The $1,000 iPhone And The Digital Divide



Apple’s announcement of the iPhone X brought ecstatic excitement from Apple fanatics and stunned disbelief from the rest of us. A thousand dollars for a phone? Can the new iPhone possibly be worth what Apple plans to charge?

Most of the buzz about the new phone stems from the facial ID, longer lasting battery and a new 12-megapixel camera. Is there anything worth the increased cost over older iPhones or newer Android models?

To people who are not Apple fanatics, the answer would seem to be no. For example, the LG G6, introduced seven months ago, has a 13-megapixel camera. Android phones even have expandable memory. With iPhones, you are stuck with what you buy originally. Facial recognition? In an age of NSA lurking and surveillance algorithms, many people don’t want their face on their phone any more than absolutely necessary.

Apple is increasingly positioning itself as the electronics provider to the elites. The company’s products are well-engineered, but in the post-Steve Jobs era, are hardly revolutionary. As prices increase and yield diminishing returns, the company’s market share is decreasing. Apple recently dropped to third-place in the global mobile phone market share, ranking behind both Samsung and the Chinese company Huawei.

Apple’s decline and Huawei’s rise is purely related to the laws of supply and demand. As the price of Apple’s phones increases, the demand will slow. At the same time, the demand for cheaper phones increases.

The average income for an American head-of-household is about $36,000 annually or $3,000 per month. How many Americans will be able to afford a phone that costs a third of their monthly income when cheaper Android phones can visit Facebook and play cat videos just as well, if not better?

In the rest of the world, the numbers are even more stark. The global average income is only about $20,000. An iPhone X would represent weeks or months of labor for people in most parts of the world. This is why Huawei is doing so well with its cheap phones.

For most people, the expenditures don’t stop with the purchase of the phone either. A phone is no good without a cellular service provider and probably Wifi for you home as well. If want to watch TV or movies, you’ll need subscriptions to Netflix or Hulu. For music, you’ll be paying Pandora or Rhapsody or something similar. There are eBooks and dating apps and a thousand other subscription services to spend your monthly paycheck on. And don’t forget to insure that expensive phone! Otherwise you’ll be like countless other iPhone owners walking around with cracked screens that they can’t afford to repair.

Phone owners may be going broke, but Apple isn’t. In August, the company reported seven percent growth and revenues of more than $45 billion. Yet the company is in danger of becoming a niche player.

No matter how good Android phones are, Apple is still the gold standard of mobile phones. The Apple logo on your phone is a status symbol. But like most status symbols, it is a luxury that much of the world cannot afford.

Apple may be on its way to becoming a luxury electronics product that is a little more than a way to show off for the wealthy and trendy electronics users. The rich will always be able to afford iPhones, maybe even a gold-plated one. Likewise, college students who follow electronics fads and don’t mind camping out overnight at the Apple store to add an extra thousand dollars to their mountain of college debt won’t be fazed by the Apple price tag.

For the rest of us, Android is increasingly the mobile phone of choice. Whether high-end Samsung and LG models or supercheap Huaweis, Android phones are increasingly capable and, in many ways, better and more practical than the elite Apple products.

The digital divide, like income inequality itself, will always be with us. But there are things that can unite Apple and Android users… like making fun of those who still carry a Blackberry.

I’ve Seen The Future, And It Has An Apple Logo On It

To say that today’s Apple event was eagerly-anticipated by the device maker’s fans would be a lot like saying that The Force Awakens generated mild interest by Star Wars devotees.  It has been ten whole years since Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone to the world, and everyone who watches the technology company–from the fanbois  who line up for days to be the first to get their hands on the latest gadget to the titans of Wall Street who live and die with the price of Apple stock–wanted something big, something spectacular, something  worthy of the iconic smartphone that literally changed the world forever.

Luckily, Tim Cook seems to have learned a few things from his former boss and put on a pretty good show to inaugurate the Steve Jobs Theater on Apple’s brand new campus.  Cook started with a nice tribute to Jobs himself, and even choked up a time or two while sharing his memories of the man who revived a moribund Apple after the company had unceremoniously dumped him twelve years earlier.  He then went on to introduce the Apple Watch Series 3, the latest generation wearable that hasn’t changed much in form since it hit the market two years ago.  The Series 3, however, does pack in some cool new features–chief among them its own cellular capability, which is a something users have been lusting after from the beginning.  How this will affect battery life, which has always been a critical issue in such a small device, remains to be seen–but regardless, it’s an important evolutionary step for the watch as it gains more independence from the iPhone.

Next up, the new Apple TV made an appearance–and in 4K no less!  Okay, maybe this is less exciting than it sounds.  Leaked code snippets had revealed that this was the direction Apple was taking with its set-top box, and with the proliferation of cheaper 4K television sets and the need to set itself apart from less expensive competitors such Roku and the Fire Stick, this one was a no-brainer.  Still, welcome news for those of us who have owned an Apple TV since the first one came out back in the dark ages of 2007.

You could tell, however, that by then the audience was really itching for Cook to get to the good part already.  Where’s our new iPhone?  Funny that you should mention that, because that’s exactly when he presented–drum roll please–the iPhone 8!  First impression is that it looks like the iPhone 7.  A lot like the iPhone 7, in fact.  The big exterior difference is that the phone has a glass backing again, which we last saw with the iPhone 4s, and that the color scheme has shrunk somewhat.  It’s not exactly Model-T limited, but if you want one of these babies you’ll have to take it in Space Gray, Silver or a rather attractive shade of Gold.  A very cool feature of the new backing, though, is that iPhone 8 can now be charged wirelessly.  This is done via an inductive pad that’s a lot like a bigger version of the puck you use to charge the Apple Watch.  Aside from that, most of the changes are internal–faster processor, better camera, blah blah blah.  In all, a great new interation for the iPhone.

But revolutionary?  Where’s the device to make the fanbois burn with desire?  More importantly, what’s going to get all the analysts looking at Apple stock like Bill Clinton drooling over Ivanka Trump?

Have no fear, gentlemen.  Get a load of the iPhone X:

Apple VP sold separately.

No home button.  Super Retina OLED display.  Facial recognition technology.  Built-in neural chip.  Custom animated emojis.  Oh, yeah–and it makes phone calls too, if you’re so inclined.  But really, who even does that these days?

Yep, she’s a beaut.  Instead of using your finger to unlock iPhone X, you use your face–and no matter how homely you look in the morning, Siri promises not to judge.  Supposedly this technology, known as Face ID, will work even in dark conditions and at different angles, but there was one embarrassing moment during the demonstration when Apple VP Craig Federighi failed at first to get the phone to unlock with his own mug.  I’m guessing that it’ll probably be a few software updates before this feature will work reliably in the wild, but as a method of biometric interaction it’s a pretty big leap forward.

But if you want one, you’ll have to pony up a cool $999 for starters.  Oh, and you’ll need to wait until November–assuming you’re lucky enough to snag one that early.  iPhone 8, meanwhile, will ship later this month if that’s more your style.

Welcome to the future, everyone!  Now if I could just get the iPhone to beam me somewhere…