Beneath its cheery veneer, Apple’s iPhone 14 keynote was unusually dark.
Right off the bat, the company seemed to warn users that danger lurks everywhere. His first Apple Watch montage had users personally thank Tim Cook for saving them from a series of freak accidents, including a plane crash and a potential bear attack, and was followed shortly after. with an in-depth discussion of how the new Apple Watch Series 8 can detect car crashes.
Later, the company outlined the many ways an Apple Watch Ultra can save you from peril – a promotional video soberly touting features that “keep you stuck in conditions that leave you feeling lost”. And for the iPhone 14 reveal, Apple went back to the car wreck scenario – yes, the phone also detects accidents – and touted a new ability to contact emergency services via satellite, with video scene of rescue personnel rushing to rescue a pair of iPhone users by helicopter.
It was all a little too unsettling and a little too familiar: Apple, it seems, took a page straight from Amazon’s playbook.
Pivot to Safety
As I wrote about a few years ago, Amazon has increasingly turned to scare traffic as a centerpiece of its smart home efforts. Devices like the Echo speaker, once marketed as a harmless device for listening to music or checking the weather, now double as a way to listen for intruders and ward them off with simulated dog barking. Amazon’s Ring brand, best known for its doorbell cameras, has expanded into home alarm systems, car dash cams and fly home security drones.
Over the summer, I spent a few weeks reviewing the company’s Astro home robot and never could figure out what it might be useful for. When I pressed Amazon for examples, the company mostly emphasized home security, relegating some seriously impressive hardware work to just a camera on wheels. I’m sad about Amazon’s plan to acquire iRobot, as the robot vacuum’s ambitious smart home plans will likely be met with a similar fate.
Look, I get it: fear sells. That in itself isn’t a shocking revelation, and I can see why big tech companies would jump on it. But the risk for Apple is that fear traffic also corrupts. It makes people perceive more danger than actually exists, and it becomes a cheap haven for businesses that would otherwise run out of ideas. Worse, it serves as justification for persistent surveillance using cameras and sensors, and we should be skeptical of that, no matter how privacy-conscious a company claims to be.
My point is not that Apple should avoid integrating new security features into its products or that it should abstain from discussing them. Many of them seem genuinely useful, and on an iPhone scale, they’re sure to send letters of praise flowing through Tim Cook’s mailbox.
But if Apple pushes these features too much, it sends the message that you’re not really safe unless you buy an iPhone and an Apple Watch. It’s fishy from a marketing perspective and concerning in terms of what the company chooses to focus on.
In other words: Apple has so much more to offer than protection against abnormal accidents. If he can’t figure out how to sell us anything else, that’s a sign of bigger problems.