The personal computing revolution is thirty-something years old -- long enough to have gone from upheaval to status quo -- and it's clear Apple is itching to take credit for revolution rounds two and three. The Tuesday event at the newly-opened Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple campus in Cupertino, California, was long on legacy while also pushing a vision for the next stage in computing.
The product announcements were unsurprising for anyone who reads leaks stories: a new Apple Watch model that no longer requires the wearer to also carry a phone to access several useful features and powered by an updated operating system aimed at expanding the range of health-related activities for wearers; improved iPhone models; a new Apple TV 4K model.
But a common thread was woven through the keynote: beginning with Apple retail head Angela Ahrendts elaborating on the Apple Store's rebranding as "town squares," continuing with Apple Watch clips showing how people had woven the watch into the rhythm of their daily lives, then with several demonstrations of how quickly and easily people could edit their photos (before sharing them with others), then embroidered upon with the idea that their face would be all they'd need to unlock their phone, and concluding with the animoji, an iteration of emoji that combines voice messaging with animated emojis.
That common thread: Apple's goal is to make its technology so seamless and ubiquitous in your life, you will stop thinking of it as technology. The watch is simply there to allow you to have conversations and keep an eye on your health. The phones are just there to record or share the experiences you're having. The stores are now quasi-public spaces meant to underscore the message that technology is merely a tool for bringing people together to do the creative, athletic, curious and social things they'd be doing anyway.
For people who came of age during the personal computer revolution, the idea of computers receding from their workplace-disrupting, efficiency-optimizing, information-accessing center of attention seems like another tech revolution.
But we've got a generation of people for whom a computer is basically an appliance like a microwave or a fridge, only without the ability to store or heat burritos. For them, the real tech revolution began when smart phones unshackled functions that were formerly desk- or housebound (email, phone calls) and combined them with new functions like taking photos, listening to music, and using digital assets as social currency. Smart phones fed the tech revolution we're finishing now: the one where everything's free of a private hard drive on a specific machine and the computing experience is both platform- and device-independent.
(By the way: Grasping that modern computing is free of an operating system while also dragging a flagship product like an operating system into a post-OS world has been Microsoft's smartest strategy accomplishment of the past three years. And it's an accomplishment that the company doesn't get nearly enough credit for.)
So Apple's whole presentation today -- which leaned heavily on the design legacy of the past, and reminded people that the iPhone helped midwife a previous iteration of a tech revolution -- was all about what it sees as the next consumer tech revolution: Permanently uncoupling computing from the workplace and positioning it as a 24/7 technology.
You can argue that the smartphone is already there -- people carry out thousands of individual actions on their phones daily, according to research firm Dscout, over 76 individual episodes of picking up the phone to do something with it over the course of a day.
Or you can point out that any technological revolution is successful once the technology has become invisible to its users. After all, at one point, paper was a technological revolution. At another point, movable type was. What's particularly notable is that we get to watch the entire arc of a technology revolution from the technology's inception to its expansion to its invisibility.
The September 2017 Apple event may well be known for debuting the priciest of smartphones with the iPhone X or for debuting their watch with cellular capabilities built into it. But what it really did was put, front and center, its ambition to have its technology melt seamlessly into every waking minute of your life, by making that technology so subtle and seamless, you think nothing of taking it everywhere with you.