Apple’s silent transition into the next computing paradigm

August 12, 2019

What happened?

Apple is silently transitioning into the disappearing computer paradigm as their smart home and wearable category grew almost 50% year over year. With an absolute revenue growth of $1.2 billion (from Q3 2018 to Q3 2019) wearables almost surpassed Apple services, which grew with $1.5 billion. In terms of yearly unit sales, wearables have already outpaced the Mac and iPad with 70 million devices per year. Interestingly, most analysts have looked at smart watches and wireless earbuds as independent wearable categories. However, when bundled together it seems that the wearable category is gaining steam in comparison with Apple's other revenue streams. In response, we see competitors lose momentum.

What does this mean?

As written before, Apple seems to gradually transition into the ‘disappearing computer’ paradigm. This may not be clear to everyone as prior personal computers (PC, laptops, smartphones) were bought and updated as one integrated system, whereas the disappearing computer is slowly emerging with each new wearable or smart home component. This development is further obscured as these devices are currently sold as peripherals for the smartphone, hiding in plain sight as watches and headphones. However, the launch of a visual wearable accompanied by a high-bandwidth multi-modal user interface could become the keystone in manifesting the upcoming silent smartphone killer.

What's next?

Some sources expect that Apple is launching a pair of glasses in 2020, now under development under the project code named ‘T288’. However, looking at the state of current technology, we might not get fully-fledged AR glasses immediately. Instead, we could expect the launch of a pair of fashionable smart glasses, that will complement the iPhone by just super-imposing mission critical information (e.g. notifications, turn-by-turn directions). However, as technology (e.g. AI, input devices, optical tech, 5G, edge & fog computing, battery technology) and the Apple ecosystem improve (e.g. Siri, third party service interoperability and integration), the smartphone could become more and more obsolete as it is being replaced by the next AR-driven personal computing platform.

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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About the author(s)

FreedomLab Fellow Arief Hühn headed FreedomLab from 2018 until 2023, directing our research and business endeavors with a special emphasis on the impact of emerging digital technologies on the economy, politics and society. He holds a master's degree in communication sciences from Radboud University Nijmegen and a doctorate degree in human-computer interaction from Eindhoven University of Technology.

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