There's a common idea that in some way fashion designers get together in a room and decide what the fashion will be next year. That's a pretty fundamental misunderstanding. Rather, they propose what might fit the zeitgeist. Sometimes that's incremental and sometimes it's a radical break - sometimes the pendulum needs to swing from one extreme to another. Sometimes they get it wrong, but when they get it right it captures an age. The New Look proposed that people wanted to move on from the clothes of wartime austerity, and from austerity itself, and that this was a good way to do it, and Dior was right.
I'm reminded of these kinds of shifts when thinking about Facebook and how much it can change behaviours - about how much it can decide what the new thing will be. After all, social media has now moved far past the point that it serves any kind of purely utilitarian purpose. There was a time when instant messaging or the asymmetric feed were simply better person-to-person mechanics than email (as one could argue that Slack is now). Now, though, we're shifting around at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, experimenting with different ways to explore and express our personality and our needs, and so, in a sense, of the zeitgeist. Many of these trends have also expressed the same sense of a pendulum - we swung from the chaos of MySpace to the structured order of Facebook, and then swung again to the fun and exuberance and creativity of Snap (or at any rate that Snap aspires to have). But Snap of course is not the only one - sitting on top of the smartphone, which is itself a social platform, there are dozens of apps and experiences, from GIF keyboards to live streaming apps to animoji, all trying to capture a little piece of Maslow. Social is pop culture. […]
Indeed, when something becomes fashionable, it will inevitably become unfashionable - "no-one goes there anymore - it's too crowded". The zeitgeist changes both of itself and because of your success. So the very fact that any social media company has found a behaviour that people want means that at some point they'll stop wanting it. People stopped wearing the new look, they stopped wearing miniskirts, and they stopped wearing punk. There is always a pendulum.
The iPhone is the best and most popular camera on the planet…yet sharing photos & videos in full quality with friends & family is so hard! I wish sharing full-quality photos/videos was as easy as sending stickers to a group chat in iMessage.
I was recently on a trip to Hawaii with a dozen of my childhood friends. 10 of us had iPhones and 2 had Samsungs. We’re all taking photos, with plenty of candid shots, great group shots, and just living the moment. But when we wanted to share each other's best photos on Facebook, we were faced with several options that all have downsides:
Send over iMessage — but then everyone receives a downscaled version of each photo and video.
Send via AirDrop — (my Samsung friends were getting a jealous about this, lol) but AirDrop assumes all phones are unlocked and within bluetooth range, which isn't always the case. It forces us to take ourselves out of the moment just to make sure all our iPhones are unlocked and ready to accept the AirDrop.
Share folders via Dropbox or Google Photos — but not everyone has an account on either of those.
Use iCloud Photo Sharing — but not everyone has that enabled. And even if I send them a link to the album, photos/videos are downscaled to lower quality.
I take pride in the quality of photos I take with my iPhone! It’s a shame though that with all these priceless group photos on our phones, we either have to take ourselves out of the moment to coordinate an AirDrop with everyone, or we have to settle with downscaled versions of photos that are meant to last a lifetime.
I feel that of all the companies in the world, Apple is the only company that could solve this elegantly. Hope you take this into consideration!
I think this too is inevitable. The technology trajectories are easy enough to plot. Apple has invested enormously in the silicon that goes inside the Watch and has taken it to new levels of connectivity with LTE, 85% faster WiFi, and a 70% faster processor; all with 50% better power efficiency.
These enable independent voice entry, Siri everywhere, Find My Friends, Maps, music streaming. These breakthroughs are only possible with a new W2 processor which is more powerful than the first iPhone processors.
This comparison is apt: the Watch is effectively stealing usage from the iPhone. At first it took alerts, timekeeping, and basic messaging away. Now it’s taking basic phone calls and music and maybe maps.
It’s fitting therefore to remember how the iPhone was launched; as a tentpole troika: A wide-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone. Today the new Watch is a small-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone.
So not only is the Series 3 Watch more powerful than the original iPhone but it is also poetically capable of the same tentpole jobs. But it’s not just a miniature iPhone. It has a new, completely orthogonal attack on non-consumption and market creation: fitness and health. This is a key point. The iPhone was born a phone but grew up to be something completely unprecedented, unforeseen by its creators and, frankly, undescribable in the language of 2007.
The Watch was born a timepiece but it is traversing through the early iPhone and pulling in a new direction all of its own. The fact that we are talking about “Resting Rate”, “Arrhythmia” and “Atrial fibrillation” at a timekeeping launch event indicates that new behaviors will follow and so will the language we’ll use to describe this child-like product once it grows up.
While everyone is talking about next-gen smartphones like the very impressive Galaxy Note 8 and the highly-anticipated iPhone X, I'm more interested in what's being built on top of smartphones that will bridge us to the next big thing.1
Let's talk about Augmented Reality.
What is AR?
You've actually seen it before, you just don't realize it:
If you've ever watched a game of football on TV, the yellow line on the field that constantly moves to indicate the first-down…that's augmented reality.
If you've ever went outside hunting for Pokémon characters…that was augmented reality.
If you use Snapchat to turn your face into a dog and send it to all your friends…that's augmented reality.
Not to be confused with Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality is about overlaying digital information on everything you see. To put it another way:
Virtual Reality is about teleporting you to a new world. Augmented Reality is about enhancing the world around you.
AR Today: Incubation Phase
Here's the current landscape of AR summed up by Timothy Buck:
Google's Project Tango has been around since 2014, and it is almost universally considered a flop. Project Tango only works on specialized hardware that relatively few people own, and because of that, the software landscape is bleak.
Update: Google's ARCore, which is basically Project Tango minus the required specialized hardware, was announced just a few weeks ago. When it launches (release date TBA), it will be limited to Google Pixel (1+ million units shipped) & Galaxy S8 (20+ million).
Microsoft's HoloLens was announced in early 2015, and it's really quite impressive by all accounts. But it's not really a consumer product. The HoloLens starts at $3,000 and is marketed as a developer edition. At this point, they have too few users to truly attract developers in large numbers. Obviously, this could change dramatically if they announce a truly revolutionary consumer device.
Facebook's AR Studio is only a few months older than AR Kit, and Facebook has 2 billion users. But at this point, Facebook isn't offering a way for developers to monetize their AR Studio creations. This means it will be filled with AR "apps" that are essentially ads for companies that monetize in other ways.
In the fall, Apple will update their iPhone line and hundreds of millions of iOS devices being used today will be updated to iOS 11 and capable of running ARKit apps. This is serious incentive [for app developers], and I expect to see a cascade of AR-enabled apps in the App Store at the end of the year.
When iOS 11 launches later this month, Augmented Reality will be supported on iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, iPhone 7, all iPad Pros, the 2017 iPad, and all new iPhones launching this month.
How many devices is that? Some number crunching by David Barnard:
326m iPhones have been sold since the iPhone 6S was released. Some were iPhone 6/6 Plus, but 350m total compatible devices is realistic.
78m iPhones and 13m iPads shipped Q1 (Oct-Dec) last year. And quite a few 7/7 Plus in Q4. iPhone 8 will push it to 450m by the end of 2017.
To put it another way:
Overnight, iOS becomes the largest Augmented Reality platform in the world.
While everyone else gets bragging rights for demoing AR years ago, Apple hits the ground running in the race that matters — first to critical mass.2
AR 1.0: Coming Soon
This past June, Apple opened its doors to developers with the release of ARKit. In just three months, developer adoption has been phenomenal. Here are a few demos I want to highlight:
Imagine going to a concert, fair, or festival and finding out your friends are there too:
Imagine moving into a new home and planning out your interior design:
Imagine your kid playing games like this in the living room:
Imagine trying on new clothes, makeup, and hairstyles like this:
Imagine floating a little virtual charm above your head as a status message for the real world. Share your mood with an emoji. Rep your hometown with your favorite sports team logo. Put up a little Fuck Off DND sign when you want to be alone.
These two are just flat out cool:
For 40+ more demos that I've handpicked, check out all the videos I've posted under Made with ARKit.
Yes, these demos are more on the gimmicky side. But let's put it in perspective:
When the iTunes App Store opened in 2008, novelties like Super Monkey Ball and fart apps were all the rage. They weren't game-changing themselves by any means…but getting developers to invest into the platform was paramount.
Over the years, app development matured and the world was introduced to cultural phenomenons and world-changers like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Uber.
AR 2.0: Beyond Smartphones
Today's AR comes in the form of Pokémon Go & Snapchat filters. Tomorrow's AR will come in the form of fun & gimmicky demos on next-gen smartphones. But what will AR be like in the years ahead?
What happens when we move AR from our smartphone screens to glasses that are comfortable, stylish, and affordable? What happens to smartphones & tablets when all we need is wireless voice-enabled earbuds, AR glasses, and a powerful smartwatch?
What happens when multiple people in the same room can share the same augmented experience? What about entire sports arenas? Entire cities?
What happens to child development when groups of kids grow up together building & interacting with the same elaborate fantasy worlds right in your living room?
What happens when we can replace web browsers & URLs with AR glasses & QR codes in the real world?
What happens to online shopping when you can augment any product imaginable onto your body, your driveway, or your home?
What happens to offices & conference rooms when we don’t need monitors or TV screens? What happens to interiors of cars when we don’t need physical dashboards or navigation consoles?
What happens to international travel when every sign is automagically translated for you? What happens when you can talk to anyone in the world and their words are subtitled for you in real-time?
What happens when we can hold up signs anywhere but only allow certain people to see them?
What happens to parties & socialization when virtual name tags can only be seen by those with mutual friends? What happens to clubs, concerts, festivals, and dating when singles can display their statuses above their head to only compatible matches?
There's so much more to innovation than showing off a flashy demo, impressing loyal fans, or being first to market. Innovation is more than just improving the status quo.
Innovation is about challenging the status quo.
Innovation is about getting new technologies into the hands of millions, driving people to break old habits & create new ones. Innovation is about disrupting the way companies do business, forcing entire industries to rethink their product strategies, operations, and business models.
The next big thing isn't a better-looking smartphone with beefier hardware specs that one-ups the competition. The next big thing will be new AR software & services in the real world...and smartphone AR will be the bridge that takes us there.
It will take years for AR to mature into a world-changing technology. Up until now, Augmented Reality has been limited to early-adopting developers & big-spending enthusiasts. AR has yet to prove compelling, convenient, and affordable enough for mainstream adoption. As the saying goes: "The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed."
With the upcoming launch of iOS 11 in the next couple weeks — which will unlock Augmented Reality for 450 million iOS devices this year — AR finally makes its first real step for the masses.3
We can argue that Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning are the next big thing, especially since they are fundamental building blocks for AR, voice recognition, automation, etc. But AR is a little more “tangible” to consumers. ↩
"First to critical mass" doesn't necessarily mean dominant market share; Apple just needs enough third-party support & mainstream adoption to carry its ecosystem through the next paradigm shift. Google's ARCore will follow shortly after and, if I had to make a slap bet, likely end up dominating the rest of the AR market to form a duolopoly. ↩
Mainstream adoption doesn't necessarily mean Apple will "win", but don't make the mistake of betting against them. ↩