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The New Apple Headset

The new Apple Vision Pro headset is a new platform as much as a new product. If it succeeds it will be the first of a line of product for years to come. If it fails it will be beacuse it didn’t provide enough value for its cost. Either way it’s something Apple had to try.

The $3500 device is their fourth computing platform – following computers, phones/tablets, and watches. Each has their own distinct operating system, computing system, and display. As interesting as the product is now, we have no idea of what it will be five years from now. But unlike the others, where out of the gate they affordable and could be put to use to do worthwhile things, the Vision Pro is different. There’s not yet a killer app. Of all the platforms, the Watch had the most skeptics. Why would anyone want a $500 watch with a screen that’s off most of the time. Now in its 8th generation, the Watch hhas sold more than the entire fine watch industry of Switzerland. So who really knows?

And that’s the way Tim Cook described the product, “In the same way that Mac introduced us to personal computing, and iPhone introduced us to mobile computing, Apple Vision Pro will introduce us to spatial computing. This marks the beginning of a journey that will bring a new dimension to powerful personal technology.”

Apple is still trying to convince us that the product can justify the $3500 cost, calling it a computer, a high definition TV, a spatial audio and video system. It can be used for playing games, doing the sorts of things you’d do on a phone or computer. Still, that’s all a stretch and not enough now to make it successful by Apple standards, only enough to perhaps sell a few million units by the end of 2024.

A true measure of its success will be what comes afterwards. What new functions and uses will it have we can’t even envision? WIll the cost drop enough to make it affordable?

From everything I have learned, the complexity of the product seems greater than any other consumer electroncis products I’ve ever encountered. It’s required hundreds of new inventions, including its wraparound displays, its complex optical system, cameras and software to interpret hand gestures, and materials to keep it light and comfortable. That explains why 5000 patents have already been filed. There’s just no other company with the ability to pull this off. No company in a position to invent all of this themselves or acquire the experts they need. There’s no company that is willing to risk billions of dollars for something so uncertain. (Well there’s Meta and we see how that went.)

Apple’s attitude, having worked there and observed since, has always been to do things differently, take risks and be willing to fail. More times than not they finally do get things right, alllowing them to reap the benefits of selling well designed products at unusually large margins. Other times they fail big, such as the Newton, a product I know all too well.

We should give them a lot of credit. There are still so many uncertainties. Will it do enough useful things that people are willing to pay for? Can they get the volume high enough to drive down the cost of the components like the displays? Can they solve the comfort and nausea issues associated with other products like this? And can Apple afford to pour billions each year to get the product to where it needs to be?

But there’s no doubt in my mind that this is something Apple had to do as long as there’s a chance that this will turn into a new platform.