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iPhones of Future Past: Understanding iPhone 8

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iPhones of Future Past: Understanding iPhone 8

In addition to selling more iPhones, Apple can also sell more of an iPhone — by bring tomorrow's iPhone to customers today, for a price.

There's a shockwave that hits in advance of every iPhone launch — one that alternates between spectacular feature hype and devastating delay forecasts. And because we prefer the doom of never learning from history, every year we go on an emotional rollercoaster along with them.

Scale and fusion

This year, one of the issues that's raised concern is scale. Can Apple get enough OLED displays? Can the company get Touch ID working beneath them? Will Face ID work? What about plug-less charging?

Scale has been an issue for Apple for years already. Famously, Amazon was able to include more advanced screen technologies on the Kindle Fire much earlier than Apple, due to Amazon's much smaller manufacturing scale.

It's something Apple has always had to balance. The difference is that, when Apple was still accelerating into new markets, it didn't matter. Now that Apple is selling into all the existing markets, and it has to create new ones, scale can matter.

When you go really high, really fast, you can leave space beneath you. (Poetically, that's why Apple created the A10 Fusion chipset, with a high-efficiency core paired to the high-performance core.)

iPhone 5c was an attempt to fill one such space. By going less expensive and more pop culture, it was hoped Apple could add a steadier, more TV-season like revenue stream to the current blockbuster, movie-style flagship spikes and valleys. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way.

More iPhone

iPhone 8 — or whatever Apple calls the higher-end model this year — is another. It's an attempt to see what space can be filled by going more expensive and more premium. Serendipitously, the relatively smaller size of the higher-end market also lets Apple embrace newer and more advanced technologies — the ones that are harder to scale — sooner.

Apple did manage to put Retina in every iPhone 4. The company managed to put Touch ID in every iPhone 5s and Taptic Engines inside every iPhone 6s. Every year, Apple manages to put A-Series processors into every device it manufactures.

Those were all industry-leading technologies, all delivered at previously unimaginable scales, and all now taken for granted. iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus will no doubt continue to stealthily impress in exactly the same way.

iPhone 8 will simply let Apple impress in a different way — by bringing tomorrow's iPhone to market today.

In essence, it's really no different than getting an iPhone on Verizon, onto China Mobile, on bigger and bigger displays, and on smaller displays again — it's about annexing adjacent markets and maximizing the revenue potential for iPhone.

As it becomes harder to sell more iPhones — the population of earth is now a limiting factor — selling more iPhone becomes more important. It's the same benefit Apple gets from services revenue, but in atoms, not bits.

iPhones of future past

Again, none of this is new and certainly not new to Apple. Apple lives in the future when it comes to iPhone. The company is always working generations ahead and so they see the challenges, problems, opportunities, risks, and rewards well in advance of everyone outside Apple. And they work relentlessly to navigate them.

Still, it's a sprint to the finish line each and every year, and every sprint risks a stumble.

Years ago, Apple saw all the benefits and problems of edge-to-edge screens, Face ID systems, contact and contactless charging, and everything else you and I have just come around to worrying about on Twitter and Reddit.

How will bezel gestures work, how will authentication be triggered, how will connection be ensured? Beyond implementation details, there's an incredible amount of design that has to be done to make all of it not just work but work intuitively.

And come this fall, we'll see how much and how well they've done. What features are enabled at release and which ones follow on later with updates.

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