AR glasses: Apple’s next big hit?


September 15, 2020

PLUS: How the TikTok saga reminds us of eBay-Skype.
September 15, 2020
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The Big Idea

AR glasses are coming… who will take the lead?

Virtual reality (VR) is in for a big week with Facebook set to announce its latest Oculus headset.

But when it comes to headset tech, another company is laying the groundwork for what could be a much more ubiquitous product: augmented reality glasses.

That company is Apple. We caught up with Robert Scoble — a prominent tech writer — who told us what they have in store.

Don’t expect Apple’s event to have much AR news

But the writing is clearly on the wall.

Written with Irena Cronin, Scoble’s new book The Infinite Retina outlines how AR and VR will usher in the next tech revolution, and how Apple is well positioned to compete in the space.

According to Scoble, Apple will likely launch AR glasses next year, giving it a head start of 2-3 years on all competitors.

Apple’s mission is to make computing more personal

And the Cupertino company has all the pieces in place to bring an AR product to the masses:

  • Seamless integration with an iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch
  • Hardware manufacturing expertise and a robust supply chain 
  • Its own operating system, chip, and App Store

Any buyer of these AR glasses will likely have an iPhone, so Apple can offer a lightweight product at a reasonable price point.

“I’d expect something in the $500-700 range,” he says. “A competitor that has to put 5G, battery, and computing power in a headset will be at a big disadvantage.”

AR tech will reshape countless industries

Apple’s AR glasses will have an immediate effect on health. The company has already positioned the Apple Watch as a health play and is expected to announce new personal tracking features at its event today.

AR glasses can monitor your heart rate, and give advance warning of heart disease and other health problems.

There is one very under-the-radar competitor: Tesla  

Per Scoble, the camera and radar technology that the electric vehicle company is using to usher in autonomous driving is ready-made for an AR glass product.

“Tesla is a total wild card but could easily take their existing car technology and go consumer,” he says.

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Snippets
  • Google is planning to run wholly on renewable energy by 2030, one of the most ambitious tech climate pledges yet.
  • A month after Instagram Reels launched, YouTube is about to test its own TikTok competitor — YouTube Shorts — in India.
  • Verizon is buying Tracfone, the largest prepaid provider in the US, in a $6.25B deal.
  • Break out your invisibility cloaks: The University of Glasgow just launched the world’s first research institute focused on studying fantasy.
  • College sports are getting hit hard by the pandemic… and, weirdly, esports are no exception.
  • Bonus: Collaboration startup Airtable is valued at ~$2.6B after its latest funding round, and Blackstone is betting ~$550m on mobile homes (after a busy summer). 
Virtual Hit

Video game characters are taking over the pop charts

Want to feel old? Right now, the top slot on Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales chart isn’t occupied by Drake, Rihanna, or Kanye.

It’s held by K/DA — a virtual band from the video game League of Legends.

K/DA who?

The group is composed of real-life pop singers who perform as digitized characters — and they’re part of a long-running attempt by Riot Games (the maker of League of Legends) to churn out hit music.

K/DA, which debuted in 2018, is Riot Games’ star artist. But League of Legends has also produced a virtual hip-hop group (True Damage) and a virtual metal band (Pentakill).

A secondary purpose: ‘skin’ sales

The slickly made music videos that accompany these songs are great ads for skins — outfits and accessories that players buy in the game.

After showing off a neon outfit in the “Pop/Stars” music video, League of Legends put it up for sale within the game. Players pay $10 to $20 a pop for virtual Louis Vuitton outfits worn by True Damage.

Video games have yet to pump out Billie Eilish-level stars

But their slow march into the music biz could set the stage for a much bigger culture shift. Pretty soon, video game-produced performances might be all over the music and movie charts. 

We already have the Fortnite concerts and song drops. And Fortnite has started hosting viewing parties for Christopher Nolan movies. 

We aren’t that far off from musicians signing onto a Fortnite record label or actors appearing on Fortnite-created TV shows.

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Strange Bedfellows

Is there a historical parallel for Oracle-TikTok? Maybe eBay-Skype.

With Microsoft bowing out of the race to acquire TikTok, Oracle has been left with the bag.

It’s just not quite clear what’s in the bag. 

With the Chinese government blocking the sale of TikTok’s famed recommendation algorithm, Oracle won’t acquire TikTok’s US operations outright.

Rather, it will be a ‘trusted tech partner’

That leaves Oracle “more as a cloud services provider than as an actual acquirer,” Axios says.

Oracle’s cloud biz is tiny compared to the likes of Microsoft or Amazon, so the deal is probably worth pursuing on that level. But the TikTok bid still has to go through a national security review, per Wall Street Journal.

The TikTok saga has a “hilarious parallel with eBay buying Skype,” writes leading tech analyst Benedict Evans.

The eBay-Skype comparison lacks a geopolitical angle

However, the episode has elements of a weird corporate match and — potentially — some shareholder value destruction: 

  • 2005: eBay raised eyebrows when it acquired seemingly unrelated Skype for $2.6B.
  • 2007: eBay’s users rejected Skype and the investment was written down by $1.4B, with eBay admitting it “had not performed as expected.”
  • 2009: eBay sold Skype for $2.75B to a group of investors, and kept 30% of the equity. 

In 2011, Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5B, yielding eBay a $1.4B return after all the headaches.

It’s way too early to tell if that’s the bag Oracle will get, but the analogy is definitely something interesting to think about.

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Be the Early Bird

Brace yourself for October 10th, this year’s mysterious new shopping holiday

If you ever complained about “year-end sales” starting right after Halloween, you’re in for a rude awakening. 

The holiday season is starting earlier than ever this year. Home Depot, for instance, already made plans to roll out its Black Friday discounts in early November. 

And now, in a Hail Mary effort to get a nation of procrastinators pumping out orders, a bunch of retailers have invented a new shopping day: Oct. 10. 

You can’t be serious 

Try to imagine a version of Black Friday that follows social distancing rules, and you’ll see the dilemma retailers are facing:

  • On one hand: They can’t pack their stores with customers. 
  • On the other: The postal system can’t handle all of America buying gifts online in mid-December. 

This year’s orders need to come in slowly — and way in advance.

Why Oct. 10th? 

Bloomberg explained that the “holiday” (10/10) is supposed to mirror Singles Day, the massive Nov. 11 (11/11) shopping day in China. 

But the actual details are still shrouded in secrecy. Over 24 big businesses have signed on, though their names aren’t public yet. 

And even if you plan to stick to the internet for this year’s holiday sales, expect a much earlier than usual timeline: Amazon postponed its massive Prime Day to the fall — and it’s been telling sellers to treat October 5 as the place-holder date.

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