Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

The Back Page: Apple, the Social Distancing Champ

These days, so many brands are concerned with “engaging” with you online, earning your “loyalty,” and being your “friend.” Not Apple, though: if life were indeed an ’80s high school movie, as I always assumed it would be, then Apple is that cool kid who eats in the cafeteria alone and wears a leather jacket and doesn’t like it when bullies beat up the nerds.

But I digress.

All of which is to say that in this era of social distancing, Apple is the perfect candidate for the job. Its aloof image has prepared it for this exact moment in history, and as it brings its technological prowess to bear on matters like contact tracing and building face masks, it’s only begun to scratch the surface of what it can do. Here are just a handful of other features that Apple is no doubt planning to roll out for the benefit of not just its users, but for all mankind.

Proximity Warning: How close is too close? Personal space boundaries have been reset in recent weeks, and it can be tough to tell when someone else encroaches on your bubble in a meaningful way. That’s where the new Apple Proximity Warning feature comes in. By using Bluetooth signals to detect nearby phones, it can warn you when somebody is too close by piping the music that they’re listening to on their device directly into your AirPods, with the volume proportional to their distance, thus giving you plenty of time to cross to the other side of the street.

Spaces: Remember when you used to go…out? I know, I know: anathema. But bear with me here: what if you could go out without going out? That’s the idea behind Apple’s new Spaces feature—a name that, in time-honored tradition, was pilfered from an older Mac feature. Spaces leverages augmented reality—aha, we finally found a use for it!—to let you use your Apple device to step into a world of class and polish, where everything is carefully designed and the soundtrack is impeccable. I speak, of course, of the world of Apple commercials. Want to relive the classic “dancing silhouettes” as a 360° virtual panorama, rotatable and truly immersive? Or perhaps drop in on PC and Mac and see what they’re up to these days. And, of course, who could resist having their face smashed with a hammer?

Mask ID: Yes, it’s a pain that FaceID can’t recognize you without your mask on—this is a problem that Batman’s been having for years, people—but here’s an even bigger problem: which mask is yours?! Well, Apple’s Mask ID system is here to help. Just point it at a mask and Apple will use its machine learning technology to analyze whether the mask has been shaped for the contours of your face. Slap it on, and since Apple knows the mask is yours, you’ll have no trouble unlocking your phone ever again!

Zoomimoji: Virtual backgrounds may be all the rage in Zoom, but how about virtual foregrounds. Well, okay, I guess those sort of exist, if you want to turn yourself into a potato. But a partnership between Apple and the most popular videoconferencing software out there will finally result in the ability to bring your Animoji and Memoji into Zoom. Who can resist a meeting full of sharks, lions, and monkeys? WHO? I mean, the World Health Organization? Probably. But it definitely goes a long way towards keeping those interminable discussions engaging, and it’s a real boon on those quarantine hair days.

The Void: Apple keeps this for only the most extreme cases of isolation, but now that Jony Ive has left the building, there’s an opening in his featureless white void. You haven’t been socially distanced until you’ve been socially distanced into a monchromatic pocket dimension cut off from the rest of the universe. Any takers? Hello? Hello?

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]


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