Apple Imagines a World Without Apps, and How Utterly Screwed We’d Be Without Them

Look for the cameos in slapstick WWDC video

Remember life before apps? Sure, it was liveable. But it was also a time when we owned paper maps, knew phone numbers and recognized the dating potential of next-door neighbors.

What would happen if all the apps in our current app-run world suddenly just … blipped out?

That’s exactly what Apple imagines in “Appocalypse,” a video that kicked off Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) today.

In it, a new Apple employee finds himself housed in the company’s Cupertino Data Center (hello, Silicon Valley!). While digging around for an outlet for his desk fountain (an iffy thing to have in a server room), he unwittingly unplugs the actual servers, resulting in the disappearance of apps on iPhones around the world, kicking off an instant global crisis.

As a counterbalance to all the innovation Apple has helped bring to the mainstream, the brand has often played with shades of apocalypse in less funny terms. Alongside more cheerfulutilitarian ads, dystopia is part of its DNA. Chiat/Day’s  “1984” was the work that first gave it life in the public imagination, after all, followed by the less well-received “Lemmings” … which was just freaky.

“Appocalypse” is a shout-out to that history, repainted in terms a sardonic YouTube audience can appreciate. Social media influencer Brittany Furlan can be seen distributing hard-copies of her selfies; meanwhile, in a shady and weird App Store black market, Tinder founder Jonathan Badeen can be found hawking himself, along with other human wares.

Something here touches upon the fear we felt ahead of Y2K, which, looking back, feels as ludicrous as this entire scenario. Or is it? Airbnbers get lost and bang on the doors of strangers. As Waze blips off the map, cars swerve and people panic; “I don’t even know what city we’re in!” a road tripper wails.

For those who can’t recall, something similar happened in 2011, when iPhone alarm clocks stopped working—perhaps the first time we realized, bleary-eyed and late as hell, how reliant we’ve all become on the torch of a single lighthouse.

Meanwhile, Apple’s new employee obliviously goes about his life, spraying plants and tunelessly singing to the background music, “All Right” by Christopher Cross.

In the end, “Appocalypse” isn’t meant to be seen by most people. It’s intended to stoke the imaginations (and fan the egos) of developers. “Keep making apps,” the ad concludes, “the world is depending on you.”

Outside the walls of the WWDC, it’s also an amusing, if worrying commentary on how dependent we are, not only on apps but on smartphones, the intimate conduits that have transformed us into a fluid global system.

This isn’t to say you should burn your iPhone, buy a map and learn parkour. But maybe it’s worth keeping in mind how fragile that dispersed connectivity is. Just because you never know, it may well be worth trying to reinforce our local connections—starting with engaging people whose faces we can’t swipe away.