Apple will very likely, at WWDC 2023 on June 5, launch its first new product category in almost a decade – a piece of VR hardware – but it may be the wrong product at the wrong time.
I, like everyone else, am beyond excited to see what could be Apple's very first mixed reality (AR/VR) headset, possibly called the Reality Pro. Sure, it might cost $3,000 and be made of unobtainium (meaning no one will be able to buy one for six months or more), but for Apple to step into a new product category is major news for consumers, businesses (the core target for the headset, apparently), and competitors.
Of course, if it wasn't Apple, people might take a more sober view of the potential announcement, and not judge it like bad poetry that you embrace because it's from your star pupil.
Of course, if it wasn't Apple, people might take a more sober view of the potential announcement and not judge it like bad poetry that you embrace because it's from your star pupil.
Understand, I do not expect Apple's xrOS-powered headset to be a bad product. It will likely look better than anything produced by Meta, HTC, and even Magic Leap. It will look, and maybe even smell, like the future. The headset will likely have a pair of high-resolution OLED screens and powerful Apple silicon inside, and probably an H2 chip as well (all Apple wearables must have it, and who doesn't love fantastic audio?). We'll bemoan the external battery pack, but I think the performance and visuals could be stunning.
The problem is that Apple has taken so long to jump into this category that people have moved on from the initial wave of excitement over VR (just ask Meta about its floundering Metaverse). But VR isn't the only two-letter technology ship that might have sailed before Apple has managed to climb on board – it also risks being left behind in the great AI stampede, as Microsoft and Google power ahead in that space.
AI is the word, not VR
We now have an entire populace and industry obsessed with chatbots, and not just the idea of them. We're using ChatGPT (and its paid-for sibling ChatGPT Plus), Google Bard, and Bing AI every day. And we're not just asking them one-off questions, but having conversations. The original virtual assistants, like Amazon Alexa, are only just stepping into long-form conversation, and most are still quite limited.
Among the stunted AI offerings is Siri, the virtual assistant that started it all. I still talk to it every day, but we do not have what I would call conversations. As I wrote back in March, Siri is of a different species to, say, ChatGPT. It's built on local machine learning that taps into Apple's powerful A16 Bionic chip's neural network. It is not a generative AI system built on a large language model.
I also noted that Apple's penchant for keeping AI local may be hindering its ability to radically advance Siri, and compete with the likes of Bard.
There's been little buzz about what Apple might do with Siri, and how that could materialize at WWDC. The best clue we have is a job listing for a Visual Generative Modeling Researcher Role, and how the candidate might work on Generative AI systems. But that's Apple in hiring mode, not implementation mode.
Is it too late for Siri?
The problem with Apple not making a generational leap with Siri at WWDC 2023 is that it probably wasn't on Apple's roadmap a year ago or even six months ago. There simply hasn't been enough time to bake in a big iOS 17 Siri update, at least not in time for WWDC.
I guess Apple could quickly whip up a cool demo of what it wants to launch in September when the anticipated iPhone 15 line arrives. That gives it at least three more months (the phones will probably ship end of September, or early October) of development time, and a chance to use some OpenAI plugins to add ChatGPT-4 to Siri.
We might still love it
Considering how quickly other companies have been able to add a little ChatGPT magic to their products, that seems almost possible. The only issue I have with is that the advancement won't really be Apple's – and Apple may not have enough trust in OpenAI's privacy bonafides to use GPT-4 it.
Yes, we'll probably lose our minds over the new Apple VR gear– but we may not be able to escape that nagging voice in the back of our heads that says, "This is nice but is it what we really want? Maybe we should ask ChatGPT."