Apple vs YouTube Star: The iPhone X Animoji Debate

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Animoji is one of the exclusive iPhone X features, and one of the main selling points for the $999 smartphone. If you don’t know what Animoji is, it’s a feature which allows you to send face-mapped animated voice messages in various forms, including a cat, a robot, a fox, and even a piece of poop.

This is a feature which is only available on the iPhone, it’s not available on older iPhone devices, or even on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus which were debuted at the same time as the iPhone X. The reason for this (according to Apple) is because the iPhone X has advanced facial mapping features, thanks to the special 3D front-facing camera which is used for facial recognition.

But, a YouTube star, Marques Brownlee AKA MKBHD, created a video review. During this review, MKBHD speaks about the Animoji, and how it still works, even with most of the TrueDepth camera equipment covered up. Leaving just the actual front-facing camera, and none of the advanced TrueDepth equipment.

Given that Apple claims Animoji couldn’t be included with the iPhone 8 or older iPhone devices because it requires the advanced 3D TrueDepth camera in order to operate, people are confused, and little bit angered by the fact that you can cover up all of these advanced features on the iPhone X, and Animoji still works perfectly. If they could have included Animoji on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, why didn’t they? Why did they keep that as an exclusive feature just for the iPhone X?

Here’s a photo which shows you all of the advanced equipment located on the TrueDepth camera:

iPhone X TrueDepth Camera
Source: Apple

According to Apple, all of these things are needed to make Animoji work. But, when you cover every single thing except for the front camera, Animoji still appears to work.

Could Apple Have Included Animoji On The iPhone 8?

The short answer is yes. They could. But, there is a longer answer too. Rene Ritchie from iMore was briefed by Apple and shed some insight into how and why the infrared camera makes Animoji work more accurately:

“The IR system only (currently) fires periodically to create and update the depth mask. The RGB camera has to capture persistently to track movements and match expressions. In other words, cover the IR system and the depth mask will simply stop updating and likely, over time, degrade. Cover the RGB, and the tracking and matching stops dead.”

So, while Animoji could have been included with the iPhone 8, and even older versions of the iPhone, it wouldn’t work as well as it does on the iPhone X. If they had included it on older devices, then it wouldn’t get the attention it deserves for how well it performs and how accurately it maps a face and plants that face over an Animoji character.

It’s Not The First Time

Let’s face it, this is something we have come to expect from Apple. This is not the first time that a feature has been excluded from older iPhone versions. Back in 2011, when the iPhone 4S was released with Siri, all prior iPhone devices were excluded from being able to use Siri. This caused quite an uproar, because before Apple acquired Siri, it was a third party app, and it had always worked fine on the older hardware.

There is a flip side to this though. Apple take their devices, features, and software very seriously. If they’re adding a new feature, they ensure that they fine-tune both the hardware and the software to work at peak performance for that new feature. This is one of things which keep them at the top of their game.

On the iPhone 4S, everything was fine-tuned and customised to ensure that Siri worked effortlessly on the device. If they had offered Siri for older models, without the fine-tuned hardware, then it simply wouldn’t have worked as well as it should.

The same can be said for Animoji on the iPhone X, Apple could include Animoji on the iPhone 8, but it wouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it does on the iPhone X, and the experience certainly wouldn’t be as magical as what we can see now on the iPhone X Animoji experience.

Who Wins the Animoji Debate?

Well, MKBHD and Apple are both right. So, they’re both winners, or both losers, depending on how you look at it.

While Apple could include Animoji on older iPhone devices, it wouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it works on the iPhone X. I’m sure that’s very little comfort to the hundreds of thousands of iPhone 7, iPhone 8, and iPhone 8 Plus users who would love to get in on the Animoji experience. But, for now, it seems, if you want to use Animoji, in all its glory, you’ll need to fork out $999 for the iPhone X!

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