Apple’s New Headset: Buy or Bust?

Why is Apple talking about announcing a $3,000 mixed reality headset when it’s clear the $2.7 trillion colossus hasn’t pulled together all of the pieces?

That’s the question The Wall Street Journal poses today in an interesting piece about what would be the launch of Apple’s first new product category since the debut of the Apple Watch way back in 2015.

People who have tried the device say that it’s worlds apart from existing products such as Meta’s Quest Pro, citing its superior performance and immersive capabilities. Also, Apple has designed the device so that users can see what’s around them, which could possibly reduce the nausea that many people feel when they use devices like these. (The company is doing this via outward facing cameras.) And finally, it’s an Apple product, which will undoubtedly mean something to the company’s many diehard  fans.

The rumor is that Apple will announce its new headset at its Worldwide Developers Conference this June.

Still, insiders grumble that the device doesn’t have a killer app, and it will require a battery pack, a bulky addition that probably would have caused Steve Jobs to burst an aneurysm.

And, did we mention that it costs $3,000, three times more than Meta’s most expensive headset?

While the price of Apple’s headset would be a good thing if it had the potential to sell tens of millions of units, few think there is massive, pent-up demand for yet another metaverse or virtual reality product. Indeed, both Walt Disney and Microsoft recently shuttered their respective divisions.

“Apple is absolutely standing on top of the many bodies that are trying to climb up that mountain,” Rony Abovitz, the founder and former CEO of Magic Leap, a much-hyped augmented-reality startup that has fallen on hard times, told the Journal.

What puzzles us is this: Tim Cook is a numbers guy. He doesn’t take a lot of wild bets. Either he is so desperate to show that Apple can innovate without Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, or there is something there. 

As corny as it sounds, we can’t wait to hear him say those magic words, “And one more thing.”

AI Time Bomb

Yesterday, we included a story in the newsletter about a Google researcher who leaked a critique of Google’s AI efforts, complaining that Google was losing ground to open source AI projects.

That story hit home today with the publication of a piece in The New York Times entitled, “The Next Fear on A.I.: Hollywood’s Killer Robots Become the Military’s Tools.”

The military is of course deathly afraid that AI-powered weapons could dramatically accelerate the pace of war, making decisions much faster than humans could control. The ability of artificial intelligence models to pump out disinformation coupled with their susceptibility to hallucinations and misinformation only adds to these fears. 

Up until now, we have been hoping that depriving China of advanced chipsets might delay the use of artificial intelligence by our adversaries. Also, Google’s Bard and OpenAI’s ChatGPT have controls in place that limit public access to dangerous information such as homw to build an atom bomb.

But as the Google researcher points out, Google and Open AI are no longer the only game it town.

“Open-source models,” this person writes, “are faster, more customizable, more private, and pound-for-pound more capable. They are doing things with $100 and 13B params that we struggle with at $10M and 540B. And they are doing so in weeks, not months.”

They don’t need those advanced chipsets, in other words. 

This may sound alarmist, but it’s not only possible but probable that rogue nations like North Korea are exploring how they can embed open source AI into their nuclear weapons systems.

And as the Times points out, “So far there are no treaties or international agreements that deal with such autonomous weapons.”

So enjoy your weekend, everyone. We’ll sort this out … right?!