Is the iPhone X, with its starting price of $999 — with 256 GBs of RAM it will cost $1,149 — worth the money? Nope. Will you buy it anyway? Yep.
Not all of you. But enough of you. And you know who you are.
Now let me tell you why you’ll buy it.
Sure, it’s a nice phone. It has oodles of new features, such as an all-new 5.8-inch OLED Super Retina display, a faster A11 Bionic processor, wireless charging capabilities, and an improved TrueDepth camera. None of those are the reasons.
And its one “newish” feature, Face ID facial recognition, creeps me out. I’m not the only one. As my colleague and friend Mike Elgan pointed out in a recent Computerworld column, “privacy invasion [using] face recognition is 100 times more dangerous than all other” kinds of biometric scanning.
Do you really want the cops to take your iPhone, make you look at your phone, and then watch them look through your entire online life? Don’t think they will? Ask U.S.-born NASA engineer Sidd Bikkannavar, who was forced to hand over his phone and passcode before the U.S. Customs and Border Protection would allow him to re-enter the country.
What makes this even more annoying is that facial recognition sucks as a reliable biometric ID. As Quincy Larson, a teacher at freeCodeCamp, explained, “Historically, biometric identification has been insecure. Cameras can be tricked. … How many pictures of your face are out there? Could those images be stitched together and 3D-modeled to the degree of accuracy necessary to defeat FaceID, with its infrared lights and dot projection system?” Yes, he answers, they can.
So excuse me if I don’t want to spend a grand for a device with an unreliable security system that can easily be used against me.
As for everything else on the iPhone X, have you checked out the Samsung Galaxy Note 8? I won’t go as far as a colleague of mine who declared that the “iPhone X is basically Samsung’s Note 8 plus Animojis,” But he’s not far wrong.
Oh, did I mention that the Galaxy Note 8 “only” costs $930?
I think that’s too expensive too. To quote a recent Tweet of mine:
Millennial: I paid $999 for my 1st iPhone.
Baby Boomer: I paid $999 for my 1st car.
Greatest Generation: I paid $999 for my 1st house.
So yeah, the iPhone X costs too much, and so does the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Do you want a good phone for under $300? Try a Moto G5 Plus, for $299. Got to have an iPhone or you’ll just die? You can still get an iPhone 5S for under $200 on Amazon. Or you could — now, I know this will sound like crazy talk — keep your old phone.
Having said all that, many of you will shell out a thousand bucks for the fanciest iPhone. Why?
At almost the same time the Apple fanbois were gasping at the latest Apple pretties, I was at The Linux Foundation's Open Source Summit in L.A. listening to Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, explain how companies can pull you into buying their products even if they’re not the best.
First, habits can make us buy luxury goods. And whatever else the iPhone X is, it’s a luxury device. That habit is formed by stimulating the anticipation of pleasure — not pleasure itself. Ever notice those endless “What will the new iPhone be like?” articles? Check.
You also manufacture desire by making the product mysterious. We’re attracted to the unknown. Apple is a master of this. It infamously does not talk to reporters, unless they’re de facto members of its PR team. It’s all about teasing you and building anticipation.
It also helps if the “reward” of a new iPhone is on a variable schedule. We know we’ll get a new major iPhone every two years. But exactly when? We don’t know — and we love it.
This is all based on the work of — no, not Steve Jobs — the famous behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. This kind of operant conditioning works just as well on Apple fans as it does on rats.
So, while the iPhone X is arguably not the best product, that doesn’t matter. The best product doesn’t always win. Instead, as Eyal said, “It’s the product that captures the monopoly of the mind,” and Apple has done that again with the iPhone X.