Well, this is something you don’t see very often: secrets about a still-unannounced product — shared only with a small, hand-picked group of senior managers — that somehow leak.
Ruining the surprise
That’s what’s happened regarding Apple’s most secret non-secret product, its first-generation mixed-reality headset destined (we think) to appear at WWDC in June and ship in quantity later this year. Both Bloomberg and the New York Times recently shared stories from anonymous people within Apple who appear to know a lot about the product and who may have been among a top 100 executive team who attended secret demonstrations across the last few years. (The New York Times story cites eight sources for its story.)
The reports shared a lot of information we already thought we knew, adding that some Apple staff are concerned the new product may not achieve the immediate success of previous Apple launches. The claims follow recent reporting CEO Tim Cook insisted the product, which has been in development for years, is at least announced in 2023
We don’t know where the latest tales came from. A number of people in Apple leadership positions have departed in recent months, and as the company’s once all-powerful designers find themselves reporting to the operations team, it’s not impossible some senior people are unhappy.
In the context of Apple’s inflexible approach to flexible working, it could be that dissatisfaction is growing across the company. If true, that’s bad as it means employees will be more prepared to shrug off their commitment to secrecy and speak with the press.
What do the revelations tell us?
It does seem strange this information has slipped out from within a top team meeting. How did this happen? How does a company traditionally so secretive end up becoming a firm from which every secret leaks and always through the same channels?
Is this Apple managing the message by feeding information through such channels, or is it a case of some form of industrial espionage?
Let’s assume Apple is in control of the narrative. If so, the message seem to be that the first iteration of the product is not expected to see the same kind of early success as the iPhone or iPod.
Apple knows the device is expensive, the product category new, and the utility not yet established. With this in mind, it may want to control expectations by sneaking out criticism before the release.
Alternatively, what might it mean if a competitor were pushing the speculation?
First, it suggests competitors are scared. They can see Apple coming down the virtual reality track and they want to damage public perception of the new device before it even sees the light of day in order to protect their own business. Is it not worth noting that these stories leak just days since Epic’s Tim Sweeney warned Apple will in some way control the metaverse. (Whatever that is).
It’s possible that both scenarios are true. It’s perfectly conceivable Apple does want to manage market expectations even while competitors want to damage them. This is, after all, a product war for a future digital market still so completely new no one can quite see the extent or limitations of the space quite yet.
It’s a frontier that with recent advances in creative applications of artificial intelligence may (or may not) become the next hot seat for wealth creation.
What we think we know is that Apple is steaming ahead with plans to introduce first-generation mixed reality goggles this year. It already has blueprints for future product, software, and operating system innovation. Those plans extend to creating viable opportunities for developers on the platform.
We can surmise that the company’s basic introduction plans look like this:
- There’ll be a demo at or around WWDC, including hardware and OS.
- The first product may look like ski goggles, feature 4K video and a carbon fiber frame, external battery pack, and two-hour use.
- Look for the introduction of developer tools, potentially along with a developer kit.
- Expect public availability of product, paired with an App Store, in fall 2023. Cost: $3,000. (The launch may slip into next year if the economy fails to improve.)
- OS improvements will arrive across the coming 12 months, toward an annual realityOS upgrade.
- A new point upgrade to hardware in or around fall 2024.
- A major upgrade likely in 2025, potentially including lower-cost models.
- Aversion within a highly wearable chassis similar to normal spectacles when technically possible at reasonable cost.
- Perhaps a presentation video like one reportedly shown by Jony Ive five years ago. This showed a man in a London taxi wearing the goggles to share the sights of London with his wife also wearing a headset at home in San Francisco.
That product road map means Apple has plenty of evolutionary space in the years to come. This will enable the product to morph as the market itself evolves.
In many respects this is the kind of cadence Apple has taken before when introducing new products. Even when Apple invented the PC with the GUI Mac, it was already thinking about how it would improve it. That’s business as usual.
But if I ran a business preparing to introduce a top secret product in development for years, I’d want to know who was sharing its secrets, how to plug those leaks, and what I needed to do to make people more loyal.
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