Tim Cook during the Apple keynote: The Vision Pro headset is scheduled for release in the US in early 2024
Photo: Brooks Kraft / Apple Handout / epa
Apple CEO Tim Cook's biggest problem is that he's not Steve Jobs. In general, not being Steve Jobs is a common thing, but that's not because Jobs was such a brilliant character. There are many indications that as a boss, as a father, as a human being as a whole, he was pretty much the opposite for long periods of his worldly existence.
But Steve Jobs was a man whose techno-social imagination radically changed the world. This happened most impressively in the form of the iPhone, i.e. the smartphone concept that has become the crystallization point of digital capitalism today. The majority of people in industrialized countries today organize their lives with apps and jobs have invented the principle of app in its current form. Before the iPhone, you needed a degree in computer science to install software on mobile devices, preferably with a doctorate in user-hostile programming.
As a product, the iPhone was a start-to-finish victory, setting standards from the very first moment it was launched in the fall of 2007. The reason for this was that there was no other way. In the beginning, there were comparatively few useful apps. But they were so over-staged by Steve Jobs that even the less knowledgeable audience quickly understood the potential.
In this way, Jobs managed to achieve three very different goals at the same time: He created a spectacular hardware that was superior in terms of usability. He made the iPhone so appealing to users that everyone wanted it before there were more than a handful of decent apps. And he made the whole principle of smartphones so attractive to developers that when the App Store was launched in mid-2008 a few months later, thousands and thousands of apps were developed in a very short time.
An interesting product presentation for professionals
Tim Cook very obviously does not have this gift, and this is particularly noticeable in Apple's new, next big thing, which many observers consider to be the most important Apple product since the iPhone: the mixed reality glasses with the completely understated name Vision Pro, which sounds as if the managing director of a medium-sized company has secretly commissioned his mediocre nephew to find a name.
More on the subject
Network reactions to the Vision Pro:»An amazing device – and Apple has absolutely no idea why«By Markus Böhm
Vision Pro tried:This is supposed to be Apple's future?! Matthias Kremp reports from Cupertino
Vision Pro announced:These glasses are Apple's bet on the futureMatthias Kremp and Markus Böhm report from Cupertino and Düsseldorf
The product presentation turned into an interesting affair for professionals. The general public, on the other hand, has hardly noticed that Apple wants to have presented anything groundbreaking at all. I can remember iPhone variants, the introduction of which caused more media noise and echoes in the canteens of the world. That doesn't speak for a hardware revolution. One might conclude that the Vision Pro will be a failure – but that's not a foregone conclusion.
For the argument that and how the Vision Pro – the name doesn't get any better – can be a success, Tim Cook's non-Steve jobiness is essential. Because the glasses only pretend that they are intended for the masses. The price of around 3500 dollars alone proves that it is primarily intended for software developers. After all, such a major switch to a completely new device category can only succeed for the masses of people if it is immediately clear to them when they try it out for the first time why this should now be an improvement. And this is above all a question of the right hardware-software combination. Sometimes the scene also speaks of a "killer application", i.e. the application that helps a new technology to achieve a breakthrough.
A race for millions of software people
Unfortunately, even under Steve Jobs, Apple didn't have a particularly good sense of which software was actually suitable for a "killer application". After Jobs, this lack of intuition even worsened, which could be observed well on the Apple Watch. By the time Apple realized that sports and self-tracking were the big drivers, the company had already invested an estimated billions of man-hours in the development of sophisticated alert systems for various messages on the wrist, invested money and capacity in ultimately irrelevant luxury quark and disregarded many sports-essential functions for years.
Aware of Apple's killer application planlessness, Jobs had relied on the power of the platform and the associated ecosystem for the iPhone. Through his staging, millions of software people around the world were in a race to see who would hit the development jackpot and write the killer application. Tim Cook has now chosen the second-best approach, or rather, the only one that he has mastered at all as an Apple decision-maker: not a big hit for everyone at the same time as with the iPhone, but a step-by-step strategy.
The problem is that the probability of success of this strategy is lower. Because it is enough if a few minor mistakes lead to the many Apple developers initially turning to other things until the glasses sell enough often. Then the software for the large user base is missing, then even interested parties quickly turn away, then what happened to Meta with the Oculus series occurs: In the end, almost only gamers buy the product because they are used to celebrating every little tech progress and spend a ridiculous amount of money on their hobby anyway. But gamers alone won't help Apple achieve iPhone-like success. The masses are needed for this.
The metaverse isn't just a flash in the pan
However, some predictions can be made based on Apple's strategy. They concern what's behind the Vision Pro idea, Silicon Valley's largest, uncertain bet on the future at the moment: the metaverse. Of course, the biggest safe bet is on artificial intelligence, but the current (justified) hype around AI has led many people to believe that the metaverse is gone or a flash in the pan. I consider this assessment to be fundamentally wrong.
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The truth is that the metaverse lacks the right hardware. There is an outsider chance that Apple now has a large fan base, which even in this country presumably does not bat an eyelid and orders en masse. But even that would not raise the general usability of the hardware to the required level. To do this, Apple needs mixed reality glasses in the not-too-distant future that don't look like Midjourney was commissioned to come up with designer ski goggles from the seventies.
The successor to the Vision Pro, perhaps even called iVision, must be a pair of glasses that can be worn in a decent way and don't attract ridicule when you step outside the door with them. Then the breakthrough of the metaverse can succeed with the fusion of material and digital reality, for which the metaverse represents a kind of conceptual operating system.
Whether Tim Cook has solved the problem with the Vision Pro to be able to present enough and good software at the launch of the Apple iVision so that a killer application comes to light underneath? We will be able to estimate this slowly in the next 18 months, perhaps. The countdown is on for Apple's next, but then really big thing.