Why Apple is the only company that can make the iPhone killer.
In this article I’m going to talk about the future of the iPhone and how Apple is going to kill their most profitable product.
Let’s start with this quote from Phil Schiller in an interview Wired conducted called: Why Apple Is Still Sweating the Details on iMac
The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often. The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that. The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook.
It becomes very clear that they are planning to use the Apple Watch to replace the iPhone. The Apple Watch is the iPhone killer, but not on its own. The thought of using a small screen on your wrist to replace most of your daily needs of a phone is laughable.
Firstly, ergonomics. You can’t hold your wrist up for more than 10 seconds without feeling fatigue. Secondly, screen size. Expecting the users to navigate their day through that tiny display seems very unlikely. So what is the missing piece?
The missing piece of puzzle was introduced on September 7, 2016 and it is the AirPods. Phil Schiller mentions in this interview with T3 that the AirPods are his favorite Apple product. He says the reason is the feedback he’s been getting from customers who love the product. But I think there’s a lot that he’s not saying. Apple has put a lot of effort into making the AirPods, and priced them very aggressively compared to other truly wireless earphones to try and get as many Apple users trying the product and having them get used to the experience. If they suddenly introduced the Apple Watch and AirPods combo that was capable of replacing the iPhone but it was too different and difficult to use, not many people would enjoy it — because it would be too different. There’s only so much you can change with each new product before you start alienating your users. The iPhone X is already pushing that limit by having the users re-learn the home button experience that remained virtually unchanged for 10 years. Small steps are crucial when it comes to big changes.
So, what are the next steps? The AirPods and Apple Watch LTE are already here. Why are they not replacing iPhones?
For that to happen we still need a few more changes:
1: We need Siri to get better, a lot better. Apple tends to keep the updates to Siri and their other apps synced with OS updates (which is a whole other issue but we won’t get into that). For Siri to become a true personal assistant I’m guessing we would have to wait until iOS 12 or iOS 13. Siri has a lot to learn and in its current form it’s only good for finding photos of things on Bing.
2: We need an always on Siri, everywhere. Currently, if you raise your watch and say, “Hey Siri!” it will invoke Siri. Apple even introduced a new watch face in watchOS 4 called Siri that has a dedicated Siri button on the screen as a shortcut so you don’t have to shout, “Hey Siri!” at your watch 5 times before it starts to finally listen. I exaggerate; “Hey Siri” has been getting very reliable for me, but when it doesn’t work it’s just infuriating. So bringing always listening microphones to the AirPods would be the next step.
3: We need a context-aware Siri. With machine learning, the always on listening microphones can listen to your conversations (locally of course, with no information shared to the cloud), and provide assistance when they think it’s a good time. Apple might even drop the “Hey” from “Hey Siri” so that we can just ask things like, “Siri, can you remind me about that?” and you would hear in your AirPods, “Sure, I’ll remind you the next time you go grocerry shopping to buy eggs.” And it would actually do that.
4: We need to trust Siri. This, I think, is one of the hardest ones. For every time Siri fails to recognize my voice, or it asks if I want her to search the web for my question, I lose a bit of faith. It takes a lot of time, and very high reliability for me to start trusting her with my daily tasks and routines. Right now, because there’s a perceptibly high chance that Siri might not understand exactly what I mean, I would just reach for my phone and do it myself most of the time. So for Apple to expect people to adapt to the AirPods + Watch + Siri combo quickly, they need to work on Siri ASAP and start building that trust. One way Apple is hoping to build that trust with the customers is HomePods. HomePods are going to be a niche product at first, but over time they’ll get better and better and it helps to get people used to having an always listening microphone made by Apple in their homes.
5: We need better a better Apple Watch. The current Apple Watch is a very capable device, but there are still a few things that are needed for it to reliably replace an iPhone. Battery life is one of them. A larger display in the same form factor would be a second. Fun fact: Apple’s very first videos presenting the watch on stage had a slightly larger display, but later they changed the videos to match the hardware they ended up producing. So they had initially planned to make the display bigger, but due to limitations at the time they decided to go with a smaller one for now. Apple currently has a vast lead in the smart watch market with the Apple Watch, and people losing dependance on their phones and working with personal assistants instead is going to put Apple on top.
6: We need better AirPods. It’s just a matter of time and iterating the design and the technology to have everything that’s required in the incredibly small design. Always listening microphones would be the top priority for Apple. Some people have suggested that they like to haev gestures on the AirPods, but that will never happen. The point of the AirPods is for you to eventually forget that they are there and have an omnipresent Siri in your life. The only gestures Apple initially put on the AirPods were double tap for Siri. With always listening microphones, there’s no need to have double tap either and that can be removed too. My only personal gripe with the AirPods is volume control. As I walk around and the ambient noise level changes, the AirPods will eventually be able to adjust the volume automatically. After these features are added, more battery life can be expected, but I assume Apple would try their best to include these features first and priorotize both of them above improved battery life.
To wrap it up, the iPhone killer isn’t going to be a cheap Android phone that does everything that the iPhone does for half the price. The iPhone killer is the Apple Watch + AirPods + Siri combo that Apple has been working on for many years.
Put the watch, the AirPods, and a Siri that actually works together, and you have the perfect software and hardware combination to kill the iPhone.
On December of 2015 I wrote my first Medium article, where I talked about how personal assistants such as Siri are going to be enough for the majority of our needs, and how phones would basically be secondary devices to help with visual media consumption such as YouTube and FaceTime. That article compliments this one very well as I dive into how exactly Siri would replace the iPhone. Here’s the link, and let me know in the comments if you agree with the statements I’ve made in the article: Why the Future Has No Room for UI Designers.