Overheard at ON_Discourse
Overheard at ON_Discourse

That’s not good

An innovative idea that’s too ahead of its time

From the editor: This perspective emerged out of a virtual event after the launch of the Vision Pro. A member was broadcasting into our Zoom call as their ethereal Apple persona before crashing out of the session. This sparked a member debate about which device the Vision Pro more closely resembles. We follow Chatham House rules, so we do not attribute perspectives without authorization.

In 1993, Apple released the Newton, the world’s first personal digital assistant (PDA). It was ugly, buggy, and expensive, and it also included a non-functioning stylus that frequently got misplaced. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

The Newton deserves a lot of credit. It invented a new category of computing for mobile devices. Many of the initial ideas for personal note taking and contact management persist in our smartphones today. To put it another way, the Newton was analogous to the Velvet Underground: not popular, but influential. At the same time, its failures were comical.

I am not the only one to say this. Beeple recently made the same comparison. So what does this mean for Apple and the Vision Pro?

The Newton was analogous to the Velvet Underground: not popular, but influential.

Apple is now just another player in the VR void. And so they have to join Meta, Pico, and all the other brands in their search for a use-case that will make headset computing mainstream. Let me put it another way: the Vision Pro did not change the VR industry. I don’t care how much they try to use the word spatial, the Vision Pro is a conventional VR device that is just heavier and more expensive.

Apple’s brand is aspirational, luxurious, and innovative. These attributes were earned by the spectacular attention to detail, design, and product-market fit that define every other product in their ecosystem. The high standards that Apple has traditionally set for itself have usually come with hard decisions that ultimately serve the customer. Upon his return in 1997, one of the first things Steve Jobs did was kill the Newton product line. They went back to the drawing board and ultimately came back with the most successful piece of hardware in the history of digital technology

Does any of that sound familiar to you?

That is the wrong comparison

The Vision Pro is neither the iPhone or the Newton. You have to think bigger.

From the editor: We are noticing that this device is prompting very strong contrarian discourse. In this case, a member is expressing a direct pushback against the Newton comparison. We follow Chatham House rules, so we do not attribute perspectives without authorization.

Is the Vision Pro the next Newton or iPhone? I urge you not to take the bait and condense this product launch into a specious binary. The company that built and launched the Newton might share a name, but it has no relationship to the Apple that exists today. Let me put it bluntly: they might not have landed on a use-case yet, but Apple always wins.

It is possible that the experience of the Newton fundamentally changed how Apple operates because since that launch, Apple has never again been first to market with a product. This is because the first to market is statistically the worst option. The iPhone was not the first internet-powered mobile phone. The Apple Watch was not the first smart watch. And the Apple Vision Pro is not the first headset device. I think we can all agree that those products are doing quite well. The Apple Watch is outselling all other watches in the world and the iPhone, well, it also succeeded.

If we are going to do a comparison, then we have to look to more recent Apple history. The Apple Watch and Apple TV are closer analogues. Both of those products and platforms launched without landing on a clear value-proposition and therefore with a longer adoption curve. They have the capital, brand, customer base, and time to figure these things out.

I’ll say it again: Apple always wins.