When the iPhone XR was announced last month, there was a storm of reaction. Such is the way with most Apple products. But the response from the internet's tech nerds might well be summed up as: "Lol, what?"
"Stop defending this stupidity," says one outraged YouTuber; another simply calls the iPhone XR "depressing." What's got people so down on this gadget? The screen. Unlike the high-end OLED screens found on the iPhone XS and XS Max, the XR uses an LCD panel, and has a resolution comparable to that of the iPhone 4, which is now over six years old. Android enthusiasts in particular balked, because while the iPhone XR, at $749, is comparatively cheaper than other iPhones, devices from Samsung, LG, Google, and OnePlus all offer far better screens for that same price point.
This was, however, a classic forest for the trees moment. This week, as reviews for the iPhone XR have poured in, it's become clear that not only is the screen on this phone generally fine, the iPhone XR is likely the best value for money for anyone looking for a new phone. More to the point, despite the outcry from those who fetishize specs, the iPhone XR is the most important phone in the industry right now — and will likely shift the direction of the smartphone market.
Aside from the screen being sub-par, the XR is also missing some RAM and lacks 3D Touch and a zoom lens. But those shortcomings are relatively minor. Most reviewers have been pleasantly surprised by this phone, not because of what it lacks, but because of what it features despite its lower pricetag. The iPhone XR has the same processor (and unrivaled speed) as its more expensive siblings, and also has the same primary camera, which, while no longer the best in the industry, is still near the top. It's a surprisingly high-end budget phone.
The XR is a deliberate play by Apple to have its cake and eat it too. While Apple is pushing up the average selling price of its devices with the very expensive XS and XS Max, it is also shooting for the middle of the market with the more reasonably priced iPhone XR. And since the XR isn't a huge step down in quality, it's a clear upgrade path for price-conscious owners of older iPhones. It might even lure some ambivalent Android users. Smart!
The XR is thus the answer to a very important question: How can Apple continue to increase sales when the iPhone is already the most successful consumer product ever? In a sense, Apple has just wedged a new category between high-end and mid-range phones. Its flagships now form a $1,000+ luxury tier, joined by devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Google Pixel 3 XL, while the XR now sits basically alone, matching most of the specs of flagship Android devices while undercutting them on price. Want the fastest phone out there with an excellent camera? Get the iPhone XR and not, say, the Samsung Galaxy S9 or LG G7.
The XR may well force Android device makers to similarly split their lines into luxury and "mid-high-end," creating similar offshoot models that include most of the features of their very top-end products. And this is why the XR is so important: It proves once again that Apple has the power to change consumer sentiment and dictate what consumers expect from their smartphones, despite Apple's actual market share being but a fraction of Android's.
But perhaps the most telling aspect of the iPhone XR is that a lot of tech reviewers who have spent time with the device believe it's the phone most people should buy — and indeed, seem to indicate it's the phone they themselves are going to buy — largely because it represents the best mix of cutting edge features and affordability. I'm inclined to agree; when it's time to pass on my trusty iPhone SE to my parents, it's the iPhone XR I'll likely pick up.
Apple's strategy with the XR makes clear sense: In making the iPhone line's best features — including its all-important camera — available to more people, Apple has almost guaranteed more sales, even as it acknowledges that people are holding on to their phones for longer. And while tech bloggers can express their frustration about specs or how many pixels there are per inch on the iPhone XR, Apple will likely be looking at the bigger picture: more sales, more revenue, and even more cash to add to its already enormous pile.