What Zuck Saw–A Beyond Mobile Book Extract
[NOTE: This is an extract from Beyond Media–Life After Smartphones, a new book I am writing with Robert Scoble. We are looking for feedback, which you can leave here, on Messenger or at shelisrael1@gmail. We are also looking for funding from corporate or individual sponsors. As self-publishers, we count on readers like you to cover the costs of writing, publishing and marketing our new book]
In April 2016, Mark Zuckerberg stood before an audience of 1700 at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center. Another 100,000 watched a worldwide livestream. He was keynoting at F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference. In the room were luminaries and media, but mostly, developers from around the world.
Wearing his signature gray t-shirt and blue jeans, clasping a large handheld microphone, he was simultaneously relaxed and passionate in his hour-long keynote. He had become more polished over the years, while maintaining a transparent and accessible style.
He covered a great deal of ground, laying out a ten-year strategy that drove Facebook toward its often-stated corporate mission of connecting all people on Earth, dabbling into social and political issues along the way.
He came to the culmination of his ten-year product vision about midway into his talk, revealing it on a huge slide that showed what appeared to be a simple pair of everyday glasses. It drew applause in the room, and kudos from people watching the livestream and posting on Facebook.
His point was clear: In the next decade, many—if not most—of the world’s two billion smartphone users would abandon their ever-present handsets for new headsets that looked as unobtrusive and fashionable as something you’d get from Warby Parker or LensCrafters. It was destined to be the ultimate connecting device.
We are quite certain that Facebook’s many large competitors and partners were watching and nearly all of them saw the coming of the new device envisioned by Zuck: they just saw a different brand name on it. Each was racing toward products that ultimately were similar.
These companies had spent many years and much money in research, development and acquisition. The best minds in technology, neuroscience, industry, communications, and health had been working toward such an ultimate device for many years, and now the solutions were coming into reality and they were coming fast.
As Zuck stood on the F8 stage, he headed the world’s sixth most valuable company. There were more users of Facebook properties than any other company on Earth. But those assets did not necessarily give Facebook the edge over the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Alibaba, Samsung, and Sony, not to mention startups with some of the largest financial backings in history.
It is a vision that is also being embraced by the world’s largest consumer brands, household names and well-recognized icons like Nestle, Anheuser Bush, Tesla, The Home Depot, the NFL and NBA, Proctor & Gamble, Macy’s, the New York Times, automakers, energy companies, healthcare providers, and educators.
It is a vision that started before the microprocessor was born, coming from fiction writers rather than scientists, Sci-fi masters like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein. Each showed a vision that ignited 50 years of trial and error by technologist and scientists, some legendary and others forgotten.
And now, it is the vision of many of the world’s leading corporate strategists and entrepreneurial disruptors. They are all working day-and-night to develop products in the near tomorrow that culminate more than half a century of vision and baby steps, and trials and errors.
In his talk, Zuck mentioned the companies that Facebook had acquired since going public in 2012, acquisitions that more often drew more scorn than praise. There were the issues of very high acquisition costs for companies with little or no revenue.
It made little sense to most observers how these companies fit together. But as he talked each of the pieces seemed finally to fit snugly together like a jigsaw puzzle.
The first major acquisition was Instagram, an online community of photo lovers, acquired for $1 billion in 2012. At the time, Instagram had about 30 million users. Four years later, Instagram had grown to 400 million visitors per month and was the second largest social network after Facebook itself.
Next came an attempt to buy Snapchat. Zuck tried but failed to buy it for $3 billion. At the time, Facebook was heavily criticized for offering that much for a company that had close to zero revenue. Snapchat was criticized even more heavily for refusing it. Now, it is the fastest growing social network, particularly among Millennials and younger users. In our view, it is the one that got away, and we’ll talk more about that later.
In 2014, Facebook acquired Whatsapp for $19 billion, an amount that had many financial analysts apoplectic because of the acquisition’s extremely high cost. At the time, WhatsApp had about 430 million users. By April 2016, it had one billion. If Facebook’s goal is to connect all people, then Whatsapp has already added a billion more users and they are users in the fastest emerging countries such as China, India, the Philippines, Kenya and Indonesia.
Zuck also saw that there is a need for the app economy to consolidate. People don’t want more apps; they want fewer that do more things. He rightfully identified messaging as a likely winner in consolidation, and spun Messenger out of the Facebook social network where it doubled in size over two years to 900 million users.
As we write, Facebook’s own Messenger and Whatsapp are the world’s two largest and fastest growing message platforms.
The third acquisition came a few months later in 2014, when Facebook acquired Oculus, a productless VR company whose headsets seemed designed just for games and entertainment. It is all that, but it has become clear that it is Facebook’s most significant step on the road to devices that will be appealing, useful and affordable enough to replace smartphones as the device of choice for billions of people.
Plain Old Eyeglasses
Let’s look more closely at those glasses that Zuck showed. They have the thick frames of prescription glasses that are currently popular with many people, particularly Millennials these days.
But the ones that Zuck is talking about, will still have these features, but they will do a great deal more: a great deal.
Embedded in each lens will be a tiny screen whose incredibly complex technology will provide each eye with overlapping images that will be eight times richer than the HD on your TV, and will provide the same visual effect as a 90-inch screen, except that it will have 3D functionality and a level of surround sound you have probably not yet heard.
The frames will contain a computer as well as Wifi and Bluetooth capability. The glasses will see where your eyes go and with your voice command or gesture, will provide you with deep information on who or what you are looking at.
On one setting, these glasses will work as current glasses do, but on another, your actual surrounding will darken and you will be immersed in the other worldliness of virtual reality. A third setting, will provide the most important visual display ever provided in the form of Augmented Reality, which we will explain in a couple of chapters.
These new devices will be called mixed reality glasses. They will come in a great variety of fashionable designs and their prices will vary within the ranges that eyeglass prices vary today.
These MR Glasses will do everything a smart phone–or computer–does today, except they will do it better. You will be able to observe multiple computer displays for spreadsheets. To perform word processing tasks, you will type with your eyes—faster than you can type on a full keyboard, not to mention the tiny ones on your phone. But mostly you will use voice and gestures to do what you want.
Your MR Glasses will connect to everything via the Internet of Things [IoT], and to everyone through visual social networks. When you want to talk with someone, you will be able to not just see that person, your holographic representations will appear in the same room with each other. Through haptic technology, you will be able to shake hands, hug, kiss–or whatever.
Not only that, but it is very likely that no cellular carrier will be involved, and you will have no need to get locked into multiyear contracts and larcenous roaming fees.