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Reading the Apple Tea Leaves

I’ve been a long time Apple user and field expert, having both worked for Apple in the retail environment and received the majority of my jobs and accolades for my knowledge on the subject. I also own a blog and in the interest of writing what I know, why fight the rather obvious Venn diagram? Yesterday, I picked up an iPhone 7; being on the iPhone Upgrade Program, there is no reason not to.1 Since I knew I would be getting this phone, I was reading everything I could on the subject and I happened across a ridiculously good Quora “answer” on the subject of material design and the iPhone, specifically next generation iPhones.

Thus we have the basis for the next generation of the iPhone, but perhaps all Apple devices including the iPad, MacBook Pro and others. The reasoning is very simple, the benefits of Zirconia ceramic are especially useful for any modern computer device.

If you have any interest in engineering, you will want to take a look at the entire post, but aside from my hopefulness that this material scientist is right about Apple’s future use of ceramics, I was struck by hindsight’s ability to read Apple like an open book. Almost every major move in Apple’s history has been preempted by clues that the move was forthcoming. Some are obvious and necessary (see optical drives), but others are less so and arguable (see headphone jack); normally there is not something as concrete as “Apple just released a device using a new material, they will continue to invest in said material elsewhere”. However, the removal of the headphone jack or the move to a non-button Home Button were preempted by hints that such things were in the offing.

Two years ago, Apple announced the Watch with some modicum of water resistance, but many found out that they undersold the amount when they started swimming, showering, etc. with the Watch on to no immediate adverse effect. Likewise, the iPhone 6S was surprisingly water resistant, though not rated in any official way. Now, we have a rated water resistant iPhone and a higher rated, feel-free-to-take-it-swimming Watch. And a rated water resistant iPhone is much harder to produce the more openings to water and dust a device has. In hindsight, it is obvious that Apple was slowly making their way toward better water resistance on both the iPhone and the Watch, but the key to Apple’s famed secrecy often deals with their ability to withhold some pieces of context from the public eye.

Of course, anyone that knows Apple knows that the Watch and iPhone were not developed separately, but due to the company’s desire for each product to have its own story, the products are often seen publicly as separate. Perhaps they are of the same family—they share DNA, share grandparents, and speak the same language—but surely waterproofing a watch doesn’t directly affect a phone cousin. For Apple, it does.

The AirPods were unexpected, though the purchase of Beats meant that wireless Apple-branded headphones were inevitable. The W1 chip was pleasantly surprising, though Bluetooth’s infamy forced Apple to add its own “secret sauce” to make it better. What makes anyone think that the W1 or something similar wouldn’t be added to every wireless Apple device to not only make the pairing process and connection quality better, but to add wireless audio capabilities.2

Nothing at Apple was developed in a vacuum. Performance improvements in one chip architecture means better chip architectures for all Apple devices that use Apple chips. There is a reason why the Geekbench metrics coming out of the A10 Fusion chip are exciting; it means that future Watches, iPads, iPhones, and, quite possibly, Macs will be faster, more energy efficient, and run cooler, a notoriously hard trifecta to attain. Apple’s ceramics work, starting with the Watch, is just as exciting, providing for improvements that would be truly game changing to the iPhone line.

So the next time you feel surprised by something Apple releases or leaves out of a release, just go back to the tea leaves of previous, seemingly-incremental improvements, patent applications, and cross-product pollination and you’ll likely see the moves as rungs on the ladder that got us here.

  1. Notice the lack of qualifier here; this post is not about the virtues of the myriad changes made in the current generation of iPhone hardware.

  2. See the following “joke”: Sally Shepard on Twitter. I for one would not complain if I could plug lightning headphones into my wireless keyboard and listen to music playing on my Mac.