Apple's 3D future

I was listening to the one of the latest ATP podcast. The boys ware talking about Apple getting out of the display business. I felt mostly like John - sad and disturbed. But suddenly it hit me. Apple is not getting out of this market segment! They are preparing for the next “Can’t innovate my ass” moment.

Following the discussion at ATP and countless other podcasts, blogposts, and the entirety of Twitter, one could make the conclusion, that:
- Either Apple is getting out of the desktop Mac business, or
- Apple is skipping a generation of hardware and software evolutionary improvements and are preparing for the next major leap.

I have enough friends at Apple and around the Mother Ship who work on macOS and related technologies to make me feel almost 100% certain, that they are not slowing down on desktop R&D. If anything, they are accelerating. So, the first option is not very likely one. Then why did they advertised the LG 5K displays? It seams, that this is their own development and they gave it to a third party (a not very Apple-like move may one point out). Following the company since early Apple ][ days, I have seen now, a single plausible explanation - they are focusing on the next generation hardware and software.

My prediction is that within 1-3 years Apple will transform their entire hardware and software product lines (from iPhone to Mac Pro) to 3D capable devices. I say 3D intentionally. Not VR, not AR. 3D includes not only 3D displaying capabilities, but the spacial “intelligence” of the devices, and the special consciousness of the underlying software. It also implies some sort of hardware / software modularity. I do not expect people walking on the street looking at their iPhones through some sort of VR/3D glasses. This is not Apple as we know it. The 3D and AR functionality will be optional, it will be there only when we need it. It will help us do our work faster and better, or discover new dimensions of everyday objects (pun intended).

My evidence:
- OpenCL / Metal advances.
- Few of my friends who I know from the wild SGI days, and who later had academic and SciTech careers, silently start emailing from email addresses and got very quiet.
- The apparent stagnation of Mac devices (Pro, Mini), even though some very capable engineers at Apple are working on them.
- Prior comments by Apple management on AR.
- Rumours from otherwise trusted sources, that never get materialised.
- (Perhaps) some project “Titan” related direction changes (special awareness).

Although I seldom talk about 3D, I follow the industry very closely. On my desk I had early hardware form Evans & Sutherland, and added to that many SGI models. Heck, I even had to invent how to get a mouse or dial to hit an atom in a 3D protein model using stereoscopic glasses. And I silently continue my molecular biology research using my own 3D software on my Mac. The changes Apple introduced during the last years (with new hardware and software) are gradual, but fundamental. As far as I understand gaming, they are not that important for that part of the industry. But writing scientific, research, and AI application has dramatically improved. On my 3 years old 15” MBP I am routinely able to model biological pathways in almost real time or analyse and identify astronomical objects in astronomical images taken by large instruments. Most of these tasks are now even doable on the newer generation iPad Pros. Barometric and GPS sensors, as well as beacons help locate modern devices specially and I assume dual cameras, IR, and Ultrasound will soon improve special awareness even further. With advances in low-level vector calculations Apple has the best platform (out of the box) for algebraic calculations. So they are also an ideal platform for AI, image analyses, geometry, FFT, and Eigen-vectors (e.g. various similarity searching algorithms). All these advances have countless applications in the 3D field (autonomous special navigation, SciTech object modelling, robotics, etc).

John Siracusa had a sleepless night because he thought Apple is getting out of the display business. If my predictions are correct, he will have many happy sleepless nights, playing with the new technologies on his brand new Mac Pro and a shiny new 5K and 3D capable monitor. Do I have a smoking gun? No! But my intuition is telling me that Apple’s future is a 3D capable future. I am pretty confident. Let us wait and observe…

Apple Kremlinology - a non-developer’s perspective by a developer

Recent changes in Apple’s executive team were hurrayed by many of my fellow developers, indies, and tech podcasters. Especially the fact that Phil Schiller will overlook the App Store.

“Phil Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, will expand his role to include leadership of the revolutionary App Store across all Apple platforms.”

Although being a developer and indie myself for the last 20 or so years, I would like to take a slightly more pragmatic view. Last two years Eddy Cue got too many new responsibilities and perhaps this is the reason “Mr. Fix It” (as someone at the fruit company called him few years ago) is now “Mr. Mess It”. We all know that Apple is talking to the TV industry, and this is undoubtedly a major and very time consuming task. What many completely forget is Pay and the slow expansion of the service worldwide. I spent the last 20 years talking to banks at any level. I have no idea how painful it is to talk to movie studios, but my suspicion is that bank managers are at least as hard nut to crack. They are often bullies, testosterone exhibiting egocentrics, with huge egos, and insufficient technical understanding. Expanding all these payments and media operations is a huge task and I can imagine Eddy Cue being very thankful, that he has one annoyance  less to think about - us, demanding, vocal, and also often with huge egos and with insufficient management skills developers. 

So, now our pains and complains are overseen by Phil Schiller. In many ways nothing has changed, and I believe nothing dramatic will change in future. Yes, third party developers might receive a bit more SVP attention and the “message from above” might get more coherent. But here is where my expectations end.

Until Craig Federighi is not in charge of all software engineering (including server software), until Apple is not producing their own server hardware, and until Apple stops outsourcing many infrastructure services, I will probably not get very excited. Why? Because only coherent, modern, well designed, scalable, and flexible infrastructure can support our rapidly changing needs and evolving technologies.