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What you need to know about the iPhone X

Apple CEO Tim Cook at the iPhone X launch on September 12: $1799 and up. Photo/Getty Images

The iPhone X is expensive, all right. But is it worth it?

The release of Apple’s new iPhone X (you say “ten”) celebrates a decade of the iconic device that changed mobile phones forever. But it has raised lots of burning questions.

Why is it so expensive?

At $1799 for the 64GB (gigabyte) version and a whopping $2099 for the 256GB model, the iPhone X is the most expensive mass-produced phone to go on sale here. The cost is down to Apple’s unwillingness to compromise – everything here is the best, from the glass and “surgical-grade” stainless-steel body, to the dual-camera set-up on the phone’s rear, wireless charging capability, high-quality new “super retina display” and edge-to-edge screen.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

What happened to the home button?

Apple has followed its rivals in removing the physical button on the iPhone’s screen, replacing it with sensors that detect your finger-swiping gestures to navigate. It will take some getting used to.

The Touch ID fingerprint scanner is also gone in favour of Face ID, facial recognition software that uses the front-facing camera to scan your face and unlock the phone. Facial recognition has been hit-and-miss on phones, but Apple insists that it is secure and works well, even in the dark and for people wearing glasses.

Augmented what?

The most intriguing feature of the iPhone X is the inclusion of augmented reality, last seen on smartphones with the Pokémon Go craze that had people glued to their phone as they raced around chasing imaginary creatures.

Apple has created ARKit, which allows software developers to create apps that enable users to overlay content and objects on the real world. Imagine a virtual restaurant menu that places a juicy steak in front of you when you point your phone at the empty plate. AR has the potential to worm its way into our daily lives. But unless you play games on your phone, don’t buy an iPhone X for the AR feature: this is still in its gimmick phase.

Is it better than the iPhone 8?

Apple released a couple of other phones this month – the iPhone 8 and super-sized 8 Plus. They, too, are classy phones with glass design, wireless charging and improved cameras. They retain the fingerprint scanner and are less technically ambitious updates, but are cheaper than the iPhone X (from $1249 for the iPhone 8 and $1449 for the 8 Plus).

Does it have the X factor?

The iPhone X will cost you about the same as a MacBook Air laptop, which seems ridiculous. But consider how much time you spend using your computer these days – not the one you tap away at during work hours, but the one you have at home.

There’s a good chance it is gathering dust while you use your smartphone for most tasks. Research shows that we are spending between two and four hours a day on our smartphones. That’s 60 or more hours a month. Some of us sleep with our phones. So maybe you should buy the best phone you can afford.

The two big questions are whether you can afford this fancy gadget and, if you are an Apple disciple who loves the simplicity but limitations of its locked-down, proprietary world, whether you would consider the more freewheeling but less cohesive rival Android platform.

What would Steve think?

I’d pick that the iPhone X wouldn’t be ambitious enough for Apple founder Steve Jobs. Apple hasn’t released an iconic new device since the iPad made its debut in 2010, just a year before Jobs’s death. Since then, it has largely played it safe, with incremental tweaks designed to keep Apple fans loyal, rather than game-changing innovations.

Without the driving vision of Jobs, Apple seems content to coast, though that approach doesn’t seem to have harmed its business: Apple has amassed US$250 billion in cash, which is more than New Zealand’s annual GDP.

The iPhone X is on sale from November 3.

This article was first published in the September 30, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.