By John Gruber
Retool — build native iOS apps with just JS and SQL.
I got to spend about 30 minutes Monday afternoon using a Vision Pro and VisionOS at Apple Park, in a temporary “field house” building Apple constructed specifically for this experience. This was a one-on-one guided tour with someone from the Vision product marketing team, with the ground rules that I’m allowed to talk about everything I experienced, but photos and videos were not permitted.
It was a very fast 30 minutes, and the experience was, in a word, immersive. I’d pay good money just to run through the exact same 30 minutes again.
It was nowhere near enough time, nor was I able to wander far off the rails of the prepared demos. It’s very clear that the OS and apps are far from finished. But even given the brevity of the demo and constraints of the current state of the software, there are a few things I feel confident about describing.
First: the overall technology is extraordinary, and far better than I expected. And like my friend and Dithering co-host Ben Thompson, my expectations were high. Apple exceeded them. Vision Pro and VisionOS feel like they’ve been pulled forward in time from the future. I haven’t had that feeling about a new product since the original iPhone in 2007. There are several aspects of the experience that felt impossible.
Is it a compelling product, though? It’s a famous Steve Jobs axiom that technology is not enough, that you don’t make compelling products — let alone entire platforms — starting from advanced technology and working backward. You start with a vision for the product and platform experience and then create new technology to make it real. I simply can’t say whether Vision Pro is going to be a compelling product. I spent too little time with it, the software as of today is too far from complete, and, most importantly, the whole experience is too entirely new and mind-bending to render any such conclusion.
But the potential for Vision Pro to be a compelling product, across several use cases, is obvious. This might be great. And without question it is interesting, and I think the fundamental conceptual bones Apple has designed for VisionOS lay the groundwork for a long future. The first generation Vision Pro may or may not be a successful product — I simply don’t want to speculate on that front yet. But even just a small taste of VisionOS made me feel confident that it is going to be the next major platform for Apple and Apple developers, alongside MacOS and iOS/iPadOS.1
A few years ago I stopped wearing contact lenses and have since worn corrective eyeglasses full-time. Before my demo, a rep from Apple took my glasses and used a device to measure my lenses to provide corrective lens inserts for my demo unit. It only took about 3 or 4 minutes. When Vision Pro goes on sale next year, buying corrective lens inserts will probably work like buying eyeglasses online from a retailer like Warby Parker — you’ll provide a copy of your prescription from your eye doctor. It’ll be a slight hassle for us glasses wearers, but not much, and it’s unavoidable. (I see pretty well close up without glasses, so I’m curious how well I might see using Vision Pro without corrective lenses.) After the lens measurement I used an iPhone to do a brief facial scan akin to registering for Face ID (look at the phone, turn your head in a circle), and an ear scan. This test was for identifying a light seal that would best block light, and calibrating the speakers.
My demo was conducted in a relatively spacious living room. I sat on a couch. My tour guide, as it were, from product marketing sat on an arm chair next to the couch. We took a few minutes to go through the strap adjustments to make it comfortable on my face. My light seal was good, but not perfect. The single biggest downside from my demo experience is that Vision Pro feels heavier on your face than I had hoped it would. It’s not uncomfortable — at least not for 30 minutes — but I never forgot it was there, and it just makes your head feel a bit front-heavy.
The first run experience wearing Vision Pro requires a few minutes of very simple eye-tracking calibration exercises. You hold your head still, and VisionOS shows a series of dots in front of you, on a pure black background. Moving only your eyes, not your head, you simply look at each dot in front of you as they appear. After a minute or two of that, boom, you’re in.
What you see at first is just ... your world. You just see the room you’re in. There’s no status information, no metadata, no indicators. Just input from the cameras on the front of the headset, presented on the displays in front of your eyes. It does not magically look indistinguishable from real life, but it does not feel like looking at a screen at all. I perceived absolutely no latency. I definitely could not see pixels — the experience is “retina” quality. Apple is not yet stating what frame rate Vision Pro runs at, but I’m guessing it runs at 90 frames per second, if not higher.
Again, it doesn’t look at all like looking at screens inside a headset. It looks like reality, albeit through something like a pair of safety glasses or a large face-covering clear shield. There is no border in the field of vision — your field of view through Vision Pro exactly matches what you see through your eyes without it. Most impressively, and uncannily, the field of view seemingly exactly matches what you see naturally. It’s not even slightly wider angle, or even slightly more telephoto. There is no fisheye effect and no aberrations or distortion in your peripheral vision. What you see in front of your face exactly matches what your own eyes see when you lift the Vision Pro up over your eyes. Imagine a set of safety glasses that used a glass treatment that gives the world a slight bit of a “film look”. A slight tint (that tint might get dialed in closer to reality by next year — to me it felt ever so slightly warm, color-wise), and a slight bit of visually flattering smoothness to everything.
To do anything in VisionOS, you start by single-pressing the digital crown button above your right eye. (The other top button, on the left, will be used to capture spatial photos and videos, but that button was disabled on our demo units yesterday). Press the digital crown button and boom, your home screen of app icons appears in a plane in front of you. Long-press the digital crown button and it re-centers your virtual world in front of whatever you’re now looking at.
The navigation model of VisionOS is a breakthrough of conceptual simplicity. You simply look at something and tap your index finger and thumb, on either of your hands. I’ll call this “tapping” for lack of a better verb. When you look at any tappable UI element in VisionOS, it is visually highlighted. This highlighting is extremely similar to the hover effect in iPadOS when using a trackpad or mouse. In iPadOS, if you move the mouse pointer circle to a button or icon, that button/icon pops a bit, visually. If you look at a button or icon in VisionOS, that button/icon pops a bit. Some apps have toolbars with a dark background and gray button icons. Look at a button and that button will turn white. Tap your finger and thumb while looking at it and it activates. That’s it. Incredibly simple, surprisingly effective.
At first I found myself reaching out to pinch the icons and buttons I saw in front of me. Like if I wanted to activate Safari I’d reach my hand toward the Safari icon and pinch it. That works fine. But it’s completely unnecessary. You really can just leave your hands on your lap. It works when you try to pinch the actual virtual icon in your field of vision because you are looking at the icon, and your finger and thumb do tap, but your hands can be anywhere. All that matters is what you’re looking at. It started feeling natural within just a minute or two, and I could feel myself navigating the interface faster as the demo went on.
The next most striking aspect of the experience is that everything in VisionOS is completely stable in space. Let’s say you open a Safari window, then open a Messages window next to it. (You can move windows around the room by pinching and dragging on a “Window Bar” that hovers underneath every window. You can move windows left/right, up/down, and closer/further away from you.) Then you turn your head 90 degrees to your side, then turn your head to the other side, and then return your gaze to the center. Those windows for Safari and Messages do not move at all, relative to the real world. Not even a little. You know how when you use AR on an iPhone or iPad — the built-in Measure app is a perfect example — and virtual UI elements or items move around a little bit relative to reality as you pan and rotate the iPhone or iPad? There’s nothing like that in VisionOS. Virtual elements are utterly stable. Obviously that’s what you want in an XR experience, but to my knowledge no other headset can achieve this stability. My understanding is that this profound stability — this palpable realness of virtual elements — is thanks to the extraordinary precise eye-tracking that Vision Pro achieves. Uncanny is often a pejorative — e.g. with the uncanny valley — but in this case I use it as strong praise. It is simply uncanny how Vision Pro makes virtual elements as spatially stable as the walls and furniture and people in the room around you.
There’s also a top-level “Environments” tab on the left side of the home screen. Everything I’ve described thus far took place in the de facto default “environment” which is your actual surroundings. But the Environments tab allows you to switch from pass-through camera reality to a virtual reality. One of the locations I experienced was Mount Hood. Choose it and it’s like you’re there. These environments are incredibly immersive, 360 degrees. And so instead of catching up on Mail and Messages in floating windows in your living room, you can do it while it appears like you’re atop a mountain, or on a beach, or, well, anywhere. It’s beautiful, and every bit as stable spatially as pass-through reality. When you’re in an immersive environment, you can turn the digital crown to adjust how far it wraps around your field of vision. Fully immersive means you don’t see anything from your actual physical environment; partial immersion dials it back from your periphery to the center, with blurred dream-like edges.
Lastly, “breakthrough” is Apple’s term for a feature that identifies real human beings who approach you while immersed. They sort of fade in, as transparent ghosts. But not spooky ghosts. It’s a seamless feature, and given my experience with other VR headsets, a necessary one to avoid being isolated from the people around you once you’re immersed. You see someone fade into view, and you can turn the digital crown to dial back the degree of immersion and truly look at them.
Apple is promoting the Vision Pro announcement as the launch of “the era of spatial computing”. That term feels perfect. It’s not AR, VR, or XR. It’s spatial computing, and some aspects of spatial computing are AR or VR.
To me the Macintosh has always felt more like a place than a thing. Not a place I go physically, but a place my mind goes intellectually. When I’m working or playing and in the flow, it has always felt like MacOS is where I am. I’m in the Mac. Interruptions — say, the doorbell or my phone ringing — are momentarily disorienting when I’m in the flow on the Mac, because I’m pulled out of that world and into the physical one. There’s a similar effect with iOS too, but I’ve always found it less profound. Partly that’s the nature of iOS, which doesn’t speak to me, idiomatically, like MacOS does. I think in many ways that explains why I never feel in the flow on an iPad like I can on a Mac, even with the same size display. But with the iPhone in particular screen size is an important factor. I don’t think any hypothetical phone OS could be as immersive as I find MacOS, simply because even the largest phone display is so small. Watching a movie on a phone is a lesser experience than watching on a big TV set, and watching a movie on even a huge TV is a lesser experience than watching a movie in a nice theater. We humans are visual creatures and our field of view affects our sense of importance. Size matters.
The worlds, as it were, of MacOS and iOS (or Windows, or Android, or whatever) are defined and limited by the displays on which they run. If MacOS is a place I go mentally when working, that place is manifested physically by the Mac’s display. It’s like the playing field, or the court, in sports — it has very clear, hard and fast, rectangular bounds. It is of fixed size and shape, and everything I do in that world takes place in the confines of those display boundaries.
VisionOS is very much going to be a conceptual place like that for work. But there is no display. There are no boundaries. The intellectual “place” where the apps of VisionOS are presented is the real-world place in which you use the device, or the expansive virtual environment you choose. The room in which you’re sitting is the canvas. The whole room. The display on a Mac or iOS device is to me like a portal, a rectangular window into a well-defined virtual world. With VisionOS the virtual world is the actual world around you.
In the same way that the introduction of multitouch with the iPhone removed a layer of conceptual abstraction — instead of touching a mouse or trackpad to move an on-screen pointer to an object on screen, you simply touch the object on screen — VisionOS removes a layer of abstraction spatially. Using a Mac, you are in a physical place, there is a display in front of you in that place, and on that display are application windows. Using VisionOS, there are just application windows in the physical place in which you are. On Monday I had Safari and Messages and Photos open, side by side, each in a window that seemed the size of a movie poster — that is to say, each app in a window that appeared larger than any actual computer display I’ve ever used. All side by side. Some of the videos in Apple’s Newsroom post introducing Vision Pro illustrate this. But seeing a picture of an actor in this environment doesn’t do justice to experiencing it firsthand, because a photo showing this environment itself has defined rectangular borders.
This is not confusing or complex, but it feels profound. Last night I chatted with a friend who, I found out only then, has been using Vision Pro for months inside Apple. While talking about this “your real world room is your canvas for arranging your application windows” aspect of the experience, he said that he spent weeks feeling a bit constrained, keeping his open VisionOS windows all in front of him as though on a virtual display, before a colleague opened his mind to spreading out and making applications windows much larger and arranging them in a wider carousel not merely in front of him but around him. The constraints of even the largest physical display simply do not exist with VisionOS.
I’d group everything I experienced Monday into three loose categories.
The first, for lack of a better term, is simply “computing”. Work, as it were. Reading web pages, talking via FaceTime, reading email or messages. Using apps. You start with an iOS-like grid of app icons, tap on apps to open them in windows, and arrange and resize those windows however you want. Text is very readable in windows. My brief 30 minute demo covered a lot, so I have zero perspective on how pleasant or tolerable it is to read for long stretches of time, but my impression is that it’s more than fine. Windows look solid, text looks crisp, and you can make windows really big in virtual space. If anything is going to seem weird or wrong about long-form reading in VisionOS, it’s not the visual fidelity, but rather the fact that I’ve never once in my life read an article or email message in a window that appeared 4 or 5 feet tall.
The second type of experience is the consumption of 2D content, like photos and videos. Watching a regular movie on a virtual huge screen is incredible. It’s way more like watching a movie in a real cinema than like watching on a TV. One of the movies Apple had us watch was James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, both in a window floating in front of us, and then in “theater mode”, which immersively removes your actual physical surroundings. Cameron shot Avatar 2 with state-of-the-art 3D cameras, and the 3D effect was, as promised, better than anything I’ve ever seen in a theater or theme park. I don’t generally like 3D feature-length movies at all — I find myself not remembering them afterwards — but I might watch movies like Avatar this way with Vision Pro. But even though Avatar is 3D, it’s still a rectangular movie. It’s just presented as a very large rectangle with very compelling 3D depth inside that rectangle.
The third type of experience is fully immersive. Content Apple commissioned and created that is inherently only consumable in three dimensions. Full immersion, like transporting you to a cliff’s edge atop a mountain, or lakeside on a beautiful spring day. Some of these immersive environments surround you completely — you can turn around 360 degrees, and look up at the sky or down at the ground (or, dizzyingly, down over the cliff’s edge). Another custom experience involved a portal opening on the wall across the room, out of which first flew a small butterfly that landed on my extended finger. This is so compelling that some of the media people who experienced it had their minds tricked into feeling the butterfly land. I did not, but I can see why they did. Then, a dinosaur — a velociraptor-looking thing, seemingly about 9 or 10 feet tall — approached the “portal” in the wall and came halfway through into the room. I was invited to stand up from the couch and approach it. There was a coffee table in front of the couch, a possible shin-banging accident waiting to happen, but the pass-through video experience is so seamless, so natural, so much like just looking through glasses, not looking at a screen inside a headset, that it took no concentration or carefulness at all on my part to stand up and walk around the coffee table and approach the dinosaur. The dinosaur was not pre-recorded. It reacted, live, to me, keeping eye contact with me at all times. It was spooky, and a significant part of my own lizard brain was instinctively very alarmed. I got extremely close to the dinosaur’s head, and the illusion that it was real never broke down. Even up close, there was no sign that it was composed of polygons stitched together or something. It looked like a 10-foot tall dinosaur that could kill me with a snap of its jaws, right there in the room with me, as close to my face as the MacBook Pro display on which I’m writing these words is right now.
Spatial photos and videos — photos and videos shot with the Vision Pro itself — are viewed as a sort of hybrid between 2D content and fully immersive 3D content. They don’t appear in a crisply defined rectangle. Rather, they appear with a hazy dream-like border around them. Like some sort of teleportation magic spell in a Harry Potter movie or something. The effect reminded me very much of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, in the way that Tom Cruise’s character could obsessively watch “memories” of his daughter, and the way the psychic “precogs” perceive their visions of murders about to occur. It’s like watching a dream, but through a portal opened into another world.
Lastly, we saw two sports demos: an at-bat from a baseball game at Fenway Park (Phil Schiller’s hands are all over that one), and a scoring play from a Nuggets-Suns NBA basketball game. For the baseball game, the perspective wasn’t even from the stands, but rather from the home team’s dugout, ground level, right behind first base. It’s not quite just like being there, but it’s a lot like being there. It’s more realistic than seems possible. You choose where to direct your gaze: at the batter at home plate, at the pitcher, or out in the outfield. Or above the outfielders, at the scoreboard. For the NBA game, the perspective was courtside, right behind the basket. But better than the actual courtside perspective, because the perspective was slightly elevated above seating level. Fully immersive, fully three-dimensional, and seemingly perfectly to scale. Kevin Durant looked about 6'10", right in front of me. Getting the scale just right is obviously the correct way to present this, but it seems devilishly tricky to actually pull off. Apple has pulled it off. These baseball and basketball scenes were shot by Apple using entirely custom camera rigs, and stored in altogether new file formats. This is nothing at all like 2D footage extrapolated into 3D, or just painted on a virtual circular wall around you. It looks real. It seems as profoundly different from watching regular TV telecasts of sports as TV telecasts are from audio-only radio broadcasts.2 It was incredible. I would genuinely consider buying a Vision Pro if the one and only thing it did was show entire sporting events like this.
The first two types of experiences — doing computer “work”, and watching 2D and 2D-ish 3D content, have analogs to existing experiences. Using Safari in VisionOS is like using Safari on a Mac or iPad, but with a different presentation. Watching a movie in VisionOS is just watching a movie, albeit with the completely convincing illusion that you’re looking at an enormous room-filling cinema screen. But the third, these original immersive experiences, have no analogs except to the real world. It’s extraordinary, and only possible because Apple has gotten so many little things so exactly right.
I walked away from my demo more than a bit discombobulated. Not because it was disorienting or even the least bit nauseating, but because it was so unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It strikes me that in some ways Bob Iger’s cameo during the keynote had the relationship between Apple and Disney backwards. Iger spent his keynote cameo talking about Disney creating original new content for VisionOS’s new medium. But after experiencing it, it felt more like what Disney should want is Apple providing this technology for Disney to use in their theme parks. The sports and dinosaur demos I experienced using Vision Pro were in many ways more immersive and thrilling than tentpole major attractions I’ve experienced at Disney World.
Are you going to want to buy a Vision Pro for $3,500? That price is high enough that the answer is probably not, for most of you, no matter how compelling it is. But are you going to want to try one out for an hour or two, and find yourself craving another hour or two? I guarantee it. You need to see it.3 ★
I mean no disrespect to WatchOS or even tvOS by leaving them off that list. But what I mean here by “major platform” is a platform that could serve as a serious users’s primary or sole computing device. Something you use for any combination of work, entertainment, and content creation. Apple Watch isn’t that, but of course isn’t meant to be that. Apple Watch is sort of a hybrid between a platform (like iPhone) and a peripheral (like AirPods). ↩︎
These sports examples were so exciting, so viscerally compelling, that it makes me wonder whether Apple demoed this, or even described it, in confidence, with NFL executives while negotiating for the rights to Sunday Ticket that the NFL wound up selling to Google for YouTube TV. It suddenly strikes me as a colossal mistake on the NFL’s part that they might be the last major sport to provide their games through this technology that is, for now, exclusive to Apple. ↩︎︎
And hear it. I neglected to mention it until this footnote but the audio experience is quite remarkable as well. Immersive and spatial, yes, but also: Apple isn’t kidding about the way that the audio dynamically adjusts to the acoustics of your real-world surroundings. ↩︎︎
Seats are getting closer to full, but tickets are still available for The Talk Show Live From WWDC tomorrow:
Location: The California Theatre, San Jose
Showtime: Wednesday, 7 June 2023, 5pm PT (Doors open 4pm)
Special Guest(s): Revealed in this GIF
Use discount code “lastminute” for $50 off the price of the remaining general admission tickets. Video of the show will, of course, be published at the end of the week, but will not be livestreamed. So if you want to see the show tomorrow, you need to be there. And if you can make it, you should. There’s a lot to talk about.
Richard Henry, writing for the Wavelength blog:
AI is a huge part of Wavelength today — 1/3 of all messages sent invoke the @AI bot in a conversation.
Today we’re launching an AI bot designer built into Wavelength. This lets you easily create custom AI bots — amazing lifelike personalities that you can interact with in your group chats or via direct message. You can choose from GPT-3.5 or Claude Instant v1.1 for the model that powers your bot. We’ve found that sometimes a particular model is much better for a character, so it’s worth trying both and comparing results. [...]
Make a fun bot? You can share it with others using a link, or make it public so that anyone can discover it. Make a fun character, a text-based adventure game, or anything else!
I’ve been testing this feature for a few weeks (in my previously disclosed role as an advisor to Wavelength), and it’s a lot of fun. For characters, I’ve found the Claude model, from Anthropic, to be better. Or at least more “in character”. Two fun bots I’ve made: Don Rickles and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
Here’s a screenshot showing the difference — same prompt/bot definition, just switching from GPT 3.5 to Claude. It’s fun to get trivia question answers with a bit of personality.
Science fiction writer Ted Chiang, in an interview with Madhumita Murgia for The Financial Times (Archive.is link):
Chiang’s main objection, a writerly one, is with the words we choose to describe all this. Anthropomorphic language such as “learn”, “understand”, “know” and personal pronouns such as “I” that AI engineers and journalists project on to chatbots such as ChatGPT create an illusion. This hasty shorthand pushes all of us, he says — even those intimately familiar with how these systems work — towards seeing sparks of sentience in AI tools, where there are none.
“There was an exchange on Twitter a while back where someone said, ‘What is artificial intelligence?’ And someone else said, ‘A poor choice of words in 1954’,” he says. “And, you know, they’re right. I think that if we had chosen a different phrase for it, back in the ’50s, we might have avoided a lot of the confusion that we’re having now.”
So if he had to invent a term, what would it be? His answer is instant: applied statistics.
My puerile mind is tempted to make a joke that tacking on “system” would make for a fun acronym, but I shan’t crack that joke, as I think Chiang makes a strong point here. What we have with these LLMs isn’t low-level intelligence but rather high-level applied statistics that creates the powerful illusion of low-level intelligence.
See also: Chiang’s very short story “What’s Expected of Us”, referenced in the interview.
My thanks to Sky Guide for sponsoring this week at DF. Sky Guide brings the beauty of the stars down to Earth. Just hold it overhead to automatically identify any star, constellation, planet, or satellite. Thanks to AR, understanding the cosmos has never been simpler. (Good timing?)
Sky Guide is just a wonderful, painstakingly well-crafted app made by a small team that clearly has tremendous enthusiasm both for astronomy and making great apps. Download and try it out free of charge.
This survey is the result of a partnership between Axios and Harris Poll to gauge the reputation of the most visible brands in America, based on 20 years of Harris Poll research.
I’m not as interested in the top of the list as the bottom. Here are the companies with the worst reputations, starting with the obvious “winner”:
So other than the two outright criminal organizations at the top and an ostensible “news” network that just lost the largest defamation lawsuit in history, there are no big companies in America with worse reputations than Twitter or Facebook, and the only company separating them from TikTok is the worst airline in the country. Sounds right.
(But what the hell did Balenciaga do to get on this list? Update: This.)
How could I not link to this month’s cover art (by the ever-talented Brad Ellis) for yours truly and Ben Thompson’s podcast? Two episodes per week, 15 minutes per episode. Not a minute less, not a minute more for just $5/month or $50/year. We’re now starting our fourth year, and we’ve had remarkably little churn — people who subscribe to Dithering tend to stay subscribed.
Ben and I will both be in Cupertino next week for WWDC, and our next episode, with thoughts on the keynote, will be out Tuesday morning.
There’s a Dithering group with over 3,200 members on Wavelength, the new private group messaging app I started advising earlier this year. The link to the group is in the show notes for each episode.
Speaking of WWDC, Dithering subscribers are welcome to use discount code dithering to save $50 on tickets to The Talk Show Live From WWDC 2023 next Wednesday in San Jose. It’s like getting a year of Dithering free of charge.
New Mac app, now out of beta, from the makers of the renowned iA Writer. iA Presenter is a presentation/slide deck creation tool where you write your deck using Markdown. But even though you’re creating with plain text, iA Presenter is, as you’d expect, an exquisite design tool. $4.50/month, $44.50/year, or a one-time purchase of $89.
See also: iA founder Oliver Reichenstein is hanging out on Product Hunt today, answering questions regarding iA Presenter.
Inexplicably late but better than never, there’s now a Daring Fireball account on Mastodon where links to new articles are posted automatically. You should follow.
Mike Masnick, writing at TechDirt:
Basically, a manufactured martyrdom controversy, combined with Twitter pretending to stand up to encouraging hatred, only for Musk to double down that hate has a comfy, welcoming home on Twitter.
Of course, in the midst of all this, the news came out that Ella Irwin, who had been leading trust and safety since relatively early in the Elon Musk reign, and who had been on Twitter through Wednesday directly responding to trust and safety requests, had resigned and was no longer at the company. It’s unclear if her resignation had anything to do with this mess, but the timing does seem notable.
Still, given all of this, is it really any wonder that advertisers like Ben & Jerry’s have announced that they’re ending all paid advertising on the site in response to the proliferation of hate speech?
Also yesterday, Twitter iOS engineer Yoshimasa Niwa resigned:
I just sent that email.
-- numstat gives me these numbers.
+ 728752, - 263722
One former Twitter colleague told me, “This is a big deal. One of the few (8?) remaining iOS engineers at Twitter. Yoshi has been at the company for something like 14 years and is one of the very best iOS engineers I know — maybe one of the best in the world.” Until yesterday Niwa had been at Twitter since 2010, and thus may well have been the longest-standing employee in the entire company. He’d worked at Twitter for more time cumulatively than Jack Dorsey. That “numstat” nerdery reveals the number of lines of source code Niwa had added and removed over his tenure — just short of one million in total.
Sidenote: In recent weeks Niwa published AlpacaChat, an open-source Swift library to run the Alpaca-LoRA LLM locally on Macs and iOS devices.
Update 3 June: Adam Singer, a Twitter engineer for 8 years, resigned today.
Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac:
MLS Season Pass on Apple TV is dropping its price to account for the fact that about half of the season is now over. The 2023 pass subscription is now available for $49 (down from $99), with an additional $10 discount for Apple TV+ subscribers. The monthly subscription price is unchanged.
Although Apple does not release viewership figures, Apple SVP of services Eddy Cue commented this week that MLS Season Pass had exceeded its own expectations and doing “much better than forecasted” in terms of both subscription and viewership numbers.
We’ll have to take Cue at his word on that, given that Apple never released its forecast nor is releasing viewership numbers now, but I’m not surprised. MLS has a smaller fanbase than the NFL, NBA, MLB, or even NHL, but I’m sure its fans skew younger.
In a marvelous first for us, we’ve teamed up with Focus Features to create a playful Asteroid City scavenger hunt. You’ll be looking for fourteen items inspired by Wes Anderson’s signature aesthetic, hidden around our website and apps, in the lead up to the theatrical release of his eleventh feature film.
Every day for the next fourteen days, a new item will be hidden on Letterboxd somewhere in the extended Wes Anderson universe of films and their creators. We’ll drop daily clues on our social media, and once you have collected all fourteen items, you’re automatically in the draw to win the grand prize: a private screening of Asteroid City for you and your friends at your nearest cinema.
Letterboxd continues to ascend in Hollywood, and I love to see it. They’ve even got an announcement video from Jeffrey Wright, whose palpable disdain for the teleprompter is absolutely endearing.
See also: This recent feature on Letterboxd by Harper Lambert for TheWrap.
Guy English returns to the show to talk about the live show from WWDC, Mac Pros past and future, Marathon and Mac gaming, and Apple’s seemingly imminent XR headset. And definitely not to talk about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Michael Potuck, reporting for 9to5Mac on a survey of Android switchers conducted by CIRP:
The top reason was actually an issue with the Android experience. Over 53% of respondents said they moved to iPhone because of problems with their Android smartphone. Specifics cited were “their old phone did not serve them, because it was aging, needed repair, or had some deficiency that affected their user experience.” The second most common reason to switch was for new features on iPhone like “a better camera, enhanced accessory options, or a more intuitive user interface.” [...]
Finally, just 6% of those who switched from Android to iPhone said they made the move because of iMessage and FaceTime.
It’s easier, and more comfortable, for Google to argue that it’s all about the green bubbles. The hard truth is that iPhones and iOS are simply better overall.
Facebook, on the Meta Quest blog:
The countdown is on for today’s Meta Quest Gaming Showcase, but there’s some juicy news we just couldn’t wait any longer to share.
Today, Mark Zuckerberg announced our next-generation virtual and mixed reality headset, which launches later this year. It’s called Meta Quest 3. It features higher resolution, stronger performance, breakthrough Meta Reality technology, and a slimmer, more comfortable form factor. Quest 3 will ship in all countries where Meta Quest is currently supported this fall. The 128GB headset starts at $499.99 USD, and we’ll offer an additional storage option for those who want some extra space. Mark your calendars because we’ll have lots more to share at Meta Connect, which returns this year on September 27.
One difference between Apple and other companies: Apple acts like they are the only company in the markets they are in. They never rush out scared pre-announcements to get “ahead” of Samsung or whoever. Apple has the discipline and confidence to hold their fire until they are ready.
Earlier in May, we told you about three zero-mile 2010 Tesla Roadsters found in a shipping container overseas. These pristine examples will seemingly be the last brand-new, completely assembled first-gen Roadsters to be sold 13 years after they were initially built. But why were they never delivered? And how did they land in China?
Gruber Motors, the shop brokering the deal, performed some detective work to figure it out. It was discovered that the three Roadsters were all intended to be dismantled by an early Tesla competitor — test mules in last decade’s international EV race. And now, someone has submitted a $2 million bid in hopes of adding them to their collection.
First time I’ve had reason to actually link to Gruber Motors. (No relation.) Here’s a link to the auction.
Speaking of the demise of regional sports networks, here’s Todd Spangler reporting for Variety:
As streaming video continues its ascendancy, cable, satellite and internet TV providers in the U.S. turned in their worst subscriber losses to date in the first quarter of 2023 — collectively shedding 2.3 million customers in the period, according to analyst estimates. [...] With the Q1 decline, total pay-TV penetration of occupied U.S. households (including for internet services like YouTube TV and Hulu) dropped to 58.5% — its lowest point since 1992, two years before DirecTV launched as a new rival to cable TV, according to Moffett’s calculations. [...]
Google’s YouTube TV was the only provider tracked by MoffettNathanson that picked up subs in Q1, adding an estimated 300,000 subscribers in the period (to reach about 6.3 million) and netting 1.4 million subscribers over the past year. [...]
Pay TV is suffering from what Moffett calls “the impoverishment cycle,” in which higher sports-broadcast fees have driven retail prices higher — thereby fueling cord-cutting and forcing distributors to increase prices to compensate. Even ESPN, one-time stalwart of the traditional ecosystem, has conceded that there will be a day when a la carte streaming is a viable option, Moffett noted.
It’ll be interesting to see how much YouTube TV growth is juiced by NFL Sunday Ticket later this year.
Christian Selig, developer of the splendid Reddit client Apollo:
I’ll cut to the chase: 50 million requests costs $12,000, a figure far more than I ever could have imagined.
Apollo made 7 billion requests last month, which would put it at about 1.7 million dollars per month, or 20 million US dollars per year. Even if I only kept subscription users, the average Apollo user uses 344 requests per day, which would cost $2.50 per month, which is over double what the subscription currently costs, so I’d be in the red every month.
I’m deeply disappointed in this price. Reddit iterated that the price would be A) reasonable and based in reality, and B) they would not operate like Twitter. Twitter’s pricing was publicly ridiculed for its obscene price of $42,000 for 50 million tweets. Reddit’s is still $12,000. For reference, I pay Imgur, a site similar to Reddit in userbase and media, $166 for the same 50 million API calls.
Selig does some ballpark math and estimates that Reddit currently generates about $0.12 in revenue per month per active user. The average Apollo user would cost $2.50 per month in API fees — 20× higher.
Right now Apollo is free to use, but offers a Pro tier with a slew of additional features and fun stuff for a one-time payment of $5, and an Ultra tier with even more for a $13/year subscription. If Reddit goes through with this API pricing, Apollo’s free and Pro tiers would be unsustainable, and the Ultra subscription would have to cost at least $50 or $60 per year.
I would not be surprised if No Man’s Sky releases for Apple’s VR headset on day one, and it gets lots of press as it will likely be one of the few games there at launch, but I don’t think it’s an indication of Apple really “getting” gaming in a meaningful way.
Personally, I just don’t think Apple has it in them to get high end gaming to click on their platforms. Yes, they make a ton of money on iOS games, but poke your head into the App Store top charts and you can pretty clearly see they’re making that money on shitty free-to-play games that rely on whales to spend absurd amounts of money on gems and tokens and whatever else.
Let’s put aside revenue as a measure of a platform’s success in gaming — the free-to-play phenomenon skews that. But even putting aside money as a measuring stick, it’s clear that the iPhone is the premier mobile gaming platform. There are way more good iPhone-only games than Android-only ones. Are there any good Android exclusive games at all?
The question is: will Apple’s XR platform be like the Mac and Apple TV, where gaming is an afterthought, or will it be like iOS? I wouldn’t bet on the headset turning Apple into a top-tier platform for immersive VR games, but I wouldn’t bet against it either. It’s a chance to start fresh.
The opportunity is massive: PC and console gaming is considered more “serious” than mobile gaming not just because the games are bigger and the devices more powerful, but because you play them on bigger screens. Nintendo’s Switch proves that — the Switch is way less powerful than any recent iPhone, but way more “serious” because you can play it on your TV. (And yes, of course, because Nintendo’s first-party titles are unique and extraordinarily good.)
VR gaming has the potential to be far more immersive than anything you play on a TV or PC monitor. Someone will crack that nut eventually.
Alden Gonzalez, reporting for ESPN:
Diamond Sports Group has decided not to pay the San Diego Padres their latest rights fee, a monumental development that will revert the team’s broadcasting rights to Major League Baseball and establish precedent for an uncertain, rapidly evolving landscape.
Diamond, the Sinclair subsidiary that operates under the name Bally Sports, skipped its payment to the Padres a couple of weeks ago and had until the end of its grace period on Tuesday to make the team whole and maintain their long-term agreement. Choosing not to meant Tuesday’s game against the Miami Marlins was the last Padres game under the Bally Sports umbrella. Moving forward — starting Wednesday, continuing through the end of the season and resuming in perpetuity — MLB will air Padres games through its streaming service and on different cable channels.
The regional sports network collapse draws nigh. Jason Snell:
It sure feels like a milestone moment in the future of sports broadcasting — and the unwinding of the exclusivity of cable TV for sports broadcasting.
Shannon Thaler, reporting for The New York Post:
Staunch alt-right rapper Forgiato Blow is topping iTunes charts with his new song, “Boycott Target,” but claims Apple’s censorship is “keeping it off the radar.” The song — featuring fellow rappers Jimmy Levy, Nick Nittoli and Stoney Dudebro — was released on May 25 in response to Target’s Pride-themed clothing for children. [...]
The track has hit No. 1 on iTunes’ most popular chart across all genres, and sits above songs by Taylor Swift and Luke Combs that are in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively.
Speaking of signs of rising fascism in the U.S. This is so goofy I thought it was a parody (“Stoney Dudebro”?), but it’s not.
Alexandra S. Levine, reporting for Forbes:
Over the past several years, thousands of TikTok creators and businesses around the world have given the company sensitive financial information — including their social security numbers and tax IDs — so that they can be paid by the platform. But unbeknownst to many of them, TikTok has stored that personal financial information on servers in China that are accessible by employees there, Forbes has learned.
TikTok uses various internal tools and databases from its Beijing-based parent ByteDance to manage payments to creators who earn money through the app, including many of its biggest stars in the United States and Europe. The same tools are used to pay outside vendors and small businesses working with TikTok. But a trove of records obtained by Forbes from multiple sources across different parts of the company reveals that highly sensitive financial and personal information about those prized users and third parties has been stored in China. The discovery also raises questions about whether employees who are not authorized to access that data have been able to. It draws on internal communications, audio recordings, videos, screenshots, documents marked “Privileged and Confidential,” and several people familiar with the matter.
In testimony before Congress earlier this year, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew claimed U.S. user data has been stored on physical servers outside China. “American data has always been stored in Virginia and Singapore in the past, and access of this is on an as-required basis by our engineers globally,” he said under oath at a House hearing in March.
TikTok should be banned in the United States, and Chew should be charged with perjury. This is not complicated.
Katherine Sayre, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+):
Blackjack, a fast-paced card game, historically paid out a ratio of 3:2 when a player hit 21 on the first two cards. That means a gambler wins $15 for every $10 bet. Now, many blackjack tables on the Strip pay out at 6:5, which means that same $10 yields only $12.
John and Kristina Mehaffey, owners of gambling-news and data company Vegas Advantage, have been cataloging these changes since 2011, walking miles-long routes through casinos to record the number of blackjack and roulette tables set outside of VIP areas.
According to the Mehaffeys’ data, more than two-thirds of blackjack tables on the Strip currently offer 6:5 payouts, as opposed to 3:2.
6:5 blackjack should be illegal. I mean that. I don’t understand what the gambling regulators in Nevada are doing that this is permissible. What I’ve seen in recent years is that all of the lower-limit tables have 6:5 payouts, and to get real blackjack, with 3:2 payouts, you need to play at tables with $50 minimums, sometimes $100 on weekends.
Update: My own home state of Pennsylvania mandates 3:2 blackjack payouts by law. Who would ever have thought you’d get a better legal game of blackjack in Philadelphia than in Las Vegas?
Heather Cox Richardson:
Beginning in 1943, the War Department published a series of pamphlets for U.S. Army personnel in the European theater of World War II. Titled Army Talks, the series was designed “to help [the personnel] become better-informed men and women and therefore better soldiers.” On March 24, 1945, the topic for the week was “FASCISM!” [...]
The War Department thought it was important for Americans to understand the tactics fascists would use to take power in the United States. They would try to gain power “under the guise of ‘super-patriotism’ and ‘super-Americanism.’” And they would use three techniques:
First, they would pit religious, racial, and economic groups against one another to break down national unity. Part of that effort to divide and conquer would be a “well-planned ‘hate campaign’ against minority races, religions, and other groups.”
Second, they would deny any need for international cooperation, because that would fly in the face of their insistence that their supporters were better than everyone else. “In place of international cooperation, the fascists seek to substitute a perverted sort of ultra-nationalism which tells their people that they are the only people in the world who count. With this goes hatred and suspicion toward the people of all other nations.”
Third, fascists would insist that “the world has but two choices — either fascism or communism, and they label as ‘communists’ everyone who refuses to support them.”
It’s downright spooky how this pamphlet from 80 years ago describes Trumpism and the MAGA movement to a T. Here’s the original pamphlet. (Via Kottke.)
Stephen Hackett, writing at 512 Pixels:
Photo Stream is one of the original components of iCloud, and was kept around even after iCloud Photo Library launched in 2014. Here’s how Apple pitched the feature when iCloud was new.
You can see why they are consolidating on iCloud Photos, but Photo Stream had some appealing features that will be lost. First, you could backup/sync an unlimited amount of data (for a limited time). There was no need to worry about upgrading your account temporarily or having photo storage crowd out storage for other apps. Second, you could access recent photos and videos on all devices without having to store everything in the cloud.
Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:
If mindlessly browsing the internet is your preferred way to combat boredom and waste time, the indie app makers behind to-do list app Clear and game Heads Up have a new product you’ll want to try: Web Roulette, a mobile web browser app for iOS built for the short attention spans of the TikTok era. With the debut version out now, you can add your favorite websites or choose from its suggestions, then swipe through the sites to see what’s new or shake the app for a surprise webpage when boredom strikes.
The team says the idea initially struck them as something of a joke. But they soon realized the idea of a ‘swipeable,’ shakable web browser that delivered our daily hits of dopamine may actually have merit.
“I mean, this is actually how I spend much of my time browsing the web — I bounce back and forth mindlessly and semi-randomly between my favorite sites, hoping for something fresh. Maybe there’s something here?,” explains Impending founder and designer Phill Ryu.
I’ve been beta testing Web Roulette for a week or two and it’s just plain dumb fun. In the early days of the App Store (and before that, the early days of the web), it was common for people to come up with a dumb fun idea that could be made in a week or two. Web Roulette exemplifies that ethos. It’s not useful, per se, but it’s not useless either. But it’s mainly just fun. I’m so glad to see that coming back.
See also: This fun launch video on TikTok — interrupted by a special guest. And this tweet with a sketch of the team’s original concept. I love comparing “here’s the napkin sketch of the original idea” to the shipping product.
Trailer for a new documentary from The Verge:
Sabotage, hired goons, and a landfill in Utah: this is a story about the life, death, and afterlife of Apple’s most pioneering computer, the Lisa. A major inspiration for the Macintosh, Steve Jobs championed the Lisa, then turned against it. In Lisa’s Final Act, The Verge unearths a new spin on this tale. We discover the outsider who gave the maligned computer another chance… before Apple closed the door on the Lisa forever.
Full documentary debuts tomorrow.
Update: Right on schedule, the full 30-minute documentary is out.
Alan Sepinwall, writing for Rolling Stone:
A lot happens over the course of the 90-minute Succession series finale, “With Open Eyes.” Alliances are made, broken, and made again. Votes happen, fortunes rise and fall, losers become winners, and vice versa.
For all intents and purposes, though, the only part that matters is a five-minute sequence toward the end.
I’m always wary of recency bias, but at the moment I’d put Succession in the hall of fame for the best TV shows ever. Four great seasons, a rich ensemble of vivid memorable characters, never a bad episode, and a truly great finale.
See also: Sepinwall’s ranking of the top 25 characters on Succession, from least to most despicable.
Neil Jhaveri, founder and lead developer of Mimestream, the terrific new native Mac email client for Gmail, joins the show to talk about email, Mac apps, and indie software development.
Adam Engst, writing at TidBITS:
Where Mimestream shines is in its attention to visual form and functional detail — the small interface elements and features that make working with email feel familiar, fluid, and fast. I spend hours per day in email, and while I’m willing to tweak my working habits slightly to match what an app can do, I prefer it to accommodate my idiosyncrasies.
For instance, I seldom delete messages. My Google account has plenty of space, and Gmail’s performance doesn’t degrade with massive email stores, so I prefer to keep everything for posterity and focus my attention on unread and starred messages. So it’s vital that my email client supports that approach rather than pushing its own concept of Inbox Zero or whatever philosophy it might have.
I can’t predict what refinements and affordances will make working with your email a joy, so I want to share some of what I find compelling about Mimestream. Many of these aren’t unique, they’re just very well done, and the result is that using Mimestream feels like driving a well-engineered automobile instead of a low-end car that feels like it was assembled from cheap, off-the-shelf components.
My thanks to Kolide for their continuing sponsorship support here at DF — they sponsored Daring Fireball last week, and they are the presenting sponsor at the upcoming The Talk Show Live From WWDC. They’re a great company with a great product.
Here’s an uncomfortable fact: at most companies, employees can download sensitive company data onto any device, keep it there forever, and never even know that they’re doing something wrong. Kolide’s new report, The State of Sensitive Data, addresses this issue head-on.
Kolide offers a more nuanced approach than MDM solutions to setting and enforcing sensitive data policies. Their premise is simple: if an employee’s device is out of compliance, it can’t access your apps. Kolide lets admins run queries to detect sensitive data, flag devices that have violated policies, and enforce OS and browser updates so vulnerable devices aren’t accessing data.
To learn more and see Kolide in action, visit kolide.com.
It’s funny what gains traction for the long haul, and what turns out, in hindsight, to be a flash in the pan. I, for one, never would have predicted that WordPress would grow to become, by far, the most popular CMS in the world, and the foundation of a thriving company whose primary goal is making the web a better platform.
After a few years in public beta, Mimestream 1.0 is out, and it’s fantastic. Mimestream is a Mac email client specifically for Gmail. They’ve got plans to expand to iOS, and plans to perhaps expand to IMAP (and JMAP) email accounts in the future, but as it stands today, Mimestream does one thing and does it incredibly well: it’s a true Mac app for Gmail. It’s both a great Mac app and a great Gmail client. $5/month or $50/year, with a two-week free trial.
Apple Mail is free. Gmail in a browser window is free. But after two years with Mimestream, I couldn’t put down my credit card fast enough.
I quipped yesterday that I thought Ivory for Mac wasn’t just the best Mac Mastodon client, but the only good one. A bunch of readers chimed in to endorse Mona, by Junyu Kuang, as a good Mac client. I had tried Mona a while back, and found it lacking in numerous ways on the Mac, but I took another look yesterday and my readers are correct: it’s a very solid Mac client now. Free to try, $10 to go “pro” on any one platform (Mac, iPhone, iPad), and just $16 to go pro on all three. Those are introductory prices that are going up on June 1.
Zoë Schiffer and Casey Newton, reporting for Platformer:
Spaces are hosted on Twitter’s own servers and servers rented from Amazon Web Services. AWS servers for Spaces are “insanely underprovisioned” relative to the need for them, according to a former employee who worked on the project.
On Wednesday, the lack of servers led to a predictable series of cascading failures. In the run-up to the event, engineers expected that Spaces would be able to accommodate hundreds of thousands of users. But too many people joined the first stream simultaneously, and the app kept crashing as a result.
Musk’s own Twitter app crashed repeatedly during the event, we’re told. Musk, who uses the employee-only build of the app known as Earlybird, was said to be furious afterward.
I’m sure he was.
Inside the largest Slack and Discord channels of former tweeps, the mood after DeSantis’ botched announcement was nothing short of jubilant.
I’m sure it was.
Speaking of Tapbots, here’s Andrew Logan writing for Texas Monthly:
Amir Shevat, Twitter’s former head of product for the developer platform, who lives in Round Rock, was responsible for ensuring that the tools Twitter provided independent software developers using the platform met their needs. He said about 17 percent of engagement on Twitter, historically, was through third-party apps, which played a vital role in defining Twitter’s identity.
To my knowledge no one at (or formerly at) Twitter has ever revealed that before. Obviously the overwhelming number of Twitter users only ever used Twitter’s own first-party clients. The reason third-party clients were so important to Twitter, though, is that Twitter power users were drawn to them.
Jardine said he has received positive feedback on the initial launch of Ivory, which he admits was released without all the features he wanted to include. Users being excited about his work is uplifting, he said. But that’s not what entirely motivates him. “Without [Ivory], we have no business,” Jardine said. “There’s a lot of pressure riding on it.”
Despite the pressure, Haddad seems to be thriving in this brave new world. “I’m not at the whims of a dictator anymore,” he said.
Amen to that.
Now shipping in the Mac App Store: Tapbots’s Ivory for Mac. I’ve been using it in beta for a few months, and don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s not just the best Mac Mastodon client, it’s the only good one that exists. $15/year just for the Mac client, but the real deal is Ivory’s $25/year “universal” subscription for Ivory across both MacOS and iOS.
Ivory for Mac is written using Catalyst, but it by no means is just Ivory for iPad with a few tweaks. (If that’s what it were, Tapbots could have shipped it months ago, when Ivory for iPhone and iPad shipped.) Ivory for Mac is a Mac app. But, numerous Catalyst-isms show through. System-wide Services menu items don’t work. Smart punctuation (automatic curly quotes and proper em-dashes when you type two hyphens) only work when you type slowly. Some views scroll via standard keyboard shortcuts (space/shift-space, Page Up/Page Down), but some don’t. A lot of these are things that I consider shortcomings in Apple’s Catalyst framework — the whole point of Cocoa from 20+ years ago is that standard controls get standard behavior out of the box, relieving developers from the drudgery of making simple expected platform-standard features work. Catalyst isn’t like that — or at least isn’t like that yet.
But this is Ivory for Mac 1.0. Progress during beta testing was steady, and knowing Tapbots’s high standards, I’m quite sure will continue to be. And on the whole, Ivory for Mac as it stands today is not just a glass of ice water in hell, it’s a whole pitcher. If you use Mastodon on a Mac, you’re nuts if you don’t try Ivory.
See also: John Voorhees’s review at MacStories.
There hasn’t been a decent Tetris game for the Mac in decades, but now you can play it on a Chicken McNugget. What a world. (Via Kottke.)
I hate to complain as Markdown continues its march to world domination,* but it’s really dumb that Discord added syntax for underlining (and ugly syntax at that). The only reason underlining should be used today, in any context, is to indicate hyperlinks. Any other use of underlining should be considered a typographical faux pas.
* Where by hate I of course mean love.
Taegan Goddard, writing at Political Wire on Ron DeSantis’s much-ballyhooed campaign launch on Twitter Spaces yesterday:
In the end, the event had all of the appeal of a glitchy conference call.
Politics aside, the event was humiliating for Elon Musk and Twitter. The space crashed on the server side several times, and it crashed the Twitter app on my iPhone at least 6 or 7 times. And even when it finally got going, the audio quality was terrible.
There were hints about this last fall, but now it’s official: Bungie is reviving Marathon:
Marathon is currently in development for playstation 5, xbox series x/s, and pc with full cross play and cross save.
This news either evokes some strong feelings and memories, or you were not a Mac gamer in the ’90s. I get it, but it seems downright criminal that the Mac isn’t on their platform list.
If Apple is releasing a VR/AR headset this year, it makes more sense for a dedicated event or bundle it with a Mac event in the fall.
There is too much ground to cover at WWDC, and 30 min is not enough to tell the full product story.
I’ve been thinking about this too. The WWDC keynote is always packed. And in recent years, Federighi has gotten Apple’s software factory into such disciplined shape that there are always major updates to every single platform. There are going to be major new features to announce and demo for iOS/iPadOS 17, MacOS 14, and WatchOS 10. I suspect we’re going to see new Mac hardware announced. If it’s just the 15-inch MacBook Air, that’s an easy announcement: it’s a MacBook Air with a bigger display. But if it’s the M-series Mac Pro (finally), that’s going to demand some presentation time. Last year’s keynote ran 1h:48m; here’s a rundown from The Verge of the major announcements.
But I do think the headset is going to be announced at WWDC. There’s just too much smoke for there not to be a fire. And, seemingly, Apple isn’t quietly trying to dampen expectations for the headset behind the scenes. The same thing happened with the iPhone before Macworld Expo 2007 — there were rampant rumors that the Apple phone was finally coming, and no one hearing from sources that it wouldn’t. They might have ideally wanted to announce it before this year’s WWDC at a special event, but if they want developers to start creating software for the platform, this is the time. (And why wouldn’t they want developers to start working on ideas?)
Apple does not like for keynotes to run longer than two hours. The glaring exception that springs to mind was the WWDC 2015 keynote, which ran a grueling 2h:25m. That was the one with a long section on Apple Music with Jimmy Iovine on stage. Probably the worst WWDC keynote ever, and the only one that ever felt under-rehearsed.
Here’s the thing though: post-COVID keynotes aren’t just pre-recorded, they’re very tightly edited. I suspect we’ll get a keynote that still comes in under 2 hours even with an entire 40-minute-ish segment announcing both the headset and xrOS. It’ll just go fast. Fitting the headset and xrOS developer frameworks into the old-style on-stage WWDC keynote would have posed a problem. I don’t think it’s a problem with the new “keynote movie” format.1 We won’t come out of the keynote thinking it was too long; we’ll come out of it with our heads spinning because it’s going to cover so much, so fast. ★
And if I’m right, I bet this is one of those years where after the keynote is over, and people start poring over everything Apple puts on the web, we discover a surprising number of very cool iOS and MacOS features that didn’t make it into the keynote. Anything and everything from the OSes might get cut to make time for the headset, xrOS, and Mac hardware announcements. There’s a whole second State of the Union technical keynote in the afternoon where features cut from the main morning keynote can go. ↩︎
Aaron Tilley and Yang Jie, reporting last week for The Wall Street Journal, “Apple Is Breaking Its Own Rules With a New Headset” (News+ link):
Apple’s launch plans break many of its traditions and rules about new products that have become the industry gold standard. Unlike other Apple products, the device is debuting in a still-experimental mode. Apple predicts slower adoption for the headset compared with the Apple Watch or the iPhone, both of which quickly became consumer must-haves. Taking seven years in development before hitting the market, it will be one of the most complex consumer products any company has ever sold.
That’s a lot to unpack in one paragraph. Here goes:
I’d argue Apple has never introduced two new products the same way. Every new product introduction has been different. I honestly don’t know any more about the headset than the rumor mill consensus but I guarantee it isn’t in an “experimental mode”. Neither Apple Watch nor iPhone “quickly became consumer must-haves”. Here’s a report from Daisuke Wakabayashi in ... checks notes ... The Wall Street Fucking Journal itself in April 2016, a year after Apple Watch shipped, that says, in the opening paragraph, “Yet the smartwatch is dogged by a perception that seems premature given the history of Apple’s most popular devices: disappointment.” (The next paragraph claimed that “sales of iPhones are slowing”.)1
The pattern for Apple’s entries into new product categories generally goes like this:
A few paragraphs later in Aaron Tilley and Yang Jie’s report:
For Apple’s first new major product in a decade — the Apple Watch was announced in 2014 — Chief Executive Tim Cook has a lot on the line as the device attempts to dominate the virtual world where people spend time for work or leisure, called the metaverse, which hasn’t yet reached mass adoption or understanding.
There is growing skepticism among some investors and potential future partners that consumers will spend money and time on the metaverse. They note some early adopters are disillusioned with the technology.
It’s a sidenote perhaps, but I’d argue that AirPods are a major new product — and that AirPods Pro are the first true mass-market augmented reality devices. The fact that they’re audio-only, and not visual, blinds people (sorry) to the fact that they’re remarkable AR products. Apple doesn’t break out unit sales, but estimates suggest that if AirPods — just AirPods — were a standalone company, it would have more revenue than Nvidia, Adobe, or Uber, and might soon catch up to Netflix. But that’s a sidenote.
The bigger issue is that back in October, in an on-stage interview, Greg Joswiak was asked to complete the sentence “The metaverse is...”, and his answer was, “...a word I’ll never use.” The fact that people don’t use or even know what the hell the metaverse means is irrelevant to Apple’s headset. I don’t know how much more clear Joz could have been without revealing Apple’s headset then and there — Apple’s not making something that’s just like what other companies already have on the market. That on-stage interview was with ... checks notes ... Joanna Stern at The Wall Street Journal Tech Live conference. It’s enough to make you think Wall Street Journal reporters don’t read The Wall Street Journal.
That no XR headset introduced so far has made much of a dent in the universe isn’t a sign that Apple’s effort is ill-fated. It’s a sign that Apple has an opportunity. In a sense, Apple does have one tradition when entering a new product category: they endeavor to make the first one good enough to be criticized. ★
Here’s a paragraph for the Annals of Prognostication from that same 2016 Wakabayashi report for the Journal:
And yet, there are detractors such as Fred Wilson, co-founder of venture-capital firm Union Square Ventures, in December declared the Watch a “flop.” Mr. Wilson, who owns shares of Fitbit through a fund, had earlier predicted the Watch wouldn’t be a “home run” like the iPad, iPhone and iPod, saying many people wouldn’t want to wear a computer on their wrist.
Fred Wilson, the next best thing to Jim Cramer. ↩︎