The Air Quality Index around Apple HQ in Cupertino, California was in the 120 range Tuesday morning — merely “unhealthy,” according to my Apple Watch. This seemed a literal breath of fresh air after more than a week of steadily worsening breathability from wildfire smoke across the Bay Area that often climbed into the 300 and 400 range.
The Apple Gods bestowed the gift of good timing on their disciple, CEO Tim Cook. Had his event been held six days earlier, the skies above Cupertino would have glowed a Blade Runner orange.
But would that have mattered? In the world of the 2020 Apple Event, filmed at some indeterminate point in the utopian past, all was blue skies instead of white smog. All is well, the soothing voices of the hour-long product update said, in short. We are on the path to carbon neutrality. We are helping to alleviate the pandemic. Any discomfort you may be experiencing is not our fault!
Wildfires choking the entire West Coast went unmentioned. Twice we saw Apple Watch users walking amidst redwoods that somehow weren’t engulfed in flames. Only once did the mask slip, in a zoom shot out from the Apple HQ to a woman in workout gear climbing a tower — ironically, the Sierra Buttes fire lookout. The yellowing hills around her were wreathed in what residents identify as wildfire haze, but which to an outsider might look like morning fog.
Even here, reality was way worse: Sierra Buttes was in the 200 range Tuesday morning. At that number, the woman shouldn’t have gone anywhere near those punishing stairs. At the top she checks her blood oxygen on her Apple Watch; the screen reads 95 percent, which presumably doesn’t refer to how much particulate matter is filling her lungs.
Give Tim Cook credit: At least he name-checked the pandemic. In the previous dystopian Apple event, the WWDC keynote in June, the virus and its attendant lockdowns were mysterious background events causing users to send 40 percent more iMessages. Now Apple has learned to make lemonade.
“As we continue to work our way through these difficult times and face the challenges that COVID-19 is causing in our communities around the world,” Cook began, breaking into a grin about 40 percent larger than warranted, “it’s so inspiring to see how people everywhere have adapted!” A montage of diverse families enjoying lockdown life followed.
That blood oxygen reading on the Apple Watch Series 6? It’s being used in pioneering health studies to detect coronavirus infections before the patient even knows they’re sick, we were told. Just like it can detect heart attacks before they happen. Get the new Apple Watch, hinted the voices, it can literally save your life from the ravages of a global pandemic now firmly in the midst of its second wave.
All hail Apple World
Here’s the thing: I’m not even cynical about this. I want to live in Apple World. In 2020, who doesn’t want to live in Apple World? You enter via a rainbow bridge that resolves into hearts. Apple World is a place of maximum safety and creativity. Apple World is a place where chipsets are interesting to average viewers. In Apple World, your kids and grandparents are easily trackable via cellular watch, and they don’t even need an iPhone any more thanks to Family Setup — your own personal Big Brother.
In Apple World, it doesn’t matter that we have to wear masks, because power buttons (at least, the one on the new iPad Air) are now TouchID, cleverly sidestepping the need for FaceID. If we’re lucky, Apple World will offer the same functionality when it drops the iPhone 12 later this year.
In Apple World, antitrust isn’t a thing, troublesome tech hearings in Congress didn’t happen, and you can happily bundle Apple Music in with a raft of other Apple services for a monthly subscription, no matter what Spotify or the EU may say.
Apple World gives you workout routines you can watch on your iPhone at the gym. In Apple World, people can still go to the gym.
Apple World is committed to fighting climate change. It really is! Look, here’s Lisa Jackson, former EPA administrator, to announce the company’s commitment to being 100 percent carbon neutral by 2030, which is genuinely great. In Apple World, there is no need to yell at Lisa Jackson that this is great, so far as it goes, but what about all those other multibillion-dollar corporations spewing carbon dioxide into our atmosphere like there’s no tomorrow? What about the hurricanes and the terrifying high temperatures around the world and the increase in lightning storms causing wildfires that are right there behind you?
Fully immersed in Apple World on Tuesday morning, my wife and I huddled by the air purifier and debated whether we could afford an Apple Watch Series 6 — or rather, given the fitness it would spur, whether we could afford not to. Then I turned to my other Apple devices, checked the Air Quality Index again, and tried to find a small patch of smoke-free blue sky somewhere in the Bay Area where I could actually run.