Web3. Coins. Blockchains. NFTs. DAOs. Virtual and augmented reality. Electric Vehicles and self-driving. Autonomous technologies and artificial intelligence. 2020 and 2021: 2020 Resurrected were hella ugly. Brutal even. But they moved us forward each in their own way. 2022 is poised to do the same. Pushing us closer to some aspects of the future, and maybe even finally delivering on a few as well. These are the hottest topics and biggest trends in tech that we’re seeing today, and where and how Apple’s choosing to play.
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Ok, let’s start at the most imminent and work our way further out.
Augmented and virtual reality
Virtual and augmented reality. Immersive and opportunistic interfaces. This, along with automation, is one of the very few future-facing subjects Tim Cook is typically more than happy to discuss. Because they aren’t actually products. They’re core technology. Like LCD and OLED. Moving from CRT to LCD let Apple make iMacs thinner than ever before, but it also let them make iPhones and iPads, which could never have been made as CRTs. Screens were never the product but they enabled almost all the products. Same with VR and AR. There’ll be an initial product, like there was an initial LCD iMac. Two products, actually. But eventually they’ll be integrated throughout the lineup.
Further out, will be the AR glasses. There’s just a lot of tech that still needs to mature there. Similar to the Apple Watch, they’ll be lighter but also more dependent on existing products for the heavier connection and compute tasks, at least at first, but that’ll improve over time. And the killer feature will be convenience. Forget not having to reach for your phone when your notifications and glanceable information are only a wrist raise away on your watch. Now you won’t even have to raise your wrist. Those notifications and glances will be right there, already in your field of view, right on your glasses.
Closer up, will be the VR headset. Not the one from a few years back that Apple was reportedly working on with Valve until Jony Ive drop-kicked the concept of a headset tethered to a brain box. But a fully self-contained system, which is now just way closer to a solved problem. It’s even got former SVP of hardware, Dan Riccio, running it 24/7 now. The exec previously in charge of shipping iPhones every year on the year. Dual 4K displays and spatial audio streams driven my something akin to an M1 or M2 chipset. A ton of sensors driven by new custom silicon. Similar to the Apple TV, it’ll be heavier but more dependent on existing services to provide truly immersive content and experiences. Forget sitting on your living room sofa, you’ll be in virtual movie theaters and stadiums, concert halls and workout vistas, around digital conference rooms and event centers. It’ll be expensive at first, like the original iPhone was. And basic. Like the original iPad. But if Apple does it right, it could be every bit and category defining.
Electric vehicles and automation
Autonomous technologies, and by extension artificial intelligence, is the other topic Tim Cook’s been… positively chatty about, given Apple’s usual cones within cones of silence. Again because it’s not a product but a core technology. Apple’s been all-in on machine learning, neural networks, computer vision, natural language processing, and more for years. It’s rampant throughout iOS, macOS… all the OS.
Apple’s SVP of Machine Learning, John Gianandrea is currently running this specific special project group, now with the help of Kevin Lynch, who’s run Apple Watch software since pretty much the beginning. And the goals seem to have shifted somewhat over the years. From a straight ahead til car, complete with Jony Ive and team designs, and a whole new, whole NeXT NeXT-style approach to operating systems, bug reporting, interfaces, even culture, to a focus on self-driving systems, to a collaboration with an existing automaker to… well, we’ll just have to wait and see at this point.
It’s still a ways out, even though, just like the AR and VR projects, technology from the LiDAR and computer vision and other teams have already made their way into our iPhones and iPads, by way of example. And who knows, just like on-device intelligence is everywhere already, autonomy could easily follow suit. I’m not saying Apple person robots or HomeKit droids. But I’m not not saying it either.
I mean, full self driving electric vehicles sound great and even drive great in California and Arizona, but there’s a long way to go before they work great in places like Winnipeg and Montreal where it can hit -40 or -50 and the roads, lanes, and signs are covered in camera confounding ice and snow.
But, whether it’s the Apple Park shuttles, or consumer cars we can actually drive, a decked out Apple Roadster Max and eventually a less expensive Apple Hatchback SE, or a fleet of Apple Ubers as a service, just hail, ride, repeat. Only time, like several more years of time, will tell.
First, there was Web1. Angle bracket. Marquee. Blink. Slash. Angle bracket. Under construction dot Gif Jif. Or as you probably remember them, raw containers for super janky ActiveX and Flash sites you beat your head against until you could find the opening hours for the restaurant. And nobody but nerds really cared.
Then there was Web2. AJAX. CSS. OAUTH. And a whole bunch of other acronyms and initialisms that… still nobody but nerds cared about until they became part of the core infrastructure for a new generation of apps and services we all now use every day. Google Maps. Twitter. Flikr. Wikipedia it. Facebook. Oh god, what did we do.
Now, Web3. Coins. Blockchains. DAOs. NFTs. Which I’m apparently not allowed to call nifties. And they’ll become part of the core infrastructure of a next generation of apps and services that we’ll all use… one day. The key difference between Web2 and Web3 is that people seem to go to war way, way, way more over what Web3 is and isn’t than they ever did Web2. Like full on Raid Boss Karen in my timeline, every damn day. And I mean it, y’all seriously need to chill. Embrace the namaste side of your inner hipster again. Whatever. And maybe just because we’ve all been stuck in various forms of physical and psychological lockdown for the last two years. Maybe because the worst of the Silicon Valley and fintech grifters took an interest in fetishizing and monetizing Web3 technologies in a way they never did or could Web2. Or maybe just Doge. I don’t know.
Apple’s WebObjects drove a lot of commerce in the pre-Web2 days, and Web2 wasn’t just the sweet solution Apple offered developers in the days before the App Store, it what a lot of WebKit interfaces were built on, both wrapped in apps and put up on the web, up to and including iCloud dot com.
Given Apple Pay, Apple Cash, and Apple Card, an Apple Coin would be interesting, and they’re uniquely positioned to offer something… mainstream there. If not full on financial services at some point. Maybe Apple’s just waiting on more environmentally friendly technologies to make any moves there or on the blockchain in general. Apple also doesn’t have their own micro-transaction system, like big game studios, where using NFTs would let them extract a share of every artificially scarce digital good through every reseller, forever. That could tie into an updated Apple Arcade, especially for VR and whatever normal humans end up calling the Metaverse, though. Even while I hope Apple never gets into something that potentially gambling-adjacent, at least not directly. Doesn’t fit the Disney clean image.
And since they’ve moved to Apple Music and Apple TV streaming, even if they were super into the idea of us reselling our digital downloads in a media swap meet, even some kind of iTunes Live Bootlegs, I’m not sure Hollywood and labels would be down with any form after market. Although maybe they just need to see more zeros attached?