Is Apple about to change the world...and itself?
Augmented and virtual realities represent the prospect of a paradigm change in computing. Apple is clearly working on optical wearables.
And so if those two things are true, then surely Apple will need to reinvent itself, it will need to evangelize a new era of experiences and interactions. And maybe that moment is coming soon.
That at least is the premise of Robert Scoble who has been hanging out on Twitter Spaces for most of the day talking about the signals he sees:
- Ultra-wideband lets Apple "own the living room". Only Apple has the ability to create new experiences across devices because of UWB
- Apple Silicon chips provide the power for rich/immersive experiences. He envisions being able to visit a remote castle or attend a basketball game or concert in your living room
- Apple has the war chest, customer base and relationships to be an unstoppable force. They also have richer consumers who would be willing to fork out the rumoured $3,000 price tag for new wearables for the home.
He believes that Apple is on the cusp of this reinvention. He proposed that Apple will launch a preview of a new device at World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) in order to give developers enough lead time to prepare amazing experiences once it hits consumer heads sometime in 2022.
He's proposing a sort of "big bang" moment this summer. It's a moment when Apple lays out a radical new vision for the future. He expects developers to leave (the virtual) WWDC with stars in their eyes, dreaming up new forms of interaction because they will have seen working prototypes of the wearables.
He's proposing that Apple will reorient its business around experiences instead of apps, and that there will be a sort of moment in time when it will all happen: there will be "Apple before" and "Apple after", and our lives will all change in a flash.
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But I don't buy his premise. Here's why:
Apple Is Deeply Conservative
I was trying to find the right word. Conservative feels like the closest one. And this conservatism is based on three pillars:
- Don't make a change unless it will be absolutely guaranteed to be significantly better. Apple has been known to hold back on iOS features for a year or more until those features are absolutely nailed.
- Don't make a change until your supply chain can handle it
- Don't move your customers too quickly. And that includes developers: it has taken years, for example, for Swift to take hold. Apple showed no impatience in getting them there, and took advantage of the time to continually refine the language and to then add SwiftUI (which will also take years to fully deploy).
Apple has extraordinary patience. You can see it today in their new chips. Their roll-out has been breathtaking. They didn't start with a 'big bang'. They rolled it out on the lower rungs of the laptop ladder. It took years and years to architect and then their release was absolutely flawless (down to Rosetta which has been strikingly successful).
Apple Builds a Moat Around Its Developers
These days everything is about Epic and app store commissions. Or Facebook and privacy. (Facebook claiming that Apple has anti-trust issues is one of the deep ironies of our age).
These battles aren't about app store commissions. They're about who "owns" the users of our devices. And they will play out at a much larger scale when we're "seeing" our computers all day long (instead of needing to pull our computers out of our pockets).
But lost in the arguments about commissions or privacy labels is acknowledgment of the moat that Apple builds around its developers. It creates a safe space for them. Things are predictable. If you build something for an Apple device or use an Apple framework the rug won't be pulled out from under you 18 months later (I'm looking at you, Google).
I have a ton of complaints about how Apple treats developers. (Compare the documentation on Stripe, say, to Apple). But the one thing they don't do is jolt the system.
There's a rhythm. A cadence. You don't need to reinvent your entire business with every WWDC.
Apple plays a long game with developers, and there's no reason to think that optical wearables will be any different.
Apple Isn't Ready for 3D
Robert argued on the Twitter Space chat that the tools Apple has for AR are good enough. And that, besides, we can always use Unity to create some of these rich experiences he envisions for the living room.
I've programmed using those tools. And to be blunt, they feel like prototypes. Their integration of standards are suboptimal. They're laughable to anyone working in "true" 3D...all of those Houdini magicians or modellers in Maya.
Apple isn't ready for 3D. And while Unity is doing great things, there's minimal chance that Apple would see their toolset as anything other than a slightly cobbled-together mishmash.
(I'll come back to this topic in a future post. Hint: Tim Cook and charts).
You know who WAS ready for 3D? Who COULD help to supercharge something really special? Epic.
And we know how well Apple and Epic are getting along these days.
The Bigger Picture
Robert knows that I agree with him in so many ways. We share a similar vision for how profound the coming change will be. And I share his belief that Apple will help to align the industry around a new paradigm in computing.
But I also believe that innovation comes from unexpected quarters.
I started up Out of Scope to better express a core belief: that if the last year taught us anything it's that change can come from a direction you didn't expect.
(If Apple really did launch a $3,000 headset at WWDC, I'd have to take a deep, long look at the further stratification of society: between those who can afford it and those who can't; between those whose data is for sale and those who are able to afford to live behind a privacy moat).
Apple will help to change the world again. But it will do so slowly. Yes, there will be a "one more thing" and it's coming soon. But the true depth of what it offers will take years...maybe even decades to play out.
We'll all be tuning in this June. Scoble will definitely hear some things that reaffirm his faith in where Apple is headed. But I half expect that the real moment when computing changed forever (again) will come from somewhere else.