Since this story has a personal connection, I’ll take a moment to fill you in on some backstory. I’m in dire need of a smartphone upgrade after milking my nearly-three-year-old Samsung Galaxy S6. Like many tech enthusiasts, I’ve shuffled between iOS and Android a couple of times. Now I’ve set my eyes on the iPhone X, but thanks to that $1000 price tag, I can’t help but wonder how different the experience is going to be from my current smartphone.
Come to think of it, one of the reasons I bought Android phones was due to the several things they that iPhones couldn’t back in the day. Sure, Apple deserves to be credited for milestone innovations such as Touch ID, Retina Displays, Siri, or Apple Pay — with their implementations being standardized across all smartphones. But more often than not, Apple isn’t the one to take the first stab at an innovative concept.
As the list below will convey, there are several instances where Apple has been late to the party. But ten years after the original iPhone, I’m glad they’ve caught up fairly well.
Like I mentioned above, I’ll be migrating from a Galaxy S6, a phone that has a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display with a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution. That translates to pixel density of a whopping 577 PPI (Pixels Per Inch). iPhones until last year maxed out at 400 PPI (on the Plus-sized models), while smaller iPhones were even lower at 326 PPI. Many Android phones on the other hand have sported 400, 500, and even 800 PPI displays for many years now.
Now here’s the thing — when introducing the Retina Display on the iPhone 4, Steve Jobs said that any difference above 300 PPI is indiscernible to the human eye. And that may be true when you’re comparing a ~400 PPI display to a ~500 PPI display side-by-side. But trust me — once you’re used to seeing a highly pixel-dense display for an extended period, you can tell a difference when seeing displays that are sub-500-PPI. I’m not denying that the difference is extremely minute once you go above 500 PPI (that’s why those 800 PPI displays didn’t become the norm on Android).
But all said and done, the 462 PPI iPhone X display now feels adequately crisp in a toe-to-toe comparison to Android phones.
This is yet another train that Apple boarded pretty late. OLED displays have been on Samsung phones before even the first Galaxy S in 2010. Eventually, many other phone makers pivoted to OLED from LCD displays. In fact, for the past couple of years, nearly every major Android flagship — from Samsung, LG, OnePlus, HTC, Huawei, to Google — has been fitted with an OLED display.
There are advantages to using an OLED display. The panels are thinner and lighter, and each pixel produces its own backlight (as opposed to a separate backlighting system on LCD displays). Because of this, OLEDs can achieve an incredibly-high contrast ratio and in most cases, they tend to be more power-efficient than LCDs. And because of independent pixel dimming, only portions of the display can be lit up. This makes it suitable to implement features like an always-on display.
Apple suggests there was a reason why iPhones didn’t get OLED displays sooner. During the event, the company’s marketing chief said traditional OLEDs didn’t have the high brightness, color accuracy, and wide color support when compared to LCDs. According to Apple, the iPhone X display overcomes these issues, making it the first OLED display “worthy of being on an iPhone”.
And there’s proof to this pudding — after Samsung phones winning the best performing smartphone display title consecutively the past few years, DisplayMate recently crowned the iPhone X as the best display to date.
The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus design from 2014 has been largely unchanged for three generations now. The similar-looking 2017 iPhone 8 models still have that mediocre screen-to-body ratio of under 70 percent. Since 2015, Samsung phones started to push the boundaries of how much screen the front of a phone can occupy with its Galaxy Edge lineup. We also saw China-based Xiaomi dabble with a nearly all-screen display with Mi Mix in 2016.
2017 has become the year of all-screen displays — with phones adopting the taller 18:9 aspect ratio. The LG G6 and V30, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8 models, the Essential Phone PH-1; all made an appearance before the iPhone X in September 2017.
It’s fantastic to see Apple answer this growing trend with that 5.8-inch edge-to-edge display on the iPhone X. Let’s be clear — that display actually displays less content than the 5.5-inch display on the iPhone 8 Plus. But when compared to the iPhone 8, you’re not only getting more viewable area, but also a more immersive experience, thanks to the missing top and bottom bezel (and no, the notch doesn’t take away much from that experience).
I was initially disappointed when Apple revealed the new iPhones will support Qi wireless charging. There were rumors that the company was considering some long-distance wireless charging technologies.
Nevertheless, this is a good move; allow me to explain. Qi wireless charging has been on Android phones as old as the Nexus 4 from 2012. It’s not exactly wireless because the charging pad/mat/stand needs to be connected to a wall adapter by wire. And it charges much slower than a wired charging; 30 minutes on a 7.5W Qi charging pad adds only 20 percent battery to an iPhone 8 Plus. A fast charger can add a considerable 50 percent battery in the same time.
So why is this a good feature to have? Although not truly wireless, it is convenient to just keep the phone on a Qi charger than plugging/unplugging the wire every time. With Apple adopting Qi, the standard has received the shot in the arm it needed for wider adoption. Hopefully more desks, side-tables, and car cubby holes around the world will come with Qi chargers built-in. Your smartphone is probably sitting on a desk right now; it could have just as well be resting on a wireless charging pad, slowly gaining power instead of losing it. Lastly, slow charging won’t matter when you’re charging overnight.
Since long, Sony made “water and dust proof” a tentpole feature of several Xperia smartphones. But boasting about how consumers could use their phones to shoot videos underwater somewhat backfired with a class action lawsuit. Samsung has been waterproofing their high-end phones since 2014 starting with the Galaxy S5.
At the time, one wondered if Apple had financial motivations to refrain iPhones from being certified with an IP (Ingress Protection) rating. Since 2011, AppleCare+ covered accidental damage to iPhones including water damage (at a $49 service fee for each incident). Apple finally introduced IP67 water and dust resistance since the iPhone 7 models last year.
But instead of motivating users to dunk their iPhones in liquids, Apple absolves all responsibility for any liquid damage. Still, I’m glad the iPhones of today come with this layer of protection, for those unfortunate times your phone accidentally goes for a swim.
In the past, iPhones never felt slow to charge because their battery size used to be comparatively smaller than competing Android phones. For example, the bundled 5W charger on an iPhone 5s was powerful enough to charge the 1,560mAh battery in it. That changed with Plus-sized iPhones, where that 5W charger started feeling too slow, as it would take nearly 3 hours to charge it from zero to one hundred percent.
On the Android side of things, several variations of fast charging have been around — Qualcomm QuickCharge, Oppo VOOC, and USB Power Delivery. These enabled filling nearly half of a 3,000mAh+ battery in half an hour. Fortunately, Apple added USB Power Delivery support to the newest iPhone 8 models and the iPhone X. What’s unfortunate though, is that the company still bundles that slowpoke 5W charger in the box. You’re expected to shell out nearly $75 to buy the appropriate adapter and cable to fast charge these new iPhones. It’s a real shame because fast-charging on Android is not restricted to only the expensive ones; $300 Motorola phones come with fast chargers out of the box.
But nonetheless, we’re glad Apple is finally aboard the fast-charging bandwagon.
HTC should be credited for making front-facing stereo speakers popular on smartphones with its “BoomSound” branding. It was one of the highlight features of the HTC One from 2013. So, why are stereo speakers important? Well, when holding the phone in landscape they offer a more immersive experience for videos or games.
The ideal position is when each speaker is forward-facing, above and below the display. This prevents accidental muffling when you’re holding it sideways. The iPhone X takes the next best approach; where the phone’s earpiece doubles up as the secondary speaker, along with the one near the Lightning connector.
The Moto X back in 2013 was the first phone to have always-on hotword detection to enable a voice assistant. You just had to say “Ok Google Now”, and the phone would wake up, even when on standby. Apple implemented a similar “Hey Siri” hotword detection on the iPhone 6s in 2015. Although Siri is still not as advanced as the Google Assistant, Hey Siri can come in handy for simple tasks like playing music, setting reminders, or toggling settings.
That Moto X was also one of the first smartphones to feature a motion coprocessor. Instead of tasking the CPU to continuously log motion activity, it was more efficient to have a dedicated chip doing that. This enabled the Moto X display to show time and notifications when you picked it up (it was first called Active Display, later rebadged to Moto Display).
The same year that the Moto X came out, Apple included the “M7” motion coprocessor in the Apple A7 chip on the iPhone 5s. Developers could make use of motion data for their apps using an API, and Apple subsequently used it to count steps in the Health app. But last year with iOS 10, Apple introduced Raise to Wake for iPhone 6s and above. It worked similar to the Moto Display, but lit up the entire display to show the lockscreen.
Last but not the least, this feature lets users wake their smartphone up from standby with a single or double tap on the display. This was made popular by LG’s Knock Knock feature on its G2 smartphone, which had the power button at the back. Many Android phones adopted this feature; making it easier to wake it up (especially on the ones that didn’t have any physical buttons up front). It also proves useful for phones that have the fingerprint scanner at the back (which a majority of Android phones do today).
The iPhone X ran into a similar problem; thanks to the taller 18:9 display that knocked off the home button, it would’ve been cumbersome to hit the side button to wake it up, especially when kept on a table. Fortunately, Tap to Wake came to the rescue, as the iPhone X needs just a single tap on the display to wake it up.
Android phones have had facial authentication even before iPhones got Touch ID. In 2012, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich had a feature that scanned your face using the front-facing camera to unlock the phone. It worked well in sufficient lighting, because there was no specialised equipment that made faces visible in the dark. The feature got improvements in future Android versions including a “liveness check” in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. But a simple hack could fool it.
Samsung introduced iris scanners since the Galaxy Note 7, which worked better in low lighting and was supposed to be harder to fool than facial recognition. But it too was easy to crack without any special equipment.
In comparison, Apple’s Face ID has been more secure than any facial recognition systems implemented before. Sure, not like Apple’s facial recognition system is impossible to fool, just that it’s not simple to do so either. And although OnePlus 5T’s optional Face Unlock feature appears to be blazingly fast, it’s not the best form of security; which is why they aren’t currently allowing it to be used for banking apps or Android Pay.
Bottom line — Face ID may still not be perfect and there are occasions where Touch ID was better, but it offers a great balance of convenience and security to date; making it the best facial recognition system available.
I’ll end this post with a famous Steve Jobs quote from 1996: “Picasso had a saying — ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ — and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas. I think some of these features are a good example of Apple doing just that, but what’s great about Apple is that their implementation is usually much superior, which has given them the edge to stay ahead of the competition even though they’re not the first to introduce the features.
So, which other Android features you’re glad are on the iPhone now? Discuss in the comments below.