This time last year, those potentially in the market for a new iPhone were probably caught up in the hand-wringing that followed Apple's decision to drop the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
12 months on, and most of us would probably look back and wonder what all of the fuss was about.
Of course, this should come as no surprise, as Apple has a track record in successfully asking us to accept and adapt to the loss of technologies that we may have considered essential. The floppy drive, optical drive and now arguably the smartphone's 3.5mm headphone jack are just some examples of where Apple has been a driving force in moving technologies to legacy status.
With the launch of the iPhone X, Apple is again telling us that technology has moved on.
With its near-bezel-less design, the iPhone X marks the end of what has probably been “the iconic face of the iPhone” since its launch in 2007, and that's the Home button.
The retirement of the Home button brings with it another significant change (either by design or necessity), and that's the replacement of fingerprint recognition (Touch ID) with facial recognition (Face ID).
Compared to last year's reaction to the loss of the headphone jack, the response to the dropping of Touch ID in favor of Face ID has been far more muted. However, there have still been widespread concerns over the potential security and user experience of Face ID.
With iPhone X pre-orders set to begin arriving today, we should soon learn if these concerns were justified, or if we will be back here in another 12 months again wondering what all of the fuss was about.
I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to live with an iPhone X for the past few days, and now want to share some of my experiences and early thoughts.
Although there is much more to the iPhone X than no Home button and the introduction of Face ID, these were the changes which I was most keen to experience and explore. The reason was a simple one - I expected these to be the changes which could potentially most affect my use and user experience of the iPhone X compared to previous iPhone models.
It already appears that adapting to these changes will not present any significant problems in practical terms.
However, I was slower in accepting what for me, as a blind user, is an increased risk to my security and privacy from the dropping of Touch ID in favor of Face ID. My personal situation and typical use case have allowed me to now mostly accept this, but this may not be the case for all blind iPhone users.
If, like me, you do decide to adapt and accept, then the iPhone X is likely to make you a very happy iPhone user.
No More Home Button
Over the past 10 years, the iPhone's Home button has evolved to become something of a Swiss army knife, serving a number of uses; such as waking and unlocking the phone if you didn't have any security enabled, bringing you back to the Home screen, triggering the App Switcher, housing the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, making Apple Pay payments, and summoning Siri.
Since Apple brought its VoiceOver screen reader to the iPhone on the 3GS in 2009, the Home button has also been the means by which the iPhone (along with the iPad and iPod Touch) can be instantly transformed from what otherwise might for the blind be little more than expensive paper weights.
However, once Apple had made the decision that the iPhone X would have ultra slim bezels, the fate of the Home button as we knew it was sealed. Although nobody seriously suggested that this would make the iPhone X less accessible to the blind than previous iPhone models, there has naturally been speculation on how Apple would accommodate the lack of that “Swiss army knife”.
Most of the functions of the Home button (including the triple click / Accessibility Shortcut) have simply been relocated on the iPhone X to its Side button (which is what Apple is calling on the iPhone X what many people will still think of as the ‘Power’ button). So, other than needing some memory retraining, should be easy adjustments to make (see the notes at the end of this review for a list of the relocated functions).
The exceptions are the single click to go to the Home screen and the 2 clicks in rapid succession to trigger the App Switcher; both of which have been replaced on the iPhone X with gestures.
I was keen to learn what this would mean for me as a VoiceOver user, as the Home button clicks were so much part of my routine use of the iPhone.
What I had read about the new gesture for accessing the Home screen when using an app, said that:
You can access the Home screen by swiping up from anywhere along the bottom edge of the display. An indicator is displayed at the bottom of the screen over the app’s interface to offer a hint about this interaction.
As for triggering and using the App Switcher, this was reportedly the process for sighted users:
Step #1. Simply press the screen at the bottom and then swipe up. Then, you need to pause in the middle of the screen (while still touching the screen)
Step #2. Next, a card will come up from the left side of the screen. That's app switcher mode.
Step #3. Now, just swipe left or right to scroll between the opened apps (just the way you used to switch between apps on your old iPhone.)
In regard to how this would work for VoiceOver users, all that I knew was from Alex Hall's summary of the 12 September Apple event, which indicated that some form of haptic feedback would be involved.
All of this was good to know in advance of going hands-on with the iPhone X for the first time, but raised several questions and an expectation that I would need to go exploring the Home screen to find the answers.
However, this proved to be a disservice to Apple, who were already on top of this by answering some of my questions during the initial setup of the iPhone X. Specifically, they provided the following information for VoiceOver users:
- Slide one finger up from the bottom edge until you feel the first vibration to go Home
- Slide one finger up from the bottom edge further until you feel the second vibration to bring up the App Switcher
Armed with this knowledge, I headed off to the iPhone X Home screen for the first time.
Gestures Replace Clicks
For what may prove to be the only time in this review, I want to cut straight to the chase.
The new VoiceOver gesture to go to the Home screen or open the App Switcher on the iPhone X is simple but extremely elegant.
If I ever had any concerns regarding what Apple would do to replace those Home button clicks, they have been completely blown away.
I have just one suggestion for those of you who will be finding this out for yourselves in the coming hours, days, weeks and months.
Do not approach your first use of this gesture thinking that it will be anything other than simple. If you do over-think what might be involved, there's a possibility that this will negatively affect your initial experience and results. Just place the tip of a finger on the bottom edge of the iPhone X, slide it up the screen, receive the haptic feedback, and enjoy.
It's probably also worth mentioning at this point, that I have found that having a case on the iPhone X does not interfere with performing the new “slide” gestures. This is a great relief, as the cost to replace a front display or glass back of the iPhone X makes the thought of using it without a case very scary and potentially an expensive decision.
Another New VoiceOver Gesture
On the iPhone X there is a new VoiceOver gesture for accessing the Control Center and Cover Sheet.
The process is similar to that used on the iPhone X to go to the Home screen or App Switcher. But, instead of sliding from the bottom edge of the iPhone, you slide your finger down from the top edge.
In this case, lifting at the first instance of haptic feedback will open the Control Center. Continue sliding to the second instance of haptic feedback, and then lifting your finger will take you to the Cover Sheet.
Much like the other new gesture, it's a breeze once you have figured it out.
However, if you prefer to go ‘old school’, you can currently still use a 3 finger swipe down on the Status Bar to open the Cover Sheet; or up for the Control Center.
I say “currently”, not because I know that it's going away, but because it does seem reasonable to expect that at some point Apple engineers may question the value and efficiency in having multiple gestures doing the same thing.
During the launch event, Apple demonstrated a way of switching between apps on the iPhone X, and that's to simply swipe left or right on the display.
VoiceOver users have been able to do this for some time by using a 4 finger swipe, so I was hoping (and quietly confident) that it would still be the case.
And, indeed it is.
And here's a reminder for anybody who has forgotten about this gesture.
When you have an app open, simply perform a 4-finger swipe to the right, and you will be taken to the previous app that you used. In fact, you can swipe right or left with 4 fingers to move between all open apps. You can even use this gesture as another method of going to the Home screen, as this is exactly what will happen if you swipe left with 4 fingers on the currently open app.
Closing Thoughts on that Missing Home Button
Living without a Home button hasn't been as painful as I had anticipated. Yes, my thumb still feels a little lost at times, and I find myself having to stop muscle memory taking my thumb to where it still expects there to be a Home button. However, the relocated actions and new gestures are already starting to come more naturally and without thought. Give it a few more weeks, and I suspect that picking up an older iPhone will feel strange, awkward, and have my thumb lost knowing where to go and what to do.
What this doesn't mean, however, is that I find the iPhone X experience to be an unqualified improvement on life with a Home button.
This isn't a criticism of the new VoiceOver gestures, as it's very clear that a lot of time and thought has been devoted to them by Apple. In most uses I already prefer them to Home button clicks. There are even some times when I find myself performing those gestures for no other reason than being entertained by the audible and haptic feedback. However, there are still occasions when I find myself missing the speed, simplicity and intuitiveness of a button click.
Will my opinion change over the coming weeks and months as these new gestures become more natural and muscle memory fades? My head is already saying “yes”, but my heart keeps replying “oh, but that Home button”. I think I know which one will win, and that's the one which has me enjoying playing with the new gestures just for the kick of it.
Of course, the removal of the Home button doesn't only mean that there are some relocated actions and new gestures to learn; it means that there is a whole new method of biometric authentication to experience.
Goodbye Finger, Hello Face
The removal of the Home button and the Touch ID sensor that it housed must presumably have presented Apple with technical challenges and some tough decisions to make. Some seemingly unlikely rumors went as far as suggesting that this might result in the iPhone X shipping with no biometric authentication. Far more credible rumors and alleged part leaks suggest that Apple considered and tested several possible methods of retaining Touch ID on the iPhone X; including having a Touch ID sensor embedded in its screen, on its back panel or even incorporated into the Side button.
What is Face ID?
As its name suggests, Face ID is a form of biometric authentication using facial recognition.
The TrueDepth camera system in the iPhone X uses advanced technologies to accurately map the geometry of your face. According to Apple, this technology is:
some of the most advanced hardware and software that we’ve ever created. The TrueDepth camera captures accurate face data by projecting and analyzing over 30,000 invisible dots to create a depth map of your face and also captures an infrared image of your face. A portion of the A11 Bionic chip's neural engine — protected within the Secure Enclave — transforms the depth map and infrared image into a mathematical representation and compares that representation to the enrolled facial data.
Face ID automatically adapts to changes in your appearance, such as wearing cosmetic makeup or growing facial hair. If there is a more significant change in your appearance, like shaving a full beard, Face ID confirms your identity by using your passcode before it updates your face data. Face ID is designed to work with hats, scarves, glasses, contact lenses, and many sunglasses. Furthermore, it's designed to work indoors, outdoors, and even in total darkness.
The result is the ability to securely unlock your iPhone X by allowing it a “glance” of your face. You can use it to authorize purchases from the iTunes Store, App Store, iBooks Store, and payments with Apple Pay. Developers can also allow you to use Face ID to sign into their apps. Essentially, it does everything which Touch ID does on other Apple products.
How Secure is Face ID?
Until security experts have the opportunity to thoroughly examine and test facial recognition on the iPhone X, much of the current opinion on the accuracy, robustness and security of Face ID is based upon speculation, the somewhat checkered track record of facial recognition on some Android phones, and what Apple has told us.
When launching the iPhone X, Apple stated that Face ID is incredibly accurate and secure, and that there’s a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of a passer-by on the street gaining access to your iPhone, compared to 1 in 50,000 with Touch ID. They went on to say that the Face ID system can’t be fooled by photos, videos or any other kind of 2D medium thanks to the way faces are measured in 3D.
Writing for Forbes, JV Chamary claims that there is currently no evidence to prove that Face ID is more secure than Touch ID, regardless of what Apple says:
Understanding why Face ID isn't more secure involves being able to distinguish between absolute and relative security. Although face recognition is absolutely better than no protection at all, it's not relatively more secure than Touch ID.
The stats are mathematical misdirection to hide a leap in logic, as comparing those numbers isn't relevant to security. Unless the figure is really low (say, 1 in 100) then it doesn't matter how many random people it takes to accidentally unlock your phone. The issue is whether a particular person -- a thief -- could deliberately access your device.
And this is where we come to a very specific and real concern for blind iPhone users - Face ID may make it easier for criminals or wannabe pranksters to unlock your iPhone X without your knowledge than would be the case with Touch ID.
Why Face ID May Compromise the Security and Privacy of Blind iPhone Users
Let's start with what Apple tells us about Face ID usage:
To start using Face ID, you need to first enroll your face. You may do this during the initial set up process, or at a later time by going to Settings > Face ID & Passcode. To unlock your iPhone X using Face ID, simply glance at it. Face ID requires that the TrueDepth camera sees your face, whether your iPhone X is lying on a surface or you're holding it in a natural position. The TrueDepth camera has a similar range of view as when you take a photo or make a FaceTime call with the front camera. Face ID works best when the device is arm’s length or less from your face (25-50 cm away from your face).
The TrueDepth camera is intelligently activated; for example, by raising to wake your iPhone X, tapping to wake your screen, or from an incoming notification that wakes the screen. Each time you unlock your iPhone X, the TrueDepth camera recognizes you by capturing accurate depth data and an infrared image. This information is matched against the stored mathematical representation to authenticate.
For some blind people, the nature of their vision impairment means that they are physically unable to satisfy the above mentioned requirement to “glance” at the iPhone when using Face ID.
It comes as no surprise that Apple has considered and allowed for this with its implementation of Facial recognition, by providing the following option within the iOS accessibility settings:
If you don't want Face ID to require that you look with your eyes open at iPhone X, you can open Settings > General > Accessibility, and disable Require Attention for Face ID. This is automatically disabled if you enable VoiceOver during initial set up.
For those who do choose or need to disable the Face ID requirement to be looking at the iPhone, Face ID offers to be as convenient as Touch ID, but in my opinion is unlikely to be as secure.
Okay, that's technically not accurate. As stated earlier, in regard to the underlying biometric authentication method, Apple claims that it's 20x less likely that somebody will be able to accidentally unlock your iPhone with Face ID than it would be with Touch ID.
What will make your iPhone X less secure, is that disabling the requirement to be looking at it could make it much easier for somebody to unlock it without you being aware. Whether it's in a busy coffee shop, when sitting at your work desk or whilst asleep at home, there will be times and circumstances when somebody may be able to pick up your iPhone and hold it close to your face without you knowing.
I will go further, and say that there is a strong argument that Face ID is a retrograde step in terms of security and privacy for all blind iPhone users, regardless of whether you have the requirement to be looking at the iPhone enabled or disabled.
Depending upon personal circumstances, it's possible to imagine scenarios in which Face ID makes it easier for somebody to trick a blind person in to unlocking their iPhone without them being aware, than would be the case with Touch ID. Put simply, it's more likely that you can make me look at my iPhone without me realising, than to have me touch it without knowing.
Realistically, though, it's difficult to know what Apple could do to mitigate this increased risk once the decision had been made to drop Touch ID in favor of Face ID. The options which immediately come to mind for me, would all involve an extra authentication step that would negate the benefit of biometric authentication and leave me thinking that I might as well just be using a passcode.
One thing that Apple has done, is to add an unlock sound effect and vibration for VoiceOver users. It's something, and something which may be enough to alert you to that criminal or wannabe prankster in some situations.
In my opinion, Face ID is a greater security and privacy risk for blind iPhone users than Touch ID. However, because each person's situation and use case will be unique, I am certainly not going to make the blanket statement that this should be a reason not to purchase an iPhone X. It's simply something that people need to consider; and determine whether their own circumstances and thoughts on the potential risks make it relevant or important to them.
If you do get an iPhone X, one obvious way of not exposing yourself to any increased security and privacy risks, is to simply not enable Face ID. You will lose its convenience and will have to rely on passcodes and passwords. You will also not be able to use Apple Pay. Depending upon circumstances, personal use case and priorities, this may be the desired solution for some.
If you do decide to use Face ID, there are some precautions that you can take to protect against others unlocking your iPhone without your knowledge.
One of these was shared by Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, who responded to a concerned user's email about the Face ID system:
If you grip the buttons on both sides of the phone ... it will temporarily disable Face ID.
Apple documents a number of additional circumstances which will require you to enter a passcode to unlock your iPhone X, so these may be worth remembering for times when you find yourself concerned about others unlocking it:
- The device has just been turned on or restarted.
- The device hasn’t been unlocked for more than 48 hours.
- The passcode hasn’t been used to unlock the device in the last six and a half days and Face ID hasn't unlocked the device in the last 4 hours.
- The device has received a remote lock command.
- After five unsuccessful attempts to match a face.
- After initiating power off/Emergency SOS by pressing and holding either volume button and the side button simultaneously for 2 seconds.
Additionally, if your iPhone X is lost or stolen, you can prevent Face ID from being used to unlock it with Find My iPhone Lost Mode.
Perhaps a good footnote to this section, is a reminder that a strong passcode known only by you and not written down anywhere, will always be more secure than both fingerprint and facial recognition. So, if security is more important to you than convenience, this should probably be your method of authentication. Depending upon where you live, a passcode might also provide you greater legal protection than biometric authentication.
Setting Up Face ID for the First Time
Whether during the initial setup of your iPhone X or later via the iOS Settings, setting up Face ID is incredibly fast and easy. In my opinion, faster and easier than Touch ID, and with better feedback and guidance for blind users.
You start by centering your face in a highlighted area on the phone's screen. For VoiceOver users, there is spoken feedback to guide you in the right direction (left, right, up, down, and so on). I find that good results come when holding the phone approximately 30cm from my face, and haven't yet needed to make more than some minor adjustments to positioning.
Once the iPhone's TrueDepth camera is happy that it can see your face, you will be prompted to perform what can best be equated to a slow roll of your neck, so that its sensors can perform their magic.
What reliably works for me, is to first raise my head so that I am looking up to a 1 o'clock direction. I then slowly turn my head through all of the clock positions. During this process, VoiceOver users are provided with spoken feedback on the percentage completed.
I haven't found it necessary to perform this process particularly slowly, and typically it's completed in under 10 seconds.
You are then asked to repeat the same process one more time.
Face ID should then be setup and ready to go.
What more can I say, other than that the setup of Face ID is truly a breeze.
What I will say, is that in my opinion, Apple's decision to not inform VoiceOver users during the setup of Face ID that the need to be looking at the iPhone has automatically been disabled is ill-judged.
The reason that by default you are required to be looking at your iPhone X for Face ID to work, is that this makes it harder for people to unlock it without your knowledge. So, by disabling this feature, you are essentially opting in to a compromised and less secure implementation of Face ID.
I appreciate that many people will need or want to have this requirement disabled. I also appreciate that Apple's decision is based upon the desire to provide the best user experience, which means that it's preferable to have this as the default status for VoiceOver users.
However, I believe that Apple is wrong to not tell me during the setup of Face ID that this requirement will be disabled; not alerting me to the potential security implications of this; and not giving me the opportunity to choose for myself whether this requirement should be disabled.
Yes, you can manually enable this requirement at a later time. However, the reality is that not everybody will know or learn about this setting, so will be unaware that Face ID is not as secure for them as it could be.
Quite simply, when it comes to security and privacy, Apple needs to ensure that people are in a position to make informed decisions for themselves on anything which may negatively affect this.
I would strongly encourage Apple, therefore, to reconsider the setup of Face ID for VoiceOver users. The setup process should make people aware of the option to disable the Face ID requirement to be looking at the iPhone; explain the potential risks of using this option; and allow people to decide for themselves at this point whether to use it or not.
Face ID in Use
I approached my first use of Face ID with a sense of trepidation, as Touch ID in my experience has always been fast, reliable and easy to use. In practical terms, I didn't know what more I would want from biometric authentication. However, what I did know, was that I didn't want something which would be slower, less reliable and harder to use. Face ID had the potential in my mind to be one, two or all three of these.
I was also aware that the combination of Touch ID and VoiceOver has given me some convenience that is not shared by non-VoiceOver users, and that's been the ability to unlock and use my iPhone whilst it's in a pocket or tucked away elsewhere out of sight. With Touch ID gone, I would have to resort to unlocking with a passcode on the occasions when I wanted to use the phone in this way. Hardly time or effort intensive, I know, but it still felt like something that would be a small hit on my user experience.
But, despite already having accepted some small loss in convenience and knowing that the performance of Face ID was an unknown quantity, I still approached my first experience of it with a growing sense of excitement. Yes, all because it was something new and gimmicky to play with.
I woke the iPhone with a press of its Side button. In advance of this, I had already thought about how I might need to move the phone so that it could have a clearer sight of my face. However, this turned out to be wasted time and thought, as the iPhone unlocked instantly.
And this has typically been my experience whenever needing to use Face ID. Whether it's been to unlock the phone, authorise a payment, or login to an app, the process has nearly always been instant and needed little thought.
I pick up the phone to look at an incoming message; and by the time that I touch the screen to locate the notification, I have already heard the audible alert that the iPhone X gives to VoiceOver users to confirm that it has successfully been unlocked.
When I pick up the iPhone X to use it, I have now fallen into the habit of performing the slide up from the bottom as I bring the phone towards me. In most cases, it is unlocked and ready to go before I am. On the few occasions when this hasn't been the case, the passcode form has briefly been displayed, but has disappeared again almost instantly as the facial recognition completed.
Not only has Face ID proved so far to be fast, accurate and reliable; but it has made authentication something that I don't need to think about. It just happens in the background, leaving me to get on with whatever I want to do.
This experience has enticed me back to “Raise to Wake”, a feature that I have previously kept disabled in the hope that it might save on battery use, but am now enjoying and benefiting from.
If I wanted more, gone are the times when I would need to dry a wet finger before Touch ID would recognize it. I am also looking forward to being able to keep my gloves on when using the iPhone X outside on cold winter days.
And there's still more.
Because Face ID is aware of when you are looking at your iPhone X, it can also keep the screen lit when you’re reading, reveal notifications and messages, or lower the volume of an alarm or ringer. The first of these offered no value because of my situation, but I was curious to explore the other two.
What happens with the first of these two features, is that when your iPhone X is woken by a notification, all that is displayed on the screen is a message that there is a notification from the named app. However, when the iPhone detects that you are looking at it, the notification will automatically expand to show the preview (assuming that you have Lock Screen notification previews set to show when unlocked in the iOS settings).
This is a really neat and effective way of having these previews quickly and easily available to you, but not visible to anybody who simply happens to be close to your iPhone X when the Lock Screen is woken by a notification.
As for lowering the volume level of ringers and alarms, this isn't something that I have had the opportunity to test and explore thoroughly yet. However, in one test, it was somewhat entertaining to lower the volume of an alarm by simply “glaring” at the iPhone X.
To try and prevent this from sounding like a love-fest for Face ID on my part, I have strived to find some weaknesses.
I have thrown different lighting conditions at it, ranging from full sun to near complete darkness. I have tested it with sunglasses, a cap, and with part of my face obscured. So far, nothing has resulted in a hit on its speed or reliability. Face ID just works as advertised.
There is an argument that in terms of raw speed, it can be faster to unlock an iPhone using Touch ID than with Face ID. Having your iPhone unlocked before it is even completely out of a pocket or bag immediately come to mind as examples. However, I can also already think of examples of where Face ID is quicker. For instance, when the iPhone X has been sitting on a dock on my desk and a notification has woken it, it's typically been unlocked by Face ID whilst my hand is still reaching for it.
But, in daily use, none of these speed tests really matter. What matters is whether your iPhone is unlocked and ready to use by the time that it's in a position where you would actually use it. And this has typically been my experience with Face ID on the iPhone X. I anticipate that this will get even better over the coming weeks and months as I learn and adapt to what gets the best performance from Face ID. It's also very likely that Apple will be able to further improve its performance as it begins collecting usage data from users.
As you will have gathered from the above comments, I enjoy using Face ID. Some of this is probably due to its current novelty value. However, much more is a result of just how well it works. And, that's it in a nutshell really - Face ID just works.
Despite this, there does remain a nagging concern that security or usability problems will be identified with Face ID once the iPhone X is released and it is truly stress tested. I hope that this does not occur. And, based upon having similar concerns when Touch ID was first released, and knowing how well that went, I am quietly confident that I will be back here in 12 months wondering what all of the fuss was about.
Using Apple Pay with Face ID
I love Apple Pay.
I have loved Apple Pay since the first time that I used it, which was within hours of it becoming available here in the UK.
I love the convenience, speed and reliability of Apple Pay. I love that it is so widely supported in the UK.
But, what I love most about Apple Pay, is the fact that it has almost completely eliminated the times when I am stood in a store, checking and double checking the money that I am handing over and receiving back.
So, there was going to be a lot at stake when I used Face ID for the first time with Apple Pay.
There was no reason to think that there would be any technical or security issues; and my experience with Face ID in general use suggested that it should work as well as Touch ID.
The big question mark surrounded how I would feel about the experience of using Face ID in front of store staff and with a queue of other shoppers behind me.
Touch ID had always made the process quite discrete, leaving me with no reason to feel self-conscious and wondering what kind of looks I was getting from those around me. Of course, with Apple Pay, and contactless payments in general, widely used in the UK, the likelihood is that nobody was even batting an eyelid.
However, would this be the same when the process threatened to be far less discrete? Apple's statement that the phone needs to be held “25-50 cm” from your face kept running through my mind. Suddenly, this seemed very close, and something which was clearly going to draw the attention of those around me.
Before heading off to use Apple Pay for the first time, I had carried out some testing. From this, I had found that 2 clicks of the Side button always triggered Apple Pay. It didn't appear to make it difference whether the iPhone X was asleep, awake but locked, awake and unlocked, on the Home screen, or in an app. So, already it had a potential edge for me over Touch ID.
In this testing, after triggering Apple Pay, VoiceOver would typically announce “Alert. Home indicator, dimmed. Face ID.”
Shortly after this, VoiceOver would typically announce “Hold near reader”, which I took as an indicator that the facial recognition had been performed and that the iPhone should now be in a state to confirm the Apple Pay transaction.
This testing made me quietly confident as I walked towards a local grocery store that all was going to be just fine with Apple Pay.
And, indeed it was.
The experience was identical to that of my testing at home, apart from it costing me some money in exchange for a jug of milk.
There was no need for any attention-drawing waving of the iPhone in front of my face. The whole process just worked as it should and as I had hoped.
So positive was this first experience, that I went straight to another store to do it all again.
However, on this occasion there was a very minor hiccup which had VoiceOver announce “face not recognized”, but, a slight movement of the iPhone quickly corrected this, and the payment was made.
Reflecting on this second experience, I think that the difference was that the payment terminal was positioned at head height, and bringing the iPhone close to the terminal before activating Apple Pay probably resulted in it being too close to my face.
Some subsequent testing would seem to confirm this, as I found that Face ID doesn't perform so consistently in general use if the iPhone is close to your face.
On both of the other occasions that I have now used Apple Pay on the iPhone X, the experience has been almost identical to the first one.
when my current heightened awareness of using something new and different fades, it will be interesting to find out if the result is more “hiccups” with using Apple Pay or if the process will have become natural and without need of much thought by that point.
In the meantime, there is already one benefit which I am enjoying - there should no longer be those occasions when double clicking the Home button lands you on the Home screen rather than activating Apple Pay. Yes, Touch ID could actually be too fast and responsive at times!
One More Thing ... or two, or maybe even three
The iPhone X brings far more to the table than no Home button and Face ID. However, much of this falls outside of my use case, areas of interest and expertise, and what I had in mind to cover here. However, to follow the tradition of Apple keynote presentations, I do want to mention “one more thing”.
iOS 11 came with enhanced and more natural sounding Siri voices. Disappointingly, when used as the VoiceOver TTS voice on my iPhone 6s, the performance left a lot to be desired. Specifically, the voices were sluggish when compared to Alex, which has been my TTS voice of choice since it became available with iOS 8.
My understanding was that these new Siri voices performed better on newer iPhone models, so I was keen to see if this would be my experience using them on the iPhone X.
And, indeed, the performance is improved. To my ears, there is still some lag, but it's possibly now at a level where I will probably find myself using a Siri voice when I feel like a break from Alex. In the past, these breaks would rarely last more than a few hours before the lag would drive me back to Alex. My expectation is that this lag is at the point where my tolerance of it may now extend to a few days.
Okay, make that “more than one more thing”.
For many, the iPhone X will be all about the new 5.8 inch OLED display. I have been told by others that it looks stunning. In my case, where how a display looks has only curiosity value, what mattered was how its size and filling of the front face of the iPhone would affect my use and user experience.
I came to the iPhone X as somebody who still holds warm feelings towards the form factor of the 4 inch iPhones. In fact, if pressed on this ahead of my time with the iPhone X, I would probably have stated that this size remains my personal “sweet spot”.
This made me curious to learn how I would react to a phone with a screen larger than that sported by Plus models of the iPhone, but physically only a little larger in size than my 6s. In particular, would all of that extra screen real estate make some VoiceOver gestures easier to perform, or would it seem like too much wasted space and bulk.
Although it's only been a few days, I think that I now ‘get’ why some people like larger smartphone screens, and that you can enjoy that extra screen real estate without being able to see it.
Not only have some VoiceOver gestures been easier to perform, but the extra spacing that the larger screen allows between page elements often improves the efficiency and experience when exploring the screen by touch.
This experience made me recognize and accept that I may feel nostalgic towards those 4 inch iPhones, but that I wouldn't want to switch back to using one on a daily basis.
For those who are already well ahead of me in appreciating the benefits of larger screens, the option of a 5.8 inch display on an iPhone which is smaller than the 8 Plus and only slightly larger than the 8, might be very compelling.
The iPhone X might bring even more to the table for low vision users than just more screen real estate. I can't comment from personal experience on whether any of this will actually help, but OLED and True Tone are claimed to make colors more natural and text easier and more comfortable to read. Do note, though, that True Tone is disabled if you use the Inverted Colors feature.
The final feature of the iPhone X (and also the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus) that I wanted to at least mention in passing, is its wireless charging capabilities.
Rather surprisingly for Apple, it has opted for the Qi wireless charging standard that's already used by more than 90 smartphones, and not gone with a proprietary technology. For Wired, this decision might make wireless charging the “Most Impactful New iPhone Feature”:
“Where wireless charging really becomes a benefit for consumers is when it becomes ubiquitous, when everywhere I go I don’t worry about chargers coming with me or running out of power,” says Paul Golden, a marketing executive with WPC, the consortium behind the Qi standard. “Every place I’m going I can just put my phone down and easily charge it. I don’t have to plug it in or anything.”
Efforts to make charging pads as commonplace as outlets exist, but not at scale. Aircharge, which makes wireless charging stations designed for public spaces, will upgrade more than 1,000 McDonald’s locations in the UK through 2018. You can sometimes find wireless charging stations in assorted hotels, bars, and other public spaces where people scramble for a little extra juice.
But without an entire industry coalescing around one standard, these installations have misfired in the past or not materialized at all. Starbucks backed the wrong horse in 2014, trialling Powermat chargers, an earlier form of what would eventually become AirFuel tech in several of its stores, only to find that most customers couldn't charge their phones without an adapter. And public wireless charging pads in the wild remain an oddity for most—assuming you’ve even seen one.
Apple picking a side instantly changes that calculus. “I’ve had conversations with people in the hospitality industry, people in the automotive industry, and other manufacturers of smartphones, who were all waiting to see what Apple was going to do,” Golden says.
The prospect of being able to charge my iPhone by just placing it on the table as I drink a coffee or eat my lunch, is certainly an appealing one.
However, for now, my only experience of wireless charging has been at home using a mophie wireless charging base.
That experience has been kind of fun, and if I had several charging pads around the house, I would probably routinely use and enjoy them. However, would I spend money on buying one? Probably not, as wireless charging in its current form simply offers me no added utility or convenience over the charging docks and cables that I already have scattered around my home. This is exacerbated by there being other devices in the house which use the existing docks and cables; and knowing that there are times when I have previously wanted or needed to use my iPhone whilst it charges. The latter can be done with cables, but not so easily or naturally when the phone is sitting on a charging pad.
If you currently use fast charging adapters and cables with your iPhone, you also need to be prepared for slower charging if you do decide to go wireless. Apple will make faster wireless charging possible later this year via an iOS update, but this will only be a relatively minor bump in charging speed.
However, as Wired suggest, for now the real utility and convenience of wireless charging will most likely not come at home or work, but with the increased availability of charging pads in public spaces that will follow Apple's adoption of the Qi standard.
For those wondering, you ‘should’ be able to wirelessly charge your iPhone X even if it's in a case, as this has been my experience with both Apple's silicon case and an OtterBox Signature case.
A Few Stray Tidbits
- Many apps have not yet been updated to support the larger screen of the iPhone X. As a result, they typically do not fill the screen to the top and bottom. So, if you encounter some vagaries between apps when locating page elements by touch, this is most likely to be the reason. Essentially, you will find empty borders at the top and bottom of the screen in these instances.
- On other iPhone models, the bottom row of the onscreen keyboard sits nearly flush with the bottom edge of the display. In the case of the iPhone X, this would have it near to the bottom edge of the phone itself. So, for usability reasons and to leave space for the “Home Indicator”, the onscreen keyboard sits further away from the bottom of the screen. Additionally, the keys for the next keyboard and dictation have been relocated to sit in the bottom left and right of the screen respectively (placing them either side of the Home Indicator). Again, something to note when trying to locate these keys by touch, and not finding them where they used to be. To confuse matters somewhat here, this change only appears to affect apps which have been updated to support the iPhone X.
- Apple says that the iPhone X battery lasts 2 hours longer than the iPhone 7. From my very unscientific testing against an iPhone 6s with a 2 year old battery, Apple's claim does seem realistic; and for me the iPhone X looks like it should comfortably survive a normal day's use with no top-up needed.
- When opening for the first time an app that supports Touch ID, an alert is displayed asking if you now want to use Face ID with the app.
- When opening an app that is locked with Face ID, there will be haptic feedback and an audible alert to tell you that it has been successfully unlocked.
- The Status Bar is now split in to two areas, separated by the “notch” that's home to the front camera and Face ID sensors. So, don't be surprised if your finger goes looking to find out the time, and VoiceOver remains silent. Just explore to the left and right of the notch for all of the expected Status Bar elements.
- The TrueDepth camera used for Face ID also enables a new way to make Messages even more fun. It captures and analyzes over 50 different facial muscle movements, then animates those expressions in a dozen different Animoji, including a panda, unicorn, and robot. I haven't explored this yet for accessibility, but Animoji is available as an iMessage app preinstalled on the iPhone X.
- To my ears, the speakers on the iPhone X appear to be much improved on those in my iPhone 6s (in audio reproduction, clarity and how loud they will go). I don't know how they compare with the iPhone 7 and 8, but comments on the latest episode of The Talk Show podcast suggest that it is also an improvement.
If you are thinking about buying a new iPhone, deciding upon the right model for you is likely to be more difficult now than it ever has been in the iPhone's 10 year history. There are 4 screen sizes, different features sets and performance levels, and a price range from US$349 all the way up to US$1149.
If you want the newest design, cutting edge features, the best performance, and cost is not a factor, then the iPhone X would seem the obvious choice.
However, if you are blind, then the decision may not be so clearcut, as you will need to consider whether Face ID will make you more vulnerable to criminals and wannabe pranksters than Touch ID.
That decision will depend upon personal circumstances, use cases, and the individual's own thoughts on whether the potential risks are relevant or important to them.
It's worth noting that if the early rumors prove to be correct, this time next year Apple will have removed the need for you to make this decision, as the 2018 iPhones will drop Touch ID in favor of Face ID.
This may change if security or usability issues with Face ID arise over the coming weeks and months. If they do, and it's at a level where it is harmful to Apple's reputation and bottom line, it's possible that Touch ID may not head towards legacy status quite so soon.
My own circumstances allow me to use Face ID with the requirement to be looking at the phone enabled, and with enough residual vision to hopefully be aware if somebody was attempting to trick me in to looking at my own iPhone. Although this still means that there is an increased risk of falling prey to criminals or pranksters compared to when using Touch ID, the increased risk is at a level where it would probably be outweighed by my desire to want the latest and greatest iPhone.
The iPhone X is the “latest”, so that just leaves me having to decide if it is also the “greatest”.
One factor at play here, is that I approached the iPhone X as somebody who skipped last year's iPhone 7 because I didn't want essentially the same design for 3 consecutive models. On that basis, the iPhone 8 was always going to be a hard sell to me. However, the removal of the Home button and the dropping of Touch ID in favor of Face ID, meant that it would take more than a new design to convince me that the iPhone X is the right phone for me.
But, boy is it a really great design. It's one of those iPhone models which only comes along every 3 or 4 years in the design cycle, one that truly looks and feels like a completely new iPhone (similar to how the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus did when first launched, and before that the iPhone 4).
Any concerns that I had about how the removal of the Home button might negatively affect my use and user experience of the iPhone X have proved to be unwarranted. The relocated actions and new gestures are well considered and very well implemented. There's a small learning curve and a period of adjustment, but no issues in regard to use or accessibility in my opinion.
In regard to Face ID, this has proved to be as fast, reliable and convenient as Apple claimed that it would be. Its setup is quick and easy, with a good level of information and guidance provided for VoiceOver users. In use, Face ID is already providing me with added convenience and utility compared to Touch ID. I particularly enjoy and welcome how it has made authentication become almost a background process that it's easy to forget is happening.
I am, however, disappointed by Apple's decision not to tell VoiceOver users that the security of Face ID is automatically set for them to what I believe to be a compromised level. Hopefully this is something that they will address in a future iOS update.
Looking beyond the missing Home button and Face ID, I enjoy what is for me the best experience I have had to date as a blind iPhone user - the iPhone X screen is responsive to input; I am feeling the benefit of that extra screen real estate; and VoiceOver is fast and responsive.
There's still a lot more for me to explore and experience with the iPhone X, but based upon everything so far, it's extremely hard to imagine that I will find anything which will have me wanting to go back to my iPhone 6s.
Functions Which Have Moved From the Home Button to the Side Button
Was a triple click of the Home Button. Now a triple click of the Side button.
Was a press and hold of the Home Button. Now a press and hold of the Side button.
Activate Apple Pay
Was a double click of the Home Button from the Lock screen. Now a double click of the Side button.
Turn off the iPhone: Was pressing and holding the Power button until the “Slide to Power Off” button is displayed, and then double-tapping that button. Now press and hold the side button and either volume button, then double-tap the “Slide to Power Off” button.
Force restart: Was pressing and holding the Home and Power buttons for approximately 10 seconds. Now press and quickly release the Volume Up button. Then press and quickly release the Volume Down button. Then press and hold the Side button (at which point the Apple logo is visually shown on the screen).
Take a screen shot
Was pressing and holding the Home and Power buttons until you hear the shutter sound effect. Now simultaneously press and quickly release the Side button and Volume Up button.
Functions of the Home Button Which Have Been Replaced with Gestures
Return to the Home screen
Slide one finger up from the bottom edge of the iPhone X until you feel the first vibration, then lift finger from the screen.
Activate the App Switcher
Slide one finger up from the bottom edge of the iPhone X until you feel the second vibration, then lift finger from the screen.
Activating Reachability mode (if enabled under the iOS settings):
Was 2 taps on the Home button. Now slide one finger up from the bottom edge of the iPhone X until you feel the first vibration, then quickly flick your finger down.
New VoiceOver Gestures for the iPhone X
To Access the Control Center
Slide one finger down from the top edge of the iPhone X until you feel the first vibration, then lift finger from the screen.
To Access the Cover Sheet
Slide one finger down from the top edge of the iPhone X until you feel the second vibration, then lift finger from the screen.