The iPhone 20— A roadmap for how smart devices can integrate with our bodies by 2029 and how Apple can stay relevant over the next decade
Happy 2019 everyone. It’s that time of year again when tech media goes all out to publish their top 10 predictions for the year ahead. To complement this, I thought it might be interesting to try and illustrate how society might transform over the next 10 years, using the future iPhone lineup as an anchor to avoid too much deviation from reality.
We’re used to seeing better smartphones every year, packed with the latest and greatest hardware and features. So what would they look like in 2029? It’s amazing to recall when mainstream smartphones didn’t exist prior to 2007 — I have some minor flashbacks of my plastic brick with those tiny buttons like the 10 commandments miniaturised and inscribed with the alphabet. The iPhone has come a long way, but Apple won’t be immune to the fate shared by Nokia and Blackberry.
It almost went that way once, just before Steve Jobs resuscitated the company in 1997. Today, the iPhone accounts for up to 70% of Apple’s total revenues, and its sales are plateauing. In Tim Cook’s latest letter to Apple shareholders, he contributed most of the company’s 6%-10% revenue shortfall on the trade war with China, as well as the slow-down in the Chinese economy. In the period Q4 of 2017 to Q3 of 2018, Apple’s market share in China had fallen from 15% to 9% to competitors like Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, and Xiaomi. The quarter-on-quarter decline of 20% in the Chinese smartphone market in Q4 of 2018 was a contributor to Apple’s iPhone revenue shortfall, but not the main driver.
Consequently, investors have not been impressed. Amidst the slow-down in iPhone uptake, the only specific initiative from Tim Cook’s letter in the section, “Looking Ahead” is to improve its marketing initiatives on an existing iPhone trade-in program.
“We can’t change macroeconomic conditions, but we are undertaking and accelerating other initiatives to improve our results. One such initiative is making it simple to trade in a phone in our stores, finance the purchase over time, and get help transferring data from the current to the new phone.” Tim Cook, CEO, Apple.
One can only hope that the above are the murmurings of a CEO keeping his cards close to the chest. Because now, more than ever, Apple needs to innovate its product offerings in order to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive industry.
In light of this urgency, I’ve set out below a summary of some of the features in the iPhone lineup, product add-ons, and new product verticals which could be developed in order for Apple to thrive again over the next decade. These may represent genuinely innovative features that will likely be adopted by others if successful, or arise in response to other features coming to market from competitors.
I’ll try to take into account existing future predictions and the law of accelerating returns, as well as the convergence and hype cycles of emerging technologies in machine learning, sensors, connectivity, nanotech, immersive experiences, and distributed ledger technology. I’ll also include assumptions of improvements in our understanding of human biology, including neuroscience and advancements in brain-machine interfaces.
So let’s begin…
iPhone 11, 11 Max and 11R
The features for 2019’s iPhone 11 are pretty easy to guess since they’re already covered by leaks, rumours and renewed manufacturing contracts by Apple. Here’s a summary of what we know:
A Better Chip — A13 Processor produced by TSMC’s 7nm+ with extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV). This should bring performance and efficiency improvements.
Better Cameras & Sensors — Next-gen 3D sensors, offering faster Face ID, better Portrait mode depth sensing, 3D modelling features and Augmented Reality (AR) implementations.
The front-facing camera changes may also result in potentially a smaller notch or no notch at all (fingers crossed!)
Airpods 2. Biometric sensors for measuring heart rate to complement the electrocardiogram (ECG) in the Apple Watch Series 4. These will be instrumental to the Apple Health strategy, evidenced by trademarks as at November 2018 for “general wellness instruments”.
iPhone 11S, 11S Max, 11SR
A Better Chip — Yep, this is going to get repetitive. The A14 Processor is confirmed based on TSMC’s plans to invest $25 billion towards volume production of these 5nm chips for Apple by 2020
5G Connectivity — Apple and Intel are rumored to be working on 5G hardware for the widespread rollout of 5G technology, which is expected in 2020. Apple is said to be planning to roll out its first 5G iPhone in 2020 using modem chips sourced from Intel.
Apple AR Glasses — With 5G connectivity comes the ability for Apple to tether the iPhone 11S series to an augmented reality device.
For everyday consumers, this brings AR to the masses. A lighter, more fashionably-accepted version of Magic Leap One, HoloLens, Intel Vaunt, as well as a future Oculus AR device. Apple is the one company that can turn a tool from something you have to put on, into an accessory you actually want to wear. This meme says it all:
The Apps Store will feature a plethora of new AR apps for development on ARKit, enhancing everything from facial recognition to navigation. Apple is reportedly hiring an augmented reality team to completely rebuild its Maps app. “From urban mobility to indoor positioning, from Lidar to augmented reality, advances in technology and new kinds of data are powering innovations in all areas of digital mapping. If you love maps and are passionate about what is possible, you will be in great company”.
Airpod 3 — Includes Siri support, integration with Apple AR Glasses.
Apple Watch 5 — Enhances Siri support for Airpod 3 when speaking into the watch, integration with Apple AR Glasses for gesture control.
iPhone 12–14, 12–14 Max, 12–14 F
(Assuming no “S” versions due to aggressive competition)
Better Chips — Potentially a 5nm++ architecture for the A15–16 Processor.
F For “Foldable Display” — As for the more outlandish, Apple is said to be developing an iPhone with a foldable display in partnership with LG Display. They’ll start to look like the ones in sci-fi movies like Her and TV series, Westworld.
Touchless Gesture Controls — Apple is working on touchless gesture controls that could launch by 2021. For comparison, Google’s Project Soli radar is sensitive enough to count sheets of paper and read Lego bricks. This will help people who use sign language to type automatically on their iPhones, supported by the Apple Watch 6–7, and AirPods 4–5. This could be improved by an acquisition/in-house development of a full body haptics suit for improved health monitoring as a separate product offering.
Apple Car — Likely with Autonomous Driving 4 with the help of the AR maps efforts in previous years, Apple’s Project Titan will be complemented with the AR car windscreen. The Apple Car will compete with the likes of Waymo, Tesla and Uber to offer autonomous ride-sharing for users in the Apple ecosystem when their cars are not in use.
Cochlear Implant Partnership / Potential Acquisition for Airpod 6 — An extension of the Apple-compatible hearing aids from the medical device company that designs, manufactures and supplies the Nucleus cochlear implant. Nucleus is a system combining an electrical simulation device that is surgically implanted behind a patient’s ear, a processor that captures sounds, and an electrode array that relays the sounds to the brain. By 2023, the audio component of the human brain is likely to be fully understood and can be digitised and integrated by technology.
In addition to enabling the hearing-impaired to hear like everyone else, the Airpod 6 provides audio clarity in noisy surroundings, helping students, workers and conference attendees get the best out of their IRL experiences. It also doubles as a perfect eavesdropping tool for those who want the inside goss from conversations on the other side of the room.
These new devices may also offer audio wavelengths outside normal human ranges such as ultrasound and high-frequency, so adventurers can hear bats, dolphins, and whales for the experience. Here’s an idea of our narrow audio bandwidth:
Moving away from iPhones to wearable, implantable Apple devices
Neuralink Partnership — In partnership with Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a company that develops high bandwidth and safe brain-machine interfaces (BMI), Apple releases the first consumer BMI device by 2026 for basic sensory inputs and outputs for the disabled. Building on the work from the Cochlear-enabled Airpods, the next goal for Apple will be trying to master the rest of the sensory inputs and outputs of the brain.
This will be done by connecting computer electrodes to neurons in the brain — “a chip and a bunch of tiny wires” that will be “implanted in your skull”. The Neuralink BMI will enable machine learning to rapidly improve the accuracy of our understanding of sensory inputs for the human brain, such as:
- Speech — This is based on what we say and measuring the brain signals
- Sight — Bionic eyes have already been developed, but parsing visual sensors through a BMI will enable high fidelity. We may even be able to record and replay our dreams. And there are light spectrums outside normal human ranges such as infrared and ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays which we’ll be able to “see” the universe in its full glory:
- Touch — Like the full body haptic suits today, these are guaranteed to be taken up by the adult entertainment industry
- Taste — Imagine Michelin Star chefs selling their culinary masterpieces on the Apps Store after recording the brainwaves of tasting their dishes
- And even Smell — Future hackers might troll your senses with strange odours.
We’ll even have mood analytics and visualisations based on the different emotional states we experience throughout the day, and identify ways to mitigate the risks of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Early adopters will test these features out for the novelty, including adding additional sensory inputs. But eventually, the devices will begin to give users a competitive edge over their counterparts in all walks of life. They quickly move from being “nice to haves” to “need to haves” in society.
Neuralink is already working to help patients with Alzheimer’s with a prosthesis for memory. Imagine obtaining a photographic memory that is backed-up on the cloud. Or being able to access the collective intelligence of humanity online. Or determining the best strategies for a problem at work in real-time. And how about simulating the most favourable social interactions faster than anyone who doesn’t have the latest Apple-Neuralink BMI?
Imagine never having to miscommunicate your desires and be able to express yourself in its purest form of thought. Brain-to-brain communication ecosystems will arise to enable us to send emotions — the rightful heir to Animojis. It will help us experience a higher level of empathy with each other through high fidelity transfers of love, loss, contentment, and joy, just as the other iOS person feels in real-time.
This is why the global think tank, Gartner determined in 2018 that “over the next decade, humanity will begin its “transhuman” era” — integrating our biology with technology to transcend the limitations of the human condition.
Elon Musk becomes CEO/Chairman of Apple — Not an iPhone feature, but hopefully a feature film/documentary. After successfully landing on Mars and setting up a sustainable colony there, Elon decides to merge Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, and Neuralink with Apple after being approached multiple times by Tim Cook mainly due to the BMI synergies, as well as for energy, infrastructure and autonomous on/offworld transport. He takes on a CEO/Chairman role of the world’s most valuable company. Tim Cook gracefully remains on as the COO to continue his great work keeping the company profitable.
Apple HealthCare 2.0 — With the advancements in our understanding of the human body, healthy lifespans are extended indefinitely. Encouraged by the Apple HealthCare initiatives, this is done through:
- Quantified Self — The Apple devices have enabled measurement of every atom and interaction in our body and mind, notifying us of health risks in real-time and enforcing healthy activities. Exercise can be automated and the BMI can provide autopilot of your body movements to maintain physical health, and even perform mental exercises to keep the brain alert.
- Drug discovery — Advances in machine learning enables the discovery of new drugs that can remove things like senescent cells from the body, reducing risks of damage to normal cells as we age. We also discover drugs to boost our NAD+ levels are enhanced to reduce the damage arising from cell replication.
- Nanotechnology — Nanobots that can enter the bloodstream, as well as the blood-brain barrier, are developed to enable the removal of cancers and tumours in real-time. All diseases are essentially eradicated.
Apple Matrix — Neuralink now enables full immersion, tricking our senses in the virtual world of iOS. Some may choose to live in the Apple Matrix indefinitely, while their bodies are supported by Apple HealthCare 2.0.
Zero-Knowledge Proofs — Given the privacy concerns and potential loss of individuality if hacked, new decentralised protocols will need to be used with the BMIs to protect privacy to complement Apple’s edge computing, such as zero-knowledge proofs and distributed ledger technology. This way “people won’t be able to read your thoughts — you would have to will it. If you don’t will it, it doesn’t happen. Just like if you don’t will your mouth to talk, it doesn’t talk.”. We will essentially have public and private layers of digital identity, merging with the latest artificial intelligence agents to enhance our cybersecurity and our interactions with future advanced AI.
“The long-term aspiration with Neuralink would be to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence…to achieve a sort of democratisation of intelligence, such that it is not monopolistically held in a purely digital form by governments and large corporations,” Musk told Axios in November 2018.
So that’s my take on what to expect over the next decade. The future of smart devices could fundamentally change what it means to be human, transitioning us into the transhuman era. As a side note, please don’t believe anyone who tells you that they know what will happen in the future. Take these predictions with a grain of salt, as I’ll be revisiting these features regularly in future articles.