The Long Game

The iPhone 5s on

The iPhone 5s on

Steve Jobs was, despite his mercurial nature, very patient. So is the company he built.

The iPhone 5s embodies the patience that Apple has inheritted from its founder. It's our best indicator yet of where Tim Cook and his team of executives are steering the ship.

The real story of iPhone 5s is told by three significant technological leaps: 64-bit architecture, the M7 chip, and Touch ID. Each is a substantial component of the foundation of the next version of Apple as a company.

First, 64-bit architecture is going to enable devices to process larger chunks of data more accurately and faster. That has profound implications for what future iOS devices will be able to do. Developers will be able to begin building applications that obviate the need for desktop computers in all but the most niche of categories. 64-bit architecture dramatically enhances the ability of an iOS device to act as your only computer. That's a big deal.

Second, the M7 chip points toward the future of fitness tracking and, by extension, Apple's future wearable devices. By getting it into the iPhone now, Apple is doing three things. First, it's training developers to build fitness applications that leverage M7 capabilities. Second, it's training customers to use Apple devices for more sophisticated fitness purposes. Third and most critically, it's providing Apple with the largest possible real-world test market for a crucial component of a future flagship product without revealing any details about said product's design, capabilities, positioning, pricing, or release date. That's a really big deal.

Third, Touch ID is the first concrete step toward linking digital identity with physical identity that has been taken in very long time. That is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is a direct shot across the bow at Apple's greatest competitor, Google.

Google is doing everything it can to build a comprehensive picture of a person's digital identity. But Google is inherently limited in this effort by its inability to link digital identity to actual identity (insofar as there is a distinction between the two in 2013). Google knows you by what you do online, but it doesn't know who you are. If it did, you can bet it would be building its ads around that information.

By connecting your passwords and payments to your fingerprint, Apple has begun building the physical-digital link using proprietary technology. In doing so, it is preventing (or trying to prevent) Google from staking a claim to that space. Google may own your digital identity, but Apple owns the link between your digital identity and you. And that is valuable real estate.

Touch ID points to a future without passwords, PIN numbers, or physical payments. Paired with iBeacons, it has the potential to reinvent the entire shopping experience with a level of ease, security, and sophistication that makes NFC payments look like the barter system. And Apple owns not only that experience, but also the technology that enables it.

Absolutely none of this will be visible for the next year. Probably not for the next two or three years. But the foundation has been laid.

So every time you see one of the great bastions of conventional wisdom (which, sadly, includes The Onion, which has been reduced to little more than conventional wisdom spiced with profanity) talk about how Apple is out of ideas or Tim Cook is flailing, remember: there is a long game being played here. And Apple is playing it, slowly, almost imperceptibly, but meticulously and very, very patiently.