Reported Mixed Feelings on Mixed Reality

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Stories of discord around Apple’s MR headset, Tim Cook makes a big trip to China, and new titles teased for Apple TV+. 

Negativity and Doubt Around Apple’s Mixed-Reality Headset

Four pages of doubt. On Sunday, the New York Times ran a lengthy piece on turmoil inside Apple tied to the company’s anticipated mixed-reality headset. Single-spaced, though with paragraph breaks, rendered in 12-point font it was four pages about the high price, the relatively small number of first round units expected to be sold, Jony Ive leaving four years ago, and “rare dissent” inside Apple over the anticipated product. 

Five years ago, the piece says Ive showed a video to Apple’s 100 top executives, illustrating what a good augmented reality device could do. “But now,” according to the Times:

…as the company prepares to introduce the headset in June, enthusiasm at Apple has given way to skepticism, said eight current and former employees, who requested anonymity because of Apple’s policies against speaking about future products. There are concerns about the device’s roughly $3,000 price, doubts about its utility and worries about its unproven market.

Four pages — not that it was all negative. “Apple’s headset is considered a bellwether for virtual and augmented reality,” accord to the piece, though it went on to say:

…the road to deliver augmented reality has been littered with failures, false starts and disappointments, from Google Glass to Magic Leap and from Microsoft’s HoloLens to Meta’s Quest Pro. Apple is considered a potential savior because of its success combining new hardware and software to create revolutionary devices. Still, the challenges are daunting.

Though tinged with something close to negativity, there are interesting ideas in the piece. With an anticipated emphasis on “copresence,” on business applications, and doubling as a tool for artists, designers, and engineers, version one of the headset may be for a select set of users, with later versions geared for the general consumer. This was an idea we heard twice over the weekend — once from the New York Times and once from Bloomberg. We’ll get to the latter in a moment. In the New York Times piece, Matthew Ball — author of the book The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everythingwas quoted comparing:

…[Apple’s] strategy with this device to Tesla’s strategy with the Roadster, its initial $100,000 electric vehicle. Eventually, Tesla followed it with lower-priced cars with broader appeal.

Similarly, Carolina Milanesi — consumer tech analyst with Creative Strategies, likens Apple’s headset approach with the one taken on Apple Watch. Originally envisioned as an extension of iPhone, when users leaned hard into the watch’s fitness features, Apple leaned into selling it as a fitness device. 

Hoping the Headset Follows a Familiar Trajectory

As for our friends from Bloomberg, in Sunday’s Power On newsletter Mark Gurman declared in the headline, “Apple’s Best Hope for New Headset: a Smartwatch-Like Trajectory.” 

Plenty of uncertainty in this piece as well, if not downright negativity. Quoting Gurman:

Mixed reality — a category that melds augmented and virtual reality — is still a nascent area and far riskier than Apple’s earlier attempts to establish new beachheads. With the Mac, iPod, iPhone, Apple Watch and iPad, the company was essentially creating a better version of a product that people were familiar with. With the headset, Apple will have to explain to consumers why they’d want to own such a product at all.

But they seem committed. Locked in, if you will. Remember those 100 execs Jony Ive is said to have shown an AR explainer five-years ago? They (or their remaining counterparts) reportedly gathered in Apple Park last week for a demo of the mixed-reality device. Not the first time, according to Gurman. He says they’ve seen demos since 2018. “But,” he writes:

…this time was different. Earlier demonstrations were lower-key affairs, meant to show progress and secure the headcount needed to keep going. The latest preview took place in the Steve Jobs Theater, Apple’s biggest showcase, suggesting that a public unveiling is getting close. 

Gurman goes on to say that the “demonstrations were polished, glitzy and exciting…” Now comes the part where they have to create a new market from practically nothing.

Tim Cook Speaks at China Development Forum

If one were so inclined, one could probably write a book about Tim Cook’s weekend. It wouldn’t just cover the 48-hours, of course, but I would argue a book could be written. 

Or maybe Aaron Sorkin could write a movie. 

A piece from 9to5Mac says Apple’s CEO stopped by Apple Sanlitun in Beijing early in the weekend. That was ahead of a speech at the China Development Forum. Referred to in the piece as “a state-sponsored ‘China business summit,’” 9to5 had Bloomberg listing Cook as:

…one of very few US executives set to attend the conference, “underscoring the growing delicacy of doing business in China in the current geopolitical climate.”

Of the 100-or-so foreign representatives in attendance, the list was said to be “light on US companies.” The CEO of Pfizer was the only other US exec I saw mentioned. Of course, Cook didn’t just go to see, he also went to say. A separate piece from 9to5Mac (this one highlighting a Financial Times report) pulled such comments from Cook’s speech as, “Apple and China grew together and so this has been a symbiotic kind of relationship… We could not be more excited” and “Innovation is developing rapidly in China and I believe it will further accelerate.”

Cook did mention Apple’s “very large supply chain operation in China,” and the many Apple Retail locations in the Middle Kingdom. He apparently did not mention “US-China tensions and supply chain issues.” Additionally, the piece says:

…Cook discussed education and the “need for young people to learn programming critical thinking skills.” He also announced that Apple “plans to increase spending on its rural education program to 100 million yuan.”

That’s a little over US$14.5M, for those keeping score at home. 9to5Mac says Cook’s visit and comments come as Apple is actively looking to diversify its supply chain outside of China.”

See? Feels like it would make a decent Aaron Sorkin movie. 

Hearing More Talk of Unreleased Earables

More talk of new earables from Apple. Midweek last week I told you about hints reportedly found in the release candidate for iOS 16.4 for two new pairs of ear buds. One was said to be a pair of unreleased AirPods and an unreleased AirPods case. The other was said to be an unreleased pair of Beats Studio Buds+, itself an unreleased product, following inline with 2021’s Beats Studio Buds. 

It is on the former that TF International analyst Ming-Chi Kuo commented over the weekend. On Twitter last Friday, Young MC said:

I think this is likely the USB-C version of the AirPods Pro 2, with mass shipments expected in 2Q23-3Q23. By the way, Apple currently appears to have no plans for USB-C versions of the AirPods 2 & 3.

Safety Feature in iOS 16.4 Can Automatically Dim Flashing Video

News of a really interesting, health related change in iOS 16.4. According to a piece from iDownloadBlog, the upcoming operating system “can automatically dim epilepsy-inducing flashing lights on videos.” Explaining the problem, the piece says:

People who suffer from motion sickness and (people with epilepsy) may experience seizures, headaches and other symptoms when exposed to flashing lights. That’s why you see a warning on movies and TV shows that include flashing visual effects.

According to iDownloadBlog, iOS 16.4 will let users turn on a feature to “automatically dim video when flickering or stroboscopic effects are detected.” Off by default, users with epilepsy or prone to motion sickness will be able to activate the safety feature when the update is released by going to Settings, then Accessibility, then Motion in the Vision section, then flip the toggle for Dim Flashing Light to ON. 

Teasing TV Titles

Apple TV+ Sets Release Date for Comedy Series ‘Platonic’

News of two new Apple TV+ titles to wrap the day today. Looking a couple of months out, Apple has issued a press release teasing the comedy series “Platonic.” According to that:

“Platonic” follows a platonic pair of former best friends approaching midlife (…) who reconnect after a long rift. The duo’s friendship becomes all consuming—and destabilizes their lives in a hilarious way.

The 10-episode comedy stars and is executive produced by Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen. This will be Byrne’s second show for the Cupertino-streamer. She’s already starred in two seasons of the 80s dramedy “Physical,” with a third season on the way later this year. This will be Rogen’s first title for Apple TV+ though a second is in the works. The release says he “is also set to star in an upcoming, untitled comedy series for Apple TV+ that he will write, direct and executive produce…” 

No word in the release on when that second series will premier. While there’s no trailer yet for “Platonic,” there is a release date. The comedy stylings of Byrne and Rogen hit Apple TV+ on Wednesday 24 May.

Apple TV+ Announces Release Date and Trailer for Boris Becker Docuseries

And finally today, something less fictitious and more dramatic hist Apple TV+ sooner. In a separate press release, the Cupertino-streamer has revealed a release date and a trailer for “Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker.” According to the release:

The docuseries explores every aspect of the man who became a tennis sensation after winning The Wimbledon Championships at the age of just 17, going on to win 49 career titles, including six Grand Slams and an Olympic gold medal, as well as his high-profile, sometimes tumultuous personal life.

From Academy Award winning director Alex Gibney and Academy Award winning producer John Battsek, the release says they had “special access to Becker for more than three years,” right up to his sentencing last April “for hiding assets and loans to avoid paying his debts.” The release says the show:

…features a series of personal interviews with Becker, including an exclusive conversation with the champion the week of his sentencing, alongside members of his immediate family and tennis stars, including John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Novak Djokovic, Mats Wilander and Michael Stich.

“Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker” hits Apple TV+ on Friday, April 7. You can catch the trailer now on YouTube.

Today on The Mac Observer’s Daily Observations Podcast

TMO Managing Editor Jeff Butts and I talk over Apple’s one/two MR hits from Bloomberg and the New York Times. Plus: Tim Cooks’ trip to China, the stilted Steve Jobs ghost in the machine, and MLS all come out for Mailbag Monday. That’s all today on the Daily Observations Podcast from The Mac Observer.

One thought on “Reported Mixed Feelings on Mixed Reality

  • Ken:

    When I saw the caption regarding mixed feelings about Apple’s mixed reality headset, I assumed that it had something to do with reportedly mixed feelings in Cupertino amongst Apple’s own employees, as reported this past weekend in the NY Times

    You see, apparently not all Cupertino campers are happy. Some have misgivings about its uptake and utility potential, others with its relative lack of progress – defections and possible firings as complicating factors, still others with its relatively kludgy application (by Apple standards), reportedly featuring ski goggles and a battery pack, and still others with a price tag rumoured to hover around $3000. As you can see, there’s enough unsettled material to leave even the most malleable minion miffed.

    Before addressing your point, permit a restatement of first principles – at least as we have come to observe them. Apple’s products are seldom, if ever, the first in class to market, but they do one of three essential things; they either solve a problem (iPod and portable music), provide a superior solution to a problem (touchscreen smartphones that include portable music, personal organisers and oh so much more), or expose untapped potential in an entirely new front for productivity and play (portable devices supported by iTunes and the App Store). These, in turn, generate sales for Apple, generate a reimagined and more robust entertainment and third party app industry, and unleash nascent creativity in work and play amongst the user community – a positive feedback loop in productivity and profits. Products that fail to do so die (Apple Hi-Fi aka Boombox), or they are cannibalised by better solutions and relegated to history (iPod). Even if these products are great at what they do but are overpriced, they can be effectively dead on arrival (Apple Lisa). If, and when, Apple make a more pricey variant of a hot-selling device or service, it succeeds because it already has a substantial installed base, and the ‘Ultra’ version has at least one or more compelling feature for the enthusiast (Apple Watch Ultra and longer battery life).

    And since we do not yet know what Apple will field for its mixed reality set, or even if they will, it is premature to opine on its survival prospects, however there is one observation that we can make. If it does not either solve a problem not yet solved, or provide a superior solution to a problem that creates mass appeal, or open vistas of latent creative potential, then its market success – let alone its mass appeal, is challenged to non-existent, and not likely to join the ranks of Apple’s successes. Misgivings in Cupertino could well be justified over misspent opportunity.

    And speaking of miscreants and misspent, Sweeney Tim’s take hardly qualifies as a qualified opinion to be mixed with those in Cupertino into ‘mixed feelings’. His is more like a contaminant – the thing one needs to treat in order to get back to wholesome. However, hyperbole and demagoguery seem to be a new standard for those wishing to make a fast and furious impact. Epic chap, that Sweeney Tim.

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