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Rumors of Jony Ive Working With Sam Altman on AI Device Deserve Attention
Apple, Artificial Intelligence
The Financial Times has reported that Jony Ive, Sam Altman, and SoftBank are in talks to build an AI consumer device, likely a wearable. My guess is this never sees the light of day, but given the players involved it's worth considering its impact. Apple is in a good spot given the strength of its ecosystem makes it difficult for a one-off product to sway Apple users. Samsung on the other hand would be more at risk.

Key Takeaways

Jony Ive would do this if he believed he could design a foundational product for the next computing paradigm, spatial computing.
I don't think this product would be an iPhone killer, but rather something competitive in the emerging wearables space.
As for timing, it's unlikely this product gets released. If it is real, it will take five plus years to get to market.
As for competition, I believe Apple will be fine because they have a billion plus users that are locked into their ecosystem. Samsung does not have that luxury.

Incentives to create a new AI Device

For starters, here’s a link to the Financial Times story.

For those who don’t remember, Jony Ive joined Apple in 1992 and was the design soul of the company through 2019. During that time, he was responsible for the design of the iPod, iPhone, iPad, Watch, and AirPods.  In other words, he’s by far the most iconic tech designer in the world. In 2019 he formed LoveFrom, a design studio, which worked with Apple through 2022.

It’s easy to understand why Sam Altman would want to do this. OpenAI has a killer AI product and has been looking for ways to increase engagement. The reason why Jony Ive would want to do this is because he is in a unique camp of people who want to change the world. Maybe he sees something related to the integration of AI into the world via some AI hardware form. For him to step into a game like this, he must see something profound that is worth putting his reputation on the line.


Likely form factor

Some of the headlines suggest this device is the “iPhone of Artificial Intelligence.” I think this is a misrepresentation, and will most likely be some sort of wearable like glasses or a watch. Jony is not a fan of screen time, which is further evidence this is not a phone. More broadly this gives credibility to the Metaverse and spatial computing and a new hardware layer that brings the physical and digital worlds together.


Potential timing

Bringing a device like this from concept to market is a 5-10 year project. That’s how long Apple worked on the iPhone before it launched and how long Meta has been working on its wearables. In other words, if the partnership comes together it will take years for a product to emerge.


Competitive impact

As for competition, if it comes together, it would represent the most notable threat to Apple and Samsung. That’s because when there is a paradigm shift, the tech hierarchy can get shuffled up. Just as Dell, HP, Blackberry, Nokia, and Motorola were all once leaders and are now afterthoughts. Apple knows the risk of a paradigm shift and that’s why they’re investing so heavily in Vision Pro.

Notice that I didn’t use the words significant threat because Apple will be fine for two reasons. First, it’s really hard to pull off consumer hardware that just works. It takes more than two leaders to do that. It takes a whole company. Second, Apple’s products are entrenched in their users’ lives. Any competitive product would have to be 10x better for someone to introduce their new hardware into their tech ecosystem. Samsung on the other hand, would be more in danger. Samsung’s consumers typically own one product, a phone, and don’t own a tech ecosystem which makes it easier for them to jump ship.


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