Sometimes a technology comes out that is so radical, so new, so innovative that it transforms society, disrupts business processes, and creates new industries in ways we can hardly have imagined. Tuesday, September 9, 2014, with the announcement of the new Apple iPhone and iWatch will not be one of those days. Or will it?
There’s a funny thing about Apple products. They do transform things — but rarely in the ways their inventors imagined, and rarely because they are the most innovative. Apple has a long history of glorious accidents. Perhaps it will continue.
The Apple computer
The Apple computer — whether the original 1984 Mac, the blueberry triangle, the white molded plastic screen or the anodized aluminum monitor — certainly has its share of technological innovations. But what set it apart from its rival (and arguably more successful) competitor the PC was its licensing scheme.
Apple held its OS and API’s close to the vest, creating an infrastructure — an ecosystem — that it could control. Everything ended up having the same “look and feel.” While dozens (or hundreds) of PC’s sprung up in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices, and with various features, Apple controlled all of its hardware, pricing and design.
Prices were at a premium, but perception of value was also high. While PC’s infiltrated living rooms and boardrooms, the “tortoise” strategy ultimately proved successful at least at branding Apple. Good features and design helped. Also, because Apple products had less acceptance in the business community (I don’t know if WordPerfect worked on the Mac) it meant that early virus writers concentrated on the PC — leading to a public perception that Apple products were inherently more secure. An unintended consequence…
The Apple store
Beginning with its first store in Tyson’s Corner shopping mall in Northern Virginia, Apple pioneered the retail sales of computers to the consuming public. Sure, there was CompUSA, or MicroCenter for a broad variety of computer needs, but the Apple store, with its minimalist design, appointment service (well, not always service) and ubiquitous locations transformed the way we, well, not buy computers but hang around and look at them. And look cool while doing so.
The Original iPod
The original iPod was a large and kind of clunky MP3 player with a crappy display, limited storage, and an innovative physical “wheel” for navigating through music selections. But there were plenty of MP3 players out there — some with FM Radios, some with cooler screens. By making the MP3 player “cool” and easy to use, and with a larger hard drive, Apple was attempting to replace the Walkman and bring music back to the masses. What it did (accidentally) was to transform the way we buy music and other digital items.
It was the iPod that made the iTunes store necessary. It was the iTunes store that made the difference. Before that, people would go to a record store (remember record stores, Tower Records?) and buy a CD. They would then (illegally, I might add) “rip” the CD to a MP3 (or even use a service like MP3.com to do so for them) and then transfer the digital copy of the music (also illegally according to the RIAA) to their new device. Apple changed that. Go to iTunes, click on what you like, and voilà! You now “own” the song.
Actually, you “own” nothing. That’s another transformation. We went from an “ownership” society — my record collection, my collection of laserdiscs, my books, magazines, and 1951 “Bowman” Mickey Mantle rookie card #253 BVG 8.5 in mint condition, signed — to a leasing society where the music in my iPod is not mine at all, and where, if in the opinion of some company in Cupertino, Seattle, Redmond or Mountain View I have breached a contract I clicked on or which was buried in the fine print, they can remove it all without recourse.
This transformed online contracts, transformed the “first sale” doctrine in the law, transformed the right to transfer digital products, and even transformed how you negotiate contracts with large companies (hint — you don’t.) The mere “purchase” of a product obligates you to arbitrate your warranty in Kuala Lampur while drinking a glass of water upside down. Read the fine print. The world of digital purchases transformed.
The iTunes store transformed a host of technologies. Now we had a place to go to “buy” digital things. Not things that had been digitized like CD’s and DVDs. It required a payment system, and got people used to buying things online with credit cards (sure, that’s secure.) It created linkage between persona and purchases — between purchases and use.
Apple (and anyone with whom it chose to share information) could now know who bought the “trop pop” album “Luisa” and who listened to the single “Valero” on that album. Apple could now know not only who listened, but how often, where, and when, and what other music they listened to. This created a new marketplace — not for music, no for video, and not for digital content. It created the marketplace for digital information. The consumer became the product. Consumer behavior became monetized. Another technology transformed.
The First iPhone
The iPhone has been dubbed the first “smart” phone. Well, I had a pretty intelligent Palm Treo. What the iPhone transformed was the way we interfaced with the network. That was an accident. Originally, the iPhone had very limited phone minutes (those were expensive) and unlimited data on AT&T (its only US carrier). Data? Who is going to use data? The original iPhone prohibited third party apps unless they were web apps. Apps? Who is going to use apps?
But the phone was cool, and slick, and expensive, with terrible phone features but an innovative interface and operating system. By controlling its ecosystem (see computer above) there was just one form factor — so third party case, cover, battery and other manufacturers could build to the single device and compete (frequently requiring Apple’s permission).
The iPhone transformed the way we use the web. Accidentally. It transformed the way be buy software through apps. Accidentally. It transformed the way we monitor people and conduct surveillance of their activities. Accidentally. It transformed how we consume digital data through streaming. Accidentally.
Who the hell needs a giant iPhone that has no data plan attached? Apparently a lot of people. The iPad (mocked for its name) similarly transformed the way we consume digital content. In many cases is supplanted the TV, the PC, the DVR, and the DVD. It created a market for tablet computers where none existed before, and may end up supplanting whole segments of the laptop computer market. Accidentally.
Give them the finger
The iPhone 5S and 5C had a neat little feature that can transform digital identity management, security and even the law. A finger swipe that can authenticate — with a reasonable degree of reliability — a user to their device. While it hasn’t yet happened, this has the ability to transform how we conduct identity management.
No more crappy passwords. P433w0rd! But also, no massive collection of biometric identities. The identity management is performed on the device itself.
Whoa! A second factor authenticator — something you are! Wait! A third factor authenticator! Something you have. Wait again. Something you know (PIN). All in the palm of your hand. Because the authentication is done on the device, the transmitted credential need not contain actual identity information. Properly implemented, you can have anonymous or pseudonym authentication. I can be “the grey squirrel” with a degree of trust, without revealing my secret identity as a mild-mannered cyber lawyer in a major metropolitan area. A possible transformative technology. Accidentally.
The new iPhone 6 (give me one, please Aimee*) promises to support NFC (Near Field Communications) payment systems. BFD (that’s big deal — sarcastically).
But again, this could transform the way we buy stuff. Coupled with biometric authentication, we could use the device to authenticate that we authorize a purchase, and to make the purchase without ever taking out a credit card.
In fact, we may not need the plastic at all (“Cards? Who needs cards? Where we’re going, we don’t need any cards!”) While NFC eliminates some of the security problems associated with magstripe cards, and creates a “chip and pin” like authentication scheme, it may have its own vulnerabilities as well (data travelling through the ether — what could go wrong?). But it also may create a new market for micropayments via device — pass through the subway terminal, grab a pizza, etc. and pay as you go. We will see.
This is just cool for coolness sake. (Are you listening, Aimee?) It certainly may transform my right wrist (I’m a lefty), but whether it transforms any businesses remains to be seen. Actually though, the iWatch was a result of Apple’s iPod Nano, which people took to wearing on their wrists. So there’s that.
We will see what the announcements are on Tuesday. Hopefully the Apple fairy will come down the chimney and give iPresents to all the good little boys and girls. And maybe to me as well. And even if it’s not transformative, it’s still pretty damned cool.
Cynthia M. Camacho of DynTek contributed to this article, and appears on the album Luisa.
*Aimee Rhodes is securitycurrent Editor-in-Chief