Apple in 2022 - the Death of Telco
The iPhone 8 (or iPhone Edition, depending on the pundit you believe in) has received more hype already than the previous three generations of iPhones, combined.
And it's still six months away. Say what you want about Apple, their ability to market is still second to none. More than that, it proves that Apple still have an ability to excite. A intuitive tact for intriguing millennials and, indeed, the world into pondering the question: "How are Apple going to blow my mind this time?".
It's a valid question, and not just for Apple. Innovation and technology is moving at a faster pace than ever before, and it isn't slowing down any time soon. However, not since the original iPhone has a device emerged that has taken the world by storm and utterly changed the landscape, technological or otherwise. Ten years ago, when the first iPhone was about to be released, the idea that somebody could walk around with a phone that was also a camera was in its infancy and was still considered to be the cutting edge of technology. Now everyone's walking around with a supercomputer in their pocket; a constant source of information and social connection ebbing and flowing at the pace that most computers just five years ago weren't capable of. Mobile processors have advanced to the point where phone's bought five years ago were, on average, 1/7th the speed of current phones. 5mp camera's were good, and we would treasure those grainy photo's like the novelty they were (because really, that's all they were good for). Now there are feature-length blockbusters beginning to emerge filmed entirely on iPhone's and being released on Netflix as our thirst for entertainment, information and knowledge consumption continues to grow at a staggering pace. But the limitations of what we can do on a small, 2d screen are nearly maxed out. Hardware isn't limiting us anymore as much as our own cognitive ability to absorb information. Beyond our mental ability, our calendars in modern times simply won't permit us looking at a tiny screen all day to scramble through Facebook timelines, Instagram feeds or (if you're young enough - I'm not) Snapchat sexts.
So again, what's next?
Well - let's look at this objectively. Mixed reality is a certainty. I had the pleasure of trying on the HoloLens recently and can say with absolute certainty that whilst the technology is in its infancy, the limits to mixed reality are boundless and will provide technological opportunities that will advance the human race at breakneck speed. No doubt Apple and Google are working on their own. I'm sure this opinion will receive some criticism, but those critics would be wrong. When did the iPhone come out again? Imagine what ten years of virtualised 3d hologram development will enable the human race to do. It's the stuff of movies 10 years ago. Iron Man's gesture-based 'Jarvis' interface is here. Minority Report pre-determined.
Beyond that, the masses are finally beginning to appreciate the realities of what fast, unhindered data-heavy connectedness (or the Internet of Things) can deliver to the world. Demand for Netflix, Stan, YouTube, Twitch, Soundcloud, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, iView and a hundred other streaming services has quadrupled in Australia alone in the past year, and we're the last to really jump on board in the world. Australia's broadband capacity is beginning to struggle on a national level, beyond individual scope. Another transcontinential pipe is currently in planning phases but will be at least two years before it's operational, and Australia is expecting a lot of data growth in two years.
There are three primary factors driving the world of business right now: Large Data, Cloud services and Artificial Intelligence (specifically machine learning).
Each of these requires an unfathomable amount of information travelling globally, constantly. Infrastructure changes, large-scale video conferencing, interplanetary holographic simulations, self-driving cars, self-piloting aircraft, live streaming drones and so many more technologies emerging need fast, unhindered, reliable connectivity. Add to that 3d modelling involved with mass-produced mixed-reality devices, and there's a definitive need for far more broadband capacity than what is currently available. And that goes for worldwide consumption, not only Australia.
Companies like Telstra have already realised what's coming, which is why they're heavily investing in mixed-reality tech and 5g, but importantly are openly transitioning to 'TechCo' investments rather than spending any more in outdated 'Telco-only' prospects, which leads on to what I personally believe Apple are positioning themselves to do next. Here we go...
I think by the year 2022 we will see an iPhone with no ports, and no SIM cards. I think everybody who buys an Apple product will have unfettered immediate access to permanent data access, without any Telco subscriptions or plans. Now before you go dismissing that idea as wildly outrageous, let's look at the facts.
PORTS: What currently requires ports on phones? Power and Headphones. That's it. The iPhone, HTC U Ultra and other flagship phones emerging now are already down to one port for both those functions. Now that Bluetooth 5.0 is here, having arrived with the Samsung Galaxy S8, the capacity for wireless audio is equal to wired audio. Headphone manufacturers are spurning out Bluetooth headphones at an alarming rate, with more and more now being truly wireless (no connecting cord between the two earpieces). Lossless audio requires 1.4mbps speed, Bluetooth 5.0 can deliver in excess of 2mbps. For high quality sound, 328kbps is plenty, being often indistinguishable from lossless (and yes, I am aware that's far from being ALWAYS the case. But for non audiophiles, it generally is, sorry). So then we face the reality of: Bluetooth headphones can deliver the highest quality of audio, at distances far greater than corded, with two separate audio streams being delivered to two separate people from one source simultaneously, all whilst avoiding the inconvenience of tangled cords and the inconveniences that come with them. Sure, they need to be charged once every while (I charge my Bose QC35's or Apple Airpods maybe once per fortnight and use both of them constantly - it takes 30 min to charge from flat to full) but right now, that's the only 'drawback' besides price with Bluetooth. Once wired limitations exceed wireless, which it now does, it's time to say goodbye to wired.
On to power. This one's easy: Who in their right mind wouldn't love their phone to be constantly charged, wherever they are, without worrying about battery life? And for those of you who seem to think this technology isn't here: Check this out. Originally there were rumours the iPhone 8 was going to arrive with the first true wireless charging capability of up to 15 feet. This rumour was spurred on by the entirely un-subtle hint by Energous CEO announcing that their first true-wireless charger would arrive with a 'huge product' around September this year. This doesn't look like it will arrive in time to come with the iPhone 8 (or Edition) unfortunately, but personally I believe it is almost certain to be here with the iPhone 8s, or 9, or X, or whatever the hell Apple will call it (seriously Apple - my only criticism of you - get your naming right). For those interested, I highly recommend checking out Energous - they have a very good illustration of the possibilities of true wireless charging.
With the above technical limitations removed, will Apple be brave enough to remove all ports? Well, obviously. They've almost always been the first to introduce, or do away with, new and old ports. They were the first to sport USB, the first to remove floppy drives, the first to remove optical drives, the second (but only just) to use USB-C. And of course, I believe they have been and will continue to be the first to do away with old ports when better, more accessible technology arrives. And good on 'em. Personally I believe Apple catalyse these advancements by forcing 3rd parties to adapt to superior technology quicker than otherwise would take place. The bluetooth headphone market has increased ten fold since word got out that Apple was removing the headphone jack, and I think the world at large will be better for it - though I'm sure no thanks will go to Apple for that.
That does away with the port(s). To be honest, everybody in the tech industry has known for a long time now that this was happening. Where it gets interesting (and where I'm taking an intuitive leap of faith) is the doing away of the SIM card. Let's dive in.
- What is a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card? It's simply an identifier working to authenticate your piece of hardware with the providers network. Honestly, it's a relatively redundant piece of plastic playing middle man between two pieces of hardware. Now the SIM card will be registered to a provider network, and thus if you have a piece of hardware that is locked to one network, and you're trying to use a SIM card that is not registered with that network, it's a very effective way of stopping your piece of hardware from connecting to any cell towers. And that's just it: Cell towers. Remember that - I'll be coming back to it in a moment.
- Why do providers still use SIM cards if they're outdated technology? Because it forces the old telecommunication model of business on to the customer. It's extremely difficult for someone like Telstra acquire each embedded SIM card registration in Apple's iPad Pro 9.7" cellular models allocated to them, which is why it took them 3 - 4 months longer to begin selling them on plans. As long as SIM cards are around, it makes for easy business onselling phones and plans to customers.
- What if SIM cards were removed entirely? Interesting question, not without merit. In Australia, and most of the world right now, it would simply be impossible. Everyone with a data-capable smartphone would be scrambling for better signal from each most-local tower causing congestion to extremes, because there would be nothing indicating it was a 'Telstra' cell tower and therefore my 'Telstra' registered SIM has access but my mates 'Optus' SIM would not, so we're not fighting for bandwidth or capacity. But it's a temporary limitation.
Now let's get into the nitty gritty and - I promise you - unusually interesting territory. Why Apple, why now?
This question begins with a corporation called 'SoftBank'. This is an extremely intriguing and vexing organisation, with their hands in so many pies it's hard to keep track - especially when so few people know who they are. Without Wikipediafying it - SoftBank are a giant corporation who nobody had heard of, despite existing since 1981, until they bought Vodafone Japan out of absolutely nowhere on March 17, 2006. They then bought a bank (sorry, not one bank, most of Japan's banks), shed any independent stockholders and proceeded to quickly grow into the 62nd largest company in existence. By 2010, they had also acquired 30% of Ustream - another company you may not have heard of, but who dabble in a few streaming services: Live streams from Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, John Edwards, Tori Amos to name some of them - Oh, and all of your Playstation, Samsung, Logitech, CBS, PBS streams too.
Moving on with SoftBank - in 2012 they purchased Sprint Nextel, the Optus of USA, for a "measly" $22.2b, a bunch of other giant companies and then Snapdeal - A company in itself who has bought out a bunch of smaller companies and is rumoured to be about to merge with Amazon, it's chief rival. Besides painting a portrait of the enormity of the expansion of SoftBank, the purchase of Sprint is important to remember. Fitbit, BuzzFeed, Yahoo, Huffington Post and many more are owned or heavily affiliated with SoftBank.
None of this holds a candle to Apple, of course, having grown almost exactly 100 times bigger in a mere 14 years to $143.66 per share (from $1.49 on Jul 18, 2003). At a value of $740.02B, Apple is literally worth more than half the countries of the world. In cash holdings, an estimated $240b is sitting in reserves for who knows what. But what we do know, is that Apple made an unusual move for them and invested heavily into SoftBank to the tune of billions. This is rare for Apple. Despite their cash reserves, they rarely make large purchases externally without acquiring a company directly.
This is what brings us to OneWeb. SoftBank conveniently also effectively own OneWeb. Now you may have read the word OneWeb if you're one of the three people that actually read my blogs to the end - and that's because I've touched on the following topic before. OneWeb are one of two major companies that have begun launching their Low-Earth Orbit satellites the other being SpaceX *drop mic moment*. What for, you ask? To deliver high speed, full coverage, low-latency bandwidth to the world. Satellite internet has previously been expensive and exclusive to regional areas where more traditional means of internet were more affordable and accessible. Furthermore, Satellite internet has provided high latency, low-bandwidth (though higher than dial-up) internet due to heights of approximately 35,786km above the earths surface. That's a decent distance for even light to travel. Low-earth orbit is as low as 160km above the earths surface. Brisbane to Sydney is 730km.
OneWeb claim, at this stage, to simply be supplementing the incoming 5g connectivity, and delivering connectivity to rural and remote locations as well as some connectivity to metro areas. I don't believe it. I think Time Magazines article on Elon Musk and SpaceX paraphrase my point better than I can. Supplementing internet and delivering to regionals is a short term goal - I think OneWeb, SpaceX, Elon Musk and especially Apple have bigger plans in mind, with immediacy.
Quickly swapping back to my points on SoftBank. SoftBank acquired Sprint in 2012 and ceased selling phones on plans with Sprint in 2016, days before Apple invested in SoftBank. From now on, Sprint sell phones outright or on lease plans like Apple's finance deals and Sprint also do SIM-Only plans.
SO - Where does this all tie in with the iPhone.
Apple have an infamous history of exclusivity and closed-circuit systems. They don't play well with others (although, they play better now that Steve Jobs has passed). But some features that make Apple magical are truly closed-circuit end to end and incredibly good - Airdrop, Airplay, Photostream, iCloud and iOS/MacOS compatibility to name a tiny few. Nothing compares to Apple's ecosystem at this stage. How far-fetched is it then to believe Apple will continue on with all their trends and history of being exclusive, removing excess ports, being front-runners of existing tech and innovative to the extreme in ways which seem ridiculous yet seem to become popular on every occasion?
My prediction is that Apple will utilise this heavy investment into SoftBank -> OneWeb to deliver closed internet access to every Apple iOS or MacOS device. This will allow Apple to bypass legendarily poor customer service issues that are inherent with every Telco worldwide, and be in control of user experience end to end. It will save billions on 3rd party handling fee's and complications from individual telco's for each nation that Apple deals with, and largely bypasses litigation due to there being next to no restrictions on 'Space' other than America's FAA.
Political Sidenote: Yes, there will be mountains of red tape as the established Telco's realise they're becoming redundant and the people at the top of the food chain who own telecommunications and media realise they're being circumnavigated entirely and can't profit from it effectively. This ties in with a lot of other tech trends at the moment (Read: Accidental Revolution). I welcome and embrace this change. I could not believe more strongly in anti-establishment movements in the tech arena. I do not believe that can be entirely disconnected from politics, democracy, security, economy or foreign affairs - And nor should it be, I'm not naive - but I welcome any ingenuity of the technological world that allows for effective bulldozing through the lacklustre lethargy that plagues governmental organisations when it comes to adapting to new technology, and vehemently believe it should not be hindered or intentionally blocked for want of profit.
So there you have it. My prediction for Apple moving forward. It may be fundamentally different to the pace set by current trends, and it may be a bit of a stretch to estimate 2022 will achieve these goals, but ten years ago the idea of today's technology was science fiction, until the iPhone changed the game. Now the technology exists. The infrastructure is launching. The concepts are alive and business acquisitions are aligning. And who better to lead that march into the technology of tomorrow than those who brought it here?
Long Live Apple.
Edit: I incorrectly stated the 3.5mm adapter from the old 'quarter-inch' analogue headphone jack was implemented by Apple - it was in fact originally coined by Sony for their EFM-117J radio