iPhone X: the beginning of a world without smartphones?

iPhone X: the beginning of a world without smartphones?

This blog originally appeared as an opinion article on Bloovi.be.

Even before the official announcement of the iPhone X, most details of the new device were already leaked. And, as usual, this generated a huge controversy on the price/quality ratio of this new device. In this heated discussion, people seemed to be unaware of the most important news in this announcement: that we will look back on it as  “the moment the iPhoneX taught the world to use AR”.

AR stands for Augmented Reality, a term which pretty much sums up what this technology is about: it starts from the real world (‘reality’) and adds an extra digital dimension to this reality (‘augmented’). This digital addition may be a digital object (remember the Pokemons in parks and fields last year) but it can also be information on the observed reality, such as touristic information on the castle you can see in front of you.

AR has been around for some time now. Just think of the Google Glass as the most memorable example. But we’re now approaching the moment when both the technology and the consumers are ready for AR’s breakthrough.

You could compare it to that previous huge technology breakthrough no more than 10 years ago, when Steve Jobs introduced that revolutionary new device: the iPhone. There had been smartphones before that moment, but none was functional and at the same time attractive enough to bring about that revolution that the iPhone has triggered.

This revolution can hardly be overestimated: its impact on our way of working, communicating and living has been gigantic. Facebook, Snapchat and Uber have become the new superpowers. This would probably not have happened without the emergence of a new generation of smartphones.   

Embrace ànd enrich reality

Meanwhile we are observing a form of screen fatigue with many people: we are gradually getting tired of looking at out smartphone screens, thus missing out on what’s happening in the world around us. Far too often, we are too immersed in that brightly shining small screen. After all, it is merely a flat  2D interface, and it is predictable that this will eventually bore every single one of us.

That’s exactly why this new AR revolution is so interesting; Augmented Reality starts from reality, from the world around us, and augments it with additional virtual information. We thus automatically become more interested in the world surrounding us. Does this mean we will all start exploring forests and embarking on long hikes? Unless the newest Pokemon-like hype comes along: probably not. But AR will succeed in raising our head by 45 degrees and in fully embracing the world again. Which I can only applaud.

AR’s breakthrough, in three stages

No, I don’t expect us all to be addicted to AR by tomorrow. One could compare it to a three-stage rocket, in which the propulsion during the first stages will ensure the successful launch in the final stage. These 3 stages are:
    1.    Today’s smartphones feature cameras with 3D technology, enabling to fully map your direct environment. This is the required starting point if you want to place virtual objects in this environment as realistically as possible, and to blend the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’ world, as it were.
    2.    The interface will be far from ideal at that point: no one will want to use their smartphone or tablet eternally to point at buildings, animals or other components of our reality to get additional information. The next step is easily guessed, because we have observed it earlier: the AR glasses. They probably won’t appear anymore in the same nerdy model as the Google Glasses, but rather as truly trendy fashion items, which e.g. iPhone users will gladly be seen wearing.
    3.    This will probably cause the general breakthrough that will quickly lead to the next stage: AR lenses, the ultimate combination of portability and digital enhancement.

Summarizing, the iPhone X may well be the starting point of a future without smartphones!

iPhone X

Probably, by now you have understood why I’m not overly concerned with the iPhone X’s price, its other features, or even with its design. There’s just one aspect of the design that seems relevant to me: the new screen can be called nearly edge-less, creating the illusion that the line between the digital and the real world has already disappeared.

But the launch of the iPhone X in itself is extremely important, according to me. Just like the previous models, this iPhone will reach tens or possibly even hundreds of millions of users. This means an unprecedented potential platform for the AR technology. AR developers are fully aware of this opportunity: even before the launch, they got started with the beta version of ARKit, Apple’s platform for easy development of AR apps.

This explains why, the past few days already, we could witness the emergence of several interesting and useful applications, ranging from the digital ruler,  and designing your own Tesla which you can then park by your front door, to completely redecorating your house. During the next  festival season, AR will ensure we can always locate our friends in no time. And one for the road  (because we could have continued for a while): bedtime will never be the same again for our kids when mom and dad tuck them in together with the children's heroes.