Just over 10 years ago, then Apple CEO Steve Jobs walked onstage and introduced the iPhone. Few thought it would be a success, let alone Apple’s greatest product ever. While Apple’s ability to survive remains in doubt, few doubt the iPhone’s place in history.
Is the iconic iPhone the world’s greatest product ever? Yes. And no. It’s not in the same category as fire, or the wheel, or plumbing, and certainly pales in comparison to electricity, but if we view it from the standpoint of a single product which has changed the face of modern technology and how it interacts with humanity, yes, the iPhone is the greatest product ever.
So, what’s next?
There’s Future, And Future
My view of the future is two-fold. The future coming in a few years, usually with some measure of expectation, understanding, and predictability. And the future after that; the one where massive changes to society and humankind occur. The iPhone fits into the former category and bridges to the latter. Here are some examples.
The iPhone was predicted and expected. Everyone who followed Apple for any length of time could see that smartphones– as smart as they were a decade ago– were poised to destroy Apple’s iPod business. Everyone needed a phone while not everyone needed a portable music player. Apple delivered on expectations but the changes to the near term future were mostly obvious, although many were surprised at how successful the iPhone became, and how much it transformed the smartphone and communications industries.
What is in the latter category; that area of the future we cannot easily see, let alone predict? Let’s put self driving cars and trucks at the top of a list which includes artificial intelligence and robotics. Cars and trucks that can drive people and goods wherever they need to go will become highly disruptive, but we don’t know to what extent. Who needs a car when you can call and have one at your doorstep in minutes? Who needs a truck driver when the truck drives itself?
Disruptive, no? But take these analogies on down the street. Robotics means fewer employees to do tasks once required of humans, but now done better by less expensive machines with artificial intelligence. That efficiency might mean lower prices for certain goods, but it may also mean many more people without the financial wherewithal to purchase said goods. That could be disruptive in a negative way.
Apple’s Short Term Future
Since the second future is fraught with fear and far more of the unknown, let me back up to the more recent future. What’s Apple’s next great thing?
Apple Glasses and augmented reality, or AR. Actually, I see AR showing up on a variety of Apple products, including where it exists already– iPhone and iPad, so it’s safer to say Apple augmented reality is a big part of the near term future. What is AR:
Augmented reality is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.
That’s where I see Apple Glasses. Wait. Didn’t Google Glass already tell us that augmented reality glasses were a failure? Yes. And no. Google made some major mistakes with Google Glass, including the apparent Borg-like geek factor design which made it obvious you were being spied upon by that crazy guy with the futuristic glasses. Eliminate that design issue, embed AR into normal glasses, and that problem goes away immediately.
For the near term futurist, Apple Glasses will function much like Apple Watch in that it remains tethered to the iPhone– therefore within the same ecosystem of applications development– and yet offloads specific information and actions to the Glasses lens screen as augmented reality; notifications, alerts, maps, messages, video recording, photos, and more; particularly functions not easily managed or appropriate for Watch.
Apple has an opportunity to provide similar functionality– perhaps iPhone-based– to automakers to place augmented reality onto a driver’s screen, instead of onto an iPad-like screen embedded into the dashboard. When Apple CEO Tim Cook says multiple times that Apple finds AR more interesting than other technologies of the future– including virtual reality and artificial intelligence– you can bet that a product with augmented reality is in the works. I think it will be Apple Glasses. Apple’s next great thing.
Or, maybe it could be sensors.