January 9, 2007 was a remarkable day in the history of technology. When Steve Jobs said “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” on stage at MacWorld – that precise moment, started what has now become the smartphone revolution.
The year 2007 was also remarkable for a lot of other reasons. Nintendo Wii was giving PS3 and Xbox 360 a run for their money. Nokia announced the Ovi scheme which would bring together the Nokia Music Store, N-Gage games, and mapping and location services into a common service platform. Research in Motion launched Blackberry Curve 8310 which supported GPS.
Needless to mention, not everything from 2007 became a revolution.
Fast forward to September 7, 2016 when Tim Cook announced the launch of the newest shiniest of the iPhone series. The iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus. They are better, faster, intricately engineered, available in more colors. And a better camera that can make your already incredible family beach photos taken with your iPhone 6, even more incredible using iPhone 7, but less incredible than how they would look with an iPhone 8.
And by the way, you may also need to trash your favorite ear phones that cling on during your long commute, as the new iPhone doesn’t have the traditional headphone jack. You could also shell more money to buy the AirPods, if you are still hungover to being in a wireless world.
The glaring deficiency in Apple’s focus on hardware innovation, is its lack of truly bringing in the “smart” tag into its devices. Google, Microsoft and Facebook have had a deep history of research in Artificial Intelligence. A simple Google search will show you the countless peer reviewed research publications by their scientists and researchers. Amazon, Microsoft and Google also leverage the power of Cloud to deliver intelligent services, services that attempt to make us more productive, while Facebook has over a billion users’ data for the same purpose.
Circa 2016 is a world of smart thermostats, real time spoken language translation, Deep Learning that can identify the swimmer in your family beach pictures, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, gigantic personal and enterprise Cloud and intelligent Chatbots that could help you better than many humans. We’ve evolved – as does everything else – from waiting in day-long lines to own the newest shiniest whitest devices into making use of devices that are actually smart enough to understand us, our work, our needs and assist us through.
Apple knows its limitations. That’s why they acquire smaller AI players and integrate their research into their future shiniest devices. But the future may well be defined not by an ubercool extra within a shiny device, but more by how the device – shiny or not – can help manage you, your work, your team, your home, your productivity, your shopping, your friends. The experience is becoming more human-oriented than it has ever been in the past.
Sleek and beautiful has become ubiquitous. Samsung has it. Even Xiaomi has it. Sleek and beautiful are a given. Making them sleeker and even more beautiful does not excite the world the way it did in January 2007. It’s going to be an uphill battle for Apple – the maker of iPhones, watches and a few other devices with no significant AI research arm – to build up enough to challenge the bigger AI players.
If there ever was an economic truth in our modern world – that would be the law of diminishing marginal utility. Before the world starts to groan at another iPhone launch, for another “incredible” iteration of the almost decade old device series, the iPhone needs a real innovation that’s not about hardware or internal engineering. An innovation that can let people think of it not just as the shiny device, but as a smart host of an “Intelligent” means that can help them at home, at work, at their relationships, on the road or under the water. An innovation that can set the technology direction for the next decade.
Good luck, Apple! We love the iPhone.