There’s a paradox in technology. For something new to become widespread, familiar, and mass-market, it must create enough novelty and curiosity to draw people’s attention. But novelty alone is not enough to reach saturation. To permeate life, a technology must elicit more than novelty and curiosity in its users. It must become ordinary. It must recede into the background, where it continues to run but ceases to be noticed by the humans who made it pervasive.
This is the story of all successful technologies. The locomotive, airplane, and automobile. The electric light, the telephone, the washing machine, the personal computer. So humdrum are these once-revolutionary machines that no one gives them a second thought, unless they break down.
Ten years after its introduction, the iPhone—and the smartphone category it created—is starting to recede into the background. Apple has sold a billion of the things alone. Android devices account for a billion and a half smartphone users. Glass-and-metal rectangles fill hands, lounge on tables, tuck in pockets, illuminate faces. Like toasters and gas stations, like bus ads and Starbucks, anywhere you look you’ll see an iPhone.
Now that the iPhone is everywhere, it can finally disappear.