Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Can Anyone But a Tech Giant Build the Next Big Thing?

Jason Snell (Mastodon):

I’m sad about the Ai Pin because it—and a similar AI hardware product, the Rabbit R1—shows just how much potential innovation is strangled by the presence of enormously powerful tech companies, most notably the Android-iPhone duopoly.


The problem is that I’m dismissing the Ai Pin and looking forward to the Apple Watch specifically because of the control Apple has over its platforms. Yes, the company’s entire business model is based on tightly integrating its hardware and software, and it allows devices like the Apple Watch to exist. But that focus on tight integration comes at a cost (to everyone but Apple, anyway): Nobody else can have the access Apple has.


It seems like we’re at the point where even the most groundbreaking hardware device simply can’t succeed in a world where it’s unable to deeply integrate with either the iPhone or Android. (And really, in the U.S. especially, it would need to integrate with both.) This is why the Ai Pin and the Rabbit and similar products are not going to succeed. Instead, Apple and Google will integrate everything that the Ai Pin does into iOS and Android, and those will be the best-in-class implementations, and that’ll be it for Humane and anyone else who wants to create an AI-powered hardware dingus.


I’m not making a legal argument here. (Which is good, because I am not a lawyer.) I’m just observing that the smartphone has become so central to life that if your product can’t offer deep connections to the smartphone, you’re stuck.

This is what I said at the Ai Pin’s unveiling. It should have been an app, but what it wants to do is not allowed for third-party apps. Apple and Google will integrate best-in-class implementations, but they’ll be best in the sense that no one can do better, not that no one could do better.

Jeff Johnson:

Three companies control all of the consumer OS market share on both mobile and desktop. Microsoft was founded in 1975, Apple in 1976, Google in 1998. We’re in a period of terrible tech stagnation.

Also, Apple acquired NeXT and Google acquired Android. Those weren’t home-grown technologies.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Some simple categories of apps that can’t realistically exist on the iOS/iPadOS/visionOS App Store off the top of my head[…]


Many of Apple’s apps, like Playgrounds, simply could not be built by any third party developer.

John Gruber:

I would argue, strenuously, that the phone is the natural AI device. It already has: always-on networking, cameras, a screen, microphones, and speakers. Everyone owns one and almost everyone takes theirs with them almost everywhere they go.


I’ve been saying for a while that instead of “all phones should use USB-C” and “users should pick a web browser when setting up their phones”, “the Apple-Google duopoly must provide APIs that allow third parties to thrive” is the real thing the EU should’ve focused on.

For example, third-party headphones can’t integrate as well as AirPods, no matter how hard the vendor tries.


I’m still unconvinced it would be a good product. But I think Snell is right: Apple makes it so that Humane cannot make a good product.


9 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

And yet folks, with a seemingly straight face, argue that iPhone and Android are no different from the Nintendo Switch.

I've been playing around lately with classic Macintoshes, and fondly remembering the fun and silly things about System 7. There were so many different ways of tinkering with the system and adding new features to it, and developers expressed a lot of creativity.

Of course, this was because there were essentially *no* restrictions on the system. You could overwrite any data, be it memory or your disk, and complete system crashes were frequent. Sometimes your whole disk became corrupted. And among these various system tweaks, some of them were ill thought out or poorly implemented.

But now I'm finding myself longing for those "wild west" days. Back then, as a third party developer, you could do *whatever you wanted*. The sky's the limit, or at least the hardware was the limit. Imagine if iOS or Android somehow could allow that level of unfettered access, without the major downsides, and devs could make anything they wanted to! There'd be so many great ways of customizing our phones. Of course, there'd be a hundred times more terrible ways, but we'd see a lot more innovation than we do now.

And it might even be fun! Remember fun? That thing that technology used to be before the current technocracy took everything over, sucked all of our control away from our devices, and made everything about monetizing their own users at the expense of user experience? The overarching complaint I have about using technology in the 2020s is that _it's not fun any longer_.

I think it could be useful if we collectively stopped talking about "tight integration" and called it "gatekeeping" instead.

AirPods are superior because of Apples gatekeeping.
The Apple Watch is superior thanks to Apples gatekeeping.
Googles Gemini has an advantage thanks to Googles gatekeeping wrt Google Docs.

My heart warmed WARMED I tell you, when I saw an interview with the founder of daylight, and he talked about surfacing content (like notes and books) to the OS level so that anyone could build a new better note taking app for his tablet, and it would be interoperable by default.

There are alternatives, we can have a better world. But we need to stop rooting for gigantic profit driven companies. Break them up already. Force interop on them like we forced USB-C onto the iPhone.

This is why we need Antitrust action to break up the big conglomerates like Microsoft and Apple

A similar situation happened in the 80s when AT&T was broken up and it allowed tons of innovation and reduced pricing in the phone industry

Without that breakup of AT&T, Apple would never have been able to create the iPhone

Old Unix Geek

I'm coming to the unpleasant realization that unless things change soon, most future innovation will probably be happening in China/Asia/Russia because of the incentive structures than run the West and the accelerating improvements over there.

China's just cured a fellow from diabetes using his own stem-cells (imagine that, no more insulin profits). They've made a cancer drug which was only approved here to sell if it were marked up to $8000 a dose. Over there it's $280. Their new electric cars (BYD) seem to have more useful features while being much cheaper than Teslas. So of course our Western governments (US/EU) which care so very much about the environment are putting massive tariffs on them and on Solar panels. Even the US sanctions against China getting powerful AI chips seems to be backfiring against NVidia, now that Huawei's new AI chips on a 3nm (!!!) DUV (!!!) process are coming out. Sure, China's process has a lower yield than ASML's EUV process, but this is still pretty remarkable achievement. We'll also see what the Russians get up to in the coming decades once they have access to (Chinese) advanced fab tech.

I see that you conveniently left out a bunch of US infektions over the last decade
NFTs, metaverse, Apple Vision pro, rabbit R1, Humane AI pin, chatGPT 4o

Jokes aside, I think what Sören is saying is correct BUT...

You have to start some where, learn from that and move forward with that knowledge. EU put GDPR in place to protect our privacy, they didn't imagine the results would be a thriving industry of third party malicious compliance cookie banners.

But here we are.

DMA/DSA is much MUCH better written (don't listen to the spin doctors, read the text) and yet we have big tech dragging their feet, doing their best to comply without complying.

The next wave of regulation will be laser focused on interop and leave no room for Apples shenanigans. Hopefully there will also be much stricter right to repair laws.

Step by step. So I agree with Sören, but what he's saying is absolutely unrealistic. Interop is the ed goal, not the "this is what should have been done" because then we would sit here with a law that Apple found a bunch of loopholes in.

Imagine if they brought back OpenDoc and integrated those ideas into iOS.

Old Unix Geek

Apple just signed an agreement with OpenAI to integrate ChatGPT into Apple products.

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