Monday, March 20, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple’s Next Big Thing: Augmented Reality

Mark Gurman (Hacker News):

Tim Cook has talked up a lot of technologies since becoming Apple Inc.’s chief executive in 2011. Driverless cars. Artificial intelligence. Streaming television. But no technology has fired up Cook quite like augmented reality, which overlays images, video and games on the real world. Cook has likened AR’s game-changing potential to that of the smartphone. At some point, he said last year, we will all “have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you.”

The technology is cool, but I just don’t see AR glasses being useful to most people most of the time.

People with knowledge of the company’s plans say Apple has embarked on an ambitious bid to bring the technology to the masses—an effort Cook and his team see as the best way for the company to dominate the next generation of gadgetry and keep people wedded to its ecosystem.

Too bad there’s no bloody ROI in an ambitious bid to fix their bug-ridden software.

But Apple really has no choice, says Gene Munster, a founding partner at Loup Ventures who covered the company for many years as an analyst. Over time, Munster says, AR devices will replace the iPhone. “It’s something they need to do to continue to grow,” he says, “and defend against the shift in how people use hardware.”

I don’t believe that.

21 Comments

Luther Blissett

Ah ah ah but wait a minute… do we not already have AR experiences every day? When the antisemite sees a Jew, does he not have his Terminator read-out throwing up extra information (he is controlling world finance, stealing our women, peddling pornography, etc.) on top of the banal ‘reality’? Ideology is an ‘AR experience.’

Apple really has gone to shit, hasn't it? This desperate thrashing in search of magic bullets is deadly embarrassing to watch. Tim Cook's a brilliant processes guy, but he clearly didn't learn his salesmanship from Steve Jobs. Amazon and Google are going to dine on its corpse.

I think you are being short-sighted in dismissing this, Michael. Given that Apple seems to be falling behind in building a car, selling augmented reality gear that simulates driving a car could be a killer product.

@has What’s so frustrating is that they didn’t need a magic bullet. They could have just iterated and kept their quality high. Cook was supposed to be good at execution, not vision, which was fine. Instead, they took their eye off the ball and seem to be casting about. He keeps hyping/hinting at futuristic stuff they haven’t delivered, yet won’t reassure anyone that there will be another Mac Pro.

"Cook was supposed to be good at execution, not vision, which was fine."

I'll be a broken record on this, because I think it's crucial to understanding the mess. Cook was supposed to be, (and is), good at one very specific kind of execution: supply chains. It's why he's been able to maximize profits from the iPhone while it still has that magical glow to it, which is why there was a very slight amount of very short-term wisdom in putting him in charge. And while we're at it, the reduction of the Mac hardware line to lowest common denominator products should also be viewed as a smart supply chain decision.

So, they need some new widget they can produce cheaply at high hardware quality, and then sell at high margins. Execution of that (once the widget is somehow magically conjured into existence) is what Cook does, and does well. Execution at things like making the Mac or the iPhone better, or simply keeping QC high, isn't Cook's bag.

As long as Cook is in charge, and is determined to travel down the one road he knows, Apple really does need a new magic bullet, even if finding that magic bullet seems highly unlikely, given the way the company is run these days.

In short: Cook was a poor decision as CEO, but it'll take too long for that to become apparent for the fact to make any difference.

@Chucky That sounds about right. Unfortunately, even if they find a new widget that still doesn’t help those of us using the old ones. An ever increasing number of widgets also doesn’t fit with Apple’s functional structure.

What ever happened to "Apple University"?

AR could be a big hit with gamers (like VR will be). But Apple has never really been serious about games.

I don't see it being something that the general public will use. It will be a fad for a short time, then people will get tired of it.

@Michael: Problem is Apple are already iterating products, but old ones, not new ones. Market they're in, it's only a matter of time before new shiny becomes familiar becomes completely commoditized; the only way to keep selling existing devices is to add new value on top. That means using existing product to launch new product that [spit]"synergizes"[/spit] both, creating an integrated experience that is worth far more than the sum of its parts.

Apple should've used ipad & tv to take control of the living room, then used that to stitch up retail & home delivery next. Now Amazon's taken the lead, and they will kick Apple's ass. Apple could've worked to its strengths and sold complete music-store-integrated ICE systems to existing auto makers, which would've got them hooks into automotive sector that they could've further leveraged in coming years as driving becomes increasingly automated, but they had to piss about trying to invent the next C5 instead.

Without major new management and/or direction, Apple is over in a decade. It's on a slow death now, and has been for years. Forget where they've already been, you have to look at where they'll be next. They're a global consumer products company that in five years has gone from being the world's greatest market builders to a rickety dog-n-pony show doing the same old tricks they were doing ten years ago, and not understanding why no-one's just that impressed any more. Watch Tim Cook standing on stage shilling C++ now with rubberized corners to schoolkids; it's excruciating to watch. Flogging whatever products you currently possess to whoever you think will buy them is what asshole flim-flam artists and incompetents do. A master salesman like Jobs knew how to sell exactly right: first you design the *market* you want, *then* you design your product to fit that market, and then you sell shit out of it, and use that revenue to start designing your next market, and so on. Repeat indefinitely. Never get precious, never stop advancing, cos soon as you do your competitors will catch you up, and flatten you under mass commoditization.

Sure iphone was all about selling lifestyle and status—that's what made it grow so big so fast—but it was *also* about making people's lives more slick, more efficient: a supercomputer in your pocket connecting you to services and people all round the world, wherever you are, whatever you're doing. It's that second part that kept customers coming back—to *Apple*—for more, and it's what they've now lost, because now you can get an Android device that's at least as good at a fraction of the price; so what does paying the Apple premium get you now that you can't already get from that? Mobile, Android. Schools, Chromebooks. Living room, Echo. Apple? Forget about Macs, Macs haven't been significant in years; they're a work tool, and not even a significant one (Microsoft continues to own that, and will do so until Google has stitched up consumer entirely and feels like mopping up business too).

What is Apple building now to enhance billions of ordinary humans' day-to-day life experience? Bugger all. It puts out highly polished hardware that breaks absolutely no new markets. All its software competitiveness has completely gone to die on an utterly pointless hill called Swift. Its services are a patchy mishmash with huge holes in, and done better by competitors. It still doesn't understand networks, or automation, and it's completely forgotten how to stitch together what it does possess to form something more than the sum of its parts, or even keep the parts that Steve Jobs did stitch together for them back when he was alive from falling apart at the seams.

I won't feel bad for Apple when they're gone; they're bastards just like every other large entity. But in a world of new total mass-surveillance bastards like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, they were at least slightly different bastards who could offer the rest of us a marginally different choice. For people to lose even that is not good at all.

"first you design the *market* you want, *then* you design your product to fit that market"

That didn't work for Jobs at NeXT. They tried the academic market, but that didn't work very well. So they concocted something they called the "Professional Workstation" market. That didn't work very well. So they looked at who *was* interested in their stuff, and it was companies doing internal development, and they were interested in the development tools. NeXT hadn't designed the product to fit that market.

That's where NeXT had their successes, at least until Java came out and NeXT's customer base could use *that* for much less money.

VR is a gaming thing. It's amazing, but it has very limited applications outside of gaming; 3D modelling, maybe.

AR is different. AR is the computing endgame. If you want to be a player in computing, and you're not investing in AR, you will be tomorrow's Nokia, not investing in touchscreen UIs until it's too late.

Good AR makes every other device obsolete. If you can wear a pair of glasses, and that pair of glasses can change what you see at sufficient resolution, all of your "real" screens - your iPads, your phone, your laptop, your thermostat, your TV, your portable gaming console, your smartwatch - suddenly stop making sense.

This is not something that will happen during the next decade, since it requires a few things to work. It requires extreme miniaturization, much better than Google Glass did. It requires high resolution, so that you can simulate a retina-level screen at a typical laptop distance. It requires better battery tech, and more efficient hardware. And all of this needs to be possible at an acceptable price. None of this is possible at the moment. But all of this will become possible, and when it does, and you're a company like Apple, you need to be ready.

So this is definitely something where Apple *should* be paying attention. I guess it's interesting that they're talking about it, instead of just waiting for everybody else to make a few missteps, silently learning from them, and then introducing a product that actually works.

~

As for all of the other problems Apple has: I'm coming to terms with the idea that these might not really be Apple problems, but merely professional Apple customer problems. Sure, most people's iPhone experiences are shit, and people are regularly asking me stuff like "my iPhone tells me that my cloud is almost full, and that I should reduce my used space, or pay money, what should I do?", but they'll still be buying another iPhone (and probably pay the cloud extortion fee, because it's easier than figuring out how to "reduce used space"), so it doesn't affect Apple all that much.

Apple doesn't need us anymore. It's upon us to stop needing Apple in turn.

@Lukas "If you can wear a pair of glasses, and that pair of glasses can change what you see at sufficient resolution, all of your "real" screens - your iPads, your phone, your laptop, your thermostat, your TV, your portable gaming console, your smartwatch - suddenly stop making sense."

OK but what about user input, interaction?

- Typing on a touch screen is already a nightmare (compared to a physical keyboard). Typing in the air does not look awesome.
- Voice recognition/dictation is still not working reliably (or as reliably as one would expect).
- Gestures are non intuitive as soon as you need to perform non basic actions.

Also AR does not make any sense compared to the real screens because the real screens can be seen by multiple persons at the same time. And you don't have to perform some kind of interaction to make them appear, they are just there. If AR is supposed to make things appear on the fly, even contextually, this could be a nightmare.

Finally a reminder, a pair of glasses is what Google tried. It was a failure not only because of the technology limitation but because of the public reaction to users of this product.

@Lukas Exactly. Why are they hyping it now when the version that might be interesting to the masses is much farther away than the car?

It’s certainly possible that these are only our problems. But do you really think iPhone customers are that loyal, when devices are lasting longer, switching is easier than with computers, and Android is good enough? iPhone’s success was built on “it just works” and coolness, and both seem to be fading. Doing what’s necessary to keep customers happy has got to be easier than inventing the next smartphone-level success.

"As for all of the other problems Apple has: I'm coming to terms with the idea that these might not really be Apple problems, but merely professional Apple customer problems ... Apple doesn't need us anymore. It's upon us to stop needing Apple in turn."

Well, yes and no.

As to the yes part, I figured out long ago that Apple was abandoning me as a customer. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble abandoning Apple.

As to the rest, I do agree with the gist of what Michael is getting at. I wouldn't want to be an Apple shareholder these days, because I just don't get the foundation for what their business is going to be in a few years. Brand satisfaction and brand image surveys show the company falling significantly over the past couple of years. And without that, what exactly do they have?

I don't see them as being structured in such a way that would lead to successfully birthing new product lines going forward. I don't see them keeping existing customers particularly happy going forward. The competition is still disorganized, but is gradually gathering strength. I continue to see them as being in a bizarrely similar situation to the Apple of the late '80's / early '90's. The problems at first appear slowly, then all at once.

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"@Lukas Exactly. Why are they hyping it now when the version that might be interesting to the masses is much farther away than the car?"

They're talking to the stock market.

(When/if AR becomes a big deal, a lot will depend on whether or not Apple still has a commanding market position. If they do, they'll be able to pull a Siri, and roll out an 'sorta good enough' version of the tech that is sufficient to keep their customers. If they don't still have a commanding market position, well...)

>OK but what about user input, interaction?

You can still use a keyboard if you want to. And if you do, AR is still much better than a traditional computing device, because now you only need a keyboard instead of a whole computer.

> the real screens can be seen by multiple persons at the same time

AR can do the same, and you don't even have to be in the same place to be, well, in the same place (99% of the meetings I'm in nowadays has at least some people participating remotely, so that's a huge plus). But you *can* be in the same place, and still share the same views.

> because of the public reaction

And the public reaction to things never changes? AR is so compelling that people will just accept it. You might not remember this; depending on how old you are, you might not even have lived though it, but people used to absolutely *hate* cell phones, and jerks with cell phones. It was way worse than that whole "glassholes" stupidity. And then, a few years later, everybody had one. Just like that.

> iPhone’s success was built on “it just works” and coolness, and both seem to be fading

Apple is a "brand" now. Why do people buy Nikes, or [insert random branded product] instead of store brand stuff? On average, store brand stuff doesn't fare worse than brand name stuff in blind tests. Yet people keep buying it. So Apple is investing in branding. And Apple is investing in lock-in. That whole cloud backup thing, and offering their own photo storage service that doesn't work with Android, and their own messaging service that doesn't work with Android, and all of that stuff? Those are clearly intended to keep people on Apple's platforms.

And then there's sheer financial power. Apple doesn't have to be innovating anymore. They can just buy whatever companies they want.

"Apple is a "brand" now ... So Apple is investing in branding."

Yup. But as I mentioned just upthread, Apple's brand reputation has suffered really dramatic drops over the past two years or so in every single survey I've seen...

> Apple's brand reputation has suffered really dramatic drops

Does it matter, though, in the sense that it affects their bottom line? When I was a kid, Nike was the "child slave shoes" brand. People still bought Nikes.

One thing I like about HoloLens is that Microsoft unabashedly pitches it a tool for doing work. Apple certainly seems more focused lately on making products for living rather than tools for working, so I wonder how their AR effort, if it ever sees the light of day, will reflect that focus.

"Does it matter, though, in the sense that it affects their bottom line? When I was a kid, Nike was the "child slave shoes" brand. People still bought Nikes."

Of course brand reputation matters! Of course it affects the bottom line! You just made that (accurate) point yourself in your previous comment!

As to the Nike "child slave shoes" thing, it pretty much elides the point. The issue isn't whether or not a #brand has a controversy or not. The issue is whether or not a brand maintains its overall reputation in consumers' minds. If Nike's brand had genuinely gone into the trash, people would've stopped buying Nikes.

But if you do some very minimal research, you'll see that Nike has the best shoe-ware brand reputation by far. That is why people still bought, and still buy Nikes. (Compare and contrast to Volkswagen. They didn't just have a controversy; they had a controversy that led to an overall brand reputation meltdown. And thus sales fell off a cliff.)

And as you correctly note, Apple is less about products these days, and more about being a brand. So, if Apple's brand reputation keeps falling year after year, which it does, at some point that is going to hit the bottom line in a vicious way once the competition gets less disorganized, and puts forward more 'good enough' products and solutions.

Also, the quality of the products matters more for brand reputation in computing devices than in sneakers. If the sneakers are lousy, no one cares, or even notices. The sneaker market is almost pure fashion. But when the computing devices start screwing over their users, the factors affecting brand reputation go far deeper than pure fashion.

Similarly, American car makers saw their brands fall apart in the 1970's and 1980's simply because the products were shite, compared to the German and Japanese competition. Products that folks need to functionally rely upon have their brand reputation far more tied to the product than sneakers do.

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There is a more limited case to be made that Apple abandoning pro and pro-sumer customers is not a standalone problem, but instead is an important part of their brand deterioration. "Brand influencers" is a real thing.

To give one lone anecdote: I read a lot of non-tech news reporter Twitter, and the volume of Mac and iPhone complaints from reporters who get into trouble trying to do their jobs with the gear has increased over the past few years from a trickle to a torrent. Once you abandon quality control and screw over folks with an audience - aka brand influencers - it does filter on down into the broader public consciousness of your brand.

@Chucky Regarding “brand influencers,” imagine if Nike let it be known through their actions that they wanted to focus on fashionable sneakers for teenagers and not make the larger sizes that NBA players need.

"Regarding “brand influencers,” imagine if Nike let it be known through their actions that they wanted to focus on fashionable sneakers for teenagers and not make the larger sizes that NBA players need."

Yup. A pretty spot-on analogy.

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