Don’t blink or you might miss it.
It was shortly before my birthday in 2018 when I decided to buy myself a few new things. I had my mind on a couple different tickers, one priced at $250.20 (decidedly less than $420) and the other at $6.51.
I didn’t yet drive a Tesla or have a Solar Roof, and I still eschewed social media. But I was and still am extremely bullish on one particular energy company and one particular camera company.
I’m talking, of course, about TLSA & SNAP, respectively.
$250.20 & $6.51 per share was certainly affordable enough for me to buy substantially more than 1 share. I just wish my resolve & commitment had been higher than my confidence. I don’t mean that I should’ve held the shares longer (I still have them). I mean I should have bought more!
Tesla and its idiosyncratic visionary (who somehow finds the time to also lead SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company while also buying Twitter in his free time)… they capture plenty of well deserved attention.
Right now I’m firing some neurons for Evan Spiegel.
During Obama’s presidency, his young daughters Malia & Sasha reinforced the fundamental, universal human desire to document personal experience.
I was here.
I remember watching Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and seeing Malia use her point-and-shoot camera to capture a photo of the crowd from her point of view. She knew the world’s cameras and screens and eyes were capturing the moment. She knew the event would be forever chronicled in countless websites and history books. But those experiences were other peoples’ experiences. There’s only one person able to capture her experience: her.
In 2016, during the next election cycle, I had newly relocated to Silicon Valley and my mind was swimming in visions of Tech’s future.
I remember watching a campaign event on my little rectangle device and seeing the candidate shake hands with the people in the first row of the crowd while people in the second and third row held little rectangle devices between their faces and the candidate… a perceived celebrity that, if not for the little rectangle, would have otherwise been directly in front of their eyes.
Capturing the moment is now competing with living the moment.
I went to college in the age of flip phones & camera phones. Facebook was brand spanking new, and it caught like wildfire on campus at Penn State. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet and digital cameras were mostly just a thing your mom used to take family photos. The crappy little lens on your crappy little cellphone was fun, but you weren’t gonna use it to snap & share pix of friends while out on the town.
Yet, back then I carried a chunk of the future in my pocket.
I had this miniature 2MP Sony Cybershot camera (with a flash!) that I carried around with me back in those days, circa 2004. These days, college Freshman take for granted the ability to easily capture and instantly share pix with friends. But in 2004, it wasn’t so easy and it wasn’t so instant.
I joined Instagram about a month before Steve Jobs died in 2011. At that time the service was new and most people I knew didn’t know about it. So, naturally, as an early adopter I passionately professed its potential to my friends & colleagues. What I liked most about Instagram was its power to creatively reframe otherwise mundane instants of our lives.
In 2004 I opted for the candy bar form factor cellphone rather than the more popular flip phone. Despite my little 2MP Cybershot camera and dorm room broadband, Instaworthy pix went mostly unpublished.
My perception of Instagram in the years following 2011 mirrored those of my perception of Facebook in the years following 2004: an early fan turned sour. Maybe it was my punk rock hippie credo screaming “Kill your TV; don’t sell out, man!” I dunno. And I don’t really care. Other people’s adoption & use of Tech is only tangentially connected to my own.
When Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011, I sent somewhat of a humble memorial of his legacy. I didn’t care how many people saw it or “liked it” (4, apparently, for those counting haha); I only cared about capturing it and sending it into the cosmos. This was for me and Steve Jobs. Everyone else was merely in peripheral vision.
Anyway, let’s flash forward/back to 2016. I had been recruited to Apple by a good friend of mine from grad school. This guy joined Apple to help re-invent those little white earbuds into the more respectable wired predecessor to AirPods.
But we only overlapped for about a year before he joined a company most people I knew didn’t care about yet. He kept the news under wraps, but most people in the know were confused why he was leaving Apple to join a social media startup. I understood immediately. And I was excited for him!
He was not joining a social media startup. He was joining an innovative new camera company during its infancy. Snap.
In his sayonara email to Apple colleagues, my friend quoted F. V. Hunt:
“Man lives in an uneasy ocean of air continually agitated by the disturbances called sound waves. Much of our acoustical experience is involuntary, but the production of sounds that please as well as serve has been a proper concern of man ever since he learned to smile.”
Around the time that Jony Ive was publicly discouraging people from constantly using their iPhones, I was still pondering our propensity to hold tiny rectangles in front of our faces. In 2018 I speculated:
“Imagine you’re in a coffee shop browsing the web on your iPhone. You come across a trailer for a new movie, hit full screen, and view it on a glorious 12” display. This is magic, of course, because the device in your hand only has a 6” screen. But nevermind that. Also nevermind that the audio from this device is filling the room with sound, loud sound, and surround sound no less!
But let’s move on, you have work to do, after all. You open your inbox to find a new email from a colleague with the latest rendering of your project design. You double click on the 3D file and it literally jumps off the screen for you to view from all angles, right there hovering in front of you.
Mind you, this is a confidential rendering of an unreleased product, hovering right there in plain sight at a crowded coffee shop. But don’t worry, when the other patrons glance your way, all they see is you holding a small iPhone with a blank screen. Of course, the magic is all in the AR headset you’re wearing.
The iPhone, in this case, is essentially a phantom display substrate and user interface tool. Sure, you can take off the headset and use the iPhone as a traditional 6” smartphone. But once you put on that headset, it transforms both the iPhone and the world around you, augmenting it in once unfathomable ways.
Both the iPhone and headset are outfitted with myriad sensors, including cameras, accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, altimeters, etc. There are no large physical screens here, but the palette is nearly infinite. Most of the horsepower is in the headset wearables, which includes earbuds, but a very low latency wireless link connects sensor data from the handset back to the headset in order to convincingly track device location & orientation.
This vision, if realized, would seem to offer the killer application to incorporate AR into our familiar modern computing paradigm, rather than simply being a tool to place phantom objects in virtual space. Only time will tell what will come to pass.”
Again, the year was 2018 and although I was working on AirPods, I wasn’t disclosed on any future AR-related secret stuff. Apple had recently announced ARKit, but at that time the world was still (and is still) trying to figure out what AR really means for the world! Apple execs were preaching caution as justification for not cannonballing into the nascent VR space. Apple was dipping its toe in while others were testing the water in the deep end. This was the right approach, this was the Apple approach, but even then I wanted to peek around the corner to glimpse the future.
The year is now 2022 and the future I spy around the corner is far too vital and far too treacherous to stay silent. I never have and never will leak confidential information of Apple or any other company, but I’m done living inside a walled garden full of fear & locked gates. If you’ve been paying any attention to Tech & reality today, you understand what I mean.
A “privacy temple” is an important feature to protect in the Tech landscape. But that doesn’t mean the doors of the temple should be locked to trap people inside.
As cameras proliferate into the post-1984 world of ever-present Tech, humans must remain vigilant & wary of the Information Purification Directives launched from the walled garden of pure ideology secure from the pests purveying contradictory thoughts.
“Trust us, you can trust us.”
This seems to be what Apple is telling us.
“So what if you don’t trust us?”
Seems to be what Meta is saying.
Meanwhile, billions of people around the planet “Google” information billions of times per day. Billions of people trust Google devices like smartphones & smartspeakers to access this information.
Meta isn’t guaranteed to succeed over the next 10 years, but they clearly made the right move acquiring Instagram & Oculus and ultimately pivoting their brand from Facebook and going all in on the nascent metaverse.
Google & Snap would be a mighty match.
The moment Snap launched Spectacles in 2016, I saw around the corner. I recognized that humans aren’t meant to live life through a tiny rectangle. I’ve worn glasses for years, long before I started wearing a watch again (a smartwatch of course), and I’ve long understood that my glasses are a vital way for me to focus the world & block out bright light.
I saw the future through this lens.
Frankly, I don’t understand why so many people at Apple still fail to see it too. Every single year, like clockwork, a new iPhone comes out. Every single year that new iPhone boasts a camera system significantly more impressive than the last, serving as a compelling lure for customer upgrades. So important are its cameras, in fact, that Apple even grotesquely protrudes it from the flush surface of its slick devices…
Yet still, somehow, Apple doesn’t seem to get it.
Anyway, I didn’t buy SNAP stock in 2016 because, well, SNAP wasn’t yet publicly traded. I didn’t buy SNAP stock during its 2017 IPO because it didn’t strike me as the right time. But when it hit what I thought might be bottom in 2018, I bought it for $6.51/sh.
Elon Musk seems to get it.
People want to power their world, travel their world, and connect with their world. They want to live free, not live in fear. Elon Musk’s vision & company portfolio (including his recent single-handed rogue acquisition of Twitter) reflects these fundamental human drives.
As I see it, there are three distinct categories of the emerging Tech of Everything, of which xR & AI will be fundamental components:
- Smartphones & tablets
- Smart earbuds & headphones (Hearables)
- Biometric sensors & misc.
- Personal localization tags
- Commercial, institutional, and educational beacons
- Smartdisplays for entertainment & video conferencing (Seeables)
- Anchor objects for virtualization & UI
- Smartcars & e-bikes (Ridables)
- Personal aircraft & drones (Flyables)
- Shared use autonomous vehicles
- Robotic service personnel & labor force
Yesterday Snap unveiled a new selfie drone, Pixy, thus expanding their product portfolio from Wearables to Flyables. Trust me, their vision for the future of the camera is just starting to heat up.