Apple is about to reinvent itself. That was the premise of an all-day Twitter Space chat yesterday.
I don't disagree: optical devices represent another sea change in computing. Eventually, we won't take our computers out of our pockets, they'll be affixed to the bridge of our nose and many of us will wear them all day.
A lot of the discussion was about timing: when will Apple launch (before WWDC? After?), how quickly will they launch a 'paradigm' change and how explicit will it be, and how long will it take for us to be able to attend a virtual concert in our living room?
As the conversation rolled around in my head I realized that I might be slightly out of step with how other people view the coming wave of new wearables. My view is this:
Augmented reality glasses are going to trend towards very subtle interactions and will have a relatively 'clean' information space. Apple will extend this approach to the living room.
Virtual Reality Is Not The Only Paradigm
We've been led down a path to believe that VR provides the model for extended reality. We dream of logging into the Metaverse and participating in an alternative world which is as real as, well, the real one.
But there are other paradigms for how extended reality will be experienced when it approaches the scale of a billion users.
Apple won't be the only company that ignores the "VR paradigm". But it will be the most predominant. Instead of zipping off the virtual Switzerland to go skiing, its focus will be on enhancing reality rather than replacing it.
Tim Cook has said as much. That he is less interested in 'escape'.
Whenever I think of an Apple "visor" for the living room, I think about two things:
- Television, and how your visor can enhance watching a baseball game or Apple TV show
- Other people, and how much I think Apple would hate the idea that two people in the same space would be in different realities
Once this 'reality' is extended to wearing glasses all day, I think Apple will edge towards an even more subtle degree of interaction. It will be one that heavily leans on AI rather than visuals. The LiDAR on your Apple Glasses will detect what's happening in the world around you and be a sort of ambient awareness layer that's pull rather than push.
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Speed and Privacy
One of my arguments yesterday was that Apple is extremely conservative. It has incredible patience with new products. It takes its time to get things right.
But this extends beyond how beautiful a product is or how well it works. Because when it comes to anything you wear on your head, there will now be another factor at play (and one where Apple is clearly positioning itself for competitive advantage): privacy.
In conversation with Kara Swisher, Tim Cook said (emphasis added):
Kara, every year, we add privacy features. If you look back in time, we’ve added some every year. It is not aimed at a company. It’s aimed at a principle. And the principle is that the individual should be in control over whether they’re tracked or not, who has their data. It’s that simple. And if you were designing such a system from scratch today, of course you would do this. Of course, it should be your decision of what happens to your data, not mine or somebody else. And people that argue against that choice is essentially saying that they didn’t have informed consent before. And I think that’s a powerful point in and of itself...
That data minimization, getting as little as you need, making sure you need what you’re getting, challenging yourself to get less and less and less and less, and then security is the underpinning for privacy, right? And encryption and there’s a whole bunch of things we could talk about there by itself.
XR is the design of a system from scratch.
Apple will begin with collecting the absolute bare minimum of user data.
Which will mean that it will move very slowly and very cautiously with the features it includes in these wearables. Which will mean that the laundry list of features and experiences will be relatively contained, at first, to those that don't include too much cross-tabulation of personally identifiable data (e-commerce in the living room? Maybe...but with extreme limitations).
Epic, The App Store, and Curation
Robert Scoble believes that Apple needs to have an excited universe of developers and that this year's WWDC is an important turning in Apple's ambitions for XR.
I personally think that the first generations of optical wearables will be more like the first iPhone: launched with a select and curated list of "apps", developed primarily with a few key partners.
This is where the Epic vs Apple battle will truly become clear. Because I believe that this isn't just a battle for App Store fees: it's a battle for the hearts and minds of cornerstone developers.
Apple is more likely to launch XR experiences in partnership with Disney or Lego than to try to line up 1,000 apps from the developer community.
It will want to tightly curate the initial experiences, and it will take a very slow, patient approach to figuring out what works (see Apple TV+ for what I mean).
And so while Apple will definitely move its developer community in the right direction, it won't be because it needs a sudden explosion of apps for coming wearables. It will be because it has a line-up of computers that need new apps that run on Silicon, because it still sells phones and tablets.
Again, Tim Cook spoke to Kara about curation. And I think it's useful to read this as if he was talking about VR/AR:
Well, I can only speak for Apple. And from the very start, we’ve always believed in curation. And so we review every app that goes on the store. That doesn’t mean that we’re perfect at doing it. We’re not. But we care deeply about what we’re offering our users. And when we have a news product like Apple News, we have human editors that are selecting the key stories. And so, they’re avoiding all of the misinformation that is out there. The reality is that the web in some areas has become a dark place. And without curation, you wind up with this firehose of things that I would not want to put into an amplifier.
Apple will move slowly.
Apple will curate your first experiences as it shifts the paradigm (again).
And once the paradigm shift has happened, you'll be wearing glasses that are...mostly glasses. They won't replace the world, but they WILL curate an Apple-enhanced version of what we experience and see.