iPhone 8: Why new Apple handset is less interesting than iPhone X, but will sell far more

Any other year, the iPhone 8 would be reviewed glowingly. But something else is coming

iPhone X announced at Apple launch

The iPhone 8 has been released. But you might not actually hear all that much about it.

For the first time ever, Apple has releasing three new phones. One of those is the iPhone 8 and another the 8 Plus, which takes the design of the 7 and sticks new components inside. And the other is the one you've been warned about: the iPhone X, which includes all of the big new features.

So why would you buy the iPhone 8, the X's more boring if cheaper sibling? You're going to, that's for sure – and that's because Apple has made the new phone just exciting, and just boring, enough.

That appears to be Apple's master plan for the unprecedented launch of three phones – fans and detractors alike acknowledge that its marketing team is one of its strongest divisions, and no phone would have been launched without it knowing exactly what to do. But that master plan can't big up the iPhone 8 too much, since the iPhone X needs to maintain the elite and premium factor.

Some of that marketing genius is at work in the naming system. Until the weekend, most people had been referring to the new phones as the 7s and the 8 – but renaming them the 8 and the X, respectively, means that it's not immediately obvious which is the higher number and which is more futuristic.

The same working will probably continue into the branding of the phones themselves. Ultimately, it will be about selling the iPhone 8 as the great, next phone – and the X as something even better than that.

Part of that will be using the same techniques Apple has refined in selling the Apple Watch, while working with brands like Hermès. With that wearable, you can opt for the good but utilitarian and simple Apple Watch, or you can get the Apple Watch Edition, which costs more than five times as much; neither is necessarily better than the other, one is simply more luxury.

Partly, the iPhone X will work the same, packing similar features into a more beautiful and expensive-looking design. But part of that this time around will be about features – and Apple will sell the X as the future of iPhones, but one that you can buy today. Your phone, again, isn't better – it's just more futuristic.

Tim Cook made that clear during the launch event, when he said that the iPhone X was "one more thing" and that it was setting the standard for phones for the next 10 years.

What Apple is really selling with the extra price of the iPhone X is a chance to have next year's iPhone now. In exchange, it's going to ask for a lot: significantly more money for the premium phone, but also the patience of waiting for something that will be far harder to buy. That's going to appeal to plenty of people – the rich, the ostentatious, the hardcore Apple fans – but most people will just press on and buy the iPhone 8 regardless.

And that gets to the nub of why the iPhone 8 will still be important, and probably still the phone you buy. Apple wasn't ever going to leave anything essential out of the less premium phone, and it isn't going to let standards slip.

With the iPhone 8, you still get the great camera. You still get a stunning display, even if it isn't quite so stunning as the iPhone X's. You still get world-leading biometric tools to unlock your phone, even if it's your finger and not your face that you use.

And there are drawbacks to getting all those futuristic things first, too: facial recognition hasn't quite caught on yet and is going to feel weird, and the beautiful edge-to-edge screen has had to compromise and get lumbered with a big notch cut out of its top. (For the same reason, people often recommend that the best cycle of iPhone to buy is the "s" years, since Apple can get the designs right – this year's iPhone 8 is basically the 7s.)

So the iPhone 8 isn't going to be quite so exciting, and it will miss out on the features that have the tech press's collective mouths watering this week. But it will also be dependable in its boringness.

And – more than anything – it won't be 1,000 of whatever currency you're buying it in. If you want a little luxury, you can just spend the extra on a nice case.

A version of this article was published before Apple's announcement. This has been updated to take in new information from the event, though the announcements mostly lined up with the leaks.

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