Daily Maverick

Welcome back to Apple’s reality-distortion field

- Toby Shapshak

The big takeaway from Apple’s overhyped new gadget announceme­nt last week was not the massive upgrade of the new iPhone 14 but rather the original PC maker’s continued ability to spin a decent reality-distortion field.

The phrase that emerged from the recorded briefing – in and about Apple’s remarkable circular headquarte­rs in Palo Alto – was “dynamic island”. I have removed the caps to keep us a little bit saner.

There it was, in full sight after such a long absence: Apple’s amazing skill at producing Steve Jobs’s famous reality-distortion field. It has become institutio­nal.

Dynamic island is the name for the new multifunct­ional notch (the cutout of black at the top of an iPhone screen for its cameras and sensors), which can now also show you notificati­ons.

Apple describes it as “a truly Apple innovation that’s hardware and software and something in between. It bubbles up music, sports scores, FaceTime and so much more – all without taking you away from what you’re doing.”

Who could not be convinced by that sentence, or the rave reviews the Apple spokespeop­le gave, well, of their own product?

But to be clear, reducing the size of the blacked-out screen real estate – needed for the necessary sensors and selfie camera – has been done by the Android makers for years, arguably led by Samsung’s tiny so-called punch hole.

Ultimately, what we’re talking here, essentiall­y, is a notificati­ons upgrade. So much hype, so much gullibilit­y.

And it’s a software trick, not an innovative new hardware change. These annual upgrades are augmentati­ons, boosts to performanc­e and a slightly faster, better chip.

Oh, and this year there’s the ability to send an emergency SMS to a satellite – only in North America at the moment, so don’t get lost while hiking in the Karoo, y’all.

The hardware upgrades this year are its so-called ceramic shield (sans caps) screen, which Apple claims is “tougher than any smartphone glass” and a 48-megapixel camera. “At last!” many people exclaim regarding the latter. However, Samsung’s top-end Galaxy Ultra handset has had a 108MP camera for three years in a row.

The iPhone 14 Pro’s lock screen (again I’ve spared you the capitals) is now always on, showing you the time and updates. Or, as Apple puts it, it “is always glanceable, so you don’t even have to tap it to stay in the know”.

Again, this is something that Samsung, Huawei, Nokia and all the other Android makers have been doing for years.

What is very interestin­g is that Apple is ditching the SIM tray in some models (again, only in North America) for a digital eSIM, or electronic SIM.

I am an avowed fan of eSIMs, having used them for years for travelling; using KnowRoamin­g.com, run by South African-born Gregory Gundelfing­er.

Arguably the most interestin­g new hardware announceme­nt was that of the Watch Ultra, which even die-hard Android fans told me they wanted. This beefed-up wrist computer has better battery life in its chunkier titanium frame, and might give Garmin a run for its money in the high-end active smartwatch segment. I’m a non-practising fitness fanatic, so I can’t really give you an opinion – bar that longer battery life is always better.

Does this year’s much-hyped iPhone launch signify it is still the pioneer when it comes to innovation, or just that it still knows how to Harry Potter up a good reality-distortion field?

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief of Stuff Studios and publisher of Scrolla.Africa.

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