iPhone X is an incredible product. Not only is it a world class cellphone, it’s something of a Mac in your pocket but with more usable capability. Maps, apps, FaceTime, Messages, Mail and Safari, games, Netflix and more are stuffed into a device that you hold in your hand.
iPhone X’s screen is much like reading a high quality magazine. Did I mention the camera? Stuffed into a device not thicker than a few quarters, iPhone X’s camera has begun to rival mid-range DSLRs in photo quality and surpasses almost all in convenience.
No, Apple’s high end iPhone X camera is not full on DSLR quality– the physics of lens size and sensor size is hard to match in such a thin device– but it’s hard not to acknowledge the built-in computational photography benefits of today’s high end smartphone cameras. DXOMARK tests smartphone cameras and the best have reached near perfection.
This list should show you what Apple is up against.
The latest smartphone cameras are bunched at the top with similar scores and each takes photos that are virtually indistinguishable from one another. That means scores have increased nearly 10-percent in just the past year or two and there is nowhere else to go. Until there is a major breakthrough– in computational photography, sensor capabilities, or new lenses which capture more light– this is as good as it gets.
That’s a problem for Apple (and competitors) because differentiation is a key product marketing component. And the iPhone X’s camera is a key differentiation over less expensive rivals. What happens when even cheap Android smartphones can take DSLR quality photos? If a cellphone is a cellphone and all cameras take photos indistinguishable from one another, how does Apple differentiate itself?
Already the iPhone’s camera can take 4K video, display images in HDR, and simple point-and-shoot photos under any lighting conditions look very good. Advancements in quality and capability tend to move downward in the product food chain. Apple’s iPhone X leads with Face ID, but you know within a year or two other smartphones will have similar technology that works as well.
To maintain those delicious gross margins begat from higher price tags, Apple needs to push the differentiation envelope every year. For iPhone X, it’s camera, display, and Face ID. What about 2018? We can expect improvements across the board, and more iPhones with better cameras, OLED display, and Face ID– as well as new functions Apple has been working on for years.
Apple faces a massive and ongoing problem with the iPhone’s camera but also other iPhone features and functions. The need to stay ahead of competitors, the need to differentiate its wares from Samsung, Google, and a host of Chinese knock-off manufacturers intent on closing Apple’s lead, is what drives Apple’s engineers. Yet, the very camera components Apple buys from Sony or whomever are sold to rivals, too, which means computational photography is a key component of differentiation. Google has it in Pixel 2. Samsung is not far behind. Huawei and others, too.
But we’ve reached the point where it is difficult to see much difference in photos from iPhone X vs. Apple’s premium competitors and that’s a big problem.