iPhone X and hidden fiddly bits

Steven Levy of Wired published his initial thoughts on the iPhone X this morning. Most interesting to me were his brief reflections on what the device means:

After a few days with the iPhone X, I can begin to make out its themes. It’s a step towards fading the actual physical manifestation of technology into a mist where it’s just there — a phone that’s “all screen,” one that turns on simply by seeing you, one that removes the mechanics of buttons and charging cables.

In this way, the X continues an ongoing transition—from a world where tech is exposed and obvious (think about the rat’s nest of cables behind your average PC workstation) to a world where technology is more like plumbing—essential and life-changing, yes, but invisible to the average consumer.

Everywhere you look, the tech industry is killing off its “fiddly bits.” Our mobile devices—and most of our laptops—now routinely trade user serviceability for thinness and simplicity. Wireless display standards (e.g. Miracast and AirPlay) have gone mainstream. Even die-hard CAT–5 apologists have accepted wifi’s ubiquity.

Given this trajectory, some future iPhone will inevitably ditch all ports, buttons, and visible sensors, leaving behind only the screen and the surrounding chassis. It will be beautiful, glossy—and permanently sealed.

We’re not there yet, of course. Even in the bleeding-edge iPhone X, the tech hasn’t yet receded beyond our view. Consider: Apple’s flagship isn’t actually “all screen,” thanks to its controversial sensor unibrow. Its “wireless” charging isn’t “wireless” at all (unless you ignore the cable snaking its way from power outlet to inductive mat). And based on Levy’s account, FaceID doesn’t work quite as automatically as one might hope.

Still, even these faltering baby steps are pointed in a clear direction. Tinkering with our tech hardware is a hobby whose days may be numbered. ■