In 2013, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the gadgets we wear on our wrists “could be a profound field of technology.”
It wasn’t. You may have a Fitbit or an Apple Watch, but that range of digital devices has not been as important as the hopes of Cook and many other tech optimists.
A decade and a half ago, Pokemon Go persuaded people to roam their neighborhoods in pursuit of animated characters that could be seen by displaying a smartphone camera in their surroundings. Cook was one of the corporate executives who said the game could be the beginning of a transformative mix of digital and real life, sometimes called augmented reality or AR.
“I think the AR could be huge,” Cook told Apple Investors in 2016.
It wasn’t. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and similar technologies remain promising and occasionally useful, but not yet vast.
Today, Cook and millions of others are betting that the combination of these two technologies will become the next major milestone of the Internet. Apple, Meta, Microsoft and Snap are moving into the future in which we will wear computers on our heads for interactions connecting physical and digital life. (You and Mark Zuckerberg can call this a metavars. I won’t.)
Given the technologist’s spotty record of predicting a digital revolution, it’s worth checking out why their announcements haven’t come true yet – and if this time, they’re true.
There are two ways to see the predictions of wearable computers and immersive digital worlds in the last decade. The first is that all the discoveries of the past were necessary steps on the path to something glorious.
People mocked Google Glass after the company released a trial version of the computer headset in 2013, but the glasses might be a building block. Computer chips, software, cameras, and microphones have all improved so much that digital headgear may soon become less obstructive and more useful.
Likewise, Pokemon Go, the virtual reality video games and apps augmented reality may not be for everyone to check out the new lipstick, but they helped refine technologies and excited some people about the possibilities of more exciting digital experiences.
My colleagues have reported that next year Apple may ship computer headsets like Ski-Google and aim to provide virtual- and augmented-reality experiences. Apple only hinted at that work during an event Monday to unveil the iPhone software tweaks, but the company is laying the groundwork for such technologies to become its potential next big product category.
Another possibility is that technologists may be wrong again about the possibility of Google Glass plus the next iteration of Pokemon Go. Perhaps more refined features, longer battery life, less dark glasses and more fun things to do on face computers are not the most essential components for the next big thing in technology.
One point is that technologists have not yet given us good reasons why we want to live in the digital-plus-real world that they envision for us.
I wrote earlier that any new technology inevitably competes with smartphones, which are at the heart of our digital life. Everything that comes next should answer the question: What makes this thing that my phone can’t?
That challenge does not mean that technology is static where it is today. I’m excited by workouts that feel like a trainer coaching me on a virtual mountain lake, and I can imagine new ways to connect with people who seem far more intimate than Zoom. Apple has a track record of embracing existing technology concepts, especially smartphones and streaming music, and making them attractive to the public.
But as our current digital life has become richer, it will be harder for us to accept something new. It’s something that more immersive computing doesn’t really count on past and present predictions of the future.
Before we go
Only one brutal and formulaic fraud after violent tragedies: Following the mass shootings or other fatalities, online posts frequently claim that Jordi Jordan was one of the victims. My colleague Tiffany Sue explains what is behind this frequent false campaign and how others like it.
Is this an excuse to get out of a bad deal? Following the recent decline in the share prices of many tech companies, it now appears that Elon Musk is paying too much to buy Twitter. It’s a useful reference for Musk’s lawyers’ complaint on Monday that the company refused to give him data on automated Twitter accounts and (again) threatened to withdraw from the deal, my colleagues Lauren Hirsch and Mike Isaac reported. (There is more about this in the dealbook.)
Our purchasing habits are changing the US workforce: Employment in transportation and warehousing – jobs such as truckers, Amazon warehouse workers and delivery couriers – has reached its largest share of the workforce since the record was set, Axios reports. This is a decade-long employment transformation, turbocharged by our hunger to spend more on materials rather than services during an epidemic.
Related: Mary C., president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “Current jobs – restaurants, warehousing – are things that will not last forever,” Daly told my colleague Gianna Smilek.
David Scott uses a computer to create Rube Goldberg-style compositions, including this marble concert on a xylophone-like bar. (My colleague Maya Salam recommended Scott’s videos, which go viral on social media.)
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