The iPhone X and Apple’s Mundane Vision of the Future

Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” Steve Jobs said a decade ago. “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.” Standing onstage at the 2007 MacWorld Expo, in San Francisco, arrayed in his usual vestments—bluejeans, black turtleneck, gray New Balances—Jobs was proclaiming a modern gospel. Provided you had five hundred bucks lying around, you could proclaim it, too. By 2008, the company formerly known as Apple Computer, now just as Apple, had attracted millions of new adherents. At the Worldwide Developers Conference that June, Jobs introduced the iPhone 3G. The 3GS followed, in 2009, and soon the good news was coming more than once a year—iPad, iPad 2, iPhone 4, iPhone 4s. Jobs didn’t live to see the iPhone 5, or the 6, or the 7, but they were announced in the Jobsian style, with the same careful choreography, the same boomer-techie soundtrack, and the same increasingly inevitable sense that whatever Apple was selling would soon be walking among us, whether we wanted it to or not.

I watched the latest product launch, held on Tuesday, on my obsolescing iPhone, since my desktop computer wasn’t up to Apple’s live-stream specs. The event took place at the Steve Jobs Theater, on the company’s freshly planted, manured, and mulched campus in Cupertino, California. (In May, Tim Cook, the current C.E.O., told Wired that the building “felt like” Jobs: “It’s on a hill, at one of the highest points on this land.”) The theatre proper is located underground, beneath a cylindrical glass lobby area capped with a metallic carbon-fibre roof; to me, it looked like Jony Ive’s interpretation of a macaroon. When the event began, at one o’clock on the dot, accompanied by Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” it was clear that the Jobs-era trappings had barely changed.

As Cook, who wore bluejeans, blue sneakers, and a blue zip-up over a blue button-down, explained, the company’s new location was itself a testament to its co-founder. “Steve’s vision and passion live on here, at Apple Park,” he said—in the “sea of asphalt” converted to “rolling parkland”; in the olive and apricot groves planted inside the gargantuan main building’s thirty-acre courtyard; and, of course, in the theatre, with its fourteen-thousand-dollar leather seats. (“It’s the most state-of-the-art, purpose-built theatre ever,” Cook said.) The C.E.O. then invited Angela—Angela Ahrendts; Apple executives go by their first names, like teachers at a Montessori school—to the stage. “Our people are our soul, and they’re Apple’s greatest differentiator,” Ahrendts, the senior vice-president for retail, said. Because of this, the company’s outposts around the world were being renamed. “We don’t call them stores anymore,” she said. “We call them town squares. Because they’re gathering places for five hundred million people to visit us every year.” The company would continue to offer classes, workshops, and other social events, where “creative pros” could further spread Apple’s word. (Ahrendts: “The creative pro is to liberal arts as the Genius has always been to technology.”)

As if to confirm the company’s new reach, Cook started his presentation of the day’s first product, the Series 3 Apple Watch, with a video in which a dozen or so Watch users read aloud letters that they had purportedly sent him. “This is the first time I’ve worn a watch since my bar mitzvah,” one man said. “Now I get up at 5 a.m.,” another said, a little too brightly. “I dutifully oblige when the Apple Watch reminds me to stand up every hour,” a third man said. Then it was back to Cook. “I’d like to invite Jeff up,” he said. “Jeff?” Apple’s chief operating officer, Jeff Williams, walked onstage in a dark-blue button-down and dark bluejeans. He went through the new Watch’s features—an enhanced heart-rate app, a barometric altimeter, a wristband inspired by the “classic Hermès driving glove,” and, most important, cellular connectivity. “That’s just darn close to magic,” Williams said. “Who would have thought?” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice-president of Internet software and services, showed up next to introduce the Apple TV 4K, and then it was on the main event.

Cook began by reminding his audience of how far the company had come since 2007. “We’ve created innovation after innovation after innovation,” he said. A spectator could be forgiven for hearing a note of fatigue in the C.E.O.’s voice. Apple has always seen itself as world-changing; with a few minor modifications, one year’s sales pitch works just as well the next. Seemingly every product has been “incredibly thin” and “optimized for real-world use,” primed to show us “just how much better it can be.” This time was no different. The original iPhone, Cook said, taught us that we could “touch the software.” FaceTime and iMessage “allowed us all to connect in more meaningful ways.” Siri “used artificial intelligence to make our voices more powerful.” And so, Cook said, “it is only fitting that we are here, in this place, on this day, to reveal a product that will set the path for technology for the next decade.” Was it time for another gospel already?

Sort of. Phil—Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing—took to the stage to describe the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. They are constructed from aerospace-grade aluminum and “microscopically sealed for water and dust resistance,” he said, and are capable of making noises twenty-five-per-cent louder than the iPhone 7. They also contain a new chip, the A11 Bionic, that promises improved photography and videography and better augmented reality, which allows users to overlay iPhone graphics on real-world imagery. The Apple faithful, it seems, have not been proclaiming their faith publicly enough; they must also hold their phones up to their faces at baseball games (for overlaid player stats) and when stargazing (for overlaid constellations).

But Cook and Schiller had saved the best for last, just as Jobs always did. There was another new iPhone, the iPhone X—“the biggest leap forward since the original iPhone,” Cook said, before inviting Phil back up. Schiller praised the device’s nearly edge-to-edge screen and intuitive controls. “Once you do it for the first time, you’ll know there’s never been a better way,” he said. The feature that most excited Schiller was Face I.D., which lets users unlock their phones more or less by looking at them. A tiny projector above the iPhone X’s screen beams you with thirty thousand infrared dots, mapping your features, then checks the image against its records. (“The team has worked hard to protect your face data,” Schiller said.)

As ever, there was the strange sense that the future was being announced, and that it would soon be the past, and that our everyday lives would be changed not just in “revolutionary,” “magical,” and “incredible” ways but in tiny ones that would nonetheless pointlessly occupy many of our waking hours. For instance, the same face-scanning technology that Apple plans to use for our security will also allow us to send animated emoji, called animoji. Craig Federighi, the company’s senior vice-president of software engineering, came onstage to explain the new feature, mapping his own face onto that of a cartoon puppy. “Check out the physics in the ears,” he said, flopping them from side to side. For a moment, it almost seemed worth the iPhone X’s thousand-dollar price tag.