With the iPhone X launch on the horizon, Apple fans are waiting with baited breath to get their hands on the “iPhone of the future.” The bigger, lighter, thousand-dollar smartphone will be available for pre-order on 17 October and will be AR-ready, waterproof, and feature an edge-to-edge display.
There are features that might excite marketers, but most of us recognise that the smartphone market has really reached a plateau. We’re currently sitting on the mezzanine in the s-curve of innovation, where we’ve really taken a rectangular piece of glass as far as it can go technologically. It’s surprising that consumers may still clamor for a higher-resolution camera or a faster processor when the difference in performance will be entirely imperceptible to most – indeed, they’re expected to sell out almost instantly – but this is arguably as much of a testament to their marketing as it is their product. I suspect the sheen will wear off soon enough, particularly at such a high price point, and especially when the platform itself hasn’t changed much.
The iPhone X’s most anticipated features, like pre-installed Augmented Reality (AR) technology and facial recognition, are interesting. I wonder how Apple intends to use these features moving forward: when you think about the early games that came pre-loaded on PCs like Solitaire and Minesweeper, they were intended to train users to improve their drag-and-drop skills. Since the future of Windows was so dependent upon users being adept with a mouse, these games were quite purpose-driven and effective.
With that in mind, think of the way Apple introduced AirPods last year with the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2. The AirPods encouraged users to leave their Bluetooth on all the time, a habit many users resisted in the name of longer battery life. In fact, the new Apple phones have Bluetooth switched on by default. For brands and marketers, that represents a massive mobile opportunity, should it reach any kind of scale.
From a marketing perspective, the AR capabilities exciting as well, and certainly worthy of the buzz they’re receiving. That said, marketers will have to use AR cleverly, or the novelty will quickly wear off. As with most adverts, AR ads will only be effective if they’re useful or funny – “cool” only goes so far. There may be some exciting uses for AR with regard to mapping. It could be quite futuristic – a next step in dynamic mapping – as well as useful, if advertisers overlaid promotional messaging outside their stores when users pull up maps on their mobile devices. There will be a lot of potential use cases for this technology, so don’t be surprised if the latest iPhone turns out to be a Trojan Horse surreptitiously opening us up to new ways of interacting with the technology of Apple’s expanding ecosystem.
New ways to interact
AR and Bluetooth will change how users interact with their phones and mobile ads, even if the device design itself does not. Mobile handset capabilities still have room to grow. Today we treat our phones like digital newspapers because of their flat form factor.
But phones are just the jumping-off point! The Apple Watch and AirPods are the real game-changers and will likely prove to be far more disruptive than the iPhone 8 or X. These new “accessories” are already encouraging the move to a perpetually Bluetooth-connected device. That could mean that phones spend more time in the pocket as users spend more time looking at their wrists, listening wirelessly, and commanding verbally. The Apple Watch enables users to check their email and take calls. Runners can map routes on the watch, with or without their phones. Music can be streamed from the watch to the AirPods.
The iPhone is now becoming more of a hub in Apple’s ecosystem, which in addition to the Apple Watch and AirPods, also includes the Mac, iPad, AppleTV and soon-to-be-released HomePod (possibly intended to take on the role of hub device?). The watch and AirPods may replace the phone as the visible devices in a user’s portfolio of Apple products, which may mean that marketers need to start thinking more about the importance of audio ads as well as their own sonic identity in an increasingly voice-powered age of tech interaction.
To sum things up, the iPhone X itself won’t have a tremendous impact on marketers – not on its own. But it’s part of an accelerating and ongoing disruption that should keep us all on our toes and thinking ahead. Whether this disruption means greater access to users via Bluetooth, that we should be experimenting with Augmented Reality ads, or that a screen-free mobile universe is on the horizon, remains to be seen. It’s safe to say we should watch everything – and be prepared for anything.