A sharing conversation about Apple: Why Apple stands still to the popular smart glasses?

Sep 21, 2021 Marketing


01 Apple's launch event: Does iPhone 13 meet our expectations? Why didn't smart glasses come?

To summarize Apple's launch event 2021 in one word, maybe it is "boring".

The iPhone 13 Pro brings better battery life, double the capacity, and an adaptive high refresh rate of up to 120 Hz, all in a very modest way. Keep in mind that Razor already achieved a high refresh rate of 120 Hz on the Razor Phone 1 4 years ago.

But this is in line with Apple's usual style - focus on the real use of the user experience, rather than to please the user's purchase desire; the pursuit of long-term value, rather than the pursuit of maximum benefit in the short term. Longer battery life can definitely make your experience more comfortable; doubling the capacity without price increase is equivalent to a price reduction; high refresh rate is also expected ...... these upgrades may be weak for driving the purchase, but it can really make your daily use experience better.

But as an Apple launch event, it lacked surprises. The style of the person at the helm does influence the DNA of a company. Apple today is like Cook himself, up at 4:00, off at 9:00, working, living, and exercising on a regular basis. He's practical and reliable, and he can actually help you solve problems, but he doesn't surprise you.

Looking back at the Steve Jobs era, whether it was when he pulled the first generation Macbook Air out of the envelope or the first iPhone with its disruptive touchscreen interaction logic, we always found moments of surprise. This was Jobs' style of disrupting one line of work after another. iPods disrupted the record industry, iPhones disrupted functional phones, and the classic "One More Thing" session always exceeded the audience's expectations, even if they were high.

This is Cook's tenth year to run Apple. In this decade, Cook has made up the blueprint drawn by Steve Jobs, and Apple has become the first company ever to exceed $2 trillion in market value. But as a "great CEO", he is still missing a so-called "disruptive moment".

The Apple Watch can be seen as a try by Cook. As a smartwatch, Apple Watch is already good enough, and the shipments of Apple Watch in 2019 even exceeded the total sales of all Swiss brand watches. But the Apple Watch is still an auxiliary device attached to the phone, and if you take the standards of the next-generation computing platform to demand it, it is still far from qualified.

AR glasses may be the next trump card in Cook's hand. "AR will be the core technology" "AR will be as groundbreaking as smartphones" "Apple builds the largest AR platform ever" ...... In the past 5 years, Cook has expressed his love for AR no less than 15 times in public. Judging from the public patent documents, Apple has been exploring the AR field for more than 10 years.

But AR glasses are slow to be released, and it's clear that Apple has hit a bottleneck in research and development. Famous analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted in January this year that Apple's first AR headset device would be released in 2021. But in March, he changed his prediction to "mid-2022". In fact, as early as 2019, tech media DigitalTimes reported that Apple had disbanded the team responsible for developing the AR glasses. According to LinkedIn, team leader Avi Barzeev also left Apple in February 2019.

The essence behind this may be that Apple's choice of technology path - AR, maybe it is wrong, and it is necessary to mention the other two similar concepts with AR, VR and MR.

AR (Augmented Reality) emphasizes the interaction between the virtual world and the real world. But the real world has a lot of uncertainty, and the interaction between virtual reality and reality requires very powerful real-time computing power. At the same time, as a wearable device, AR glasses have very high requirements for portability. How to find a balance between computing power and energy consumption, especially when Apple VR as the next generation of computing platform to develop, is a problem that must be solved.

And relatively speaking, because VR (Vitual Reality, virtual reality) is a virtual world built entirely by programmers, all the elements are more controllable. In fact, the hardware itself, although also difficult in technology, but compared to AR, it's significantly less difficult.

MR (Mixed Reality) is the ultimate form of mixing the virtual and real worlds, the end of VR and AR. VR, AR, MR, is essentially a question of the order of technological development. In the path to MR, Apple chooses AR, which is more difficult , while its rival, Facebook, chooses VR, a technology closer to maturity.

It's possible that Facebook's mentality is to stick to the VR path. As a hardware company, Apple has always held the power of the end device, which makes Facebook be very passive in the competition. The best example of this is Apple's updated privacy policy last year, which significantly impacted Facebook's personalized ad recommendation business. Facebook generates more than 98% of its revenue from advertising.

In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus, the head of the VR space, and to this day, Oculus hardware holds the absolute top spot with 58% market share of all VR devices, among 1/3 of Oculus games earn more than $1 million, and 6 games exceed $10 million.

Another notable figure is that shipments of all VR devices are approaching 10 million. That's roughly the same number as iPhone 3G sales that year. That was in 2008, 2-3 years before Apple launched the iPhone 4, which really ended the functional phone era. This is an important reason why capital is bullish on the VR market.

About the choice of Apple and Facebook's technology path, it may seem to be a rivalry differentiation, but from another perspective, it is actually a different choice for two generations.

Zuckerberg is 37 years old, while Cook is 60. A supply chain guru who pursues fine-grained management in everything, his vision of the future world may be the everyday life that incorporates Internet data intelligence and image recognition capabilities. He does not want to change too much of the existing real world, so AR is a priority.

And a young person, his idea might be: "Why do I have to go out to the mall, can I just wear a pair of glasses at home and just go to the mall?" This is very close to the hot concept of "metauniverse", in fact, VR is strongly related to the metauniverse. Zuckerberg once put on VR glasses to be interviewed by the U.S. television station CBS in the virtual world .

Right now, VR has proven the possibility of commercialization, and Apple is facing the challenge of immature AR. But when the ecology of VR gets up first, it may use AR as a technology to go in and eventually lead to MR, so that Apple will be left behind by others in the next generation of computing platform. So now there are rumors that Apple is also doing VR, which may also be a reason why Apple is so focused on glasses, very early layout, but slow to put out.


02 If Apple does not R&D smart glasses, and how to understand Xiaom 's smart glasses

Just a day before the Apple launch, Xiaomi released a smart glasses. It can display information, talk, navigate, take photos, translate and other functions through MicroLED light waveguide display technology.

This is not the first time smart glasses have appeared in front of the public, as early as 2012, Google released its own smart glasses Google Glass.

At the time, the glasses seemed to be an epoch-making technology product, but its commercialization process did not go smoothly. The initial Google Glass not only cost $1500, but also had problems such as lack of applications, uncomfortable wear, and even privacy violations. Many problems made Google Glass a "succeed in concept, fail in market" project, and eventually Google stopped developing Google Glass in 2015.

At the beginning of the rise of the smart glasses track, the market was generally optimistic about its potential, believing that smart glasses had the potential to replace smartphones. The logic of the market was that "mobile beats non-mobile, wearable beats non-wearable". In other words, the more portable a hardware device with the same functionality is, the greater the competitive advantage is. Smartphones, for example, have replaced personal computers to some extent. The reason is that, due to the improvement of performance, many functions that could only be done by personal computers can already be achieved by smartphones, and cell phones are more portable than computers and have a lower threshold of use.

But the fact is that Google Glass did not succeed in replacing smartphones. The failure of Google Glass lies in the way Google makes glasses - Google used the Internet thinking to make glasses.

To design products through Internet thinking does not rely on the progress of technology itself. Its essence of the existing reality is based on finding new scenarios, and then invest capital to change.

But smart glasses is essentially a hardware product. When designing a hardware product, the company must first start from the technology and supply chain, then find the use of the scene in the second step, and then gradually subvert the scene. This is a long process that requires technological progress and supply chain support.

When Google designed Google Glass, it aimed at the scenario of a "personal computing platform in next generation " in advance. Perhaps at the beginning of the project, the scenario that was out of the technology era was doomed to failure.

After Google, social networking company Snap released its own smart glasses, Spectacles, which went to the other extreme, adding only a camera and social sharing, making it a complete functional phone. The Spectacles ended up like Google Glass, with only about 150,000 units sold and Snap losing nearly $40 million.

Snap is not the only company "not doing its own job" with smart glasses, as another traditional audio company, Bose, is also involved in the smart glasses circuit. But Bose's smart glasses are more like ordinary sunglasses with integrated Bluetooth functionality, and still have to be connected to a cell phone, so Bose's glasses are far from the smart glasses that people expect.

As for Xiaomi's smart glasses, Xiaomi made it a point to emphasize in the announcement that the glasses are "not a second screen for the phone, but a new intelligent terminal that operates independently". But Xiaomi glasses is not really AR, its nature is still an auxiliary nature of the display device, and does not have the ability of spatial perception.

The core problem of AR glasses today is still the bottleneck of display technology, and arithmetic power and energy consumption can not be taken into account. The industry generally believes that the limit that users can afford is 100 grams, less than 50 grams is a more reasonable weight. This is a problem that generally plagues the industry.

Although Xiaomi glasses still need time from the official sale, but it is a new step of smart glasses, that is, can be independent from the phone. This means that the glasses become an independent product, rather than a phone attachment. Even today the glasses are far from perfect, and AR glasses are not a concept, but smart glasses like this may open up some market demand and be considered as a stepping stone to growing into a "personal computing platform in next generation".