The Black Rectangle Is Dying

Apple addicted us to objects. iPhone X signals their intent to shift that addiction, to experiences overlaid on the real-world.

Of all the shiny stuff unveiled at Apple’s big announcement this week, the most significant was talking poop.

Despite the glass and aluminium glory of what will undoubtedly become the VC status symbol of choice — at least between now and Thanksgiving — the game-changing tech onstage was less the hardware, and more the software that’s about to change the way we not only interact with our devices, but consume information in the real world, and communicate with one another.

The release of ARKit back in June, of course, foreshadowed this announcement. Scanning the @MadeWithARKit Twitter feed tells you everything you need to know about the future Apple hopes to usher in, a future it urgently needs now that 2-dimensional apps beyond the 5 we all use every day are quickly becoming oh-so-15-minutes-ago.

Well that’s all done now.

The edge Apple is engineering out of iPhone is not the one on the device. It’s the one between the device, and the real world.

From Usenet to AOL Chat, SMS to Reddit, communicating with each other is the first thing humans do when adopting new technology. Apple understands this, and appears to be doubling down on the success it’s had making Android users feel left out with the neat little touches it’s added to the walled garden of iMessage. Apple’s seen Snapchat take that to a new level, creating billions in market value with a simple set of masks and overlays people under 40 just can’t seem to get enough of. Now Apple is ready to exploit what has always been it’s competitive advantage in software development: the ability to develop its own hardware.

“Apple is a software company.” Steve Jobs, introducing the iPhone in 2007.

Apple did not invest the boatload of R&D dollars and the shit-ton of COGS it’s putting behind infrared facial recognition hardware just to rescue us all from the oppressive burden of having to touch our phones to unlock them. What they’re really unlocking with all that technology is the full depth and subtlety of human expression; the ability of the most poetically challenged among us to share nuanced feelings over infinite time and distance, just as naturally as we all do every day in the real world.

While this will leave all of us looking down even more at the little black rectangles we carry around in our pockets, the seeds of that experience’s destruction were also planted in The Steve Jobs Theater’s inaugural event. Apple Watch — newly enabled with cellular capability independent of iPhone — has now become the future of iPhone, just as surely as iPad was anointed the eventual successor of MacBook in Apple’s previous product showcase.

If you’ve been wondering (as I have) how Apple can possibly live with sourcing mortal enemy Samsung’s magnificent OLED screen technology instead of developing its own, I think you have your answer now. Apple may be betting it’s only a matter of time before the value of MegaGigaTeraPixel screen tech goes the way of the vacuum tubes in your parents TV, replaced with digital experiences overlaid on whatever surfaces are present in the surrounding real world. A less-sucky version of Google Glass now seems a sure bet, combining both a new generation of processing and perhaps even retinal projection technology with the human-centric and fashion-sensitive design Apple is famous for, and which is utterly absent from Google’s DNA.


I’ll close with an even more specific prediction: By the time Steven Spielberg unleashes Ready Player One onto the world in 2018, someone will have created the next Pokemon-like, AR sensation… and it will only be available on the iPhone.

Will experiencing the most refined version of that cool but likely juvenile frontier be worth a thousand bucks? For those who want to be ready for whatever cool and inevitably more substantive applications come later, the answer is a resounding yes.

And if that doesn’t get you to spring for iPhone X, think of it this way: If you compare the cost per hour of use on your phone with that of your iPad or your MacBook, the iPhone X is probably the best deal in your bag.

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