I have been talking with hundreds of people across the industry and have discovered that the changes coming to Apple are deeper than just a VR/AR headset. Way deeper. The changes already being worked into products represent tens of billions of dollars of investment (I hear Tim Cook has spent around $40 billion getting ready for this new Apple over the past decade). Not all of this will be announced at WWDC. There will be a few announcements over the next year, and really these changes are going to lead to many new products, services, and experiences that will come for decades. This is the fourth paradigm shift for Apple. Previous paradigm shifts brought us the personal computer, the graphical user interface, and the phone. All of which continue changing our lives today, even decades after they were introduced.
First thing you need to know is the changes coming are WAY deeper than just a VR/AR headset, which would be important enough on its own. So, what is Apple getting ready to announce over the next year?
- A new realtime 3D map of the entire world.
- A new, rebuilt, Siri and a new search engine.
- A new mesh network built off of your iPhone that distributes AI workloads to M1 chips in your home.
- A new VR/AR headset, that I call “the TV killer,” or “the HoloDeck” with many devices being planned for next decade from glasses to contact lenses. (Arrives in 2022, with glasses to follow sometime before 2025).
- A new kind of programmatic surround sound (Spatial Audio is just the start).
- New 3D experiences for inside cars.
- Eventually a new car service itself.
- A new OS for wearable, on face, computers.
- A new set of tools for developers to build all of this.
- New 3D services for things like music, fitness, education, and more.
- A new, portable, gaming device that will interact with this 3D world.
- A new 3D audio service. Leaks from 9To5 Mac about that just today.
- A new kind of noise cancelling, built on array microphones (early version of this is just arriving in the new iMacs) and a new kind of video and audio sharing network, so that we will be able to have all sorts of new “walkie talking like” features.
Wrap these up and Apple is about to announce a major shift: from 2D screens, interfaces, and experiences, to true 3D ones. Eventually, I hear, Apple will even bring 3D to 2D monitors.
These changes have been planned all the way back to Steve Jobs and Tim Cook has been buying many small companies over the past decade, and has been traveling the world visiting factories that no other American leader has visited and quite a few startups, too. Tim Cook knows the competition extremely well, and is about to jump years ahead of everyone, many developers outside of Apple who are familiar with its plans tell me.
Why am I so confident? Because patents are raining out of the sky. When I worked at Microsoft I got in trouble with the lawyers over patents so they made me sleep with a lawyer (true story, that was my punishment). Over a weekend I learned a LOT about the patent system. A patent is a legal monopoly that lasts for 17 years. So, if hundreds of patents are being released, it tells you a major new set of products and services are coming. They wouldn’t release the patents if they weren’t ready to come to market with products. Doing so would be extremely stupid, the lawyer taught me, because a big company only has 17 years to make money before everyone else can copy it and drop the prices to the floor.
At first I was excited by rumors of glasses and VR/AR headsets. There are many. But developers who are building for Apple told me the biggest strategical shift is the move to build a new 3D map of the entire world. That is the basis for the new Apple and is important for a range of new products, from robots that will do things around your house, to cars that will drive you around, to augmented and virtual reality products that will bring new kinds of games and experiences to all of us.
Disclaimer. Apple is my #2 position in my investments after Tesla. I also am invested in Apple competitors, Qualcomm, Snap, Microsoft, Amazon, and about 50 other companies in a diverse portfolio. That said, I’m very bullish about Apple and expect it to be a lot bigger by 2030 than it is today, because of this strategical shift underway.
They also told me to look far deeper into what is currently in shipping iPhones, Macs, and other products. For instance, the M1 chip inside the new Macs Apple has just released, has about 17% of the chip’s capabilities dedicated to AI workloads. That part of the chip really hasn’t yet been used much yet. It’s sitting in my Mac right now doing nothing. Next to the M1 chip on my new Mac Mini (which is an amazing computer, fast, quiet, and fairly low cost — under $1,000) is an UltraWideBand Chip, which also is mostly unused, even if you just got some of those new AirTags that also has one of these chips inside.
If you’ve read up to here you’ve gotten the basics. Now I’ll dig into each of these, give you my thoughts on what this all means for all of us, and what I expect at WWDC on June 7.
I am tracking all of this on a new Twitter account at: https://twitter.com/AppleXRStrategy. If you follow that you’ll see mostly retweets of reports. It’ll be very active around WWDC for sure.
A world mapped in real-time 3D
Twenty seven months ago an Apple Mapping car drove down my street. On the front were five LIDARs. As they spin the lasers inside “cut up” the world into little virtual voxels (volumetric pixels, think of them as virtual cubes that you can see with Augmented Reality glasses — sort of like how Minecraft or, really, any video game works). I call them digital sugar cubes, to help people understand. Each virtual sugar cube, my street has millions of them now, has some unique things:
- A unique identifier. Probably an IP address, but might be proprietary to Apple. Either way, what this means is a computer somewhere else in the world can change the data on the cube, or show users what my street looks like. That part is already in Apple Maps. You can walk down my street virtually already, but that only hints at what will come next.
- A virtualized microphone. Huh? Yes, you soon will be able to talk to the street, to the trees, to, well, anything, including a Coke can or a car moving by.
- A virtualized speaker. So all that can talk back to you as you walk around with future devices.
- A virtualized display. So you can change the Coke can into something else, from a video screen to, well, something like a virtual animated character.
- A virtualized database. So developers can leave data literally on any surface or, even, the air around you.
- A virtualized computer. Think of what you would do if you had a virtualized Macintosh on every inch. Go even further. What if you had a virtualized datacenter on every inch? You could do some sick simulations and distortions of the real world.
Soon your entire house will be scanned in 3D and Apple will, due to new advances in Computer Vision, catalog everything it sees. That might sound scary, and it is, even to me, but it does bring amazing new capabilities which I’ll go into later. I have a Twitter list of people, and companies, doing this new Computer Vision, and what is coming to market now is absolutely stunning. A camera on your phone already can recognize when it is looking at a Coke can. Just get Amazon’s latest iPhone app. On top there is a new scanning feature that already does this.
To see what 3D scans look like, watch Alban Denoyel. He’s the founder of Sketchfab, a service that holds millions of 3D scans people are doing. There’s a whole community of people who are scanning their lives and uploading a 3D scan every day.
This new 3D map is the basis for an entirely new way of computing on top of the real world. Apple isn’t alone in building such, either. Amazon, Tesla, Google, Facebook, and others, including most autonomous vehicle companies, are building the same for various purposes. Just this week Niantic, the largest AR company who did the Pokemon-Go game, announced such a map/platform. It brags that its new platform is an “operating system for the world.” Now think about how much more data that Apple already has about the real world due to the mapping cars driving around, along with many other data sources. Soon, as we walk around the world with headsets or glasses on, we will add a LOT of data to this map, which will be updated in real time.
A new Siri and new search
Four years ago I had dinner with the guy who then was running Siri at Apple. I asked him “what are you learning by being at Apple.” He said “I learned Google is learning faster than we are.”
“How do you know that?”
“We instrumented Google and discovered that its AI systems are learning faster than ours are.”
You know this to be true now. Why? Google Home and Assistant are a LOT better at answering questions than Siri is. So, for the last four years Apple has been buying AI company after AI company and is building a new Siri and a new search engine.
From what I hear this new Siri will outperform Google in at least one hugely important area: It will know what you are looking at, and what you are holding or touching. Imagine looking at my Coke can (I actually drink mostly Hint Water, but CocaCola is a brand every human understands and probably drinks once in a while at least). Using the new Siri you will be able to ask “how much are 20 of these on Amazon?” For the first time a computer will be able to answer. Today Siri (and Google) have no freaking idea what you are talking about when you ask “of these.” (Amazon, like I said, can already do this via a camera, but very few people use that and understand how powerful it is — when you get glasses on your face the affordances change and you’ll see just what I’m talking about).
The rebuilt Siri will be far more flexible, and will be able to hook up to a lot more things. For instance, the old Siri understands me just fine when I ask it “how many people are checked in on Foursquare at the New York City Ritz?” Yes, Foursquare actually has an API and an answer to that question but Siri isn’t hooked up because its AI is an older, inflexible, design that needs a ton of hand coding.
The new Siri will be able to learn about such APIs that exist on the Web much easier, and will write the AI as users search.
A new mesh network
If you buy a new iPhone it has in it a new “U” chip for a new kind of network: UltraWideBand.
What does this new wireless chip bring us?
- It connects automatically. Which is why your AirTags can be found by other people who have iPhones.
- It brings between seven and 40 megabits of bandwidth, which is more than Bluetooth.
- Location awareness. Each antenna broadcasting UWB encodes into the radio signal where in 3D space each radio is. Which is why you can use your iPhone to find Airtags inside your couch.
Really UWB is a rethought Bluetooth. I already have half a dozen devices in my home that have these chips, with many more arriving soon as I get a few more AirTags for various things in my home.
The more of these devices you have around you, the better the location lock can work. What’s that? Well, let’s say you have a new kind of volumetric game, or a screen on your table in front of you. The UWB network builds a “fingerprint” of your home, so that new devices that arrive know EXACTLY where they are, and even where they are aiming. This is something no other company can do yet. Samsung has started putting UWB chips into their devices but they don’t have the M1 chip sitting next to these things, so Samsung is way behind and, really, who will buy an entire house full of stuff from Samsung? Not nearly the numbers of people who will buy Apple.
Next year, when the VR/AR headset comes out, I will be buying one for each member of my family. As we wear these devices in our living room, playing new kinds of games or watching a new kind of TV together, we will also be able to talk to each other (and, because of the high bandwidth, even send full 3D meshes back and forth) in the real world due to this new network.
The TV killer “HoloDeck” and “volumetric football” arrives
Steve Jobs said “I think we figured out a way to do it, and it’s going to be fantastic.” He was talking about the product that is coming in 2022. That’s how long Apple has been working on this.
I got a sneak look at stuff being built for this product. It will bring a stunning set of capabilities that will blow away any physical TV you have ever seen. I hear it brings a lot of the capabilities of Star Trek’s Holodeck. Some familiar with Apple’s plans call it a helmet. Others call it a visor/headphone. I’m just gonna call it the Apple Holodeck until some better name comes along. One important point: Apple’s Holodeck covers your eyes and your ears. If the device is off you will not see the real world and you won’t hear the real world. Turn it on and you’ll see a representation of your living room, and you’ll hear everyone around you. The Apple AirPods Max over ears headphones already show us how the audio part of this will work: I wore them for hours at Christmas dinner and I could hear everyone as if I didn’t have headphones on. Push the “transparency/noise cancelling” button and it turns everyone off. Great if there are kids playing with their friends on Discord, like happens in my house every day.
In the back of every Apple store is a million-dollar 8K TV that is about 30 feet across. The Holodeck that will come next year will show 2D virtualized screens that will be way better than that million-dollar TV. Why? In front of you will be two 8K Sony chips, I hear. That will let Apple virtualize TVs to be way way way bigger than that TV in the back of the store. It also will let you have as many virtualized monitors/TVs as you want. So, if you want to build a Las Vegas Sports Book, or a room that has dozens of TVs, you will be able to do so. Imagine being able to watch ALL the football games on Sunday at once?
But doing 2D virtualized screens is just tablestakes (by the way, they will be WAY BETTER than what Facebook or anyone else can do because of the UWB network. They will be better locked to the real world, and the devices will know where they are without using much of the camera or other battery-hungry technology. Other companies can’t match what Apple is about to do.
“And what is that Scoble?”
Apple is about to put a TV on every inch of the world. “Huh? Why would I want to do that?”
Well, you could put a video screen on your ceiling, floor, tables, or, any surface, including wrapping the video around things.
And then 3D stuff can “pop out of” the 2D virtualized video screens. So, imagine a Super Bowl halftime show where a performer can “jump out of” your TV and onto the floor in front of you.
If you haven’t seen a Microsoft Hololens or a Magic Leap you probably have no clue about how amazing this will be. On my Hololens I play a game where aliens blow holes in my real walls and then crawl through the holes. It’s stunning, even on the shitty optics the Hololens has. When Apple does the same, but on a set of chips that are going to blow you away, it will completely change what you expect from the entertainment and education companies.
One such example is I saw a volumetric football service that is being prepared for the device next year. Around you you will be able to watch 2D screens like never before. Your home will feel like you are at the stadium watching. On the ground or table in front of you, and in front of those 2D screens, will be a new volumetric surface. I saw this and it’s stunning. Imagine being able to walk around the stadium, or, even, onto the field while the game is going on so you can study what the quarterback is seeing from his perspective, and, even, try to make the same shot he is.
By the end of next year I no longer will be watching much TV on flat pieces of glass that are small. The TV killer will have arrived and with it, a new kind of VR and AR. Some inside Apple call it Synthetic Reality. What it really is a way to both view the 3D world, and create content for others to enjoy in new 3D metaverses.
I hear the Holodeck will be announced sometime between now and the end of the year. I won’t be shocked if they tease it at WWDC to get developers excited by what is coming and so that everyone knows to watch the keynote later in the year.
Every inch of your life will have sound, including inside your new car
When I sold stereo equipment in a Silicon Valley store in the 1980s they only had two channels. In the 80s new surround sound that would put a couple more channels around you arrived.
Now imagine a trillion-channel surround sound system. That’s what’s about to arrive. Sound will be on buttons, on things around your home, and far far more eventually.
Backing up, when you only had two channels to play with musicians couldn’t really recreate the experience of seeing them play live. I’ve had bands in my home. What’s different about that is that you can literally walk through the band, hearing what it sounds like to be between the tuba and the drummer. That’s impossible to do with two channels, and is even not good enough with the bleeding edge of Spatial Audio today.
Tomorrow, thanks to the LIDAR and cameras on the front of the Apple Holodeck, the computer will know everything about the space around you. It can then put a virtualized band onto the floor in your living room. You’ll be able to do what I was able to do. Walk around the band. I’ve heard this demoed and it’s amazing, even for old music. I’ve been talking with a bunch of music companies and they are planning on re-releasing a lot of their masters in new spatial audio format, and next year they will go the full way, locking that audio to the real world. The industry has masters where every instrument is recorded on a separate track starting in the 1980s. Older masters will be improved via AI too, and will be “modernized” for the new HoloDeck.
Also, if you listen to surround sound movies today on headphones, as you move your head left or right all the sound moves with you and isn’t locked to the TV screen, like it is on a system like my Sonos that does multi-channel surround sound. As the Holodeck arrives that will no longer be true, so watching movies or TV in headphones will be stunning compared to today.
Also, the world will soon be able to apply sound to everything. Car companies tell me they are readying the same in their cars coming next year. Buttons, mirrors, steering wheel, will all be able to apply sound to everything. So your buttons can talk to you. Or, if in a Tesla, have fart noises applied. My kids will love that.
A new 3D CarPlay arrives
I’ve had at least one automaker say that all of their cars starting this year will have new 3D sensors watching the dash and probably the driver and passengers, to enable new 3D audio experiences in cars. Every button, or, even different parts of the road, can “talk to you.” These new experiences will be supercharged as Apple brings out its new autonomous car service that’s being built. Imagine playing new kinds of augmented reality games while your car drives. The car project, Titan, is rumored to be coming sometime between 2023 and 2027. That said, new kinds of spatial audio and 3D programmatic sound are coming to cars this year.
A new OS arrives for on-face wearables
RealityOS, Apple has called it so far. I haven’t seen this, so this is where I’ll be paying most attention during WWDC. But I hear it is years ahead of what Facebook is building in its Oculus Quest standalone VR headsets. We’ll see just how capable it is, and how easy it is to use. I’m expecting that it will be amazing at letting you see both the real world, and the new virtual layer on top of it and that it’ll be so easy to use that someone who doesn’t read will be able to use it, which will bring new people into the computing world (about 800 million people on earth can’t read).
A new, portable gaming device coming
The tech press has been reporting on rumors that a new gaming device, like a Nintendo Switch. From what I hear the device is far different than a Switch because it’s designed to integrate into this new 3D world that will arrive next year to our living rooms. What could this do? Well, if I am wearing a Holodeck it will be a controller. If someone is playing with me they could use their device to interact with me in 3D world and play their own games. Out of all the devices I know the least about this, so will be interesting to see what gets announced. I hear that will be announced sometime by the end of the year, but, as always, with rumors of dates, even ones that Apple employees give you, you can never be sure until they get on stage and announce things. If it slips.
Next-level noise cancelling is arriving now
In the new iMac they are using the sensors to track your mouth and are focusing the attention of several microphones on your mouth, which will bring that device much better noise cancelling as you do Zoom calls, for instance.
When I worked at Microsoft 15 years ago a researcher showed me the first array microphone that Research had built.
What are array microphones? Well, the new Apple AirPods Max over-the-ear headphones has nine microphones. That’s what an array is. A group of microphones that a computer can “focus” on things.
The magic here is if the computer knows where in 3D space sound is coming from, it will be able to focus on it, or, even, turn it off. Noise cancelling due to array microphones and new AI-based focusing technologies, will bring noise cancelling features that will be hard for others to match (you need an AI chip, like what is included in the M1 processor, to do this well).
A new 3D Apple and paradigm shift arrives
Put it all together and you can see Apple is about to unleash a new paradigm-shifting strategy. One that will change all of our lives very deeply and bring us many exciting new things from new kinds of education or concerts that will replace half of your living room with a virtual classroom or a virtual concert hall. That’s why I call it a Holodeck. Wearing the Holodeck will let you visit my kitchen and play games with me. This has deep implications on the future of a number of companies. Spotify looks threatened. So does Google.
I hear Apple is dropping lots of hints about all of this at WWDC. It needs to ship new emulators and tools to developers to enable them to build new experiences for this new 3D world coming soon. Then, following WWDC we will see a number of announcements about new products that will lead into shipping these products in 2022.
Exciting times for the technology industry are coming. And, yes, I still think I’ll be buying a new device from Snap, aimed more at photography and augmented reality than the Holodeck will be, and I’ll be buying new glasses from Facebook too, since it is also spending more than $10 billion to develop theirs.
If you know any of this is wrong, or if I’ve missed something you know about, I’ll be doing an audio Twitter Space today to talk about this (probably starting around 2 p.m.) at https://twitter.com/scobleizer and you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can send me a message on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn (or Signal, Telegram).
As these announcements are made I’ll look back at this post and see how accurate I was. We’ll know a lot more by the end of the year for sure.