Apple is making progress, little by little, in its bid to be on every part of the human body, but questions about our data remain.
To understand an Apple event, it is necessary to watch with two questions in mind, the two questions Apple asks itself every day.
First: How do we keep the iPhone selling?
Second: What do we do when it stops?
Smartphones have reached the point in their life cycle where there aren’t drastic improvements to be made, so any changes are usually incremental at best – and the latest launch of iPhones was no different.
Beforehand, Apple obsessives debated what the new iPhone would be called and whether it would be bigger or smaller than previous versions. Now we know. Everything’s bigger unless you had an X, in which case you can now get another phone the same size.
There were also fresh displays and chips, a neat tweak to the photo editing process, a dual sim slot – small updates, but probably just enough to excite potential buyers, especially in international markets (the dual sim will really help here). If Apple knows anything, it’s how to cell phones.
But it’s the second question that’s the interesting one. And here, little by little, Apple is making progress.
It used to be commonplace to mock wearables; those clunky, uncomfortable things destined for dusty drawers. But this is the direction in which Apple is pushing.
Air Pods have become a phenomenon since they were introduced in 2017 – a step towards the normalization of “always-in” earbuds. Once features such as auto-translate and sound filtering are added in (not today, but one day in the future), they could become as unmissable as the phone itself.
A Silicon Valley exec once told me that “if you can own the ear you can own the mind”. Apple has taken a step towards that objective.
It is also owning the body, with the Apple Watch.
This device was a damp squib when it emerged in 2014, but it’s been gradually improving ever since. The addition of a sim card last year made it possible to use it instead of a phone: a way to stay connected while leaving the endless deluge of emails at home.
Today, we learned that the next Apple Watch will be able to detect falls and track the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity with sensors built into the back and crown.
Heart disease is a giant killer. Real-time electrocardiogram data could genuinely help the millions of sufferers of irregular, rapid or slow heartbeats, especially when it’s allied to AI interpretation.
Millions of aging baby boomers just booked their (very expensive) Christmas present.
Of course, it’s all very well to track people but, as we’ve learned this year, that promise is only as good as the protections on the data.
And here we are starting to see something we’ve been waiting a long time for the competitive advantage of privacy.