It is the fourth visible user interface of the personal computer era.
The first was character mode. MS-DOS.
The second was the GUI, graphical user interface. Macintosh and Windows.
The third was touch. iPhone and Android.
The fourth is spatial computing.
At each introduction of a new user interface some companies either went away or became dramatically less important. When GUI’s came along Borland and Wordperfect, both companies bet on the older character mode and promptly went away.
Same when touch came along. Nokia and Blackberry bet against touch, or didn’t react nearly strongly, nor quickly, enough. They are either gone or really much less important than they once were.
I can not see a world where Apple goes away, not with $220 billion in cash reserves.
But I CAN see a world where Tim Cook goes away and his legacy is dramatically changed.
The Apple Watch didn’t hurt him. At least not beyond a small skin scratch. That will not be true when spatial computing comes along.
First, what is spatial computing? Run a Google Search on the term and you find: “Spatial Computing is a set of ideas and technologies that will transform our lives by understanding the physical world, knowing and communicating our relation to places in that world, and navigating through those places. The transformational potential of Spatial Computing is evident.”
It already is arriving, though. Self-driving cars use spatial computing. Robots use spatial computing. Drones, especially ones that map out the world at some level, are using spatial computing. Google will soon introduce spatial computing to smartphones, in the introduction of Tango sensors that map out the world. Robots use spatial computing, particularly those from Boston Dynamics, another Google company.
Finally, mixed reality glasses use spatial computing. Microsoft Hololens is showing you spatial computing and the four video cameras on that product that map out the real world are what bring you both spatial computing and mixed reality. Magic Leap is preparing to launch products in the next 18 months, and has $1.3 billion invested in it so far by a group of companies led by Google and Baidu. Only insiders are paying attention, but both products let you walk around the real world and see virtual items placed on them. Go to YouTube and search for Hololens and you’ll see lots of demos of what spatial computing looks like.
Now, it isn’t clear yet to most people what will force Apple’s hand here. That’s the crazy thing. I know of several mixed-reality-spatial-computing glasses under development:
1. Magic Leap.
2. Microsoft Hololens.
5. Facebook. (Zuckerberg already announced he’s working on such).
6. Amazon?? (Its delivery drone has a paper-thin radar in it that my nerdy friends say is quite brilliant).
I’m seeing amazing demos, I’ve been including a few in my speeches around the world, and meeting with engineers that are working on some of these projects (later this week I’ll be in Israel to meet with such).
Also Meta and others are developing new spatial user interfaces. If you haven’t seen my tour of Meta that I did back in February (you need to be logged into Facebook to view), you really should. There you’ll meet some of the people who developed Tango, but are building a new user interface.
Anyway, back to the point. I bet that Tim Cook is going to try to follow Steve Jobs’ playbook. Which is watch everyone else prove there’s a market but wait until you can provide a better alternative. After all, the iPod wasn’t the first audio player. The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone. The iPad wasn’t the first tablet.
We know Apple and Tim Cook knows what’s coming. Cook hired a professor from Virginia Tech who has seen Magic Leap. Or at least his students had seen it. Cook also has bought a number of companies in VR and AR, including Metaio, which showed me monsters on top of buildings years ago.
So Cook is prepared and he seems to be working hard with teams to come up with new products. Just read MacRumors rundown of all the moves Apple is making and you’ll see Tim Cook has all the ingredients to compete in this spatial computing world.
Here is the rub: Tim Cook isn’t Steve Jobs. He doesn’t have the market thinking he’s a genius. It will be a LOT more skeptical of Cook’s claims than it did toward Jobs. Cook rarely talks about products. He’s not someone I expect to sit down with for an evening and talk about great new products, like, say, a Tesla, and have a stream of visionary feedback about what does and doesn’t work.
Cook doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who can get a superhuman effort out of a development team, either, the way Jobs could. Which is important for focusing a team on a market window. Lets be honest, most of the world’s great products came with quite a bit of pain on behalf of employees. Will Cook’s nicer way of working work at Apple to bring us a world-defining product? The jury is out.
So there are a lot of questions, heck, questions that the Apple Watch didn’t answer, and, in fact, caused to get louder.
Is Cook a product guy? So far the answer is no, he’s not.
To date that hasn’t hurt his legacy. He’s still leading the best company on earth. The one with the best retail stores. The best innovation legacy. The best brand. The best supply chain. The best marketing and PR teams. The best profits. These are daunting advantages for Apple, but if Magic Leap ships and Apple can’t match it for years you’ll see many switch brand preference. Then Tim Cook really will be gone and his legacy will not be a sweet one, but rather a sour one as the guy who hobbled Apple.
All this is saying is a new user interface is coming. Will it bring with it major corporate change the way previous user interfaces have?
History says yes.
Tim Cook better worry.
On the other hand, if Tim Cook delivers in the coming spatial computing era, well, then, he will finally put Steve Jobs in a box that Apple can really move forward from.
Are you a betting person? If so, where would you put your money?
Honestly? I just am not hearing good things out of Cupertino lately and the folks at Google and Microsoft are bringing real innovations to the market.