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Monday, January 29, 2024

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Luther Weymann

Apple has defined itself as a very successful tech-oriented company. Apple and many others are desperate to invent the next big thing. They already have a phone in your hand, so they know you won't hold two things. They could strap something on your clothing, but that was tried and disregarded. They could strap something on your face and are trying that now. Facebook tried stapping things on faces. PCs are supposed to be dying market, but Dell PC sales went up 16% last year, and Apples PC sales went up 22%, so PCs aren't going anywhere but up in sales. So, what does Apple do if you're a consumer tech gadget company? Make a car? That is suicide. How about a better refrigerator? Nah, your competitor, Samsung, is killing that. Apple has these meetings where they ask brilliant employees what is the one thing Apple could invent that fits our market and our manufacturing that would be really popular with consumers? Does it go in the hand, on the body, on the face, on your desk? Where does it go, and what is the next great thing? As you can see by the facemask, the answer is not easy.

Gwyneth Llewelyn

Clearly it's not an easy question to answer.

However, as always, from their ads, I think that Apple's marketing department are spot on their target. They aren't selling a "VR helmet" or a "augmented reality wearable device" or "the best head-tracking technology for your favourite first-person shooters" (just look at the ads for the Quest to see what I mean).

Instead, they're selling "the Apple experience", and replacing your 70' plasma screen with something you can put on your face, use anywhere, and watch movies with the sound on maximum without bothering anyone, while at the same time being able to take voice and video calls *and* still be aware of your surroundings.

It's *not* a blindfold that you're forced to wear all the time — as so many have commented with the current state-of-the-art VR helmets/goggles out there.

Personally, as a an Apple fangirl, I'm pretty sure they know precisely well what they're doing, and to whom they're targeting their product, and you get lots of hints from their videos — they're *not* selling this product to youngsters or hobos living in slums or trailer parks — who, BTW, all *can* afford second-hand iPhones these days.

Will it be *another* Earth-shattering paradigm shift, spearheaded by Apple (and imitated by everybody else by Christmas 2024)? Welllll... I would guess not. I'd expect the Vision Pro to be a bit like the Apple Watch: a crazy, over-expensive idea, which is actually a pretty good product, and that Apple continues to manufacture, upgrade, improve, and release new versions (in spite of all those Chinese copies costing $20 and being sold via AliExpress!), and I'm pretty sure that their Apple Watch division runs at a profit. Probably not a *huge* profit, and possibly all those chips put into Apple Watches could be much better employed on manufacturing *more* iPhones (where Apple surely has a far larger margin!), but... it's still an "Apple success" in the sense that it makes money, is a solid product, and is still around, and there is still marginal demand for it — enough for Apple to continue to invest in it.

I suspect the Apple Vision Pro will be similar: selling a few hundreds of thousands of units, perhaps a million or so per year, enough for Apple to continue to manufacture it, and release a non-Pro version for half the price (as soon as the competitors hit the market with much lower-priced devices).

But... we'll see. One thing is for sure: whatever happens to the Apple Vision Pro product line, Apple has packed an impressive array of high-end tech into such a small device. You may have seen many videos of a very frustrated Zuckerberg, surrounded by VR prototypes in many stages of assembly, and complaining how hard it is to put so much technology inside their devices. That's what he's been saying for years and years: this is hard, very hard to do, and until we're happy with the results, we'll continue to invent and develop radical new tech in order to build the "perfect" VR set for a price *you* can afford to pay!

By contrast... Apple didn't say a word. They spent their research time in absolute silence and zero leaks. I have no idea for how long they've been developing this, or how much their research costed. When we started hearing rumours — basically, when their Chinese factories started getting specs for the components — Apple was already finished with their research and had a product ready for production. Then it was just a question of advertising it — not by complaining about how hard it is to develop "VR goggles", but rather to show off what their engineers *can* do, and surprise us with the "wow" effect.

But that's how Apple's magic *works*.

Here is an example of what I'm saying. Remember the interview that Zuckerberg gave, showing off his incredibly advanced technology to capture your own body in 3D and animate it with convincing facial expressions, so that you can use your "digital twin" in a virtual teleconference? Well, the first thing I asked myself was on the first ad I saw for the Vision Pro. If you remember, there is a moment where the person wearing the Vision Pro is doing a videoconference with their family. And I asked myself: "how on Earth is *that* possible?" Sure, there are cameras *inside* the Vision Pro, but they just track your eyes; and there are cameras *outside* the Vision Pro to capture your surroundings, but there isn't a "selfie camera" that, uh, pops out and floats around to capture a video of yourself?... So, how could someone wearing the headset show themselves on video? Also... will your face actually be obstructed by the huge goggles? Not a friendly way to chat with your family and friends, right?

Well, have no fear. Apple shrugs off these "technical details"; there is a voice-over bit lasting 2 or 3 seconds saying that what happens is that the Vision Pro will reconstruct a 3D avatar of yourself and send that image directly to your video stream — the internal tracking cameras will know what you're looking at, and the external ones are tracking your arms and hands, so they will replicate that on your 3D avatar, so that nobody will notice that it's not "you" on the call, but just your digital twin.

Say... what?

So basically what Apple is saying that, whatever Zuckerberg has been working on for years, and promoting as his next-generation, high-end, very sophisticated communication technology... well, all that Apple packed into 2-3 seconds on an ad (probably because people asked them how it would be possible to have videoconferencing if you're wearing the goggles strapped to your head!), and gave it little importance. "Oh, sure, so we devised a way to create a deepfake avatar of yourself, animated in real time, but we're not really bragging about *that*, it's just a 'technical difficulty' we had to overcome in the most user-friendly way so that people can actually make videocalls from 'within' the Vision Pro — that's all there is".

Right. Uh...

*If* Apple ever designed their electric, self-driven car (I agree it would be suicide to do so at this stage, but...), it would have a 2,500-mile autonomy with a single charge, but Apple would focus just on the Dolby Atmos support of the "entertainment console" at your fingertips — which is really all you'd see on their ads. The rest, well, would be "minor details". They might even not mention that everything is really powered by just two rechargeable AAA batteries, which get their charges directly from the solar panels embedded on the glass dome that gives passengers a 360-degree panorama of the exterior... but that would just be a footnote, in small print, saying "AAA batteries not included".

:-)

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