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Apple’s Vision Pro protects the world's most valuable asset. Isolation will be the real price we pay.
Welcome to People vs Algorithms #70.
I look for patterns in media, business and culture. My POV is informed by 30 years of leadership in media and advertising businesses.
Sometimes it’s nice to read in the browser.
They wanted to hate it. Zuck made us all want to hate it. But most every review I've seen from the few that got to try the new Apple Vision Pro headset had something positive to say.
About its finish and finish, the quality of its eye tracking and 4k displays, the variable immersion setting controlled by its very own “digital crown”, where VR becomes AR with a delicate slide of your thumb. Please, just don’t say VR. Or AR. We don’t use those acronyms. Zuck does. Nerds do. This is “spatial computing.” It's the next wave.
How can you hate a “supple woven cable” elegantly connected to a tethered power supply. Its supple and its woven for fuck’s sake. I dare you to call it a USB battery cable.
They hated the price. Everyone hates the price. Until the price makes this headset a status symbol. Then price becomes a feature. Now boarding, group one. Patience… we will make something for everyone. Your group will be called.
What would you pay for the symphony of cameras and sensors, orchestrated by a “real time” OS and custom built silicon that “seamlessly blends digital content with your physical space.” Apple found a way to put a fresh spin on a tired category. Admit it. Now you want it.
And the harshest thing they all had to say was “why?” The critics wanted to know why we need this new thing.
It’s the big obvious question that accompanies any big new technological announcement that suggest a new way to spend time. Why do we need this? And why do we insist on investing an enormous amount of money and human ingenuity developing something that requires this much debate on whether it should even exist?
Thankfully, Apple made an ad to try to explain why. But is anyone really gonna design a surfboard while making their kid peanut butter toast and kicking a soccer ball? Wearing ski goggles? I mean, that doesn’t seem like a thing. Perhaps we can focus energy elsewhere. What about the shitty roads in New York? Could we fix those please Apple? Public toilets are disgusting. How about some brain power here?
Cynics might see the “digital crown” as the ultimate dystopian metaphor. Dial out our threadbare, pock-marked dysfunctional physical present, dial in Apple’s perfect-stitched utopian future. Rest your tired bones on the ultimate tree planters in our world. Admire the soft leather edging. Don’t worry, the corners of our world won’t hurt you. They are the perfect radius for aesthetics, comfort and safety.
Of course for everything there is a reason. Underneath all of that mind blowing tech, here’s the real one…the new economics of interface.
Owning the brain interface to the world is the ultimate power position. Interfaces guide human behavior. Media used to be the brain interface. But technology platforms replaced media as owners of the most important interface. Those that own the physical (hardware) and software position sit at the top of the pile. Apple is the interface king. They started with the phone, moved to the wrist and ears. Now they have to protect the eyes. Zuck wanted the eyes, but no one likes the idea of Zuck near their eyes.
To understand how this works, look no further than the balance sheets of the world’s dominant modern interface owners. Apple, Meta, Google accumulated cold war sized stockpiles of cash as the new interfaces to our world, interfaces that transcend media, communication and commerce without the margin pressures and real world complexity of doing all the things these kinds of companies have to do to create the underlying products for people. Like making content, selling products, proffering real life services. When you are the interface point across all manner of things, you become the tax man. Being the tax man is a very good business. OpenAI wants to be a tax man too.
Humans love interface consistency. Only a few can achieve dominance.
What else are you going to do with all of that cash? You might like to buy competitors to fortify your position, but increasingly the government frowns upon aggressive platform acquisitions. Or, maybe there’s just no one of importance left to buy.
So you point your arsenal back to finding the next interface point, ideally one that gets you closer to the target, even better if it requires an insanely complex mix of hardware and software, a moat that will protect the next frontier of interface ownership and extend your dominion over a new wave of application and content creators that will, ultimately be forced to bow down to you. This is the answer. This is why you do it, even if it is highly speculative. It’s worth it.
You will see evidence of this interface power shift everywhere. Anybody with data and a persistent connection to the consumer wants to become the new tax man. Retailers, like Amazon, used to just sell things until they realized that exploiting the human interface was a way to tax everyone else that needed a path to the consumer. This is “retail media.” Uber and Instacart discovered the same thing. Telco’s will do it too if they can figure out how to put the pieces together. They have never been very nimble. Car makers will try to do it next.
Even if you don’t quite make it to the eyes, Apple will own the space around the device. All those cameras and sensors do something else, more than enable you to summon heart emojis and confetti with hand gestures. They control your world with a wave, flick or pinch. Apple will give you that control. Spatial interface control is a valuable consolation prize. The eyes will succumb eventually.
In fairness, you probably make a list of other things you could do, but they were ruled out because they: 1) did not reinforce interface dominance; 2) had already been done reasonably well; 3) were low margin; 4) led you into messy business that would may jeopardize the buddhist order of the your Norman Foster designed spaceship home.
You already made small rectangular interfaces that owned hands and wrists. You made really nice medium sized ones for bags and desks. You could make big hang-on-the-wall ones, but that would put you in competition with people that do that rather well and don’t really make any money at it. Better to eat away at it from the little boxes that renders the interfaces on them.
You could take some of your cash stack and enter the messy content fray. Text is low margin, just aggregate that in a nice interface (Apple News). Entertainment is glamorous and it is essentially advertising for all of your interfaces. It can be contained as long as you don’t make anything too controversial. And, it’s very useful if you want to own the brains of the entertainment interface. Yes, do that.
You could make cars but that’s the messiest game of all. If you dominate phones for long enough they will become cars, or at least the brains of them. Leave cars to Elon, for now. Stay close to the body.
Bikes are cool. Many of your California employees would love to design them. But it’s hard to make money on bikes. And they don’t need much of an interface. Avoid exercise equipment because here you inevitably end up shilling it on late night TV and that doesn’t even exist anymore. No one in the spaceship wants the Apple brand on a sad machine in the basement.
No, this is what you have to do. Move from the hand and the arm to the ears and then the eyes. Hijack the body. Own its health data. Replace the ugliness of the real world with a modernist, utopian Apple reality.
You could try to win at AI but it doesn’t play to your strengths. AI is the “everywhere interface.” It is just a text box or a spoken command. It doesn't need your fancy hardware. Besides, if you own the body interface, they will just put their AI inside of your things.
So that’s why. This week Apple may have started to solve the last nagging problem of total interface ownership, familiar to anyone that put an Oculus on their face. When the connection between real and virtual words is severed with a device, it’s isolating and claustrophobic. You feel vulnerable.
Tim Cook made a point of describing the Apple headset as “the first Apple technology you look through, not at.” That’s inspired product positioning and the ultimate end game. Even if you have to make a seemingly bizarre product decision to render a facsimile of your blinking eyes on an outward screen to communicate your humanity to people that might enter the room. A room where you sit, sad and alone, with your $3500 headset.
No one wants to come home to a partner that is sitting on the sofa with a headset on. It's dystopian. Media is social. VR is lonely. That said, if you are going to be sad and alone, this seems like a cool way to spend time.
Apple doesn't need the Vision Pro to succeed immediately. But they do need to protect the interface to the world's most privileged bodies. Vision Pro seems like a good way to do it.
ON THE POD
Enter the Face Computer
Apple has unveiled its long-anticipated entree into mixed reality, with the announcement of a headset that will be available starting next year. We discuss whether the Vision Pro stands a chance as a mass consumer product, along with the outlook for CNN as its revamp devolves into chaos.
Two lonely boys
A newer one:
And a classic:
"Lonely Boy" is a song by American rock band the Black Keys. It is the opening track from their 2011 studio album El Camino and was released as the record's lead single on October 26, 2011. The song is also the A-side of a promotional 12-inch single that was released in commemoration of Record Store Day's "Back to Black" Friday event. The single was accompanied by a popular one-shot music video of a man dancing and lip-synching the lyrics.
"Lonely Boy" is an international hit song from 1977, written and recorded by Andrew Gold in 1976 for his album What's Wrong with This Picture? It spent five months on the American charts, peaking at number seven in both Canada and the United States, and number 11 in the United Kingdom. While "Lonely Boy" would be Gold's biggest U.S. hit, his track "Never Let Her Slip Away" achieved greater success in the U.K.
The song follows the life of a child who feels neglected by his parents after the birth of a younger sister.