Is the iPhone boring as of late? This Slate column thinks so.
If you have an irrational loyalty to Apple, you might well demand, What more do you want out of the iPhone? It’s a legitimate question, and I’ll concede that it’s a bit churlish to ding a gadget because it’s already so great that I can’t imagine how it can become any better. The iPhone, like all computers, will get faster and lighter, and it might get longer battery life. Perhaps it will acquire the ability to let you pay for stuff through a near-field communication chip. Meanwhile, Siri will get better, turning from what seems like a marketing gimmick into a truly useful, perhaps transformative way to interact with your phone. Perhaps Apple will make good on Steve Jobs’ promise to make FaceTime an open standard, so that in time, it will work everywhere, not just on Apple devices. (But I bet not.) So if all that happens—if Apple continues to improve the iPhone incrementally—will that be enough for me?
I’m still yawning a little. Consider that every other phone maker is also improving its devices at a breakneck pace. Google’s version of Siri works just as well as Apple’s. Google Now, Android’s artificial-intelligence-based assistant, isn’t matched by anything in the iPhone. Meanwhile Windows Phone’s “live tiles”—the home-screen icons that passively update you on everything going on with your friends and in the rest of your life—offer a better, easier way to navigate your phone than anything Apple has cooked up.
So, sure, Apple’s phone will get better. But as everything else gets better, too, the iPhone will remain with the pack unless Apple does something radically different. What should it do?
At Google’s developer conference last week, the search company spent a lot of time talking up Glass, its still-in-development digital goggles. The device lets you do pretty much everything you can do on your phone—browse your texts and email, take photos, look at your calendar—through a display built into your glasses. It’s a digital feed superimposed upon the real world, sort of like the Terminator’s heads-up display.
While everyone on Twitter made fun of the goggles—does Google really think people will wear those geeky things?—the journalists who got an in-depth briefing (myself included) came away enthusiastic. After speaking to people at Google who are working on the project—and after getting to try on Sergey Brin’s own pair for about 20 seconds—I couldn’t contain myself. Google’s goggles offer the most captivating new digital interface since the iPhone. Google Glass will allow people to experience the digital world without becoming distracted from the real world—you can interact with your digital friends while maintaining eye contact with your real friends. Because you’ll be able to access digital information faster than you can on a cellphone, and then quickly return to the offline world, I have high hopes that these glasses will save us from our tech-addled selves.
I’m not asking for Apple to create augmented-reality glasses. But I do hope that it’s working on something just as ambitious as Google’s spectacles, a product that represents the next wave of mobile computing. I don’t know what that thing should be. But it’s not my job to know. It’s Apple’s—this is a company that has repeatedly wowed us by inventing the future we didn’t know we wanted. The iPhone might have changed everything, but now it’s five years old. It’s time for something new.