Apple's X factor

Analysts sold on iPhone X despite hefty price tag

Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller showing off the iPhone X's TrueDepth camera system during the special event at Steve Jobs Theater, Apple Park, Cupertino, last week.
Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller showing off the iPhone X's TrueDepth camera system during the special event at Steve Jobs Theater, Apple Park, Cupertino, last week.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Face ID and portrait-mode selfie are the standout features of the new smartphone

Count on face recognition and good-looking selfies to overcome the sticker shock of Apple's most expensive phone to date.

According to analysts and smartphone users interviewed by The Straits Times, those two features of iPhone X - Face ID and portrait-mode selfie - will be key in spurring take-up of the 5.8-inch smartphone that starts from $1,648 and goes up to $1,888.

Face ID allows users to unlock the iPhone X by simply looking at the phone. While the fingerprint-based Touch ID has 1-in-50,000 chance of being unlocked by a random person, Face ID has a lower odds of one in a million. The portrait camera mode, first available on the iPhone 7 Plus, blurs the background of an image to create photos that mimic the quality of a DSLR camera. This capability will be extended to the front camera for selfies in the iPhone X.

Euromonitor International's head of consumer electronics Loo Wee Teck called Face ID the standout feature in the iPhone X and the "future of security".

Julie Ask, Forrester Research's vice-president and principal analyst, said the portrait selfie mode will be a killer feature and future mobile experiences that "wow" will be driven by artificial intelligence like Face ID.

Two years from now, she said, people will look back and think, "whoa, I can't believe the experience was so bad back then".

Sales manager Sharon Tan, 38, said she is considering upgrading from her iPhone 7 to the iPhone X because Face ID "looks more secure than the fingerprint sensor".

Banking executive Melissa Tan, 27, who is also using an iPhone 7, is drawn by the new selfie capability. "I'm a big selfie fan, so iPhone X's ability to do different portrait modes for selfies appeals to me," she said.

Face ID and the portrait-mode selfie are enabled by the iPhone X's new TrueDepth camera system, which comprises an infrared camera, front camera, ambient light sensor and other sensors.

TrueDepth also powers Animoji, a new feature which creates fun, animated emojis by recording the user's facial expressions that can be sent to others via messages.

Gartner's research vice-president, Mr Brian Blau, called TrueDepth "one of the significant new technologies going forward", and one that will generate plenty of interest in the mobile app community.

"Having the capability to recognise your face will be a key technology for app developers," he said.

FACE-RECOGNITION CONCERNS

But while Face ID has created a positive buzz, it has also generated security concerns.

In a letter to Apple, United States senator Al Franken asked about the possibility of either Apple or a third party extracting and obtaining usable faceprint data from the iPhone X. He also asked where the one billion face images used to develop Face ID algorithm had come from.

 
 
 

In an interview with tech site TechCrunch, Apple's senior vice-president of software engineering, Mr Craig Federighi, said Apple had the consent of subjects who provided the scans, which were taken from many angles.

Face ID will continue to recognise a face even when there are changes in hairstyle or facial hair. But this re-learning is done in iPhone X's Secure Enclave, with none of the re-training sent to Apple's cloud.

Apple also does not gather customer data when users enrol in Face ID. "It stays on your device, we do not send it to the cloud for training data," said Mr Federighi.

The iPhone X was unveiled last week during the launch of Apple's latest smartphones, smartwatch and TV box in Cupertino, California. It comes in a bezel-free design and loses the iconic home button, and will be available in Singapore from Nov 3. Apple's other new smartphones, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, will be available on Friday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'Analysts sold on iPhone X despite hefty price tag'. Print Edition | Subscribe