Apple iPhone X, Face ID: Little Here for the Enterprise

To greet the 10th anniversary edition of the iconic iPhone, Apple held its first major event in the 1,000-seat Steve Jobs auditorium, though what CEO Tim Cook had to introduce held little of that Jobsian pizzazz. There were tidbits for everything from the Apple Watch to Apple TV (hasn't that thing died yet?), but overall I would characterize developments as "incremental" with glimpses of the new direction for the iPhone.

Cook started by having Angela Ahrendts, Apple SVP of Retail, describe the company's plan and vision for its retail outlets, which it's now calling "Town Squares." The stores will feature a "Genius Grove" and interactive sessions on using Apple products. Larger stores will feature "Plazas" where Apple lovers can hang out and kill time -- now that's productivity for you. Not much enterprise focus here.

Apple Watch Series 3 and watchOS 4

A new version of the Apple Watch, dubbed Series 3, will feature its own cellular capability -- meaning, it will function as a standalone cellular device and no longer require an iPhone as an intermediary. The most interesting feature is that it will share the same mobile number as your iPhone. All four major U.S. cellular carriers support this capability (although Apple couldn't tell me if AT&T would charge me extra for sharing my iPhone number with an Apple Watch).

The bigger news is watchOS 4, the new Apple Watch software, which is clearly focused on the health conscious. There was a lot of talk about "closing your rings," a sign of accomplishment in the Apple Watch's Activity Monitor to which I've never paid much attention.

Most interesting to me is Apple's plan to make greater use of the heart-rate monitor; this will be available to earlier models as well with watchOS 4, due out Sept. 19. I have tested the heart-rate monitor against real clinical diagnostic equipment and found it to be surprisingly accurate, and I use it regularly in my swim workouts. Besides measuring instantaneous and average heart rate, the software will now measure recovery time.

In another interesting development, Apple has launched the Apple Heart Study, in coordination with Stanford Medicine. Using the Apple Watch, the study will monitor cardia arrhythmia, one of the symptoms of atrial fibrillation or "AFib," which can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

WatchOS 4 will also feature an altimeter, and with the cellular capability, it will soon allow you to stream music and listen to it with your $159 wireless AirPods. The cellular model will sell for $399, non-cellular for $329, and the older Series 2 will now sell for $249. Apple will begin accepting orders Sept. 15, with deliveries slated to begin Oct. 2.

As to the announcements about the 4K version of Apple TV... who cares?

The Evolutionary iPhone

The big thing everyone has been waiting for is the new iPhone, and we got three of them: iPhone 8 (4.7-inch screen), iPhone 8 Plus (5.5-inch screen) and iPhone X (5.8-inch screen and pronounced "iPhone Ten.") The edge-to-edge design of the iPhone X allows a screen that is larger than the 8 Plus (5.8-inches versus 5.5-inches) in a case that's only slightly larger than the iPhone 8 (5.65 inches x 2.79 inches versus 5.45 inches x 2.65 inches). The first two I would characterize as "incremental" and the iPhone X, "incremental and a half." However, Apple has hit a solid single up the middle in terms of a marketing strategy to transition from the existing iPhone line to the new line characterized by the X.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus represent the direct extension of the current iPhone line. Both feature an all-glass front and back and run on Apple's new A11 Bionic processor, which it claims is 70% faster than the A10. The glass is specially formulated and stronger than any Apple has used before, and it allows the case to be sealed for water and dust resistance (Rated IP67 under IEC standard 60529). The big advantage, however, is support for wireless charging. Oh, and the analog audio jack is formally a thing of the past, though you still get a Lightning-to-3.5 mm headphone jack adapter in the box.

Apple had first gone to wireless charging with the Apple Watch and then the AirPod headphones, but wireless charging for the iPhone is a big step -- a big step toward catching up with Samsung, which introduced wireless charging in 2015 with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Apple has elected to use the Qi wireless charging standard; the Galaxy supports both the Qi and Power Matters Alliance standards. Apple also showed a multi-function charging pad that would charge an Apple Watch and a pair of AirPods as well as an iPhone. It's due out next year.

After that mostly came consumer stuff... dual 12 MP rear-facing cameras with auto stabilization, a cool Portrait Mode lighting option, noise reduction, and a bunch of other things. Apple also talked a lot about augmented reality (AR) and an its new ARKit development tool, but virtually all of the examples and demos dealt with AR games and other consumer-focused activities.

iPhone X: Fingers to Faces

The star of the show was the iPhone X, which did live up to its billing as the first $1,000 iPhone (actually $999 and $1,149). But when the dust settled, only two things (other than price) really differentiated it from the iPhone 8: screen size and facial recognition. The screen is indeed impressive, and this is the first iPhone using an OLED display and an edge-to-edge design. With an all-glass front and back (the iPhone X will also support wireless charging), the Home button is now gone, and with it will come a change to the vaunted iPhone user experience (UX) -- a change for the better, Apple hopes.

Getting a screen that's bigger than the 8 Plus in a case that's almost the same as the iPhone 8 is an accomplishment, and there is only a small window at the top that has to be blacked out to accommodate the front-facing camera, the microphone, proximity sensor, and other components; the iPhone X features the same water and dust resistance standards as the 8 and 8 Plus.

The big change in the UX comes in replacing the fingerprint-based TouchID with facial recognition, or Face ID. Once your face is stored in the phone, all you have to do is look at it and swipe up and you are on the Home page; swiping up in any application will take you to the home page. If you swipe up and hold, all open applications will display (like the double-tap on the Home button in the current iPhones). You can also swipe left along the bottom of the screen to switch between open applications. The 3D Touch capability introduced in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus remains.

Apple made a great step in increasing user security with the simple, reliable (well "reliable" if your finger was perfectly dry) TouchID, which it then opened as a security measure for third-party apps. Now it wants to transition users from fingers to faces.

I've tried several facial recognition systems in the past, and have found them to be far more intrusive than the simple TouchID. Somehow, I find it uncomfortable to start my smartphone interaction with a stare down, but maybe I'll change my mind if I skip a mortgage payment and go for an iPhone X.

Technically, Apple seems to have covered all of the recognized shortcomings in facial recognition. The "false positive" rate jumps from one in 50,000 with TouchID to one in 1 million with Face ID. Face ID also features technology to defeat the use of photos or masks to spoof the recognition; your eyes also have to be open. It will work in the dark and cannot be fooled by beards, glasses, hats or other distractions. A neural engine will process the image and adapts as your appearance changes (hopefully for the better) over time.

The iPhone X is clearly geared toward Apple diehards or any status-conscious individuals willing to plop down $999 or $1,149 to separate themselves from the "commoners" sporting iPhone 8s (or, God forbid, iPhone 5s or 6s). So, from a marketing standpoint, Apple did a great job of "shooting down the middle" with a more cost-effective evolutionary option in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus along with a truly distinctive high-end line for the status conscious with the iPhone X. Well played, Mr. Cook.

Conclusion

I was watching the Apple announcement from the enterprise viewpoint, and hence, I came away less then overwhelmed. Apple is a great consumer marketing company, and its genius showed in the way it's structured this transition to a new full screen look and a new UX based on Face ID. Yesterday was "consumer day," and Apple was clearly playing to its base. Unfortunately, fancy screens and wireless charging are a poor counterweight to Siri, which has fallen woefully behind in terms of the speech recognition and natural language capabilities we're seeing from Google and Amazon.

However, Apple still has enterprise initiatives ongoing in Cupertino, and I would point to CallKit and Business Chat as two primary examples. From yesterday's announcement, about the only thing I see enterprise value in is the AR capability and Apple's ARKit. While I don't look to be one of those fools dancing around an empty table playing a 3-D video game that only I can see on my iPhone, there are loads of creative business capabilities that can make use of AR technology. AR can help users navigate the real world more effectively while bridging the best of the real and the virtual worlds. And with Apple's adoring fan base, businesses are going to want to be in on just about anything that Apple promotes.

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