Every year for the past seven years, we’ve seen a fall announcement of a new iPhone. In earlier years (2008, 2009, and 2010), iPhones were announced in the spring. That said, it’s become something of a matter of near certain expectation that Apple will introduce new models each and every year.
Next week is the predicted fall Apple event, dubbed “Gather round.” Each Apple event has some sort of announcement theme. Last year was “Let’s meet at our place,” which took place at the brand new Steve Jobs Theatre on the Apple campus.
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From a tech press point of view, the importance of these events is not to be underestimated. The huge surge of interest about new Apple products generates an equally big surge in traffic to all the tech sites.
As a result, pundits and reporters (and columnists like me) pump out a never-ending stream of articles designed to feed that interest. That flood of content, in turn, ups the interest and hype for the event. It’s as close to a virtuous circle that the tech industry ever comes.
As I mentioned, this year’s topic is “Gather round.” The phrase is causing some prognosticators to predict a round Apple Watch will be announced. But it could just as easily be a reference to the Steve Jobs Theatre, which is a round building in Apple Park.
Or, you know, it could be a hint at a new generation of the original iMac’s round Apple mouse – but hopefully not. My fingers hurt just thinking about that thing.
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Beyond the “Gather round” theme, what’s almost certain is new iPhones. Just like cars have a new model year, every year, so too do smartphones. This year is no different. We expect next week’s event to be dominated by the iPhone 9 and the new generation of the iPhone X.
The announcement is almost certain to be brutally anti-climactic, and we haven’t even had to suffer through the full event yet.
That said, thinking about smartphone technology requires holding two competing thoughts in our minds at once.
The first thought is the idea that iterative change is improvement that feels boring. This year’s iPhone will likely be a bit faster. It might have a slightly better screen. It might even support the Apple Pencil. Yada, yada, yada.
Apple’s probably going to kill off another nearly perfect technology, Touch ID, in favor of Face ID. There might be a cheaper phone. There might be multiple colors.
Yawn. This is what happens in a mature market.
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But the second, competing thought to hold in our minds is this: The very existence of devices like this is amazing. We’ve just become habituated to it.
Kind of mind-blowing
I’m still carrying my iPhone 6s Plus, because it’s just that good. It goes with me everywhere. In all the years of my life, it’s the one thing that I’ve been closer to, for more hours, than anything else. I’ve spent a larger percentage of my time over the past few years with it by my side than I have, even, my wife or my dog (and I spend a lot of time with my wife and my dog). No other person or object goes with me truly everywhere. It’s that useful and that essential.
The supply chain and manufacturing process necessary to create these devices is astounding. USA Today estimated that 223 million iPhones were sold last year. That’s an astonishing number. All of the materials have to be gathered, sourced, machined, and assembled, and then finished phones have to be distributed, worldwide.
Yes, there are hiccups. Just last week, we wrote that some iPhone 8s have faulty logic boards. As long as your phone is in good condition, Apple will replace the defective boards, free of charge. Even so, the ability for Apple and its suppliers to create products of this sophistication, with such broad distribution, is kind of mind-blowing.
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Think about it. We’re all carrying around a plastic, glass, and metal-polished stone that connects us to everything, entertains us, helps us find our way, captures our memories, images, and videos, and so much more.
This year’s Apple event is likely to have bigger and faster phones, as well as more colorful and cheaper phones. Nothing is likely to knock it out of the park. So, on that note, it makes sense for us jaded commentators to seem bored and unexcited.
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But when you think about the transformation smartphones have made to the entire world and civilization as a whole over merely the past decade — both for good and for bad — it can take your breath away.
How the world changes
Simple, stepwise iteration can be transformative — and dull — at the very same time. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how the world changes. It’s not always a bang. It’s not always a whimper. Sometimes, it’s just processor upgrade after processor upgrade, camera improvement after camera improvement, and better screen after better screen.
Even so, I think I’ll miss the Home button as much as the headphone jack. For every 10 steps forward we take, we also take a few steps back. That’s the way of things.
Hey, if you’re looking forward to anything specific at next week’s Apple event, let us know in the comments below. Also, let me know if you think you’ll be getting a new phone this year, or waiting it out. I’m probably going to give it another year, but that depends on whether my trusty 6s Plus is still working next year. So far, so good.
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