It’s now been 15 years since Apple changed the world with the introduction of the iPhone, and while its chiclet app grid certainly served me well for the better part of the first decade, it is a UX whose time has passed. Which has us (and everyone else in the valley) asking: “From where cometh the iPhone Killer?”
Other than my “home screen”, the hundreds of apps that fill my iPhone’s endless horizontally arranged screens are in pretty much random order. I fantasize from time to time about being on a long train or plane ride, and investing hours to perfectly and optimally re-arrange them, like the olden days, where I had a “screen” for each mode: home, work, finance, play, friends, etc. That day, I realise now, will never come.
Apple (and Google’s) nod to this dilemma is the addition of a small “search” button at the bottom of every screen, which (thank god) works as well with voice as it does with two-thumb chiclet typing. So don’t bother to arrange (other than the mando “first screen”). Just search.
This is all a long way of prefacing the thrust of this post: It is time for a bold new metaphor, one that bridges the gap between today’s dumb smartphones and RayBan/Oakley’s full-field AR glasses (c. 2030, Rainbow’s End). And while it was hinted at a month ago with the nebulous announcement of the billion dollar Altman / Ives / Softbank project X, it all came together for me a few days ago while watching the keynote of OpenAI’s epic DevDays event. Indeed, it appears: a genuine iPhone Killer is in fact right around the corner.
Now normally, a developer only event hosted by a scrappy startup with less than a thousand employees would not hit the global radar. But lets mix in this spicey ingredient: this event was in fact so seismic that none other than Satya Nadella, CEO of the 2nd most valuable company in the world (Microsoft, $2.7 trillion as of 11/2023), made an in person appearance. That’s called gravitas.
Why was Nadella there (on stage fielding utterly softball questions from a disarmingly boyish Altman)?
iPhone Killer: Sci-Fi Knows
Of course, as with many modern inventions, all of this was pre-saged by sci-fi, and in particular, Star Trek. In this case, while the original series of the 1960s showcased a hand-held “communicator” device that eerily resembled the modern flip-phone, once Star Trek: The Next Generation came out (1987), the hands were freed, and all the functions (and more!) had been collapsed into an elegant pin that affixed to the chest of each character:
And here we are today, with the first (and certainly not the last) major (there have been others: Microsoft SenseCam, 2009 — Narrative Clip, 2012, etc) commercial attempt to replicate this wearable “smart pin” form factor: the Humane AI Pin. (or is it hu.ma.ne ? Too hip for its own good, if you ask me…)
Personally, I am calling this one a flop, from the get. Despite $250 million in secured funding, and Apple Design provenance, I was utterly underwhelmed by Chaudhri’s (founder) TED talk announcing the device.
Philosophically, it was spot on: the invisible computer. Pragmatically, it was kludgy, slow, error-prone, and much less efficient than either Siri, Google Assistant, or even (god forbid) whipping out your smartphone, unlocking it, and tapping a few chicklet apps and thumb-typing.
But that pin isn’t what we’re talking about here. (sorry it took a while). What we’re talking about is a genuine iPhone killer… by the (former) head of Apple Design himself, paired with the (present) head of OpenAI, plus some serious money.
OpenAI (~600 employees) already has given Google (175,000 employees) a code-red heart attack with its effective supplanting of the entire search industry with… detailed, simple answers. Now it looks like that same disruptive enterprise is about to lazily swing its big AI guns at the king of the capitalist hill itself, none other than (the as yet unassailable) Apple.
Its a 1-2 punch, actually: The first punch was telegraphed in a rumor-mill story reported by the New York Times (Mickle & Metz: “A Silicon Valley Supergroup Is Coming Together to Create an A.I. Device” — Sep 28, 2023).
And the second part, the thing that really blew it up in my mind, was the low-key but explosive announcement — by Altman to a scrappy crowd of geeky developers at “AI Dev Day”– that OpenAI is launching an App Store for custom AIs.
What happens when you pair a new device with an App Store? You suddenly have an ecosystem. A closed ecosystem, at that. And it is my belief that this one has all the makings of the “next big thing”… i.e. that is actually will be an effective iPhone killer.
So, Apple, go sell your $3500 (base model) Spatial Computing Sexy Al-u-minium Ski Goggles. That’s fine. That’s a great prototype for the eventual AR glasses / contact lens future. But meanwhile, Altman & Co are launching an actual device that people will truly use: the OpenAI Pin.
(or amulet, or watch, or earfob… form factor matters less than functionality at this point). lets just safely say that it will be wearable, it won’t be primarily a visual interface, it will rely on AI for… everything, and it will have a battery life far north of 2 hours, probably more like a Garmin watch… weeks, not hours or days.
There it is.
Let that sink in.
And start saving up.
NOTE: from here forward we will be displaying the actual prompt, and generative “AI-Art” engine and version, used to create the key image for the article. Or artist / photographer, if it is (in the rare instance) an actual human
prompt: “synthesize a photorealistic illustration of an african in traditional garb with a speech bubble saying “Hey, AI…”. He is wearing a circular pin about 3 inches in diameter – black glass face with a gleaming chrome rim and a glowing amber LED – attached to his left chest.”
engine: OpenAI DALL-E 3.0