The third and fourth points made in Wired yesteday by Kyle Vanhemert, with my emphasis in BLUE, and my observations in RED:
4 Big Ideas in the New iPhones That No One’s Talking About
- 6:30 AM
#3 A True Digital Self
Tim Cook called the iPhone 5S the company’s “most forward-thinking phone yet.” What else is he going to say? But more so than the new 64-bit processor, the improved camera, or even iOS 7 itself (which are the features nearly all the tech pundits in the Valley commented about), there’s one iPhone 5S feature that truly is forward-looking, in a potentially game-changing way. It’s the fingerprint sensor.
On the surface, it does seem a bit gimmicky. Just like those Android phones that unlocked themselves by scanning your face, there’s an element of a cheesy sci-fi that tags along with the idea of fingerprint scanning. But as Ive reminds us, “it’s not just rampant technology for technology’s sake.” Apple has a plan for Touch ID, and the fact that the idea of the fingerprint scan is such a familiar one gives it a head start.
Your average person doesn’t know anything about RFID or PGP or how secure any of it all really is (perhaps as they’ve gleaned from the news lately, not very). But they do know that scanning into a building with a fingerprint is good enough for bank vaults and high-level government clearance, at least from what they’ve seen in the movies. Apple knows that in a world consumed with privacy concerns, the fingerprint has a decent chance of being accepted as the password of the future. In a clip dedicated to the feature, Apple’s Senior VP of Hardware Engineering, Dan Riccio, comes right out and says it: “The fingerprint is one of the best passwords in the world. It’s always with you, and there’s no two alike.”
The immediate plans for the technology are clear. The thumbprint will be your pass code into your phone. It will let you buy things from iTunes with the single mash of a thumb, no fingertip pecking required. In combination with iBeacon, the Bluetooth Low Energy protocol baked in to iOS 7, the tiny new finger-sensing home button could be the biggest, smallest step we’ve seen towards a future where we’re buying stuff with our phones, not our wallets.
But Touch ID has farther reaching implications than simply letting you walk out of Walgreens without stopping at the register. Right now, we’re at a delicate locus where privacy is a greater concern than ever and where our digital selves are fragmented across countless platforms, apps and services. The catch, though, is that the next generation of interactive, digital experiences could well depend on some sort of unified personal profile–a more portable digital identity, including your preferences, your apps, your content, your settings and the rest, that could be brought from device to device. The fingerprint could be the key to all that.
It doesn’t solve issues of privacy and security out of the gate–not by a long shot. Armchair critics responded to the news of the iPhone 5S sensor with a common refrain: one more thing for the NSA to collect. Still, though, the fingerprint is a psychologically powerful mode of authentication. As we’ve seen, our usernames and passwords are simple puzzles to be cracked; the rise of sophisticated phishing makes them as insecure as ever. Two-step authentication remains a slightly mystifying pain in the ass. A thumbprint is essential, and elemental. It’s convenient and, at least in theory, uncrackable. These are all things Apple’s evoking when they write, on the website for the new iPhone, that the Touch ID system is “inspired by a perfect design: your fingerprint.”
Those unique qualities give the fingerprint the power to usher in a totally new paradigm for mobile computing–one where your “digital” identity isn’t just a bunch of different sets of usernames and passwords and a scattered assortment of data profiles, but something that is actually, fundamentally, you–a digital version of your real, flesh-and-blood identity, as linked by your thumb.
As designers look to the future–one where real world experiences that seamlessly blend devices and services are privileged over discrete use cases and sandboxed apps–this type of centralized digital identity will be paramount. Services like IFTTT have showed us the power of linking up isolated services and features; how jerry rigging Twitter to talk to Dropbox to talk to your Photo Roll can come up with some novel workflows. In much the same way, the thumbprint is poised to be the connective tissue for the cross-platform experiences of tomorrow, where data profiles can be shared in vastly more flexible ways. Walk into a room, and all the devices inside it–not just the computers and TV screens but the lightbulbs and thermostat, too, potentially–will know it’s you. Apple wants to be at the center of all that. When Jonny (sic) Ive says “Touch ID defines the next step of how you use your iPhone,” he’s not just talking about how you unlock the thing. What he’s hinting at is use cases we’re just now starting to dream up.
#4 Body and Context Aware
#4 Body and Context Aware
The iPhone 5S’ fingerprint sensor isn’t the only way the device more closely links itself to our meaty selves. In addition to the new A7 processor, Apple announced something called the M7–a “motion coprocessor” that taps into the phone’s accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass to give the device a better picture of what you’re actually doing from moment to moment. Instead of just knowing “moving” or “not moving,” developers will be able to tell if you’re standing, walking, running, or driving. Accessing this type of sensor data isn’t anything new, but with the M7, the iPhone 5S is going to be collecting it continuously, figuring out what it means, and serving it up for apps to integrate as they will–all without draining the battery.
On a basic level, those situational smarts will allow for more context-aware behavior throughout our devices. The new iPhone, for instance, will sense when you’re driving and won’t try to connect you to every Wi-Fi network you speed past. That’s just one annoyance smoothed out, but the M7 could let Apple fine-tune the iOS 7 user experience to an unprecedented degree.
The iPhone 5S will pass along that capability to third party apps, too. As Phil Schiller explained on stage, a new CoreMotion API will include some sort of standardized analysis of all your movements and what they mean in real world terms. So it won’t be up to the Nike app to figure out if you’re running, walking or biking–the app will be able to rely on Apple for that analysis and design around it accordingly.
That again might seem like a small thing, but looking forward to the future of wearable, context-aware devices, it’s an important foundation to establish. Companies like Nike and Jawbone hire people solely to do this type of analysis, figuring out algorithms that let their devices understand how, specifically, their users are being active. By standardizing it all, Apple’s paving the way for apps that have a more agreed-upon understanding of what’s going on around you, or with you, and opening up the potential for more nuanced and sophisticated responses to it. If your iPhone senses that you’re swiveling slightly side to side between the hours of 9 and 5, say, it could be able to tell that you’re probably at work, at your computer–maybe a situation where it makes more sense to route iMessages to your main screen.
It will be up to developers to come up with ways to make use of this sort of data–experiences beyond just more sophisticated fitness apps. But the M7 and new CoreMotion API are indeed forward looking. They’re the first small step toward a much richer body computing platform. And plus, peering ahead a product cycle or three, the M7 shows shows Apple dabbling in components that can continuously monitor sophisticated sensors on a tight battery budget. The type of budget you’d have to work with for something like an iWatch.
So here we are, living in a two iPhone world. Both the iPhone 5S and the 5C are just what we expected, but they hide within their designs some key insights to Apple’s future. The iPhone 5C is the iPhone for today, where growing segments of people might not care about the iPhone’s cachet or its processing power so much as the ability to own a new, different, funky, and thoroughly personalized gadget. The iPhone 5S is the iPhone for tomorrow, where, thanks to sophisticated sensors and smarter software, we won’t need to take our phones out of our pockets nearly as often in the first place.