It’s The Little Things: Quick Thoughts on This Week’s Apple Event

on Tuesday, Sep. 10th

This isn't in-depth analysis, just my first reaction to the announcements of the new iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S by Apple today. The details of which have been covered to death already by the rest of the tech press.

What I want to focus on is the littlest thing, which is also the most significant: the fingerprint scanner in the new 5S.

The fingerprint scanner embedded into the home button on the new 5S–which I've already taken to calling the S-Class, as if this was a Mercedes–is significant on two fronts.

First, I want you to just sit back for a moment and marvel at how far we've come–as a culture–with this whole miniaturization thing. Not just in Apple products, but everywhere. Look around you. If you were conscious at any point during the 90's, or even just around the turn of the century, you see a host of devices that are familiar in form factor, but can do so much more.

Remember what a fingerprint scanner was before today? Every time I go to the gym I use one. Thumbprint down and then good to go. About the size of a computer mouse. Now pull out your phone, any will do. Look at the home button. That. The mad bastards have shrunk it to the size of that.

Meditate on this for a moment. Think of all the other innovations that are being prepped in labs around the world by Apple and its competitors. Think back to how long it has been since we first got smartphones. A blink of an eye really.

It is so easy to be blasé about how we're living in sci-fi times, so take the moment to appreciate it.

Let's also think a bit about what this means security-wise. Apple has actually taken a pretty big risk introducing a feature like this into the culture we have now. One that has become deeply suspicious–with good cause–of any data collection. Already the tweets are flying thick: how long until the NSA has our fingerprints on file?

Unless Apple openly lied to everyone at their keynote the answer is: only if the NSA gains access to the individual phone. The company promised that the data is not uploaded to any of their servers, or shared with any other application on the device. This translates into plain English as: the blasted thing is in one of Al Gore's lock-boxes.

Did the NSA design the box? That's a valid question in this day and age. The implication of Apple's statements is that no one has access to the files. Can Apple be compelled by a FISA Court order to give up that data from a phone? Probably. Did Apple engineer a system that would make it impossible for them to access that data? Unlikely. Could a query be made remotely? Of course, it is a connected device.

It will take some level of leak in order for us to know what is really possible. I'm sanguine about the prospect. Our real battle is with FISA and the NSA, the fingerprint scanner doesn't alter the balance of power much more than all the other technology we've accepted into our lives has.

The last component of the announcement I want to focus on is a couple of statements from Tim Cook, as reported in The Verge's liveblog:

"We don't just pack in feature after feature. We think deeply about experiences we want to create."

This remains the edge that Apple, as a company, has over many of their competitors: an emphasis on experience design. I say "many" because we've seen Google, at the very least, catching up in certain divisions.

Experience design has quietly become the most potent of all the artistic disciplines being practiced today. It is pervasive, and yes, it is an art form. Whether it is being put into practice in a video game, a product, a building or an amusement park the consideration of the end-user experience has become paramount.

We are the shapers of our world. What ever shall we do with it next?

Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)


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