If you're buying an iPhone X, don't expect all your apps to look great on launch day


The iPhone X has the best display of any iPhone ever, but if you’re among the throngs of people lining up to buy one this week, don’t expect all your apps to look perfect right away.

That’s because the changes Apple introduced with the iPhone X were so dramatic, developers have had to scramble to update their apps to optimize them for the device. And despite Apple’s continued reminders to developers over the last few weeks, many developers still have not made the necessary changes yet.

It’s hard to say exactly how many apps have been updated to be iPhone X compatible over the last few weeks, though more and more updates are appearing in the App Store each day. According to analytics from marketing firm Sensor Tower, about 2,700 app updates since the day after the iPhone X launch refer to “iPhone X” in their release notes — suggesting that the number is in the low thousands. 

Sensor Tower says about 1,000 of these updates have dropped since Monday, which is certainly an encouraging sign that developers are moving quickly. But considering there are millions of apps in the App Store, there’s still quite a bit of catching up to do.

For early adopters, that means there will be a frustrating window over the first few weeks and perhaps even months as they deal with inconsistency in apps. Even some of the most well-known developers won’t have fully optimized apps available on day one or even week one.

Part of that delay is due to just how dramatically different the iPhone X is compared with any previous version. For developers, the iPhone X “is by far the single most shocking change in iPhone UI,” explains Sebastian de With, a former Apple designer and one-half of the team behind camera app Halide. Even though he, and many other developers were anticipating many of the changes due to the flood of leaks leading up to its launch, it’s not a small task to make the required adjustments, particularly for independent developers who may be balancing multiple projects.

For de With, who doesn’t work on Halide full-time, it took a full weekend of work just to get the app to a point where it wasn’t “embarrassingly broken” on the iPhone X. Then, another two weeks of “heads down coding” to get it to a point where he and his engineering partner, Ben Sandofsky, felt the app was fully ready.

“We had to find a balance between re-styling and starting over,” says Sandofsky.

Consider this: the width of the iPhone X display is the same as the iPhone 7 and 8, but it’s significantly taller than previous iPhones, adding about 20 percent more space, according to Apple’s Human Interface guidelines

But developers, in most cases, can’t simply just  stretch their apps to fit. The iPhone X display also has rounded corners, which is another adjustment that needs to be made — lest part of the app get cut off in the corners.

Apple's example to developers showing how apps now need to be adjusted for rounded corners.

Apple’s example to developers showing how apps now need to be adjusted for rounded corners.

Then there’s the notch: Apple has very specific instructions for how developers should work with the cutout. Developers should make sure to enable “full screen” apps that reach to the edges of the display on all sides. 

When I reviewed the Essential Phone, I noted that one of the most frustrating things about its “notch” was the lack of consistency in how apps used the space around it. Some Google apps wrapped around the notch, using the entire display, while most others showed an empty black space on top. 

Google Maps on the iPhone X.

Google Maps on the iPhone X.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

But even though Apple is able to be far more explicit with its developers, early adopters of the iPhone X will experience many of these same issues, something early reviewers have already noticed. For some apps, like Google Maps, this doesn’t “break” the app, but it makes it look sub-par, almost as if it’s a much older iPhone model (as some early reviewers have already pointed out).

For other unoptimized apps, the iPhone X display actually interferes with the app’s UI.

To be absolutely clear, many of these issues will likely be ironed out in due time. It’s easy to forget now, but when Apple first introduced the larger iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, there were similar issues, and it took months for the App Store to catch up.

And, unlike then, when developers were at least assured that future iPhones would stay at the two larger sizes, those who create iPhone X apps also need to ensure they keep the experience good for iPhone 8 and previous generations. There’s a growing number of app sizes to maintain.

“It’s not like supporting two apps, it’s like supporting one and a half apps,” says Halide engineer Sandofsky. “We have to confirm as we move things around the we’re not breaking things for the vast majority of people who don’t have an iPhone X.”

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