First, before we go any further, let it be known that I’m probably going to get an iPhone X, assuming I can find one after the expected shortages after its November 3 launch. After going hands-on with the phone, my colleague Steve Kovach anticipates it’ll be well worth the money.
More broadly, though, there are two key things we can divine from the iPhone X, and from its $999 price point.
#1: The great slowdown
First, and most importantly, the iPhone X is a signal that smartphone innovation is slowing way down.
Apple boasts that this gadget represents “the future of the smartphone.” If we take Apple at its word, that’s actually a little disappointing: It has a nifty edge-to-edge screen, a killer camera, and a face-scanning feature, but you’re going to actually use it the iPhone X much the same way as you use your smartphone today.
What Apple is implicitly saying is that the “future of the smartphone” is better screens and cameras, every year, forever.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The same exact thing happened to the PC – and to planes, trains, and automobiles, for that matter. In the early days, it’s easy to say something is twice or three times as good as what came before. It’s a lot harder to do that 10 years in, when standards are set in stone even as expectations shoot way higher.
This doesn’t mean there will never be smartphone innovation again. As Nintendo proved with its Switch video game console earlier this year, there are always going to be opportunities to be clever and rethink even the most established markets.
#2: Smartphones rule everything
The second, related point is that the $999 price is a reflection of just how vital the smartphone has become to our everyday lives.
My colleague Steve Kovach argues that would-be iPhone buyers should look at the iPhone X, versus the more mid-range iPhone 8, because $999 isn’t that steep when you consider that you use your smartphone way more than any other gadget.
Consider that from the other perspective, however. It means that, over the decade since the original iPhone was first introduced, smartphones are now, well, the device you use more than any other gadget. They’re there when you wake up, and when you go to bed.
The smartphone sales boom may be coming to an end, but it’s left a vastly different market in its wake: Android has overtaken Windows to become the most popular operating system in the world, full stop. For lots of people at home and abroad, a smartphone is their first-and-only computing device. You may not be able to do everything with a smartphone you can with a PC, but that gap is rapidly narrowing.
The next big thing is coming – even Apple CEO Tim Cook thinks augmented reality could be as big as the smartphone, or bigger. While that future is slowly coming about, though, the smartphone is going to get more essential than ever before (again, even Cook thinks so).
That essentially means the smartphone may soon supplant a laptop or tablet for schoolchildren and office workers, if it hasn’t already. Just look at Samsung’s efforts in turning its Galaxy phones into a proper PC replacement: It’s trying to hasten this future, and keep the smartphone as the center of the galaxy.
In the mean time, it’s going to be a lot easier to justify paying $999 for a smartphone, the same way that Apple can justify charging $999 for a laptop.
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