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iOS 11 X and iOS 11 Classic

In his review of the iPhone X, John Gruber astutely points out that the device effectively runs a fork of iOS 11:

There were always two things and only two things on the front face of an iOS device — the touchscreen display and the home button. In fact, the iPhone X changes iOS in more fundamental ways than even the iPad did. In terms of the role between the display and the home button, the iPad really was — and remains today — “just a big iPhone”.

The iPhone X, however, creates a schism, akin to a reboot of the franchise.

Apple hasn’t called attention to this, but effectively there are two versions of iOS 11 — I’ll call them “iOS 11 X”, which runs only on iPhone X, and “iOS 11 Classic”, which runs on everything else.

The fundamental premise of iOS Classic is that a running app gets the entire display, and the home button is how you interact with the system to get out of the current app and into another. Before Touch ID, the home button was even labeled with a generic empty “app” icon, an iconographic touch of brilliance.

This is a great way to think about the evolution of iOS going forward. As I noted last month, the iPhone X will reshape the entire iOS ecosystem over the next few years. Consequently, it’ll also make it more challenging to review a new version of iOS, as we’ll have to account for deeply different variations of the same features.