“The ‘Phone’ Concept Will Be Entirely Uprooted”

The knock on Apple in the post-Jobs era (from me included) has been the lack of new products, the company becoming wealthier mainly from extending the popularity of its iPhone into the Chinese market. It doesn’t seem like that growth can continue, except if Apple can successfully integrate that technology very deeply into society. That’s what Tim Cook hopes will result from sizable investments in AI and AR and other next-level tools, dreaming of a product well beyond Google Glass, less obtrusive and more connected, and far more wide-reaching than the Echo sitting on your coffee table. It will be ambient and ubiquitous.

In an excellent WSJ column, Christopher Mims considers this future, asserting that its ETA may be as little as a decade away, with super-powerful microprocessors and the Internet of Things playing key roles. There is a catch, however. “If you want your life enhanced by AI and all the rest of this tech,” he warns, “you’re going to have to submit to constant surveillance.” My problem is this: I don’t think individuals will ultimately be able to opt out, to hit the OFF switch. These technologies will tentacle into every corner of our lives. You won’t be able to avoid them, and that probably will be acceptable to the majority, who’ve already been willing to cede a good chunk of their privacy for a few “friends.” But just because a lot of people crave something doesn’t mean it’s good for them.

From Mims:

It’s 2027, and you’re walking down the street, confident you’ll arrive at your destination even though you don’t know where it is. You may not even remember why your device is telling you to go there.

There’s a voice in your ear giving you turn-by-turn directions and, in between, prepping you for this meeting. Oh, right, you’re supposed to be interviewing a dog whisperer for your pet-psychiatry business. You arrive at the coffee shop, look around quizzically, and a woman you don’t recognize approaches. A display only you can see highlights her face and prints her name next to it in crisp block lettering, Terminator-style. Afterward, you’ll get an automatically generated transcript of everything the two of you said.

As the iPhone this week marks the 10th anniversary of its first sale, it remains one of the most successful consumer products in history. But by the time it celebrates its 20th anniversary, the “phone” concept will be entirely uprooted: That dog-whisperer scenario will be brought to you even if you don’t have an iPhone in your pocket.

Sure, Apple may still sell a glossy rectangle. (At that point, iPhones may also be thin and foldable, or roll up into scrolls like ancient papyri.) But the suite of apps and services that is today centered around the physical iPhone will have migrated to other, more convenient and equally capable devices—a “body area network” of computers, batteries and sensors residing on our wrists, in our ears, on our faces and who knows where else. We’ll find ourselves leaving the iPhone behind more and more often.

Trying to predict where technology will be in a decade may be a fool’s errand, but how often do we get to tie up so many emerging trends in a neat package?•