Today there was an Apple marketing event to announce the new iPhone 15 and Apple Watch Series 9. I don’t want to tell Apple their business, but there was one big disappointment for me:
In the section where they show how two of the cameras on the new phones can be used together to record spatial (3D) video for the Apple Vision Pro headset, they show a woman on the beach somewhat awkwardly squatting to keep her musical family in frame. Then they say “spatial video lets you feel like you’re right back in that moment in time,” while cutting to the woman lounging comfortably on her living room couch wearing the Vision Pro headset. And all I’m saying is that it would’ve been one billion times funnier if they’d cut to her in the middle of her living room, squatting awkwardly.
Apart from that, I’ve got no complaints. I even thought the Octavia Spencer-as-Mother-Nature bit was fine.1Incidentally, was one of the Apple execs played by the Flight of Passage “you can… uh… fly” guy? Everything shown seemed like a worthy-if-not-jaw-dropping successor to the previous generation, and set the stage for future updates. I’ve spent the past few years developing for iPhones, so I’m on the update plan, personally, and am pretty much fated to get the new model every year until there’s absolutely zero reason to upgrade.2For me, the camera updates always justify the upgrade. And the guaranteed resale-ability of previous year’s models justify the environmental impact.
I had Mastodon open during the video. It’s blissfully much less of a “<tap tap> is this thing on?” type of venue than other social media, so the ratio of people being earnest to people trying to be funny to get attention is mercifully low.3On the other hand, the ratio of genuinely funny people to… not as much… is also lower than other social media. Still worth it. That plus the fact that I mostly follow game developers or tech journalists who are already mostly pro-Apple means that it was a reasonably pleasant, conversational experience.
And it reminded me of the announcement of the Apple Vision Pro earlier in the year, a special event where Mastodon was somehow graced with hundreds of posters who were all experts in AR and VR software and hardware, along with marketing, engineering, distribution, and sociological impact. You’d think it would be rare to find even one person who knows everything there is to know, and even if you could, their expertise would be at a premium — and yet that day, the internet was lousy with HMD gurus willing to share their enlightenment for free.
I think the reason I’m laying the sarcasm on so thick is because this was a rare case when I actually knew that the people complaining had no idea what the hell they were talking about. Typically, I give people the benefit of the doubt — yes, even after I’ve been on the internet long enough to know better — and assume that if someone’s speaking with such authority about something, they’re either familiar with the topic at a level that doesn’t interest me, or they’re batshit crazy on a level that doesn’t interest me. But with the new headset, people were claiming that the demos were just marketing bullshit that couldn’t possibly exist, even though I had seen it with my own eyes!
People were dismissive of the iPhone back when they’d only seen Blackberries and Handspring Treos, and it was short-sighted but understandable. To be sitting at a computer in 2023 and refusing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt is just inexcusably arrogant.
It’s not just good but necessary to be skeptical of overblown marketing claims from powerful megacorporations. Apple should get called out when they talk about “deep pixels,” or when they insist on throwing up graphs that have no numbers except meaningless “2x” or “3x”. But some people are so busy rolling their eyes they lose sight of the fact that these things are still magic.
Take that spatial video feature, for example. People have been speculating on this feature since the Vision Pro was announced, and the pushback has been that the cameras are too close together to give enough stereo separation. I still don’t have any idea whether the iPhone 15’s version uses some kind of image processing to fake more separation, or whether that smaller distance is sufficient to give a convincingly 3D image.
But I did start wondering whether Apple would or could move one of the three cameras farther down the long edge of the phone, closer to the middle to better approximate human inter-pupillary distance.4In retrospect, it probably would make more sense to stretch the camera cluster horizontally across the top of the phone, if they were ever interested in doing that, which they probably aren’t. To me, someone who is definitely not a hardware engineer, it seems straightforward enough.
But would that affect how you hold the phone? Would you have to better support or protect the lens? Currently, the camera cluster could probably be treated as a self-contained component; would moving the camera down ruin that? Is there even room for an additional camera there? Would all of the internals need to be rearranged? Could they even be rearranged, without impacting data transfer performance or battery performance? Would thousands of accessories have to be redesigned? Does it affect MagSafe? Would it break the current functionality of treating the three separate cameras as if they were one camera in a single position, with varying focal distances?
Even as an absolute layman, I can still imagine tons of engineering problems that would need to be solved for this one (arbitrary, likely silly) decision. And the bulk of them are so far beyond my area of expertise that I don’t even know what I don’t know about how to come up with a solution. Seems like a perfect opportunity for me to keep quiet.
I still have plenty of moments where I’m sitting outside drawing on an iPad connected to a high-speed network over radio waves while listening to music on wireless noise-cancelling headphones, and I’ll suddenly realize “holy shit I’m in the future!” I wish people would more often choose to show a bit of humility, celebrate the concerted effort of some of the smartest people alive, and appreciate how much of this stuff is indistinguishable from magic.
- 1Incidentally, was one of the Apple execs played by the Flight of Passage “you can… uh… fly” guy?
- 2For me, the camera updates always justify the upgrade. And the guaranteed resale-ability of previous year’s models justify the environmental impact.
- 3On the other hand, the ratio of genuinely funny people to… not as much… is also lower than other social media. Still worth it.
- 4In retrospect, it probably would make more sense to stretch the camera cluster horizontally across the top of the phone, if they were ever interested in doing that, which they probably aren’t.