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Apple’s XR Headset will Make or Break Tim Cook’s Legacy

Apple’s launch into the metaverse seems imminent at this point. I try my best not to get too caught in the rumor mill outside of the XR operating system they’re developing. However, Financial Times published a take I hadn’t thought of but is worthy of repeating.

WTF? Tim Cook’s Defining Moment

“They have huge pressure to ship the headset," said a former Apple engineer who worked on the product’s development. “They have been postponing the launch each year for the past [few] years.”

After seven years in development – twice as long as the iPhone – the tech giant is widely expected to unveil a headset featuring both virtual and augmented reality as soon as June.

The stakes are high for Cook. The headset will be Apple’s first new computing platform to have been developed entirely under his leadership. The iPhone, iPad, and even Watch were all originally conceived under Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011. – Financial Times

Operationally, Tim Cook has done an incredible job carrying out Steve Jobs’ vision for their hardware suite. He’s transitioned Apple into a software company too. And along the way, he grew their market cap from $350B to $2.4T today.

But now Tim Cook finally has a device that is entirely his. He controls the next hardware platform that could eventually replace the iPhone. And that carries immense importance to him, I’m sure.

Apple’s operations team wanted to ship a “version one” product, a ski goggle-like headset that will allow users to watch immersive 3D video, perform interactive workouts, or chat with realistic avatars through a revamped FaceTime.

But Apple’s famed industrial design team had cautioned patience, wanting to delay until a more lightweight version of AR glasses became technically feasible. Most in the tech industry expect that to take several more years.

In deciding to press ahead with a debut this year, Cook has sided with operations chief Jeff Williams, according to two people familiar with Apple’s decision-making, and overruled the early objections from Apple’s designers to wait for the tech to catch up with their vision. – Financial Times

The timing on Cook’s part would be ideal, considering Meta is deprioritizing the metaverse at the moment. Zuckerberg has never been a hardware guy, and thus failed at cementing a new legacy with XR hardware. Apple, on the other hand, has always been lauded for its hardware. For Apple to go into XR now and put their marketing push behind a new device means that Cook sees the opportunity of the moment. Interestingly, they’re not expecting a quick winner:

Apple is only expecting to sell around a million units of its headset in its first 12 months, according to two people familiar with its planning, fewer than the first generations of the iPhone or Apple Watch did in the year following their launch. – Financial Times

Compare that with the estimated 20 million Quest headsets that Meta has shipped to date, or the 200 million iPhones or 50 million Watches they ship a year. A million headsets for Apple isn’t much. But, most of their devices start slow:

Apple’s plan seems to be to start slow and get the device in developers’ hands. Apple has a reported 34 million registered developers building apps for its devices.

If they can deliver a solid form factor and operating system, and empower even a fraction of their developer community, then Apple has a real chance at turning the tides on the metaverse. Not to mention, Tim Cook may be able to pull off his first Steve Jobs moment.