Lessons from Apple, Mobile TV

Here's an interesting story that explores the seemingly pretty bizarre fascination that the media has with Apple and its products: The Apple Polishers. I also enjoyed this parody ad, 'iProduct'.

It's really a good question. Why are so many people just totally fascinated by Apple products? Where does that loyalty and zeal for Apple come from? At the end of the day, they're just marketing devices like everybody else, right?

The iPod is an unbelievably succesful product -- but it is really just an MP3 player, not much different than those sold by other makers. All that hoopla this week was over an announcement that new iPods can display video on the screen -- a feature which is intentionally disabled by Apple in the current color screen iPods. And their new 'amazing' device's capabilities? 320 X 240 resolution on a 2.5" LCD screen? 2 hours of battery life while watching videos. Zzzzzzz.

And yet it is as if it's some kind of amazing, genre-busting miracle has been bestowed on us all -- "we've removed the intentional lobotomizing of our product so you'll now have to buy a newer model to get functionality you should have had in the first place!"

It is hard to understand this total adoration of Apple. But it is worth it to explore it a little bit.

What I think it is about is really just excellent marketing. Beyond the hoopla around the product announcements (which is beyond belief), the products themselves are really stylish, sexy and minimalist. You can have the same exact product as every other company on earth but if you wrap it in a really appealing package, you have a big leg up.

People are very self-conscious -- wanting to fit in or be cool is not something that just happens in high school and then people get over it. It is really a fundamental thing, probably related to our evolutionary need to attract mates, etc. So the 'cool factor' of a given gizmo really can't be overstated in its significance to how successful it is.

When your product is a head-mounted display, the packaging and form factor will determine the success of the product just as much as any part of the specification -- if it is not seen as something 'cool' to wear, it's just not going to fly. (That being said, when you're marketing to executives who are incentivized to realize measurable productivity gains for their departments, and can themselves mandate the adoption of a tool like Nomad for any number of workers, the 'coolness' factor's importance is mitigated somewhat by the 'quantifiable benefit of product' factor.)

It's different than a cell phone for example, which you keep in your pocket or on your belt -- the sexiness of a product like the Motorola RAZR was critical in its success -- but it would take a truly ugly phone to be embarrassed to own one, and shun it for a different model, with potentially fewer features.

This is something that's worn on your head. The first thing that anyone will notice about you. So the perception of any kind of a 'geek stigma' associated with wearing a headgear is really a huge impediment to adoption of this kind of product. The challenge then, is to 'flip the script' on the concept of the geek stigma and see if any of the lessons learned from Apple's incredible success marketing iPod can be employed in the service of future iterations of Nomad.

Sexiness, sleekness, minimalism. Those have to go to the top of the list of required features. Battery life, ergonomics, applications, and price probably come next. For a see-through augmented vision display, technical features like full color and HD resolution don't quite register on the scale when these other features are considered.

I am of the belief that tunnel vision obsession with 'multimedia' is a big mistake. It is pretty well established that 'mobile TV' is a big dud. Even with faster networks, service providers will still find that there are very few people who will pay an extra $10 a month to watch TV on a mobile device. Maybe that's because you can't see an LCD screen in any kind of daylight. Maybe it's because people get their fill of TV at home. Maybe it's because it is simply not the purpose of a mobile device like a cell phone to render the wearer an observer rather than a participant.

While I am interested in and excited about Microvision's occluded LED Widescreen architecture for multimedia applications, I do not believe that that represents the most significant opportunity in the consumer space for the company. I believe that there is a greater market for augmented vision displays like Nomad -- but take the context away from fixing cars or aligning wheels and place it on, as Bill Gates suggested, 'seeing who's calling you without having to pull something out of your pocket'.

It is clear that celluar networks are widening. GPS chips are a dime a dozen. Databases like Oracle 10g include built in support for location based services. Location information is best viewed in the context of, well, your location. Which is not something that you can really think about while wearing an occluded display like those marketed by Kopin, et al.

Mobile device applications that are successful place the user as the focus. They connect us with other people -- social networking sites like Dodgeball that leverage location information and text messaging -- these are the kinds of applications that can really explode and illustrate the value of connectedness for customers. It's always all about the customer. Not 'if we build it, they will come' as the cell phone companies have declared with regards to mobile TV (and don't seem to be rethinking yet).

This the the fertile ground and the context in which consumer augmented reality will come into being. It doesn't have to be about full color multimedia. That is a different modality, a different application: 'watching', or 'gaming'. What augmented reality is about is 'living'. Delivering information relevant to you, that's visible only to you, while the context of your regular activity is respected. Helping you achieve your objectives.

Bringing this back to Apple -- it is clear that they understand the relationship between specs and sexiness. Sexiness always wins. That's because attracting a mate and being 'cool' is part of people's objectives and is just as hardwired into us as the need to find food and shelter.

When Microvision sets out to bring about a new computing modality for consumers based on augmented reality, it will be necessary to always keep in mind the potential perception of geekiness and just blow that away by overwhelming that resistance. Create such techno-lust for the product that no stigma can withstand the power of the desire to own it and 'be cool'. And when it helps people achieve their objectives, that's a great secondary benefit.


  1. Ben

    This is one of your best articles ever.
    I hope MVIS Management reads it and internalize it's message.

  2. Good article.

    I also see big things for augmented reality.

    I think that an AR fishing app could be interesting. Hook up GPS + Sonar with some head positioning and you could have a fishing accessory which displays in real time where the sonar 'fish' are at on a perspective corrected display. Kind of like X-Ray vision thru the water to see the fish.

    And since it is not occluded, you can still see your beer can! ;-)

  3. Ben,
    I agree with most of your points about Apple. I do think there's another reason many of Apple's products are so successful. A software developer recently told me he thinks the Mac OS is just about the same as a Windows OS. That makes sense because a software developer hardly cares about the GUI. In fact, he just sees it as something between him and the real code. It's different for the rest of us.
    I think Apple has a better sense of the importance of getting the human interface as simple as possible for the human to use. Both Apple and MS are concerned with the "user experience." But I think Apple prioritizes it higher and has gotten it more right. My Dad, a senior citizen, uses his Imac and has a question now and then. He was hopeless on a PC several years ago. Windows on a PC is just a lot more work to use than MacOS on a Mac.
    --So, from a Marketing perspective: 'Cool' is important, but if Marketing can generate a product spec that generates an actually better product, the salespersons job will be easier.
    P.S. Didn't I see the Pico P on local TV last night??!!


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