Earnings be damned, it’s time for Apple to re-re-revolutionize the cellular phone
Apple gonna Apple again, someday.
Ahead of Apple’s earnings call this evening, it would be beneficial to consider what’s next for the tech giant. It’s been well over a decade since Apple revolutionized the cellular phone market with the introduction of the first generation iPhone.
Since that first groundbreaking introduction to an Apple ecosystem that would lock its fanbois in an endless cycle of dongles, there have been a few substantial changes in the phone market. From OLED screens to waterproofing, Touch ID and camera enhancements, Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers have been working to enhance their product lines. Yet, there is a clear sense that they have just been floating off that original innovation, only bedazzling the jeans they’ve been wearing for years.
On the current horizon, we’ve got LG sticking to just making things thinner. We’ve got Samsung rumored to be working on some hideous folding phone that looks like a pamphlet for discount car washes you found stuck under your dry, dirt-encrusted windshield wipers in the Whole Foods Parking lot. Then there is Apple, still unable to let go of the headphone jack.
The headphone jack brings up an important point about innovation in the cellular market. Apple has been the only company to truly innovate by removing the headphone jack and forcing users into dongle-land. Dongle-land, not as exciting as it sounds, also includes most MacBook users and requires a suspended belief that using more cables with your phone is somehow a move towards the future. Regardless, removing the headphone jack was something that showed some semblance of forward thinking, even if it was forward thinking akin to running in circles on a rooftop while nursing a serious head injury.
“What would make a phone innovative these days?” says Boston-based Red Sox pajama salesman Evan Matza. “Everything today is just new features. Arguably the latest devices are everything but phones, especially for millennials who don’t even use the phone app. What needs to be made more portable and integrated with a seamless infrastructure that isn’t already?”
Fast Company recently called Apple the world’s most innovative company (the wettest Apple handjob on the internet) and while as a company, there have been some great innovations in the technology being developed to enhance its current product line, only a few of those innovations really change the landscape of the cell phone market. ARKit, the augmented-reality framework, is a hopeful ray of light, but when uttered in the same breath as words like “bezel” or “notch” it’s hard to really think that it will change how we use cell phones. HomePod and the Apple Watch are just like putting your boombox in a cardboard box and telling people you run a nightclub that specializes in bass-busting-break-dancing.
As for AirPods, shut up. Removing the cords from shitty headphones doesn’t make them any less shitty.
Next week we have Google I/O 2018, and while the Pixel phone remains the Chromebook of phones, it’ll be interesting to see if Google is in any way going to challenge Apple in the cell phone market in any innovative ways. Chances are it’ll be status quo, but if any company can push Apple to get back to true innovation and invention in any market segment, it’ll be Google. The point here is that Apple might need a push that it is just not getting, not since Jobs pushed himself and his company. Apple has become complacent, which is easy to do when the tech press claps for watch bands and slobbers over every tiny, dumb enhancement to a product. The iPhone may as well be a combination cell phone vibrator because no matter what Apple does, it always seems to get everyone off.
Releasing a new, fancy phone every year is not innovation. Reverting back to some sort of flip phone, but not a flip phone is not innovation — it’s capitalizing on nostalgia. It’s like being in a relationship and always talking about the best sex you had, that one time, in Cabo, when you should just be having great sex all the time so you don’t have to hang on desperately to one memory to excuse your failing attraction to your partner. Even with all the clapping at Apple’s keynotes every year, the collective shrug can be felt (thanks to Twitter) around the globe. We’re bored. Cell phones have become just as functional and normal as belt buckles, but only one keeps our junk in our pants.
Everyone I talked to about this (like three people in the shoe section of a K-Mart) had their own ideas of innovation.
“I heard the AirPods are the greatest thing ever. The Apple watch, in theory, is very innovative,” says Ratz Pack Media CEO Avery Ratz. “Facial recognition, portrait mode, those weird face things that no one uses, removing the headphone jack, these are all things the did not exist in the first iPhone. All pretty innovative. But, Apple was never really innovative, they are not the first to market, but their products just work.”
There is so much more that phones could be capable of, and not just through apps. Sure, phones can unlock our houses and direct us through the world, but those are apps. What if it was the phone that was doing all the work instead of enabling it? What if there were more mobility options? What if the phone was integrated into our biology? Not just apps tracking our stats thanks to a wristband, but actually part of ourselves. What if we charged phones with our own kinetic energy? The more mushrooms I eat, the more ideas I’ll come up with. Stay tuned.
“It would take a re-imagining of what a phone/communication device is. I lack the imagination to speculate what this would look like,” technologist and fashionista Seth Porges humbly comments, “but something pervasive and largely invisible seems like the next big breakthrough (if I was going really far off, think a combo of current voice controls and tech that wires directly into our nervous system in some way). The problem is, we sort of like staring at screens as people, so going full Her may not be likely.”
So what’s next for the day we stop loving our screens? What can Apple do to blow our minds besides hiring Elon Musk to build cyborg dragon cell phones that turn into mini-rocket ships and can also do accounting? Should Apple partner with Nikon (this is a suggestion from a Facebook friend) to make an SLR camera with a phone inside? Should Apple get out of the cell phone business and into the toaster business? We’re always going to love toast.
With all the red flags ahead of the earnings call, Apple might want to think about changing something. Fanbois will still love them, but that’s like when the bro at the gym tells you he loves his tribal tattoo and really understands the meaning behind it. He’ll deal, because he has to, but longs for something more.
What if Apple opens up its physical phone ecosystem to product developers to look for battery enhancement ideas or form factor changes? Maybe put the notch on the inside. Replace the headphone jack with fold-out AR spectrometers that instantly reveal all the best Pokémon.
The thing is, and why I’m writing this evergreen post, is that we don’t have any idea what is next, much less what could be. What we do know, is that the ghost of Steve Jobs haunts Tim Cook on the daily and if there is one company that will once again change everything we know about cell phones, it’ll probably be Kenmore, because the next cell phone is a toaster. No wait, it’ll be Apple.