The costly iPhone X tries to reinvent the phone -- again

The new iPhone X adds features like an edge-to-edge screen, facial recognition and wireless charging. But is it a game changer?

James Martin/CNET

Ten years ago, Steve Jobs stood on a stage in San Francisco and promised, "Apple is going to reinvent the phone."

That turns out to have been the understatement of the decade.

Though Apple certainly wasn't the first to make a mobile phone, or even the first to use touchscreen technology, the iPhone's blend of slickly designed hardware and software changed the way we all thought about and used our phones. Since then, Apple has sold more than 1.2 billion handsets. The iPhone 7, released last year, is the top-selling phone in the world. And analysts predict the iPhone will become the world's first trillion-dollar smartphone by the end of 2018.

Now Apple is hoping to reinvent the phone all over again.

CEO Tim Cook, inaugurating the Steve Jobs Theater on Apple's new campus, introduced the device to do it: the iPhone X (pronounced "10").

"We do have 'one more thing,'" Cook said, echoing the famous line Jobs had uttered time and again at product unveilings over the years. "We have great respect for these words and we don't use them lightly."

A decade after the first iPhone's 2007 unveiling, "it is only fitting that we are here in this place, on this day, to reveal a product that will set the path of technology for the next decade," Cook said during the nearly-two hour presentation, calling the iPhone X, "the biggest leap forward since the original iPhone."

Priced starting at $999, Apple's new flagship iPhone crams the company's sharpest-ever, 5.8-inch screen inside a body that's smaller than last year's iPhone 7 Plus. The new gadget supports wireless charging for the first time and features a new Apple-designed chip called the A11 Bionic.

Oh, and the iconic home button that's sat at the bottom of the screen since the first iPhone is now gone. In its place is new facial recognition technology called Face ID, which unlocks the device using sensors and cameras that Apple collectively calls "TrueDepth." Apple says FaceID is more secure than the Touch ID fingerprint recognition used on its other iPhones.

Apple will begin taking preorders for the iPhone X on Oct. 27, and it expects the phone to hit store shelves Nov. 3.

Not just the X


Alongside the iPhone X are the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, which use many of the same chips and cameras.


The company also introduced two new successors to last year's iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Instead of following its usual strategy of adding an S to the names of updated models, Apple is calling the new versions the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, because, Cook said, "This is a huge step forward for iPhone."

The new iPhone includes an upgraded chip, called the A11 Bionic, which offers 30 percent faster visuals than last year's A10, Apple said. The phone also has faster chips designed for quicker autofocus, better low light photos and augmented reality apps, which overlay computer images onto the real world.

Perhaps the biggest change is the inclusion of Qi, a wireless charging standard that means people can charge an iPhone merely by placing it on a specialized mat in an airport, cafe or car.

The iPhone 8 is priced starting at $699, and the larger iPhone 8 Plus costs $799, both $50 more than last year's models, though Apple did double the amount of storage for those prices. The phones will be available Sept. 22. Preorders through Apple's website start this Friday, Sept. 15.

No matter what people think of the design or tech specs, Apple actually doesn't need to wow anyone with the iPhone for the device to be a hit. The company's well-regarded iOS software and hardware have helped make Apple one of the world's biggest and most profitable companies. Thanks in large part to the iPhone, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of its revenue last year, Apple has more than $250 billion in cash, which makes it worth more than all but 45 of the world's richest countries.

The iPhone isn't just the single most successful phone in the world. The technologies Apple adopts and the ideas it builds into the phone set the tone for the entire tech industry. Consider the App Store, opened in 2008 with the release of the iPhone 3G. The store created a boom that's helped spawn some of the world's largest companies, including ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft. Entire industries, from health to education to communications, have also been remade.   

With the iPhone X, Apple is hoping to strike a similar note. The company is positioning the gadget as the biggest change since the first iPhone. The inclusion of augmented reality apps, for instance, taps into one of the hottest trends in tech today.

The big question hanging over Apple is whether the new phone's price is worth it. On the plus side, some of these new technologies are a high-water mark for Apple's design and represent a big shift forward for the iPhone.

Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights & Strategy, called the iPhone X "truly an engineering marvel," and not just a late copy of the competition. "Apple did it their way by perfecting the experience, and on their timeframe," he said.

On the celebrity front, Paris Hilton was the first to express her admiration for Apple's latest device.

A challenge Apple will have to face Is that many of the features it's touting are already available from competitors. The edge-to-edge glass screen has been used in phones from Samsung and Essential, the startup founded by Android creator Andy Rubin. Wireless charging has been around for more than a decade.

But Apple said the iPhone does these things better. "Every year we say this is the best lineup for the holidays," said Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, "but this year is really special."

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First published Sept. 12, 12:07 p.m. PT.
Update, 2:52 p.m.: Adds details and Tweet from Paris Hilton.