Tidbits in the News: Magic Leap, Apple, and Face ID

Three stories this week, 2 have been widely covered, while the last, not so much.

Magic Leap

Magic Leap, a company that’s managed to raise nearly $2B in venture funding based on, what seemed like, fumes, has finally released its first, “commercial” product, set to ship early next year. And, largely, it seems to have dispelled a lot of the suspicion surrounding the company. You can read more about it here, courtesy of RollingStone Magazine.

What’s interesting here is that, in the article, the founder, and CEO, Rony Abovitz, talks about 3D a lot. He talks, more specifically, about the stereoscopic technology that still dominates the markets today, despite having been invented in the 1830’s. This is key. This is what Abovits wants to disrupt. He’s not looking to just make the world’s greatest mixed reality experience; he’s looking to fundamentally change the technology behind it.

Of course there are still questions that need to be answered, but the biggest, immediate problem seems to be can consumers tell the difference? With Apple improving its AR functionality on its products, and companies like Facebook, and HTC, improving the experience on its stereoscopic goggles, it’d be interesting to see whether this headset can be different enough to take market share away from traditional VR and AR players. It’s definitely something that you can’t judge until you’ve experienced it, but that’s the problem: there’s a high barrier to entry for consumers. This has been a problem for traditional companies, like Samsung, in proliferating the VR/AR market, so it’d be interesting to see how a startup (albeit a well funded one) tackles it.

Apple All but Confirms Planned Obsolescence

Planned obsolescence is something that’s generally accepted by everyone as real, and yet no one seems to admit up to. Until now, at least. Apple all but confirmed it this week, except they didn’t.

Let me explain.

Apple admitted that it throttled performance via software embedded into iOS, but it was to make sure battery life met customer expectations even after capacity loss after thousands of recharge cycles. This is, in short, a complicated way of saying they throttle performance on older phones because the batteries on those phones don’t hold nearly as much charge. So in order to keep battery life consistent, they throttle performance.

This seems benign on the surface. After all, people care about battery life the most. But, the problem here is, there is a rather simple solution to this: just change the battery. Except, Apple never alerted its customers to this option at all. People naturally associated the decrease in performance to a CPU or other hardware issue, which prompted them to change devices much faster than they would otherwise.

So did Apple program its phones to be obsolete over time? No. But they did come up with a creative “solution” to a problem that already had an easy fix. And, instead, they redirected people’s attentions to another problem, which was a mere symptom of their new “solution”. They created more problems for consumers than they solved, but it did help pad their bottom line.

Face ID: Racist? Or Flawed?

I know the subtitle to this last bit is a bit dramatic, but bear with me on this. It seems that Apple’s highly touted Face ID has been hacked not once, but twice. Once, by a woman’s colleague, and another by the owner’s son. This is alarming, because Apple touted Face ID’s security in its presentation of the iPhone X, claiming that “The TrueDepth camera captures accurate face data by projecting and analyzing over 30,000 invisible dots to create a depth map of your face and also captures an infrared image of your face”. This, in essence, meant that Face ID should be able to tell even the most minute details apart.

We know, however, that the Face ID interface is easily thwarted by identical twins, so the story about Face ID confusing the owner and her son is, however unprobable, reasonably believable. The story of a woman and her colleague, however, is rather concerning. But, of course, it’s unreasonable to think that this is entirely impossible. After all, doppelgangers do exist in the world.

What’s problematic is that both these stories this week were from China, and concerned people with, what we consider East Asian faces. This has created allegations of racism in Apple’s programming of Face ID (intentional or otherwise). Perhaps it has to do with the depth sensors being less sensitive than initially thought, but with allegations mounting, and rival systems free of such allegations, it’ll be interesting to see how Apple reacts to this, especially considering how important the Chinese market is for Apple.

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