Robert Scoble was wrong about iPhone X, but he’s a mensch about it.

Photo: The Verge

Robert Scoble had predicted the next iPhone would be focused on augmented reality (AR) and transparent, like a piece of glass. It wasn’t. But his description of why he was wrong is revealing, both about Scoble and about the future of both AR and iPhones.

I’m a little deeper into this story than most people reading this. While I’m not an AR expert, I edited Scoble’s book with Shel Israel, The Fourth TransformationAll along, I thought it was a comprehensive and well-researched look at a very likely future for virtual reality and AR, but a little overoptimistic on the timeframe.

Scoble made his “clear piece of glass” prediction almost a year ago, last October, on Facebook.

Scoble does “I was wrong” right

Here’s an excerpt from Scoble’s Facebook post today. As a former analyst, I admire this enormously. When you are wrong, say you are wrong, and then explain why — because people can learn from that. That’s being a mensch (which, if you don’t know the Yiddish, means a fine, upstanding person).

I was wrong about Apple.

In almost all ways was I wrong.

The big bang turned out to be the big “meh.”

Lets go into the ways I was wrong. . . .

5. Only one 3D sensor and the one that is there was totally undersold. I was expecting two 3D sensors for a new “AR phone” but the second sensor wasn’t there and the first sensor was there just to do face unlocking, which more than one person told me is “freaky.” That said, I’ll definitely use the face unlocking.

6. Augmented reality was totally undersold. One dismal demo which didn’t look all that fun at all. Where is multi-player? Where are multiple demos? Over on Apple AR World we have dozens of fun demos. I assumed we might see a bunch of different things. But very few were demonstrated and the ones that were just looked uncreative and presented in a boring way, which no effort at explaining why Apple’s new OS is bringing a new world to us. In other words, almost nothing showed up that I was expecting. But I probably will buy it anyway.

7. Nothing “clear” at all. My sources sure got this wrong, and so did I. I was expecting at least a passthrough mode so you could take the phone “Pokemon hunting.” But my kids probably will play Pokemon anyway.

8. I thought Apple would pull out some passion from the past. Instead we got boring and more boring.

How did I get so wrong?

1. I over indexed on the founders of companies that Apple bought. I really expected more from the purchases of Metaio and Primesense. I know there are still 1,200 engineers working on something related to augmented reality in Israel, but I was expecting a lot more that would even predict where the future of Apple would go. We call this “reading your own press releases” and I started to believe that Apple would deliver something really amazing for this tenth year of the iPhone.

2. I over indexed on Samsung and Microsoft’s, and even Huawei’s influence. I thought Apple would really want to set the tone for the next decade of the iPhone as being the way to get VR and AR because Microsoft and Samsung already had beaten Apple to the punch and Huawei kept banging about how it has better hardware than Apple. One slide I remember showed how Huawei has four antennas, more than Apple, which gives it better reception and battery life. I thought there was more fight inside Apple to keep showing the market a better dream. Instead an OK product showed up where I expected a new vision of how the future might be.

3. What my sources told me fit into my world view too tightly. My world view is that augmented reality is coming. That world view is still intact. The magic I’ve had by being in VR is still there. Apple still hasn’t tapped into that magic yet. Will another company? Maybe. But I still believe Apple is the one to bring it to the masses.

4. I overindexed on VR and AR. The average person hasn’t seen it, nor appreciated it. So Apple didn’t feel pressured to do anything regarding those two today.

5. I over indexed on Tim Cook’s numerous statements that Augmented Reality would turn out to be more important than most are expecting (I still believe that, and believe that Apple is still developing some major new things there, but now I will believe that Apple is like IBM or Microsoft: big companies that rarely will thrill you).

6. I over indexed on the passion of other people working on this kind of stuff. I regularly have conversations with people who are dreaming of a new augmented reality world, or a VR world, or one that just has amazing AI that can recognize everything. I’ve seen these demos in labs and know that we are only one to five years away from seeing some truly amazing things, but I was hoping to get a few today and they didn’t show up.

Notice a few things about this.

First, there is no temporizing or excuses. He made a clear prediction. He’s just as clear that the prediction was totally wrong.

Second, he’s clear-eyed about what led to the mistake — basically believing in a certain future and then collecting evidence that supports that belief. There was plenty of evidence that Scoble’s view of Apple and AR would be right, but there was also evidence that it was overoptimistic. He chose to put too much weight on the former (or as he would say, “overindexed” it).

In my time as an analyst, I have been where Scoble is now many times. Events happen. There is a trend. You spot it, and you are out front on it. You are bold about it. Then you see more evidence that confirms your bold statement. The benefits of being right about this are powerful — you become a thought leader on the topic. So there is an enormous temptation to see what you hope to see.

Basically, Scoble was a victim of Amara’s law, which states that “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Technology is very hard, especially at Apple where they won’t release it until it’s in solid shape and ready to manufacture by the tens of millions.

Next time you are optimistic about the timing of a development in technology, remember Scoble.

Despite what Scoble said about being wrong, I don’t think he actually was wrong. He was just early.

Don’t stop with “I was wrong”

A true analyst doesn’t wallow in “I was wrong,” they go on to write about the new reality that has now appeared. And Scoble does:

1. VR hasn’t had the oxygen taken away from it. I was really expecting Apple to position VR as “sucky” and AR as “sexy.” Instead Apple just really stayed away from both topics today for the most part and didn’t add on any overhype.

I’m wondering if Apple did that because it knows that Magic Leap is coming in December or so with a product most of my friends say is amazing (OK, Brandon Wirtz says it isn’t and he’s been pretty right about a whole range of things, so I’m gonna listen to him and my other nerdy friends more).

2. Google has just been given a gift. Apple could have really done something that would have caused Android fans angst today. It did not. Instead, we’re looking toward the Pixel 2 launch in October with renewed interest in the Android platform because Google Assistant is so superior to Siri it isn’t funny.

3. Watch for Magic Leap hype to start up and gain more traction than I would have otherwise expected.

4. Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and Snap now are given license to innovate, or release new innovation that they have in the labs, because Apple didn’t provide a new dream today, so there’s new space for new dreams to take hold.

5. If Apple really does have Augmented Reality dreams, those dreams didn’t show up today, which leads me to wonder when they will show up in a real way. I now am moving my thesis from two years to four or more.

6. It shows that the funds (including my own that I am working on) that only focus on augmented reality are gonna have a harder time to hit pay dirt. There still are plenty of amazing things coming in VR and AR, but they won’t come as fast as if Apple were really visionary today about showing why we need them.

This is basically “now that Apple hasn’t taken the lead, the other guys will jump in.” In my opinion, it’s still overoptimistic, except for points 5 and 6.

A much simpler analysis is that AR and Mixed Reality will get here, just as Scoble and Israel have predicted, but a year behind what they thought. I agree that somebody else will come out with the necessary AR technologies. I think it will show up in Android phones. And I think the phone that Scoble imagined is in the Apple labs, but we won’t see it until next year. (iPhone XI, perhaps?)

The key fact about iPhone X that everyone is overlooking

The features of iPhone X have disappointed every reviewer that I’ve seen. People especially like to make fun of the new talking “animoji” feature. (And no, my new icon is not going to be a talking bullshit icon.)

But based on what Scoble and Israel have taught me, I think the front-facing infrared camera, based on the same technology that powered the Microsoft Kinect gaming system, is a big deal. This is the feature that powers the technology that lets you unlock the phone with your face, but it also means that the phone can see what you’re doing and how you’re moving in 3D.

When a phone knows everything you browse, everything you post, everything in your email, and now, can actually watch what you’re doing in real-time, that’s a powerful collection of information. In a few years, it will enable the phone to far better anticipate exactly what you want and give it to you.

It also scares the crap out of me. I’m not sure I want my phone watching me all the time. How about you?

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  1. That was a great piece. Kudos to Scoble for his honest admission. And, kudos to you for covering this story.

    As someone who is easily excited by technology, I understand Robert’s excitement and his cheerleading on the tech he sees as sexy (and capable of so many useful things). And, I agree. Sometimes folks like us can get sucked in by the hype. But, there is something different this time around: The tech we tech geeks are talking about is also being talked about in the mainstream media, entertainment, and political circles. The speed at which change will come may be slower than some might want, but chances are equally good that it will come faster than it has in the past.

    Good, bad, or somewhere in between, I’m ready — whenever it happens. Scary? Indeed. But super exciting nonetheless.

  2. / I’m not sure I want my phone watching me all the time. How about you? /

    It shouldn’t if it’s (maybe) off. 🙂

    I like this piece especially the last part about the phone collecting (more) information on you. That puts more burden, more responsibility, on Apple. But, if they can handle it anyway…