Apple’s launch of the iPhone X last week was notably different from its original iPhone launch in 2007, as I said in the intro to my Techtonic radio show on Monday evening.

Here’s how I put it on Twitter:

• Was the home button irritating users?
• Did users hate the kind of metal Apple was using?
• Did users want their faces scanned?
• Is this for users?

In other words, the features Apple touted about the iPhone X – face-scanning through FaceID, the edge-to-edge screen without a home button, and (my favorite) “surgical-grade stainless steel” – are all impressive technology, but I’m not sure they solve users’ primary pain points or unmet needs.

Compare this with the original iPhone launch from 2007, in which Steve Jobs demonstrated a complete revolution in how people would use smartphones. The iPhone solved chronic problems in smartphones of the time – managing contacts, three-way calling, accessing voice mail – while adding a number of other benefits. There simply was nothing else like the iPhone when it launched.

Going further back, compare last week with twenty years ago, in 1997, in which Jobs made the famous statement about Apple’s new strategy:

You’ve gotta start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to sell it.

I wonder what Jobs would have made of the surgical-grade stainless steel, the face-scanning, and the rest of the iPhone X features. Did this launch focus on the customer experience, or did Apple perhaps “start with the technology” and then try to sell it?

  1. Mark, I couldn’t agree with you more! I don’t want my face scanned, I have no issue at all with the home button, and the reason I bought an SE when I purchased my most recent upgrade was because I wanted a headphone jack. When I heard about the iPhone X, I actually thought to myself that I might need to look elsewhere the next time I’m shopping for a new phone, and that’s coming from a loyal Apple “fanboy” who would never have considered such a move until this shift in Apple’s philosophy began to manifest itself. Hopefully, another company will step up and give customers what they actually want, not what the company deems they want.

  2. But, this has been an issue with all phones for years now, no? Jobs solves a bunch of pain points with the original iPhone, but once they’re solved, they’re solved. To complain that the X’s innovations “start with tech” is all well and good, but where would _you_ start? What problems would you have a new phone solve? Or would you simply declare the problems Solved, and make the iPhone cheaper and cheaper on the grounds that the only real pain any more is the price? _That’s_ certainly not the Steve Jobs way.

  3. Mark- In defense of Apple, I have an iPhone 7 Plus, and my hands are larger than normal, and it’s difficult for me to use the phone with one hand because I can’t reach all of the areas of the screen with my thumb while holding it with one hand. Eliminating the home button and the area above the screen and replacing it with just screen does decrease the overall device size. I can see that as a clear user benefit. The proof is in the pudding – the face scan must work well and the home swipe must be as simple and pushing the home button – but I am looking forward to having a large screen phone in a smaller device size.

    • right, the main problem with phones is that (a) we want the phones to be small, but (b) we want the screens to be big. The iPhone X does a pretty good job of solving that problem! And then the next big problem is “oh shit I’m running out of battery”. If the phone just charges itself when it’s sitting by my bedside or by my office desk, then that’s a serious dent in that problem. And then finally there’s the whole “look at me I’ve got an iPhone” thing, which drove a bunch of upgrades when each phone looked different to the last. But now they all look the same, so there’s a need to make the phone look different just so that it looks different. Maybe not a pain point per se, but especially in China, which is the main market for the iPhone, the showing-off bit of getting a brand-new iPhone is a significantly big deal.

    • I’d propose a different frame. Instead of “here’s the iPhone, what can be done to improve it?” or “here’s the iPhone, what do we think of its newest features?” — I think there’s a different way of looking at the entire issue.


      Here it goes: here’s the human being that we call the user. (And it has to be someone other than yourself. Contemplating your own needs doesn’t count as empathy.)

      The question then becomes, What does the user want? Or, more specifically: What would benefit the user, whether they can articulate it or not?

      So – instead of focusing on the technology and working backwards to the customer experience, we should instead start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. I’m not the first to point that out, though…

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