Electric. That’s the atmosphere at an iPhone launch. Seated in one of Apple’s exquisite presentation venues (most recently, the Steve Jobs Theater), waiting for the CEO to saunter out onto a dark stage with nary a prop, just the promise of new things, your heart races and the hair on your arms stands at attention.
It almost goes without saying that there will be no physical iPhone event this year when Apple officially unveils its expected iPhone 12 line. With media, analysts, invited guests, and Apple executives all still socially distanced, and each of us experiencing the new while wearing casual clothes or pajamas as we watch Apple CEO Tim Cook welcome us through our small screens, the amperage will be low, the goosebumps flat.
Even so, this is exciting, no? Another new set of Apple smartphones to ogle and imagine holding. “I’m excited,” I tell myself, willing the normal reserves of enthusiasm to the surface but knowing that this time is different.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what the iPhone 12 (and its attendant variations) will bring and have been running the refashioned iOS 14 for months in an effort to get comfortable and conversant in all the new software features that will come with the new phones.
No Apple consumer product launch, though, save the small updates (and the iPhone SE revival that arrived in April), has ever launched in an environment like this, one where the fate of humanity still hangs in the balance.
So, I have to remind myself: It’s just a phone.
Apple’s iPhone 12 will probably be a major redesign. The namesake device might be smaller and with sharper edges than we’ve seen in years. It’ll be both a throwback (so much like the iPhone 5s) and a leap forward (5G, finally!). It’ll be faster and more energy efficient (A14 Bionic). It will see further (3x or 5x zoom) and present reality-bending augmented reality (LiDAR). It will not change the fate of the world. No iPhone 12 can solve the pandemic. Even an operating system with contact tracing in it can only tell you the bad news and not inoculate you from infection. No one expects this of a mobile phone, nor should they. But as the rumors heat up and interest in just what Apple will do on the week of September 13 (my guess for the launch) reaches a fever pitch, it bears repeating.
It’s just a phone.
Apple iPhone 12 will probably offer us more stylistic choices than ever, with the line possibly ranging from flat edge to curved, from dual cameras to quad, from 4G to 5G, and from LCD to 120hz OLED. It will offer prices that range from $599 to almost $1,200 and sizes that range from 5.4-inches to 6.7 inches. So many options to satisfy so many tastes and budgets. That’s good, and important in its own way. None of these new devices will fundamentally alter the social landscape in a way that heals deepening wounds of disagreement on so many fundamental issues.
It’s just a phone.
Don’t get me wrong. I welcome this distraction. My career in tech media is built on moments like this. And yet, even someone as steeped as I am in tech minutiae, has struggled to focus on this moment. By now, an iPhone launch typically occupies 75% of my thoughts and activities. I’m usually preparing for the trip to Cupertino and strategizing exactly how I’ll cover the typically 2-hour event and subsequent hands-on experience.
While I expect a virtual event, there will be no direct interaction with other tech journalists, hands-on experiences, or in person background meetings with Apple execs. When the time comes, I’ll just pull up to my home office desk, power up the screens, and start watching. But unlike typical events, I’ll be simultaneously tracking world events, looking for word of a COVID vaccine, news about the Presidential Elections, updates on protests. I won’t be quite as focused as normal because…
It’s just a phone.
There is a chance that Apple will unveil something so unexpected and startling that I’m snapped back to my normal self and 1,000% involved in the moment. The iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max are all unlikely to be the only products on stage in a couple of weeks. Apple will reiterate all its platform updates (macOS, tvOS, watchOS, iPadOS, iOS), and I’m sure Apple has new tablets, AirPods, and Apple Watch updates in the wings. It might even finally show off those Apple tracking tiles, revive the Apple multi-gadget charging pad, and finally give us an Apple Service Bundle price. I’m interested in seeing all of that, though none of it will be that “OMG, I can’t believe they launched that thing.”
Apple Glasses could be THAT thing, but I’d be shocked if Cook and company even mention it.
No, this will ultimately be the iPhone 12’s stage, which is fine. I’m ready for a faster iPhone with better cameras, a longer lens, LiDAR, and more, but we’re long past the days where anyone could call this the “Jesus Phone.”
It’s just a phone, and I’m okay with that.