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Longhouse Vision Pro
Bobby Mars
 March 16 2024 at 12:33 am
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Postmodern Retinal Burn Apple Vision Pro is finally available. Eager hordes of nerds lined up at their local Apple stores, ready to fork over three thousand five hundred United State Dollars to consoom content in a new way. Spatial computing, augmented reality, this is the future! This is the new world designed by the good little boys and girls in Cupertino, inventors of the iPhone, the Macbook, the Airpod—heralds of all that is good and true in the world. Reactions online were telling. They ranged from cautious enthusiasm, to sardonic irony-posting, to ecstatic revelation, to sheer unbridled horror—future shock. The most telling part was that there was a reaction at all. No other VR/AR headset can claim this, all having been released and mostly forgotten except by a small group of enthusiasts. This is the first headset that provoked a widespread societal reaction, and there are profound reasons for that. The core of Apple’s new design centers around what the tech-heads have long called “Augmented Reality.” Graphical computing systems are overlaid and integrated into reality, floating amongst it, ethereal visions of pure light transcending the clunky physicality of the screen. The promise of this, opposed to mere virtual reality, they tell us, is the integration of their interface into the real world. Apple CEO Tim Cook in a 2017 interview stated, “I’m excited about augmented reality because unlike virtual reality which closes the world out, AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently.” VR, in a way, is more honest. It’s closer to the legacy of the 90s internet. When the internet was limited to stationary desktop computers, you had to make a deliberate choice to sit down and use it, your experience was limited to that place. The real world was the world you lived in, and you could escape it and retreat to the internet within that stationary device. VR is similar, if less contained; you’re making a deliberate choice to escape physical reality for a while, and spend time in a different visual environment. Perhaps that’s why it’s been less popular—people prefer to sit on their couch scrolling their phone and watching TV, hanging out in the real world while interacting with the digital world simultaneously. Deliberately choosing to focus your interaction onto one world, even a virtual one, feels limiting. We don’t want to totally eschew physical reality in exchange for pure digital experience except on limited occasions. Here’s the thing though; we stopped living in physical reality a long time ago. Human society and our experience of reality, since the advent of mass media, have long been a simulacrum, a constant feedback loop of simulated fantasies entirely divorced from real experience. Guy Debord called this the spectacle, a “social relation among people mediated by images.” We encounter the world as signs and symbols of our own design, not as a plain reality.The most unsettling characteristic of this world we’ve made is that there are seemingly no fixed truths—everything is malleable and subject to our whims. Academics call this, “postmodernism.” Apple Vision proves horrifying for many because it is the first crude step towards the final furtherance of this world, in which the post-modern world takes over physical reality not merely as a concept, but as a literal new visual world right in your damn face. The digital ether is no longer confined to a far off void, emerging through the cracks through physical devices placed in reality. It’s right there in front of you now, everywhere, in a way that cannot be ignored or abstracted away. So long as your iPhone travels with you everywhere, this is already conceptually true, but the experience of spatial computing makes it so obvious that it’s impossible to ignore. Physical reality, in the experience of spatial computing, in fact becomes a de facto simulation itself. Apple Vision is not a true pass through device. You don’t see physical reality through glass, with the little screens laid on top of it. The goggles capture your surroundings with cameras, process them digitally, and feed them back to you through the synthetic screens in the goggles. It doesn’t matter how seemingly realistic this is (device reviews seem divided on this point). Your surrounding physical reality, in the context of Apple’s spatial computing, is simply another digital environment processed and fed to you through the interpretive black box of the device. It’s almost irrelevant, it might as well be the surface of the moon, and in fact it very well can be, as you can change your visual environment to any number of simulated settings at will. The malleability of this new reality is endless. You can replace your girlfriend’s face with a pornstar, you can make your goon cave look clean and tidy, you can make the weather outside look sunny on a cloudy day. Physical reality in this context holds no claim towards any inherent truthfulness, it's a mere interpretative framework for a complex array of LiDAR sensors and micro-OLED displays. Even in the so-called realistic visual pass through effect, physical reality is merely interpreted into the digital displays, with their own intentional biases and whims. Nothing you’re seeing here is real. Even Apple’s name for the device signals this profound change. They’re not called goggles, or glasses, or anything that places them as a physical device itself. They’re called “Vision,” because they’re a new way of seeing, Apple’s interpretive method of sight for their brave new world. The device itself, clunky, heavy, with a battery tethered to it, is meant to be forgotten. Surely it will be eventually, as the crudeness of this first generation is increasingly refined into something ignorable compared to the new reality it allows you to see. This is their new world, transcending the old one, and you need their new eyes to see it. Just hope you don’t stub your toe on your very real coffee table while walking the surface of Mars. The real question is, if Apple made synthetic eyeballs, would you rip your own eyes out of their sockets and replace them? Is this really what we want, to have our entire visual cortex mediated through their techno-corporate hellscape? It does sound very cyber punk… perhaps there’s an answer here. Leather trench coats, colored hair dye, synthetic organs. Man, I wish the future looked more like Neuromancer than this played out Apple gray. They should have made the goggles black, more leather, embraced the dystopia angle. Postmodern retinal burn goes hard if everything is black. Someone get me on a call with Tim Apple, I have important things to tell him.
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Apple, Amazon, And Google: Are They...
David Reavill
 April 01 2024 at 11:46 am
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The Story of the Most Critical Anti-Trust Action in a Generation. Tech Giants: Google/Alphabet, Amazon, Apple Computer, Infinity, Microsoft. Few organizations throughout history have exceeded the modern American mega-corporation when it comes to gathering money, power, and influence. The question becomes: are these companies so dominant that they can be considered a “monopoly?” The term “monopoly” is tricky. In the United States, we like to define it in the legal sense. Something is a “monopoly” if the law says it’s a “monopoly.” We rely on a 134-year-old law called the Sherman Antitrust Act. According to the Sherman Act, a monopoly is achieved when one company is so dominant that it can control the price and availability of a product or service. It doesn’t need 100% control, just enough to set price and availability. During the debate around the Sherman Antitrust Act, Senator George Hoar of Massachusetts put it this way: “[a person] who merely by superior skill and intelligence…got the whole business because nobody could do it as well as he could was not a monopolist…” In other words, if you’re very good at what you do, then “wa la” the American Courts will NOT consider you a monopolist. Essentially, you’re free and clear to do whatever you want. While that may have been an adequate definition in the industrial age, it is far less so in today’s information age. Today’s economy is littered with companies that are monopolies in everything but the strict legal sense, primarily because of the George Hoar loophole. For instance, America has only one company, Boeing, which makes commercial airplanes. There are just two fully integrated oil companies (able to drill, refine, and market): Chevron and Exxon Mobile. The one dominant e-commerce company is Amazon. The Apple Store, 5th Avenue, New York City In modern technology companies, we find the most egregious example of a monopoly. Google/Alphabet has the lion’s share of all search volumes; Apple has a dominant position in smartphone sales; Microsoft has the premier position in business software; and, of course, Amazon is the number one online retailer. Each of these companies has drawn the ire of the United States Justice Department. Three companies, Apple, Google/Alphabet, and Amazon, are currently facing major legal battles with Justice focused on Sherman Anti Trust violations. These cases will take years to adjudicate and involve literally hundreds of attorneys. Two of the cases, Amazon and Google/Alphabet, began with the Trump Administration and have been passed on to the Biden Administration — this means that at least two Attorney Generals have been involved in the government’s case. Although the intricacies involved are too complex to deal with, there are specific highlights we can see. Like almost all lawsuits, these begin with the question of fact: do these companies have such a dominant position in the market that they could be considered a monopoly? They do have the dominant position, as the DOJ will argue. But the counter becomes: Is this dominant position so tenuous that it could be lost at any time? It is not an easy answer. Should the judge rule that Apple, Google, or Amazon face sufficient competition that they could be toppled from their number one position, then the case against them would be thrown out. An Amazon Electric Delivery Truck. Based on this fact alone, most legal scholars feel the case against Apple is the weakest. Apple faces several substantial competitors, especially Android phones. The cases against Google and Amazon are more substantial if, for no other reason, they have maintained their dominance for a long time with few significant competitors. Influence The second part of these lawsuits is particularly relevant: Are the tech companies using undue influence? The question goes back 23 years to the U.S. Department of Justice Case against Microsoft. Microsoft has the dominant position in software, with Microsoft operating systems on most Personal Computers. Apple Computers, of course, use IOS. Microsoft was bundling their web browser, Internet Explorer, with their operating system. Internet Explorer came as a complete package when a customer purchased Microsoft’s MS-DOS. The DOJ argued that Microsoft used its dominant position in software to exclude other browser companies unfairly. Ironically, Google was/is the most crucial competitor in this field and is now the subject of a DOJ Antitrust Case. Bill Gates testifying in US (vs) Microsoft. The Microsoft Case raises the fundamental issue of influence. Did Microsoft use its dominant position in software to influence customers to use Internet Explorer unfairly? Herein lies the chief problem for today’s Tech Monopolists: Are they using unfair influence, not just in business-related issues but in fields far removed? Such is the scope and range of all of these companies that they can shape the public landscape. To create a favorable impression of whatever issue they wish to present. Their capability goes far beyond merely providing a product or service. These dominant tech companies can frame public opinion. In the case of Microsoft, it showed Internet Explorer as the quick-and-easy option. The Justice Department demonstrated that most consumers followed Microsoft’s direction and installed Internet Explorer as their web browser. Regrettably, there was no final decision in the courts. Although the U.S. District Court ruled that Microsoft violated Section 2 of the Sherman Act, this was partially overturned by the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit. Later, Microsoft and Justice reached an out-of-court settlement in which Microsoft altered some of its services. I believe that Internet Explorer’s default position was modified. The bottom line is that the issue of “Influence” still needs to be determined in the Courts. The Google Brain Trust: Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, Larry Page. Like many of you, I’d like to see the courts decide this principal issue: What is Google, Amazon, and Apple’s influence on not just what brands to purchase but also what news and information we see and, ultimately, what candidates we vote for? How does Big Tech influence the world we see? Of course, that desire is far beyond what we’ll probably see in these court cases. The courts will most likely produce a narrow decision based on contract law, far from the sweeping issue of general influence. Finally, Shane Greenstein, a professor at the Harvard Business School, makes an interesting point. Apple, Google, and Amazon are all placing their reputations on the line. Who knows what “business practices” will be revealed as the court proceedings unfold? American public opinion is notoriously fickle and could easily change if some unscrupulous corporate strategies are revealed. An adverse public reaction could have far more impact on these companies than a narrowly worded court decision. Follow me here on ThinkSpot for more stories from the ValueSide.
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In China iPhone Sales Crash - What's That Mean...
David Reavill
 March 09 2024 at 12:51 pm
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Apple CEO Tim Cook in China. American consumers are among the most resilient in the world, able to switch from one product to another based on price or quality. When Toyota automobiles outstripped Ford and General Motors products, Americans switched, making Toyota the dominant global automaker. When Sony and Toshiba produced a better television, they put American companies Hoffman and RCA Victor out of business. Often, there are competitive advantages that foreign companies have that American companies cannot match. We see a similar pattern each time these transitions from American to Foreign Products occur. Initially, the American public proclaimed that they would always “buy American.” US companies produce the highest quality, and we’ll always purchase homegrown products. Unfortunately, the opposite occurs when it comes time to pull out the wallet at the local Walmart or Big Box store and consummate the purchase. The offshore product, produced by cheaper labor, lower environmental standards, and often non-existent benefits for their workers, wins the day. It’s the low cost that drives the sale. For instance, the memory of those transitions from the US to Asia that hung over Wall Street this week, Apple Computer, the most expensive stock on the market and a premier company in our economy, announced that iPhone sales in China had declined by nearly one-quarter in 2024. For years, Apple has been the leading stock on the exchange, driving prices higher and higher to progressive records. If you like the current Bull Market, you have to credit Apple. Warren Buffett with President Obama. Even the doyen of value investing, Warren Buffett, has invested heavily in Apple, giving his blessing that a “tech stock” can also be a “value stock.” Buffett declares that Apple has such a “competitive advantage” and impenetrable “moat” around its product that no other company can challenge it. What’s more, Buffett is putting your money where his mouth is by investing $174 million in Apple stock, making Apple one of the core investments for Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Portfolio. Now, few would argue with Buffett’s investment acumen. Indeed, he has built a legendary reputation on Wall Street. He’s one of the best when estimating cash flow or future earnings. But what if we’ve reached a point where more than mere investment prowess is required, where forces greater than “the financial” come into play? The New Multinational “Model” President Richard Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai toast their future. In 1973, President Richard Nixon opened the door to China. Historically, China was a closed society, so it became available to trade with the United States. It was the beginning of an unparalleled interchange between the two countries: on the one hand, the world’s most significant consumer, America, and on the other hand, what would become the world’s most significant producer, China. Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight at Nike were The first companies to recognize the tremendous opportunity that Chinese production represented. Located in Beaverton, Oregon, just a stone’s throw across the narrowest part of the Pacific, it was only natural that Nike would look to an Asian producer to make their running shoes. In 1971, they used a Japanese shoe company but quickly realized that China could accomplish the same task at an even lower cost. Today, most business historians credit Knight as the first to open Chinese factories to American Brands. It’s easy to see why Knight and all the major American multinational corporations choose China. First is the low cost of labor, unlike the American system, which loads on benefits, insurance, social security, space requirements, and other regulations for employee compensation. There is none of that in China. In China, most laborers, especially 20 or 30 years ago, received a day’s wage, and that was it. Consequently, Chinese labor costs were a mere fraction of the American. Combine that with lower energy costs, due in considerable measure to virtually non-existent environmental regulation and low-cost factory space, and you have an almost unbeatable price advantage for Chinese production. Phil Knight had built what most of his compatriots considered a winning business model. Design and marketing could remain in the United States, but China’s price advantage was too attractive to miss. For 50 years, American Multinational Companies have constantly moved production to China and other Asian nations. The most ludicrous of these strategies was reported: A group of US poultry farmers now ship their live chickens to China, where they are slaughtered, dressed, packaged, and returned to America. Given the high cost of labor in the US, it’s cheaper to bear the additional transportation costs than to dress and package the chickens locally. The most recent photo of Phil Knight. Phil Knights’s business plan was similar to many American businesses operating at the time. After all, most American retail electronics (radios and televisions) had long ago moved to Japan and other Asian countries. What made Nike’s move unique was the use of China’s labor and facilities. However, this is not to say there was no controversy surrounding these multinational moves to Asia, especially China. American labor was extremely upset over the loss of American jobs. “Buy American” campaigns popped up around the country. While those campaigns might have some impact on the American populace, it’s safe to say that they did not affect the “corner office.” The Chief Executives, who were responsible for the bottom line, could have cared less. They were looking for one thing only: reduced manufacturing expenses. There have been repeated reports of horrible working conditions throughout China, especially. Factories that are little more than sweatshops force workers to labor for hours at a time, far beyond the standard eight-hour shift at home. They are also forced to live in substandard housing and risk injury or worse while operating dangerous equipment. Several years ago, there were unconfirmed reports that Apple had hung nets below the upper floors of one of its factories to prevent workers from jumping to their deaths. Such conditions may be the conditions under which those shiny new tech gadgets are made. In addition to reports of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, there have been lingering accusations of American multinationals providing China with access to proprietary US technology. The most critical scandals for America’s strategic interests involve technology transfer from the US to China. Inside Hughes Electronics Plant. At the turn of the century, the Press was full of articles exposing various US technology firms accused of giving plans and procedures to their Chinese counterparts. Much of this information was considered vital to America’s national defense. By 1998, the United States Justice Department launched a full investigation of Hughes Electronics Corporation and Loral Space and Communications, Ltd. Both companies are involved in rocket technology, which is the basis for the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles that are the core of America’s strategic deterrent. Hughes was accused of providing state-secret rocket technology, while Loral was accused of providing the Chinese with “MIRV” (multiple independent reentry vehicles) technology. MIRV technology allows a single ballistic missile to carry ten or more warheads, multiplying the lethality of an already dangerous weapon. Given the stakes involved and the public outrage at the time, relatively little came of the Justice Department’s investigation. Yes, fines were handed out, and some low-level employees were jailed. But overall, these companies continued to operate with hardly a hick-up. However, this episode indicated the commitment of the US Multinational Companies to the “Model.” Phil Knight perfected the business plan years before—combining cheap Chinese labor and plants with US product development and marketing. Apple Follows the Model Around the same time scandals broke for aerospace and defense companies, Tim Cooke at Apple Computer was busy pursuing the “Model.” In 2001, Cooke closed the last Apple assembly plant in California, laying off American workers and transferring those jobs overseas. It was the final step in making Apple a foreign manufacturing company. Apple Store at night. For over twenty years, the “Model” has been the winning combination that has placed Apple at the top of the corporate heap. Today, Apple Computer is the second most valuable company in the world, with outstanding stock performance driving Apple’s market capitalization to more than $2 ½ trillion. Wall Street is never one to argue with success. The Nike/Apple Model of offshore production, onshore development, and marketing has intoxicated US Companies. For the last half-century, US Companies have looked for ways to move their manufacturing anywhere but America, from consumer products to pharmaceutical medicines to heavy machinery. Today, our consumers purchase the “not made in America” label. The “Model” Under Fire It is essential to recognize that several conditions must exist for the “Model” to work: the US dollar must remain strong, providing a favorable exchange rate compared to the Chinese yuan (or other currencies). Relations between the US and China must remain amicable. Chinese regulations for labor and the environment must remain lax. US regulations must continue to allow offshore manufacturing. Finally, China must continue allowing US Multinational companies to access their domestic consumer markets. As you can see, many of these conditions are now fading. Sino-U.S. relations are at a razor’s edge. President Biden’s latest request for spending has earmarked $10 billion in indirect military aid to Taiwan, thereby increasing tensions with China. The US Dollar has performed poorly recently, calling into question its status as the Global Reserve Currency. Presidents Trump and Biden have advocated for multinational offshore production to return to American shores. However, the most important recent development affecting the “Model” was the announcement earlier this week that iPhone sales in China dropped an astounding one-quarter for the first part of 2024. The reason? Increased competition from, of all places, the Chinese homegrown company Huawei. It was stunning. Americans presumed it would be years before Huawei developed a smartphone capable of competing with the signature Apple iPhone. Apple and others thought it would be years before Huawei made a 5G phone. Consequently, Apple would enjoy a significant competitive advantage, which Buffett calls a “moat,” in protecting iPhone sales. Crowded Hauwei Store. Unfortunately for Apple, that’s no longer the case. At the same time that Apple announced that iPhone sales declined by a quarter, Huawei let the world know that their smartphone sales increased by a mind-numbing 65%. Not only had Huawei caught up with Apple in producing a 5G phone, but they also showed that they could outsell the iPhone by gaining market share. All this will no doubt put Apple’s management back on their heels. Huawei’s ascendancy is a concern that Apple will have to address at its next Shareholder Meeting. But what this has done to the “Model” is even more substantial. Global conditions have been dissolving recently, for the first time since Nixon established diplomatic ties with China. Global tensions seem to rise daily as President Biden calls out the Chinese as our number one threat. Stable foreign exchange rates remain questionable as the nations of the South choose to abandon the US Dollar. 1951 Packard Automobile Model 300. However, the most concerning threat to the “Model” has been the rise of Chinese manufacturing capability and the fickle nature of the consumer. I mentioned earlier that the “Hoffman television” and the Packard automobile were two of my family’s prize possessions in the 1950s and ’60s. We considered them the very best that money could buy. We thought they were on the leading edge of electronics and automotive development. However, I suspect many of my readers have never heard of them. You see, although we enjoyed that each product was made in America. But we happily switched when better and cheaper offshore products like the Sony television or the Toyota automobile came along. Today, Apple enjoys the same reputation as Hoffman and Packard. However, should Huawei or some other Chinese company develop a better, lower-cost smartphone (probably not Huawei, which is, after all, facing particular trade restraints in the US), we can expect that consumers, even here in the US, will gladly make the switch. In the end, this would mean that Americans would continue our maniacal trade with China; it’s just that the new products would be under the “made-and-developed-in-China” label. And the American Multinationals would be the latest in a long line of brands to vanish. ** Follow me here on ThinkSpot for more stories from the ValueSide.

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