how much time I've had to dissolve the various functions of the device and iOS. Because I'm an enthusiast and a developer I've been even deeper in the weeds, intimately aware of new hardware and software functionality even when I didn't have the newest phone.
Not counting replacement units I've had seven iPhone models over the last ten years. The eighth is the iPhone X (roman numerals are still silly), released a week ago which I was lucky enough to get my hands on within the first hour. This device attempts to transform the experience of using the hardware that has become so familiar to not only iPhone users, but users of the hundreds of Android devices that have directly copied the iPhone's form and function since 2007. It's a big job, but using the device has made me sure that Apple has been playing it's hands just right for the last four years to finally lay the iPhone X on the table and start cashing in some long bets. Now, a week into owning the iPhone X, I wanted to lay out my thoughts and reactions to this incredible device.
Pre-order & Line
Much was made about the availability of the iPhone X, starting back in the summer. Rumors and supposed production line leaks constantly warned the market that the device would be shipping in (relatively, in terms of iPhone sales) very low quantities until production ramped up in early 2018. In the mean time those of us who were interested in this device would have to fight almost ourselves and our network providers for a low number of pre-order slots that would quickly slip into December and then January. ATP had an interesting discussion last week about the level of veracity that the Apple rumor chain has developed in the past five years and the mistrust they've now introduced with these claims, which have turned out to be mostly bogus.
The pre-order process for most, myself included, was mostly like every year. No absurd waits, no quick slip into the next year. The only difference for me was that I was actually able to place my pre-order within a minute of midnight PDT, rather than furiously refreshing every ten seconds for up to fifteen minutes. I know that my experience here wasn't universal, and many people still couldn't get the pre-order page up for a while, and when they did were greeted with 1-2 or even 2-4 week delays, but the narrative I had heard was that anyone who wasn't able to place an order within sixty seconds of midnight would maybe get their phone in December, if not early next year. Anecdotally, about ten friends of mine were up at Midnight PDT (3 AM on the East Coast) to attempt an iPhone X order. Eight got their confirmation for launch day delivery. One was a week delayed, but was bumped up to launch day delivery a few days later. And one was never able to place an order because of bad hotel wifi and no cellular connection in Amsterdam.
A week later launch day arrived. I always opt for in store pickup, partially because line culture is still a fun thing for me to experience, but also so I don't have to sit around refreshing the UPS tracking system waiting for my delivery sometime during the day. Apple had said that stores would have limited quantity iPhone X devices for walk in orders, and to line up early if you want a chance to get one. When I arrived at the Boylston Street location in Boston it looked like hundreds of people had taken that advice to heart. The lines were dozens long by 8 PM the night before, and had grown to wrap around the block by 7:30 AM when I arrived. And when I left the store an hour later it seemed that people in the walk-in line were still getting their hands on iPhone X, even though at least a few dozen walk-ins had been processed by then. And my one friend who didn't get a pre-order unit? He went to a different Apple location, showed up around 4 AM roughly 50th in line and walked out with two devices. It seems that Apple was able to make a lot of people happy last Friday.
Unboxing & Upgrade
Last year it took me about an hour and a half to set up my new iPhone 7 in-store from my iCloud backup. The location had wifi that was struggling to keep up with the demand of hundreds of devices trying to activate and restore and it left many people, myself included, waiting around playing with demo units unable to use their new phones.
This year I decided to get ahead of that and try activating at a friend's apartment down the street, so after I got my boxed iPhone activated with T-Mobile's network I walked over there to unbox and setup my new phone. Unboxing wasn't anything surprising, all the same accessories came, including the USB-A - Lightning adapter I can only imagine is still included for compatibility with the many USB outlets around the world that haven't been updated yet.
The device itself had a very impressive density to it. The glass on my Silver model had a great color a shine to it, and the chrome frame around the edge reminded me so much of unboxing that very first iPhone in 2007.
Unfortunately I quickly ran into some snags. While the network speeds were much better than the year before (sorry about your bandwidth Steve!) and the iPhone setup process had been much improved in iOS 11 if you had another iOS device around for setup, I had neglected to bring my iPad so I had to go through manual setup. Not only that, but the device shipped with iOS 11.0.3, so before I could finish setup it had to download and install iOS 11.1. There was no option to skip this step and come back later, I couldn't move forward without waiting ~15 minutes for this install to take place. The iCloud backup restore itself took about 10 minutes, and all in all there was a lot of waiting around during the setup process.
Once it finally restored, updated, and activated (I didn't have any trouble activating my phone that day like many others did) I went to re-pair my Apple Watch and hit the other real inconvenience of that day. While my Watch was showing the 'Pair an iPhone to begin' screen, my phone was reporting that my watch was already paired! Some weirdness in the restore process I guess. I tried three times to un-pair and re-pair my Watch at Steve's before I gave up and headed out to work to finish the process there.
Before I left though I realized two things that really upset me. First, while my iPhone was updating to iOS 11.1 it made a backup to iCloud. I had done a backup outside Apple at 7:50 AM, but when I went to restore my Watch from a backup during the pairing process it showed the latest backup at 9:05 AM when my Watch was in the weird paired/but-not state. Restoring from that backup would put my watch in a weird state that it couldn't recover from without a hard reset and starting the pairing process over. Setting it up as a new Watch would mean losing some activity data. Restoring from my backup at 7:50 AM was no longer an option. On a whim I checked my activity data and realized I had lost the last week, including the end of October when I had completed an activity challenge I had put in a lot of work to earn and was really proud of. I had also lost most of my holiday activity challenge badges and many others. So I was not in a great mood when I left my friend’s apartment for work.
That was made worse during the walk when I realized that my cellular connection wasn't working at all. No internet connection and no texts were coming through, even though my iPhone was showing a T-Mobile connection with full bars of LTE. So now I had lots to fix when I got into work.
I struggled with T-Mobile support most of that morning and skipped a team lunch event so I could go to a T-Mobile store to get the issue fixed. Apparently there was just some issue with Apple automating my upgrade that they had to fix manually by having T-Mobile register it a second time. Still not sure what the root cause of the issue was, but I'll make sure to be more careful next time I upgrade and get my existing SIM out of my current phone before I trade it in.
I was really frustrated by these, and it sounds like I wasn't alone. Many people have spoken about difficulties upgrading Apple Watches along with their iPhones, and AT&T seems to have had a network problem that left many of my friends unable to activate their phone for hours after it had arrived. Apple did a lot of work to improve the upgrade process in iOS 11, but it looks like this is one place where software alone can't fix the problem. They need to ensure protections against cellular network outages, or at least allow the phone to continue with asynchronous tasks like downloading iOS 11.1 or registering the device with Apple while it continues to try the cellular activation in the background. And apparently Apple Watch upgrades went fine if you didn't try to outsmart the process, which I did by unpairing my Watch from my iPhone 7 before trading it in. Apple needs to be more clear about how exactly that process should work, because ever since I got my Apple Watch two years ago upgrading has always been a pain.
By lunch time I had fixed my T-Mobile issue, had finally paired my Watch and got it's cellular connection working again, and most of my activity data had magically re-appeared. I was finally able to enjoy my iPhone X, exasperated by ready for the fun part.
That's all for now, the rest of my review is coming soon.
I had a great experience last night. Got my phone at 3:01 for pickup on launch day. Most people I know who were also preordering also got one for Nov. 3, only a couple people are having to wait a week. Even now the next morning it looks like it’s only delayed 5-6 weeks. It looks like all of those rumors about very tight availability were a bit overblown. Certainly seems like they don’t have more than they need, but lots of people were really worried that it would slip into 2018 in minutes.
I’ll try TLDR: After nearly three years on the App Store it looks like IDrink Keeper has seen it’s last update, and it’s not the one I would have wanted to end on. App Review reps over phone confirmed that the team is using new internal rules that aren’t exposed to the public specifically around Blood Alcohol Concentration calculators. I’ll be appealing but they seem pretty sure that this rule won’t be changing. Will look into open source distribution.
I started Drink Keeper while looking at the HealthKit documentation the summer of the iOS 8 beta. I hadn’t heard of any apps being announced to write that particular sample set, so I set about doing the research to get it done. It actually started just as a sample project to read weight data from HealthKit, and to this day the bundle id is still
com.calvinchestnut.ReadWeight, which never frustrated me enough to actually change it.
A few months later I got it out the door, was actually making money from an app for the first time, and I was taking advantage of a cool new iOS feature on day one. It was awesome. Then in November when WatchKit was released I started to make the Drink Keeper watchOS app, mostly as a way to learn this new framework and the restrictions of the Apple Watch, but it had the extra benefit of making my app more competative.
As I’ve written elsewhere Drink Keeper didn’t stay as much of a priority as I would have liked once I started working. I had other side projects I would work on from time to time, but mostly it was hard to motivate myself to come home and open up Xcode after the a whole day of working in Xcode. It was nice, though, to have Drink Keeper as a project to keep coming back to, on vacations or during WWDC season to explore new APIs.
Once I started at Robin and wasn’t working in Xcode much anymore I turned back to Drink Keeper as a way to keep my iOS skills sharp. For the first time in two years I actually had some good momentum on the project and was gearing towards a solid new release. WWDC rolled around, I started the final touches, put together some marketing materials and a few blog posts, drafted up emails to a few websites that cover indie Apps, and submitted.
I got the first rejection within six hours of submitting. “Guideline 1.4 - Physical Harm. Your app is marketed as a blood alcohol content calculator but does not have associated hardware to perform these calculations accurately.” Guideline 1.4 broadly states that if your App risks physical harm it may be rejected. I felt like they must be talking specifically about 1.4.1, which says that medical apps that could provide inaccurate data will be reviewed with “greater scrutiny,” an umbrella which Drink Keeper technically falls under. There is a bullet point that specifies that “Apps must clearly disclose data and methodology to support accuracy claims relating to health measurements, and if the level of accuracy or methodology cannot be validated, we will reject your app.” That sounded fine to me, I could certainly take some scrutiny, I felt pretty good about my methodology. So I wrote up a response with a few links explaining my calculations and resubmitted, explicitly stating that I believed Drink Keeper to be compliment under 1.4.1.
I got the exact same message in response.
I want to be clear, I’m not trying to bash the App Review team. I much prefer the App Store to be a curated market, where things like accuracy are highly valued, especially when it comes to medical apps. It must really suck for these teams to rarely get any recognition for when they do things right, and to be so heavily criticized when things go wrong.
My problem is that when I made a point to make my case, and explicitly cited the rule I believed myself to be compliant under, cited sources and such, they didn’t respond like a human. They just determined that I was still not compliment and didn’t tell me any new information other than “Read 1.4 and use hardware.” When I made a stink they offered to give me a call sometime in the next few days, solidly taking away any chance of being on the store on iOS 11 launch day.
Well I got the call yesterday. They said that there was some new internal guidance specifically around BAC apps, and that any ones having updates submitted would not be approved now. Accuracy of algorithms and sources cited be damned, this was the new law of the land on the App Store. And I can appreciate that. I certainly wish that were what I was told on either of my rejections in the first place, but oh well.
I’ll probably be making an appeal, mostly because I don’t want to give up so easily on an App I still really love, but I don’t honestly expect it to go too far. I do think that I have solid facts on my side, but at the end of the day “Apple’s house, Apple’s rules.”
As for what happens now, if the appeal doesn’t end up going through I’ll be pulling Drink Keeper from the store. I could just leave it up and hope that people keep giving me a few dollars here and there, but the current live version isn’t something I’m particularly proud of in 2017 and I’d rather just scrub it. This also clears me up to work on some other projects with more focus, now that I won’t have to completely rewrite the Drink Keeper watchOS app.
If I do that I might end up throwing the project up on my GitHub, just to have a recent iOS app in my portfolio now that it won’t be making me any money, but I’m pretty reluctent to do the work that typically comes with open sourcing a product. I can’t find the episode number at the moment but Marco Arment had a good segment of Under the Radar where he talked about many of his complaints about open sourcing a project, and I completely agree there.
So that’s the update. Certainly a bummer, but at least I have some clarification now, and there’s always hope for the appeal. Wish me luck.
So I suppose my line experience could certainly have been worse, but I will say it wasn't terribly fun being the only person in line for ~5 hours. Last year the line at Apple Boylston Street got pretty deep by around midnight, not enough that people who showed up later couldn't get their phone but they might not get their preferred size/color model. So I made sure to arrive close to midnight, ended up getting there around 1:30, and was really shocked that I was the first person in line.
Fast forward 5 hours until the next person came in line. It was a really windy night, drizzled for a couple hours (one of the employees was nice enough to give me an umbrella. I should stop trusting Siri when she says it isn't gonna rain), and it was neat watching all of the employees set up the store. At one point there was a cart with probably $2K worth of Apple Watch Bands just loosly piled onto the bottom shelf which was amusing.
Ended up getting the stuff I wanted though, so I can't really complain too much. At 8 when they opened I'd guess there were 20 people in line, so I'm still glad I got there early. Just annoying that I could have gotten an extra five hours of sleep and still been first in line.
Also, the iPhone X launch is going to be crazy.
Holy shit, I’m getting married in a month