The Power of Apple

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

I read this Washington Post article this morning and it really hit home how much power Apple has in the world today. Android phones have had facial recognition features for years, and people use Snapchat’s facial recognition features many millions of times a day already, but when Apple jumps into the ring, people are notice. This point is acknowledged in the piece:

Though not entirely new — several Android smartphones do something similar already — the technology remains novel. Apple’s embrace of it could mark a tipping point in the adoption of facial recognition technology across new areas of our lives — as we shop or communicate with friends, and, eventually, as we enter buildings or perhaps turn on our vehicles with a glance rather than a twist of the key.

This story holds true time and time again and it drives some people absolutely batty. “Ugh, Company X did this already!” is a common refrain from the tech crowd who is very concerned with who does everything first.

We heard it most recently when Apple Pay launched in 2014 and suddenly we saw NFC payment terminals start to be installed all over the place. We also saw a lot more coverage of mobile payments in the mainstream press about how Apple Pay was leading the way in this territory. This enraged many techies who rightly pointed out that Google Wallet had been around for years and already allowed you to do much of what Apple Pay enabled, but there was not press fanfare for that.

The tech enthusiast community has a tendency to get caught up in raw data, where specs and dates are the holy grail, but there is more to consider. Apple has considerable public mind share, so it does make a difference whether they do something verses someone else. Just like if I start just shaving the left half of my face and sport a half-beard from now on, no one is going to care, but if Ryan Reynolds starts doing it, people are going to talk and it may become popular. Apple’s (and Ryan’s) public profile, which they have cultivated over many decades with good products, is a huge asset that can’t be easily quantified on a product spec list but it is a major factor nonetheless.

Apple has another benefit in that their mind share is mostly very positive. They have a reputation for making things that work and are useful. They do not do everything first, but they do have a tendency to do things better than the competition when they ”finally” do something.

  • Apple Pay was not the first mobile payments service, but it made the setup easier than its competitors and using it was easier than all others. While you used to have to go open and app and enter a code and choose a payment method and then tap your phone to a terminal, Apple Pay made it so you didn’t even need to unlock your phone, you just had to hold the phone to a terminal and have your finger on the home button to authenticate. It was faster and easier and it took off. Look at Android Pay and Samsung Pay, both of which launched after Apple Pay, and tell me they are not heavily inspired by Apple’s solution. Meanwhile Google Wallet is on life support.
  • Touch ID was not the first fingerprint reader on a phone, but it was the first one people actually used in mass. It was faster, more reliable, and easier to use than the sensors that had come before it. Today every phone uses a fingerprint sensor that acts like the iPhone.
  • The iPhone 7 Plus was not the first phone with dual cameras, but Apple had a specific narrative around it and used their Portrait Mode to help people understand why they wanted two cameras on a phone. That portrait mode was better than the competitors at the time and Apple’s marketing campaign behind it helped people understand what it was and why they want to use it.

So when Apple brings wireless charging, and edge-to-edge screen, and facial recognition to their new phone, yeah, people are going to pay more attention to them than they would have previously. Apple didn’t do anything to do wireless charging better than the competition (they are simply using the industry standard), but their edge-to-edge screen gets closer to the edges than their competitions (namely the Samsung Galaxy S8), and their facial recognition system is superior to what Android currently offers. Don’t take my word for it? How about from Jerry Hildenbrand at Android Central?

Whichever you prefer, there's little doubt that Apple has outclassed the competition in this regard. Extensive hardware to build and collect data about your face's shape and features, combined with its own processing system to analyze it all more akin to Tango than any previous facial recognition we've seen on a phone. I'm excited to see this level of technology come to mobile devices, and can't wait to see how future products build on what we see from Apple.