Apple isn't selling products anymore, it's selling a lifestyle. At least, that's the feeling I got at yesterday's keynote where CEO Tim Cook and others rolled out a sleek new slew of upgraded mobile devices. True to Apple's classic aesthetic, the presentation was stark and sterile, while also being full of vigor. Fitting, for a company that originally referred to the iPhone as "having your life in your pocket."
But yesterday's conference wasn't about revolutionary products at your fingertips, or even anything that could make your life easier, really. Beneath the sheen of new phones and watches was an unspoken ultimatum: Buy into Apple's lifestyle or become obsolete.
Apple is world-building now.
As product after product flashed across the screen at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the language used to describe them was almost prophetic. Cook declared that the App Store, which broke through 140 billion downloads last year, "has forever changed our lives." The new Apple Watch is alleged to become "the ultimate device for a healthy life." And the shock of the conference's biggest reveal—the eradication of the iPhone's headphone socket—was ameliorated by promise that Apple is taking us "where technology enables the seamless automatic connection between you and your devices."
Like I said, Apple is no longer trying to sell products, or fix ordinary problems with technology. It's world-building now, and we're being given time to settle into to its carefully constructed ecosystem.
Apple devices can be costly, but products that once felt utilitarian have become baubles of conspicuous consumption, their features only meaningful to a particular type of individual: the busy fitness freak, the gadget-head with a huge disposable income, or the person with an "Instagrammable life", for example.
One device that made this ethos clear was the Apple Watch Series 2; a prohibitively niche product, starting at $369. The new model is a considerable deviation from the first version's pledge to untether us from our phones. Most of its core features, such as email and text messaging, seem secondary, or even vestigial. As reported by Bloomberg last month, the watch will once again forfeit cellular connectivity for the sake of battery life. Meanwhile, its other offers, like the app that reminds you to breathe and the golf swing calculator, just seem bizarre and trivial.
Included in its upgrades are things like an internal GPS and interactive navigation platform. The casing is almost waterproof, and can self-eject liquid that leaks into the speaker system. The Apple Watch Nike+, which was also announced, will ping you with friendly reminders ("Are we running today?") in case you're ever lacking motivation. And even Pokémon Go, soon available on the Apple Watch, was pitched more as a pedometer than a mobile game.
The watch's true intent is to be a fitness planner. A gadget for the performatively athletic; the annoyingly health-minded. During its presentation, I joked that the device wasn't made for the unfit. I'm sure that's not entirely true, but something about its selling points were naggingly preachy. From the unattainably svelte people who modeled the watch, to its vows to account for every last calorie, the message was clear: Apple knows what's best for you, and what's best for you is being healthy. Want to get healthy? Then buy the Apple Watch.
After the watch's unveil came the highly-anticipated iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Starting at $649, you're paying for upgrades such as stereo speakers, water resistance, and a more sensitive Home button. Apple also announced that its phones would feature greater storage capabilities, no longer offering the relatively puny 16GB options.
But then came the caveat, delivered by Phil Schiller, Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing. So long, headphone jack. Schiller's defense of the change felt like he was fighting for the underdog, reminiscent of Apple's early days, when it was scrappier and less flush with money. The predictably unpopular hardware update was described as one that took "tremendous courage." The courage "to move on and try something else." We weren't just being sold on the new iPhones, we were being warned against viewing them as anything other than the future of personal technology.
According to BuzzFeed, Apple killed the headphone jack to make room for the iPhone's more sophisticated camera systems, as well as its "Taptic Engine" that produces responsive vibrations for the redesigned Home button. At the event, Schiller kept referring to the outlet as "analog," as if this technological fossil was as archaic as a record player.
Then came the real sale: the $159 "AirPods" that are intended to be used across all of Apple's mobile devices. Similar to Bluetooth headphones, these earbuds work wirelessly to enable audio listening for up to five hours at a time, and can even activate Siri with a double-tap. According to Motherboard's Brian Merchant who tested them out at the event, they sound "pretty good."
Aside from the AirPods' obvious drawbacks, such as price, battery life, and the almost guaranteed risk of losing them, there's something disconcerting about the way they're going to change our interaction with technology. Apple wants to remove the hindrances that many find clunky or inconvenient, but it also wants to make our lives and our devices inseparable. Is this what people really want? To Apple, it doesn't matter—they're designing behavior now.
Altogether, Apple's new and upcoming products create a lifestyle. They're not anything we really need; instead, they're something we're meant to aspire to. Apple is hoping we'll become someone whose smartwatch plans their day, or who never disconnects from their phone. The only question that remains is whether or not you're buying it.
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