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How User-Centered is iPhone X?

iPhone X is appraised to be the biggest transformation in the history of Apple smartphones. It has an amazing new screen and shape, breath-taking TrueDepth sensor and FaceID, as well as sharp front and back cameras and HDR support. Not to mention, a departure from a classic home button and introduction of the notch, which has sparkled numerous debates on the design aesthetics of the new design. However, such rhetoric shifts the public’s attention from the purpose of the design in the first place, giving it a bad name. Design is not only about visual appeal, but usability of a product or service, which comes from focusing the design process on the needs of the end user.

In this respect, one could ask a question: how user-centered is iPhone X? As such, User-Centered Design (UCD) is a way of design that seeks to discover and accommodate users’ both latent and discernible needs and wants. UCD is imperatively about problem-solving, aimed to carefully study and support end user’s beliefs, attitudes and natural behaviours. Emergence and growth user-centered design process across the industries has marked a new approach to innovation, so that the terms are now synonymous. And this is exactly how Apple made such a big wave with its products a decade ago! The first iPhone wowed people with its brilliance of convenience. It solved numerous problems: a user could listen to music, make calls and send emails on one device, delivering an amazing frictionless experience – a true sign of changing times. Similarly, iPod and Apple Music were invented to solve the problems of bulky MP3 players, memory limitations and music purchase, the result being a simultaneously integrated but simple user experience. That was a UCD in heart of Apple – solving serious human problems, that set it far apart from competition and brought the future a step closer.

So how does iPhone X reflect the UCD roots of Apple? For a while now, many have been expressing their frustration that Apple is not innovative as it used to be. And symbolically, the new iPhone was released on the anniversary of its remarkable predecessor, to hallmark the new innovation leap of the iPhone series. And from the technical perspective, Apple got all things nearly flawless! From the shape design, materials and the screen to its greatly powerful processor, camera lenses and wireless charging. Similarly, as a technological piece, the TrueDepth experience is yet unmatched in the market, with the carefully designed software to deliver extra-creative experiences, such as the unique Animoji.

Yet, if you look differently at it, iPhone X is not as novel and revolutionary product as the first iPhone or iPod, but it is rather similar to many other smartphones. Wireless charging, edge to edge and OLED screens and even early facial identification have all been at consumers’ fingertips already for some time, just under different brand names. None of these were originally Apple’s ideas, although iPhone X perfected many of these technologies in their implementation. And so, it could indeed be argued that Apple was motivated with business goals and its technological capabilities to innovate, rather than putting a spotlight on the user. If it hasn’t done something urgently to match its competition, it would simply fall behind the likes of Samsung and Huawei.

This even shows in Apple’s production cycle of the iPhones. If not for the tenth anniversary and the rushed announcement of iPhone X, judging from the previous history, right now we would only be getting iPhone 7S. As a result, a rush to deliver to a tighter deadline resulted in supply shortages and software issues, such as the screen’s unresponsiveness in cold environments. Finally, UCD repeatedly accentuates the need to accommodate the user, rather than having them change their existing behaviours and attitudes to accommodate the system. And this is exactly what iPhone X does! Starting with getting used to the notch, adjusting to the lack of a phone jack (that so many users are still bitter about) to changes in the finger navigation. All of these, of course, are not difficult to get used to, but they certainly take away from user-friendliness and potentially the overall satisfaction with the product.

To sum up, iPhone X is certainly an amazing device, you can't really deny that. So far, it’s a smartphone that looks better, works faster and is a more creative than others in the market. However, it is still incomparable to its 10-year predecessor in making a user-centered difference, which would substantially improve one's interaction with the device and their personal lives in general. This is a differentiate between an incremental innovation and a paradigm shift. And this is why there is still so much controversy in the news whether iPhone X is a good phone or not, with an evident lack in discourse about the progressive user experience that it should have delivered.

More posts by Maryna Babych

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