Apple needs a flop

Early reviews for the Vision Pro dropped this week. This device is technically amazing, with well-considered solutions to the problems of VR. My takeaway from the reviews is that I want to try it, but I’m okay waiting before I need to own a bit of this future that Apple is promising us. I’d like to see something closer to true AR, not mixed reality, in a more lightweight, affordable form factor.

When the pre-orders ship later this week, early adopters will unpack the headset, post to social media about how amazing it is, and then largely go back to using their MacBook Pro for real work. We are already too isolated from our fellow humans, and there are too many environments — coffee shops, libraries, and other public spaces — that are not suitable for the Vision Pro.

Apple has an incredible track record since Steve Jobs returned to the company, and continuing with Tim Cook. Very few misses, and some of the controversies like Antennagate were overblown. As long as I have been using Macs, going back to the early 1990s, Apple’s dedication to great design and putting the user first has served them well. There is a lot to be proud of, including initiatives alongside products, such as their commitment to the environment.

But increasingly, it feels like this success has inflated Apple’s view of themselves, twisting their perspective of what matters. They’ve become arrogant, as if entitled to future success too. As I posted in the context of their response to the EU’s Digital Markets Act:

Because of their decades of truly great products, Apple thinks they are more clever than anyone else. Because of their focus on privacy, Apple thinks they are righteous. Because of their financial success, Apple thinks they are more powerful than governments. The DMA will test whether they’re right.

Maybe we’re at a crossroads for the company. Apple was great as the underdog, when they were humbled, fighting to out-innovate the competition. What came after the Lisa? The Macintosh. After almost going bankrupt? Think Different and the iMac. After the butterfly keyboard? Some of the best MacBooks ever made.

Apple is now so powerful, with so much control over computing… They need a failure. They need to see a new product stumble in the market. They need to remember what it feels like to realize something isn’t working, to take a fresh look at their priorities, and to reflect on how they treat users and developers. They need to be more focused in what they do, leaving a little room for the rest of us to build something too.

I don’t wish a flop on the Vision Pro product team. They’ve put an extraordinary amount of good work into it. But we all have a mix of successes and failures in life and business. It keeps us grounded. It helps us set priorities. We learn from it and move on to the next thing.

And if the initial Vision Pro doesn’t find a mainstream audience, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a revolutionary interaction model there. Maybe spacial computing is part of the future. Maybe if Apple sticks with it, we’ll look back on how they pushed the idea forward even when the first generation product didn’t pan out.

Trillion-dollar companies need to make trade-offs too. Because Apple has been working on the Vision Pro as the next big thing, what have they missed that needed their attention?

We should hold Apple to a high standard because they’ve earned it. I just don’t believe in the soul of the company the way I used to. As Brent Simmons reminds us, corporations are not people. Apple does so much — Macs, iPhones, iPads, watches, headphones, ads, video services, movie production, cloud storage, news, fitness, the App Store, platform fees, goggles — that I’m not sure there is still a cohesive story around what they stand for, other than money.

Manton Reece @manton