iPhone 8 and Adtech: Nothing Will Change, Except Everything

Apple’s iPhone 8 is launching on September 12 and millions of wallets are preparing for the existential shock of suddenly being down $1000 or so. But what does Apple’s new device mean for adtech?

Nothing. And … everything.

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iPhone 8 is a sea change in mobile devices.

The device will deliver for mobile what Google’s project Tango promised: seriously good if not perfect augmented reality. Virtual objects will appear in hundreds of millions of people’s field of view. Reality will be tagged and annotated. Routes and directions will show up superimposed on that path you need to follow. Your phone will map your kitchen and tell you how much hardwood flooring to purchase.

Augmented reality is the future of digital.

The only problem? It will remain the future for some years after iPhone 8 ships … probably four or five. And that’s when adtech really changes.

Augmented reality is going to make phones smarter in the very near term. It will extend mobile apps’ use cases, also in the very near term. It will open new opportunities for gaming, in the very near term. And it will improve our virtual and actual lives, in the very near term.

But we won’t walk around 24-7 looking at the world through our phones.

That happens in 2020 or 2022, when augmented reality glasses get light enough, stylish enough, powerful enough, long-lived enough, and cheap enough to begin to enter mass markets. At that point some significant fraction of us who can afford them will almost enter a new state of existence with, theoretically, access to almost limitless metadata on reality and augmentation of the physical world, as well as full virtual reality when desired.

You’ll never forget another name, never lose your way, never need to “consult the manual.”

Unless you lose your glasses, in which case you’ll probably be as helpless as a baby, having grown accustomed to omnipresent virtual assistance in every facet of your life.

That’s when adtech starts to get interesting again.

Currently, digital ads follow content or communities. Adtech bolsters targeting by inferring context to increase relevance. In the future this will still be true, but ads will also be anchored in places and integrated with activities. We’ll see some examples of this begin to emerge in the quasi-augmentation of a mobile device like the iPhone 8, but we won’t see the full fruition until smart glasses go mainstream.

To be followed, eventually, by contact lenses, and perhaps, even farther down the road, replacement eyeballs.

When smart glasses are mainstream, adtech vendors will make many mistakes, just like they do now, and did in the early eras of desktop and mobile.

We’ve all seen the hyper-reality video, where reality is augmented. It’s a “kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media.” It’s also a dystopia, a horrorscape in which ads ceaselessly blare unstoppable messages at any and all passersby.

People will not tolerate this.

But, they might welcome a free ride on the subway in exchange for viewing five quick ads. Or a free coffee for a couple minutes of targeted messages. And those would be delivered via a common approval interface on all smart glass platforms.

So we’re going to see a slice of the future in iPhone 8.

But for most of it, we’re just going to have wait like everyone else.

As Mobile Economist at TUNE, John analyzes trends affecting the mobile ecosystem. He has been a journalist, analyst, and corporate executive, and have chronicled the rise of the mobile economy. Before joining TUNE, John built the VB Insight research team at VentureBeat and managed teams creating software for partners like Intel and Disney. In 2014, he was named to Folio's top 100 of the media industry's "most innovative entrepreneurs and market shaker-uppers.”