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#102 - A cloudy vision of the future

description: A hand holding up a pair of glasses.  The lenses are streaked with droplets, making it difficult to see through them. Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash.

(Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash)

Enterprise vision

The Vision Pro’s price tag is a stretch, even for dedicated Apple fans. But $3,500 is a rounding error on most corporate balance sheets. Especially when it’s painted as a way to improve margins or productivity. That’s probably why Apple is now selling its mixed-reality device into the corporate market.

The move makes sense, really. In the past I’ve covered commercial uses for AR and VR, everything from A Marginal Improvement Over Two-Dimensional Video Meetings (meh) to Training For Corporate And Industrial Settings (yay). In addition to being less price-sensitive than individual consumers, corporate buyers don’t care as much about the wider app ecosystem. So long as their one or two use cases are met, who cares that there isn’t a native Netflix app?

(Insert joke here about terrible enterprise software. Anything that meets Apple’s levels of functionality and UX will be a quantum leap.)

Enterprise sales is usually a long slog of making the right initial contact, waiting out multiple layers of approval, and wading through an extended contract redlining dance. Apple’s position as a market-leading – perhaps even market-defining – household name and their rather healthy finances will smooth the road. Not to mention, they have the resources to throw at expensive proof-of-concept work to score PR wins along with those sales. (Does this playbook sound familiar? It should. Think “IBM Watson Competes on Jeopardy!” …)

Still, I suspect the enterprise sales market wasn’t on Apple’s original Vision Pro road map. Or, at the very least, they’d had higher expectations on the consumer side. Weak sales have led the company to cut production and possibly scrap next year’s model.

I’ve noted before that, as much as we mock Meta’s metaverse dreams, they have a few years’ head start on Apple as far as running VR devices in the wild. You can’t bluster or fanboy your way into that kind of first-hand knowledge. So while Apple is trying to sell Vision Pros into the enterprise, Meta is developing a very different kind of business relationship for its Quest system:

What was previously simply called Quest software will be called Horizon OS, and the goal will be to move beyond the general-use Quest devices to more purpose-specific devices, according to an Instagram video from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

There will be headsets focused purely on watching TV and movies on virtual screens, with the emphasis on high-end OLED displays. There will also be headsets that are designed to be as light as possible at the expense of performance for productivity and exercise uses. And there will be gaming-oriented ones.

It’s a smart move for Meta to become the underlying operating system of other companies’ VR hardware. Why take the risk of defining individual use cases yourself? Let someone with domain knowledge do that, while you insert yourself in the middle of their customer relationships. This has worked for Microsoft, building operating systems for PCs. It’s worked for Google, releasing Android as an operating system and letting other groups manufacture headsets. It’s also worked for Apple, with their app store ecosystem.

(No word on whether Meta will eventually be accused of using their position to steal ahem incorporate others’ ideas into their own offerings.)

This was a highly illegal trading strategy

Way back in issue #25 I described a hack against Mango Markets. The alleged, self-identified perpetrator Avi Eisenberg said that his action was not so much a crime as a “highly profitable trading strategy.”

The US Department of Justice politely disagrees. Eisenberg was recently convicted of fraud for the hack and will be sentenced in late July.

I’m not sure what Eisenberg was thinking when he did this. On the one hand, yes, crypto is (supposed to be) a world in which Code Is Law and so anything code lets you do is permissible. Sure. On the other hand, he apparently had a reputation for this kind of thing?

Mango Labs has accused Eisenberg of being a “notorious cryptocurrency market manipulator,” noting in its complaint that he has a “history of attacking multiple cryptocurrency platforms and manipulating cryptocurrency markets.” That history includes allegedly embezzling $14 million in 2021 while Eisenberg was working as a developer for another decentralized marketplace called Fortress, Mango Labs’ complaint said.

Developing a reputation as a market manipulator sounds like a good way to eventually get busted for market manipulation.

Maybe he figured that crypto would remain enough of a Wild West that he’d never be pursued in court? Or that, if caught, he wouldn’t serve much time? Who knows.

Doing your own research

Running a software development studio is interesting. Your clients want you to build their solutions using the latest-and-greatest technology, so they can make the most of the advances and maybe even get some bragging rights for doing so. (A lot of AI implementations are clearly going for bragging rights, but I digress.) At the same time they want a studio that’s already worked with the latest-and-greatest technology, so they can steer clear of the inevitable new-toy problems.

While this is not a full chicken-and-egg scenario, it comes close.

One solution is for a dev studio to run an internal labs program, so it can test the waters in a low-stakes environment. Roblox dev studio The Gang takes that up a notch by actually pushing those lab experiments out to the public. Some of which are doing quite well:

Besides brand experiences, the studio creates its own games to help it better understand the Roblox audience. Its most successful, Strongman Simulator, has had 1.2 billion visits and is consistently ranked in the top 50 Roblox games. “We use our own games to test, then we can do crazy things for brands,” says co-founder and CEO Marcus Holmström. “Our games don’t have to work, so we can test and fail. With brand projects, we want to know what works before we do it. I think that’s been one of the keys to success. We test, test, learn and apply.”

You don’t have to be a software dev studio to use this technique. If you work inside a company that’s exploring web3, you can run your own internal experiments. Even if your plan is to retain an experienced external partner to build your solutions, developing hands-on knowledge of the technology will help you understand what to expect.

Not even half a story

Bitcoin’s latest halving recently took place. It’s been expected for a while now and has been a staple of crypto news for the last several weeks. But I wanted to wait until after it had actually happened to report on it. (That’s part of why it’s been almost a whole month since the last Block & Mortar.)

And with that, here’s a rundown:

  • What is the Bitcoin halving? Every four years or so, Bitcoin miners’ reward – the money they get paid for verifying Bitcoin transactions – cuts in half. Eventually the reward will become as-good-as-zero (a value too small to slice off a portion for the miners), effectively capping the total supply of Bitcoin. For a more detailed look check out Investopedia and The Guardian.
  • Why does it matter? There’s a definite impact on Bitcoin miners, as the halving cuts their revenue. The run-up to the halving sent many of them looking to other countries for cheaper electricity, exploring opportunities AI (since crypto mining and AI use similar hardware), or winding down operations altogether. There were also concerns (“hopes?”) that the halving would cause Bitcoin’s price to jump, but as of this writing it’s held fairly steady.
  • When did it happen? The most recent halving officially took place Friday, 19 April 2024.
  • What’s happened since? Not a whole lot, really. Like the rest of the web3 space, I was expecting Big Things™. Enough stories to fill an entire newsletter, even. Thus far … zilch.
  • What if something big happens after this newsletter goes out? I guess that’ll leave something to write about next time?

Plus one

Despite all of the negative press and ahem governments telling the company to halt operations, people are … still lining up to let a Worldcoin Orb scan their eyeball? Really?

Demand is so high that Worldcoin claims it doesn’t have enough Orbs to go around:

Semafor reports there are somewhere between 300 and 500 Worldcoin orbs out there in the world right now, and while the initial idea was to make the devices mobile so they could be moved around to wherever people congregate, it appears the idea is so popular Worldcoin can remain stationary and allow people to come to them. In fact, they’re getting swamped with so many people the orbs can’t be produced fast enough.


No, that’s it. That’s the segment. I could have just listed this as a one-liner under “In other news…” but I wanted to bump my Worldcoin Coverage Counter. (See newsletters 57, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 77, 93, 96, 98, and now 102.)

In other news …

The wrap-up

This was an issue of Block & Mortar.

Who’s behind Block & Mortar? I'm Q McCallum. I've spent the past two decades in the emerging-tech space. And I'm very interested in web3 use cases.

Credit where it's due. Big thanks to Shane Glynn for reviewing early drafts. Any mistakes that remain are mine.

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