“One’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career,” Steve Jobs said on stage right before announcing the iPhone in January 2007. “Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world.”
“These,” in the plainspoken language Jobs relied on to set up his “one more thing” shtick, referred to a new computer that changed things — how tech evolves, how it makes money, how it enters and influences our daily lives, how the way we live changes in response. Apple introduced the Macintosh in the ’80s and the iPod in the aughts. Then, ten years ago, Apple introduced the iPhone.
And since then? More, better iPhones. The iPad. And still more, and better, iPhones. The event that Apple has scheduled for Tuesday promises the best iPhone yet (likely called the iPhone X), a 4K Apple TV, an LTE-enabled Watch, details on the HomePod, and possibly more. The iPhone X, named in honor of the device’s 10th anniversary, will likely feature a 5.8-inch OLED screen, facial recognition software, wireless charging, and augmented reality capabilities based on Apple’s ARKit.
Developers, investors, and, above all, consumers have been waiting for months to hear what Jobs’ successor Tim Cook has to unveil, but much of the thunder of the event will be muted now that so many details of iOS 11 leaked over the weekend. VentureBeat’s Chris O’Brien recapped the latest round of leaks and rumors here.
On the one hand, this was terrible news for Cook. This particular “Special Event” — Apple’s movable holiday which remains a day of celebration for fanboys — is coming roughly 10 years after Jobs announced the iPhone. And it’s Apple’s first-ever event inside the Steve Jobs Theater. Jobs still hovers over each Apple event, along with the reminder that it’s been a decade since the company unveiled one of “these” industry-altering devices.
Judging from the weekend’s leaks, the iPhone X looks like Apple’s biggest new launch since the iPad. But even if AR-capable apps alter the way we use smartphones, Apple may still fall short of a game-changer like the Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone.
On the other hand, Apple has evolved enough in the past decade that it can still be on the leading edge of computer innovation without a transformative user interface. If Apple has ceased to offer products that change tech overnight, it’s shifted toward a more incremental transformation that, year by year, not only changes the iPhone but its ecosystem of other devices and services.
And while Tuesday’s event might now seem less overwhelming than Cook had hoped for, it’s unlikely many will care once the new round of devices begins shipping. Whatever happens on Tuesday, Apple investors have already decided Apple is worth over $800 billion, having expanded by 40 percent this year as expectations for a new iPhone grew.
For some investors, the allure of Apple may in time grow beyond new iPhones to the way it’s designed to deepen engagement with its services. AR-powered apps may drive a new wave of App Store sales. Facial recognition could make Apple Pay simpler to use. An OLED screen could make Apple video content more appealing. Services, which already make up 16 percent of Apple revenue, grew 22 percent last quarter.
Even if Cook has no big “one more thing” to reveal that leaves Apple customers craving a new device, the sum total of the smaller triumphs that appear to be coming could end up adding up to something just as big over time. Even if it doesn’t lead to a sense of surprise this week.