On Wednesday morning, a FedEx delivery man knocked on my door. His face bore a broad grin, his hands a svelte cardboard box. “Will?” he said brightly. “Are you Will?” I nodded sleepily, and he thrust the box into my hands. “Your new iPhone is here!” he said, still smiling, evidently in anticipation of my own excitement.
“Hey, thanks,” I said, trying to match his enthusiasm, if only out of reciprocal politeness. A new iPhone once felt like a big deal to me—a passport to the latest version of the future. But now it feels more like a costly necessity, one whose exorbitant price tag is thinly justified by superfluities like face recognition, wireless charging, and a snazzier camera. I was not upgrading my trusty iPhone 6—a four-year-old device—for any of those features, but because its screen and battery were faltering. My iPhone has steadily become less of a toy and more of a utility.
It was coincidence that my new iPhone XR arrived on the same day that Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a landmark warning about a shortfall in global iPhone revenue, triggering a slide in not only Apple’s shares but the wider stock market. Cook chalked up the shorn sales outlook to challenges in China, a market Apple depends on for growth—not an abatement of ardor among Americans. He mostly blamed China’s macroeconomy, though it’s clear that Apple also has more specific problems in that critical country, where it’s losing market share to local rivals. Stratechery’s Ben Thompson penned a prescient analysis of Apple’s China problem last year that’s worth reading in light of the latest developments.