‘The Coming Supremacy of AR’

Allen Pike:

Advertising, gamification, constant distractions and chaos, interruptions — basically a Black Mirror hellscape. And to be clear, in the event that high fidelity AR becomes possible, some company will attempt to make such a hellscape, filled with crapware and covering your gaze with nonsense for the lowest possible price.

I challenge you, though, to imagine not the worst that a future AR experience could be, but the best. Imagine instead an AR experience not designed by advertisers, but by Apple — or even better, Apple’s successors. A team obsessively focused on people, taking a distinctly human approach to designing how your glasses could augment what you see.

The potential is obviously huge. My pessimism is that based on the state of software today — what most people use on their phones and tablets, desktops, and the web — there is arguably only one company with the technical and financial resources to make this possible that might be interested in doing it in a way that isn’t based on selling you shit through in-view advertising (as well as using what you see and hear through AR to profile you).

That company is Apple. Facebook — good god no. Google makes almost all of its money through advertising. Amazon makes most of its money selling us stuff. Samsung or any of the upstart Chinese phone companies? They don’t have the design chops to do something subtle and tasteful.

[Update: Two points. First, I should not have omitted Microsoft. They’re not an advertising company, they have the technical chops, and they’ve been working on AR/VR for years with HoloLens. So I’ll file Microsoft under “maybe”. But historically, Microsoft has never led the way on new computer interface paradigms. Second, I know Apple makes most of its money “selling us stuff” too. But Apple’s “selling us stuff” is a very different business from Amazon’s. When you buy an iPhone, Apple doesn’t start badgering you to buy an iPad and Apple Watch, too, in the way that Amazon never ceases suggesting algorithmically determined products to buy. Apple doesn’t track you across the web in order to algorithmically suggest which iPhone model you should buy. But Apple is now promoting its services within its own UIs in a way that it has never promoted its hardware products.]

But I worry that with its services push, Apple is turning into an advertising company too. It’s just advertising its own services. In iOS 13 they put an ad for AppleCare at the very top of Settings. They use push notifications to ask you to sign up for Apple Pay and Apple Card, and subscribe to Apple Music, TV, and Arcade. The free tier of Apple News is now a non-stop barrage of ads for Apple News+ subscriptions. Are we at the “hellscape” stage with Apple? No, not even close. But it’s a slippery slope. What made Apple Apple is this mindset: “Ship great products and the profits will follow” — not “Ship products that will generate great profits”.

It is essential that product people remain in charge of these decisions at Apple, not services people.

Monday, 6 January 2020