Apple’s First New Product Category in Years

Jan 9, 2024
Apple’s First New Product Category in Years

The tech industry loved the pandemic.

Not in some sick or perverse way.

I don’t think anyone wanted the pain, suffering, and horrible ramifications on a generation of children not permitted to attend school. Of course not.

And we certainty didn’t want to face the growing body of hard evidence of deaths and permanent injuries caused by the COVID-19 mRNA “vaccines” (experimental drugs).

But the industry did want widespread societal change.

The Catalyst Tech Could Have Only Hoped For

Leading up to the pandemic, the tech industry’s Big Problem wasn’t the Millennials or the Gen Z generation… who have been born into a mobile and digital-first lifestyle.

They’re locked in, having grown up thinking that food just magically shows up at anyone’s door, and it happens just by pressing a button on a phone.

Tech’s Big Problem was the stubborn older generations.

The problem was the Baby Boomer generation and what’s left of the Silent Generation.

For them, life was just fine. Phone calls on a mobile phone to grandkids were great, but they were largely resistant to radical change beyond that. They knew how to get things done, and there was no real reason to change.

But tech was anxious for change. It wanted to expand its reach further. The industry had been waiting for a moment like the pandemic to capitalize on. They had been lying in wait.

It was easy to understand why so many tech firms blindly supported lock downs and other failed pandemic policies…

Those policies drove people online. They forced consumers to interact through applications (apps) on mobile phones or software programs on their computers. There was no other choice.

And for those generations, there were only two options…

Give up and retire, which millions did. Or get with the program and continue working and interacting remotely with a tech-heavy lifestyle.

This was the choice, or sacrifice, that most were forced to make.

Not surprisingly, the high-tech market soared throughout 2020 and 2021, as utilization skyrocketed. The tech heavy NASDAQ composite jumped 133% between the March lows of 2020 to the peak in November 2021. What a historical run.

The pandemic was the catalyst that the tech industry could have only hoped for.

One of the most obvious, and for some visceral, changes that was forced upon us was the shift towards video calls.

They became the standard for communications and meetings in any workplace, as employers and employees struggled to maintain productivity in an environment where team members rarely ever saw each other in real life (IRL).

Whether it was Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, or any other video conference call platform, like it or not video conferencing apps became the de facto way to work. Normal voice conference calls were buried, done.

Zoom Video Communications (ZM), a pure play on this trend, reached a peak valuation in excess of $150 billion in late 2020. There is no better example of how radical “that catalyst” was than what happened with Zoom.

And of course, the same trend was quick to seep into our personal lives… with FaceTime or any other video communications app on a smart phone.

The experience, of course, was far from perfect. Video jitter, audio latency, misunderstandings, frozen video, talking over one another…

What a terrible experience.

Hilarity ensued, as well. Kids walked in on important calls doing silly things, the dog jumped up into view, and the worst of all — someone forgot that the video was on and found themselves in a very compromising position in full view of all their colleagues.

Who needs to pay to watch a comedy show… it’s free in real life.

Of course, the technology improved dramatically. Consumers became educated in how to use the software. Mishaps occur far less frequently now.

But one problem hasn’t been solved.

The Problem of Presence

While today we can see our colleagues, friends, and business associates, the experience is still not immersive.

It’s slightly better than a voice conference call…

But what’s missing is “presence.”

We can think of this as having the sense that we’re in the same space as the person we’re speaking to. Our eyes are aligned when we’re looking at one another, the latency (delay) is near real time, and our conversation and body language are in sync with one another.

Big companies have been working on this problem for years. The solution tended to be custom designed rooms, with large screens that had multiple video cameras embedded within.

This helped solve the problem of speaking with someone and feeling like they are looking directly at you.

Obviously, this approach isn’t very practical for most people. And scaling to the consumer market would be nearly impossible.

In the last few years, Google has been working on this problem with its Project Starline.

Project Starline, Circa 2021, Source: Google

It’s impressive technology. A tech-heavy solution — which is good for 1:1 calls — but again, not practical for scaling to consumers.

Then in May 2023, Google announced that it had scaled down the technology further. The latest iteration shrunk the footprint of the communications system, yet…

It’s still too far from something that can scale to billions.

Which is why the latest announcement from Apple is so interesting.

Source: Apple

Lying in Wait

Apple’s Vision Pro was first announced on June 5, 2023 as part of its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

That announcement, however, was targeted at developers, not consumers.

Apple framed the product as the world’s first “spatial computer” and wanted developers to begin developing software applications for this exciting new platform. Apple has always used this sequence with every new hardware platform.

But the big, mass market announcement came yesterday.

Seen above is the consumer grade Vision Pro, the first new product category since Apple launched the Apple Watch in 2015.

To say this has been long awaited is one heck of an understatement.

All product attempts to date at virtual or mixed reality products have had limited adoption and significant limitations. And that means niche market size.

Google Glass comes to mind.

The wearable glasses were an early science project of Google. But the timing wasn’t right… the tech wasn’t ready. Google’s product was awkward, had very limited functionality, and the outward facing camera was visible and obtrusive, putting off many people within the camera’s line of sight. As a result, Google Glass went nowhere.

But Apple’s product strategy has always been consistent.

It never rushes a product to market. It is never first.

Apple waits until the technology is ready for the mass market and is capable of providing an incredible consumer experience. It does a remarkable job focusing on the simplicity of the user interface.

Vision Pro will be no different.

Apple’s formula continues to define product categories. Apple may refer to this as “spatial computing.” But the reality is that it will encompass virtual, mixed, and augmented reality all in one.

Technology aside, the utility of a product like this spans the workplace, productivity, communications, entertainment, and even gaming applications.

And Apple did about the smartest thing it could have done — something I’ve predicted for years…

It designed a user interface capable of being controlled by user voice commands, users finger gestures, and our eyes.

The Vision Pro is laden with sensors that “see” what we’re looking at, “hear” our commands, and watch our hands/fingers to execute a command.

Apple's Vision Pro Tracks Hand Eye Movement
Source: Apple

The video above gives us a small sliver of what it’s like to use a product like this. But ultimately, this is something to be experienced.

Which brings us back to video calls…

No Going Back

Apple has solved the mass market “presence” problem with the Vision Pro.

Apple Vision Pro Creates a Avatar Persona
Source: Apple

As seen above, Apple solves this problem by creating an avatar of the user.

The Vision Pro can scan a user’s face, process that information, and create an avatar that is an accurate representation of a user. (Note: Apple calls this a “Persona,” but I’m going to stick with avatar.)

Apple uses machine learning technology in order to process and recreate a version of us for use in video calls.

This technology enables us to wear a Vision Pro and have immersive video calls with others while appearing in our avatar format (i.e. we’re not seen with the Vision Pro headset on). The software is already integrated to work with Zoom, Cisco Webex, and Microsoft Teams.

And here’s the really cool part: The Vision Pro “sees” our facial expressions. It even “sees” our hand movements. And those expressions and movements are reflected in our avatar that others see on the call.

This is what brings our avatar to life and makes it reflect the real us, in real time.

The reality is: Life has changed radically whether we like it or not. And for so many of us, remote work is here to stay.

Even for many of us, school conferences no longer happen in person. Video calls “stuck” because of the saved time for all parties…

A massive cultural shift has taken place. And there’s no way to push the reset button.

Yes, we might look a little goofy when we wear the Vision Pro. And yes, it will definitely mess up our hair…

But there is no denying the utility of a product like this as a completely new computing platform. A computing platform that no longer requires keyboard and a mouse…

This is just the beginning.

At $3,499, this is clearly not a mass market product yet. The technology is, but the price isn’t. 

Apple had to start somewhere, though, and it’s not known for selling products at a loss.

And we should remember: This is Apple’s 1st generation spatial computing device. Will it improve every year? Absolutely. Will the device get smaller and lighter? You bet.

And most importantly, will the price plummet to a mass market range?

100% it will.

Apple was smart to wait for it.

The hardest part has been accomplished. The radical change in consumer behavior that resulted from the pandemic policies has already happened. We’re all used to it now.

There’s no going back, only forward.

The pump has been primed for Apple…

And just like a leopard crouched on its haunches in the bush, Apple is ready to strike.

What do you think of this issue of Outer Limits? As always, we welcome your feedback and questions, and look forward to them. We read each and every email and address common questions in the Friday AMA issues. Please write to us by clicking here.

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