By Robert Hackett
September 12, 2017

Apple has built its new iPhones, the iPhone 8 models and the futuristic iPhone X, with improved cameras and augmented reality capabilities.

The company finally unveiled the phone details during an event at Apple’s new Cupertino Calif., campus on Tuesday. The new line of sleek devices—iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X (pronounced as iPhone “ten”)—differ in their features and price tags, but one consistent trait among them was turbocharged visuals.

“Perhaps the most beloved feature of every new generation of iPhone is the cameras,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s chief marketer, in detailing the improvements. “People love taking photos.”

First, here’s what the models have in common. Each of the phones has souped up lenses, image processing power, and display capabilities. Each comes equipped with retina HD displays (4.7 inches for the iPhone 8, 5.5 inches for iPhone 8 Plus, and 5.8 inches for iPhone X), automatic light-correcting photo technology (or TrueTone, as it is called by Apple), and 12 Megapixel sensors—meaning they capture information on the order of 12 million pixels, resulting in better lighting and more accurate, vivid colors.

Another big improvement: Apple embedded within its phones a new kind of computer chip, called A11 Bionic. The addition allows the gadgets’ cameras to render graphics faster and focus more quickly in poor lighting while also boosting image sharpness and texture, Schiller said.

The chip is “designed to accelerate 3D apps and games” as well as apps that rely on machine learning with its greater processing power, Schiller said. He showed off a few examples: one game that involved a robot vanquishing a flying monster, a Major League Baseball app that overlaid athlete statistics on players in the field, and another that projected a star map in the sky.

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Now for the differences. iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, unlike the iPhone 8, come with dual cameras, one wide-angle (f 1.8 aperture) and one telephoto (f 2.8 aperture) lens. Two cameras, if you didn’t guess, are better than one.

The added cameras enable the more upscale phone models to come with a test version of a “portrait lighting” mode” which mimics some of the contoured lighting effects that professional photographers achieve with specialized equipment. On iPhone 8 Plus, this portrait lighting feature is limited to its back-facing cameras.

iPhone X, on the other hand, is jammed with all sorts of sensors to give it an edge over the other iPhone models—including the ability to take portrait mode photos on its front-facing camera. The front camera also has depth and other sensors that enable it to recognize people’s faces so they may unlock their phones merely with a glance, rather than needing a fingerprint as with TouchID.

IPhone X also comes with an OLED, or “organic light-emitting diode,” screen that brightens without needing a backlight. iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus use LCD, or “liquid crystal display,” screens that are generally thicker and present less realistic images.

The augmented reality tech, which superimposes computer graphics on the real world, is a new frontier for Apple. In addition to gaming and information-purveying app use cases (as mentioned above), the iPhone X’s powerful sensors allows for additional features.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, demonstrated one on stage: how to manipulate animated emojis, or “animojis,” with iPhone X’s camera. As Federighi moved his face and spoke, iPhone X’s camera and software tracked his expressions and a cartoon pile of poop replicated the gestures on screen.

Although this example is flippant, the underlying technology is what allows people to use their faces to unlock their phones, or to authorize Apple Pay payments.

John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, maker of the viral video game Pokémon Go, remarked in a blog post after the event that “some will conclude that AR is a gimmick that lacks real utility. That’s a bummer, because it really is the first step to something that is going to transform the world as we know it.”

Apple’s new phones have other features, like wireless charging and durable glass screens, but the cameras are of particular note. For image-conscious consumers, Instagram addicts, and AR buffs, they remain some of the most compelling reasons to upgrade.

The iPhone 8 starts at $699, iPhone Plus at $799, and iPhone X at $999. How much you dish out may depend on how much you care about the quality of your selfies—and the augmentation of your reality.

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