Apple’s Foundational Play — 3D Touch

The Technology underlying Apple’s 3D Touch

The iPhone 6S and more specifically, the 3D touch feature, is underwhelming so far, but also one of the biggest foundational plays I’ve seen in a while. Wait, boring AND foundational? Yes, hang with me for a few paragraphs and it will all make sense.

As background, I’ve got a bit of experience in the 3D space after being the first business hire at a Techstars and Foundry backed computer vision (CV) startup by the name of Occipital. During the two years I was there the company designed, built and very successfully launched the Structure Sensor via a $1.2MM Kickstarter campaign.

Afterwards several of us did a pretty exhaustive search of the computer vision, IOT and drone spaces while trying to find an idea we could go after in our own startup. Combined, the two experiences give me a lens with depth of the CV space and what that technology unlocks and breadth across the other related spaces through which I view every major player’s moves.

Two players I watch particularly close are Apple and Google. The former acquired the supplier for one of our key components — PrimeSense. They also hired one of the smartest young computer vision developers I’ve ever met into a team of CV luminaries and an impressive hardware engineer with experience in the mobile computer vision space. Meanwhile, Google launched Project Tango, which was at the time of launch the closest competitor for developer attention to the Structure Sensor in the space of mobile 3D computing. Not to mention their considerable R&D efforts in the space which include hiring Johnny Lee of the infamous Wii hack and investing the not small sum of 500 million into Magic Leap. In short, both have shown a dedication to the area of computer vision that hints at a long term strategic focus on being leading players in the space of 3D computing.

And then… Apple launched 3D Touch.

At first I and based on the articles I’ve come across most of the rest of the world was underwhelmed. Their tag line of “The only thing that changed is everything” only made it worse; two of the three changes in this phone — a new camera and processor — were invisible to the average user. The one major change that was visible to the user had no apps utilizing it outside of the core apple ones (which I admittedly don’t use), so basically the screen vibrates when I push it hard. That’s it. I forked over more money for what in many ways felt like the same phone.

Ouch.

Marketing Alchemy: Making rose gold out of lead.

The only thing worse than a relatively uninspiring revision of a product is to sell ho-hum changes as something revolutionary. I mean, I know the marketing team needs something to do… but hyping up that you “changed everything” when you really changed nothing just felt sad. At this point I started to even feel a bit sorry for Apple (and their billions — yes I know it’s ridiculous).

Then it hit me. Wait a minute. Technically, they actually just added a “Z” dimension. An entire new UI paradigm for every single touch. This is actually kind of a big deal. Now every app designer and developer has a whole new menu of possible interactions with the user. I bet once all the big app makers design this into their apps it will be really useful.

All three dimensions: X, Y and Z

Thinking more about it, they also acquired Primesense. And Metaio. And LinX. And PerceptIO. Holy shit. They’re building an arsenal to map AND interact with the world in not just X and Y as every touchscreen does, but also inthe Z dimension that 3D Touch just enabled.

Step 1: Build up a fanatical base of millions who you can train on new UX paradigms. Check.

Step 2: Build/acquire the team, technology and know how to create a game changing new UX paradigm. Check, check, check and check.

Step 3: Launch a bridge technology that builds the foundation for future game changing technology by training them on the basics of the new paradigm — in this case interacting in the Z space. Check.

Step 4: Watch others launch similar products ahead of you with new UX paradigms and fail without a trained user base. Check and check.

Step 5. Launch the new UX paradigm into your well trained base who will pick it up as if it’s second nature, immediately make the rest of the world jealous and create a rush of demand for said new product.

Date TBD… but I posit that it’s imminent.