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Jun 23

Weekly Report: June 4, 2023


Apple Goggles

Apple’s long-awaited VR/AR headset is rumored to be launched at WWDC on Monday. Around the internet, it seems that people are skeptical whether the device will become a successful product line for Apple, but no one is willing to rule them out given their track record of taking over markets they enter (see phones, tablets, wireless earphones, watches, etc.). However, the anticipated $3,000 price tag is a barrier that will probably see the first version remain a niche object, kind of like its top of the line Pro Display XDR monitor. Let’s see what they can do with it. (Meta also announced its Quest 3 headset. I bought a Quest 2 during the pandemic but it hasn’t seen much use.)

When I was in high school in the late 90s, I remember being totally hyped for the release of Ultima Online, one of the first massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) that, I’m surprised to see, is still operating today. The promise it held in my mind was a persistent world that I could explore with a bunch of friends. But it was not just about exploring dungeons and killing monsters—you could do stuff like form a guild, trade goods, and even buy virtual property. This meant it could be a place you could just hang out in and chat and “build a second life” in, so to speak, in between all the adventuring. (Second Life came a few years later.) It seemed to be a great place to hang out with real life friends and friends that I had made online.

The reality was decidedly less rosy. The first issue was that things were hamstrung by technology. Broadband in Australia was in its infancy and cost prohibitive, and accessing UO over a dial-up connection led to crazy bad lag. It was unplayable. The second issue, is that even when the connection was tolerable, Britannia (the name of the world in which UO is set) wasn’t a particularly fun place to actually hang out. While clearly there were enough people who the game engaged that it has survived to this day, I don’t remember playing it for more than a few weeks even though I played a lot of computer games back then.

MMORPGs are the original metaverses and they have been around for decades. While VR is tightly bound with the metaverse (as in, a way to fully immerse yourself in one), VR has broader applications. Nonetheless, just like UO, I think the early days of consumer-accessible VR are still pretty niche. Until a few things change, I see things remaining that way (although, with Apple’s reach, even a niche offering involves a lot of people).

First, the form factor is cumbersome. Fabricated mockups of Apple’s headset show a sleek pair of ski goggles which are easier to whip on than the Quest, but there is an external battery pack which I assume needs to be clipped somewhere to your body. This adds quite a bit of friction each time you want to use it, which contrasts to the “instant on” nature of its phones, computers, etc. (I remember the old days where computers didn’t have sleep mode and it could take 3+ minutes to boot up a desktop. That made using a computer a very intentional act.)

Second, current forms of VR disconnect you from the physical world. I imagine the Apple headset will have look-through functionality, but it still involves putting something in front of your eyes—your window to the world—blocking them completely. So it may be great for games and experiencing things that aren’t possible in the real world, but will that provide widespread daily utility?

Third, are there any real world interactions that are genuinely made better by VR goggles? I certainly don’t want to have meetings at work wearing them. Maybe there are some limited applications like doing virtual walkthroughs of buildings in real estate that are more convenient (but still inferior to actually being there).

Fourth, all of Apple’s major product lines are used by all age groups. It will be interesting to see what the uptake is of older age groups. Maybe it’s me just getting older, but the Quest 2 makes me dizzy sometimes.

All that said, MMORPGs have come a long way and some of them have developed very strong communities and are actually places in which a lot of people now hang out and socialize (and sometimes meet and get married IRL). And some people even make a bit of a living through it by selling virtual goods. I have no doubt that VR will continue to evolve and grow, but similar to MMORPGs, I’m not sure it will become something all pervasive, like the smartphone, or this new generation of AI technology that’s currently set the tech world ablaze. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but with Apple I suppose there’s a certain weight of expectation that whatever they do will literally change the world and become ubiquitous.

Augmented reality is probably the more interesting application, but I think it demands a different form factor to find more widespread adoption. But what would that be? Google Glass was an attempt, but it looked dorky. Maybe one day we’ll be able to integrate a chip and power source into glasses that are inconspicuous. Or maybe it will be something like this, where the technology just gets out of your way altogether.

Nonetheless, Apple’s headset is still probably going to be able to do some pretty cool stuff!

Further Observations

  • Every few issues of this newsletter, I will sign up a random friend or two to it. If you’re wondering why you suddenly started receiving these, that’s why. (Funnily enough, no one has ever replied to me asking, “Hey, why did I start getting these?”)
  • A shout out to the Dim Sum WhatsApp group! It was great seeing you all yesterday… and actually eating dim sum together for the first time in ages!



  • 🎬 Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)
    As good an adaption as I could have hoped for. ★★★★
  • 📺 Succession (Season 4)
    First class TV, and they successfully landed the plane with the series finale. ★★★★★
  • 📺 The Diplomat (Season 1)
    Susanne put me on to this one. It’s really good. ★★★★
  • 📺 The Night Agent (Season 1)
    Watchable, but pretty standard spy show fare. ★★½
  • 🎪 Gilroy Gardens Theme Park (Gilroy, CA)
    Took the kids here over the Memorial Day weekend and it wasn’t as busy as I feared, which is probably telling. It’s a bit of a weird, aging, and tired theme park, and two of the rides broke down just as we reached the front of the line (which did not make for happy children). Membership is apparently tax-deductible. ★★

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