I realize this is a minority view, but I think sometime around 5 to 10 years from now we’ll look back on the iPhone 7 as the start of a new era.
Why? Two key reasons …
It may seem like just another bluetooth ear bud, but look again at the technologies embedded in the AirPod. It senses when it’s in your ear, uses accelerometers to detect motion. With a tap the beam-forming microphone accepts input to the Siri assistant which, like the Amazon Echo, is rapidly becoming a primary user interface to the internet. Airpods sync across all your Apple devices via iCloud placing the AirPod as a peer to the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch.
It’s an iPhone in your ear. Instead of finger gestures, you simply talk to it with a familiar vocabulary. It uses your hearing instead of your eyesight to communicate with you.
The significance of this product to Apple is clearly evident. They have been working on this for some in order to develop a completely new W1 processor specifically for this purpose, and spent $3 billion USD to purchase Beats. It’s significant that Beats is now introducing multiple headphone models with the W1 processor installed, and presumably also capable of syncing with iCloud and all of your other Apple devices. Apple wouldn’t have invested this amount of resources for just another set of ear buds. AirPods is clearly a strategic investment for Apple.
Think about how it could evolve. In fact, how long will it be before you no longer need an iPhone at all? For example, need to call someone? Just tap your ear and ask Siri. Or ask Siri to play a song for you, schedule an appointment, or check your messages. Ask for directions and your AirPod could wirelessly communicate with the GPS in your Apple Watch to give you a map, whisper turn-by-turn directions in your ear, mention a local coffee shop, tell you when the next bus is due at your location, or that the Uber driver you requested is waiting at the corner. With accelerometers it can sense if you’re moving or standing, or nodding or shaking your head in response to a question. With AirPods you can hold your head up and walk down the street, ride a bicycle, or drive a car and not dangerously bury your face in an iPhone. It’s an intriguing vision of the future for mobile technologies comparable to Google glass in ambition but further along in execution.
Even the name of the device, AirPod, is ambitious. They could have named it something else, but choosing AirPod harks back to iPod… a device that changed the music industry. There should be no question that Apple has large ambitions for the AirPod.
Dual Lens Camera
The second reason is the dual lens camera. Apple went in a different and far more ambitious direction then either LG or Huawei. LG’s dual lens camera includes two different focal lengths, one stabilized and the other an unstabilized wide angle. And that’s fine, you get cameras with two different and useful perspectives. Huawei used two cameras with the same focal length to improve image quality and synthesize a depth of field effect. Again, fine and a step forward in mobile photography.
But compare that to what Apple is doing in the iPhone 7. Apple is merging the output of two different focal lengths using the most capable processing engines in the industry. The immediate benefit is to create a useful interpolated zoom feature.
A more intriguing aspect, however, is merging images to create depth maps of people. This image comes from Linx, the company Apple bought to implement its multi-camera feature …
The immediate application on the iPhone 7 plus is portrait photography where the background is blurred to mimic a shallow depth of field effect. But imagine the possibilities for biometrics, VR and gaming, or scene and location identification. Imagine video conferencing where a 3D representation of your face is displayed in a remote location. Or as your 3D avatar in a multiplayer video game. Again, huge potential. Earlier this year Apple filed patent to track hands in 3D dimensions by depth sequencing as described in.
The iPhone 7 upgrade is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The new technologies reflect Apple’s large investments in acquiring companies such as Beats and the Israeli based company Linx. The marketplace will decide if they will be successful, but the iPhone 7 provides tantalizing hints of Apple’s vision for a mobile future.
This is a product worthy of a company founded by Steve Jobs. Like many of the products introduced in his era which were initially misunderstood, imho the iPhone 7 is establishing a platform for continued innovation at Apple.