I’m an Apple fan. Let’s get this out of the way straight away. I’m using a Macbook Air (and wouldn’t consider anything but a Mac for work) and live on my iPhone (when I’m not neck-deep into Ulysses). And I’m a convert Apple fan: for 15+ years I’ve been a faithful Linux user, until I was offered a Macbook Pro at work.
The future of technology is humanity
The reason why I wouldn’t consider anything but an Apple laptop for work is two-fold. One, the writing app I’m using is Ulysses, which is exclusively on MacOS and iOS. Additionally, I’m way too invested (both financially and workflow-wise) at this point into the Apple ecosystem that the thought of migration gives me a lengthy pause.
Secondly, and this is “the” reason: Apple infuses technology with humanity. It always has.
You see, I think technology’s glass ceiling is humanity. While most hardware and software companies are focused on power, performance, and innovation, a handful has been going a different route. It’s not necessarily limited to Apple, but they’re the ones who are most prominent — and who just had a special event they managed to blunder.
Technology in and by itself isn’t very useful. Technology for technology’s sake looks nice on paper but will be forgotten faster than you can understand what’s written on said paper. Apple always had the right idea that creating context around technology, to frame it with humanity, is the way to lead.
And Apple may be overpriced, but you are not paying the extra for the technology. You’re paying it for the connection that makes technology human. That makes a Macbook or iPhone a joy to use.
Divided we… stand?
Android has come a long way, it has to be said and acknowledged. But while it may not be as fragmented and extreme in its differences between the two ends of the technology scale as it was before, it’s still a mess. It’s inherent in its concept: as a free mobile OS it’s there for any manufacturer to take and modify it. Linux suffers from the same thing.
Yet, Android survives — mostly thanks to the huge manufacturers like Samsung — , and even give Apple a good run for its money on occasion. 2017 has been one of these occasions.
Android has caught up to Apple in a way. The huge gap in making technology human that existed before is closing fast. Ironically enough, Samsung (and Xiaomi, and Huawei, and the others) caught up to Apple by adopting Apple’s philosophy and making technology usable by humans. Its ecosystem is still an awful mess, with developers either exclude a huge portion of their potential market by focusing on a handful of devices, or lower the potential of their products by reaching for the lowest common denominator.
Thus, Apple had a comfortable lead and an obligation to live up to great expectations. Not just to keep its edge against Android, but also because…
The iPhone is 10 years old this year
The technology was there. There have been touchscreens and mobile computing units. I used to use and own some of them. (I’m old.) But it was the iPhone that brought that technology into the consumer space.
The iPhone was the de facto smartphone. Even after the rise of Android, and the even bigger rise of a few brands (again, Samsung mostly) and Google’s services (particularly in the entertainment sector, as in: music and movies) maturing into usability and a critical mass in adoption, the iPhone was still the default image one saw when the term ‘smartphone’ was mentioned.
Apple has been leaping from year to year, but it has been leaping shorter and shorter each year. More and more time went by between fewer and fewer major innovations.
That’s not surprising, it’s the nature of technology.
The Law of Accelerating Returns
(Image credit: kurzweilai.net)
If you haven’t read Ray Kurzweil’s books, here’s a quick butchering of his theory, as related to my topic. Technology continues to evolve in a faster and faster pace, which means fewer and fewer distances between measuring points. Read: more and more smaller increments of innovations replacing less and less large innovations.
Think about the iPhone: the last “big” change was in 2015, with the introduction of a larger and a smaller option and different form factor with the 6 and 6 Plus.
With the big anniversary coming out, Apple got stuck between obeying the laws of technological evolution and their — frankly, needless and purely egoistic — need to re-create the revolution the first iPhone brought.
It cannot be done. It’s as simple as that. We’re no longer defining technology for the next decade; we’re lucky if we can define it for the next 6 months! It’s right there in the curve of the Law of Accelerating Returns. It’s one thing to go against market trends, or predicting where technology is headed; it’s a whole other thing to try and change the gravity of technology.
Where does that leave us?
Apple made a phenomenal round of updates to its flagship hardware lineup. Watch Series 3? Personally I cannot justify the cost, but the Apple Watch is a work of art fused with spectacular technology. What Apple is doing with investing in medical science is worthy of awe and applause.
Apple TV? They’re closing the gap between platforms, connecting medium to medium, ensuring the survival and content cross-pollination of both. The Apple TV is again something I don’t have any use for, but I appreciate it nonetheless.
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus: now we’re cooking. The iPhone 8/8 Plus is the next step on the curve. With the countless improvements on the hardware, pushing the envelope of real consumer technology Apple once again created the definitive smartphone for the next year.
Maybe the specs on the Galaxy S8+ and the Note 8 are better. More memory? What good does that do if the OS is wasting it? More processor cores? Big whoop, if the apps (or the OS) are unable to properly control them? The iPhone is, and always has been, in the lead because of the synergy between hardware and software, within the synergy between technology and humanity. A usable machine.
The way they introduced Augmented Reality is truly inspiring. Although I have reservations about the content — it seems like the same thing over and over, with prettier graphics each time; nothing really embedded into the medium — it’s exemplary how to fine-tune technology to serve the next generation of content.
And then they had to go and screw it all up by trying to one-up themselves. It didn’t go well.
The iPhone X
This was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. The Smartphone That Will Define The Next Ten Years of Smartphones.
Putting aside the unnatural aspiration of that (see above) let’s see what happened. (And I should mention that I knew it’s not going to be anything when Tim Cook left the stage. If they had anything even remotely substantial there is no way in hell he’d have let someone else present it.)
It has an edge-to-edge display. Great. It looks weird but we’ve gotten used to stranger things. Usability-wise? It’s too soon to tell, but let me tell you that the bar on the top that houses the front-facing cameras, is already an annoyance when trying to do anything in landscape mode.
It has FaceID instead of TouchID. Maybe it’s the future of convenient and secure authentication. I fail to see how, as it offers — at the same time — a lot less in terms of security (your phone can be unlocked by anyone if they hold it in front your face) and a lot more in inconvenience (I used to be able to unlock my phone, so Siri can do her thing like calling people, without having to pull it out of my pocket. That’s gone now.).
Which would be fine, I guess, but Apple made the decision to not include both TouchID and FaceID. Like with the removal of the headphone jack or the single USB C port on the Macbook, Apple took away the transition. That’s not technology for humanity’s sake — that’s technology for technology’s sake. That ain’t gonna work, because they spent ten years doing the exact opposite.
I’m not even going to mention the animoji because I’d like to keep this post civil. Look, I understand — perhaps more so than most people — that communication is evolving, but come on! I’ll just include my friend Mike’s tweet that sums things up on this topic:
Cook: I think Steve will be very proud of them.— Mike Ivanchyshyn (@imvasyl) September 12, 2017
Beyond these, everything was a rehash of the iPhone 8/8 Plus. They repeated what they said five minutes before!
Here’s to the future!
I may be wrong about this, but the iPhone X is not the future of smartphones. It’s not going to define the market or the direction of technology. If anything, it’ll be something to remember not to do.
It’s sad, really, seeing a company that was — and often times still is — at the forefront of breaking through the glass ceiling by making technology human. Apple understood that humanity needs art to evolve, and needs technology that’s also art to propel us forward into the future. Not to mention that technology for technology’s sake isn’t driving revenue. You can’t bank on early adopters and geeks (I can say that, I’m one of them, and I’m here to tell you that the iPhone X is something I’m not going to adopt early or geek out over) — you need to move humanity forward as a whole.
Apple failed to deliver on expectations. It was sad. But, hopefully, they’ll learn from it and keep doing what they’re extremely good at: making exceptional technology more human. They did that with the iPhone 8, which is definitely will be my next phone, and they did it — with a few mistakes that I can live with — with the new Macbook. As long as they can shed their arrogance and ego, I have faith.