Our Imagination Widens, Maybe

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Navigating Towards Resilience

I remember when Apple first announced the iPhone. It was 2007, my sophomore year in college. I was looking up stories about it at the Cybernook, a room in the then library building of the De La Salle University where one could surf the Internet for free.

Yes, back in 2007 we didn’t have the Internet in our hands. We did have WAP-capable phones but it was a cumbersome process and the experience just wasn’t the same compared to surfing on a computer. Also, high-speed Internet wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now; I, like many others, relied on dial-up Internet, perhaps using those prepaid services. That, or I spent my idle afternoons at the nearest Netopia indulging in my burgeoning interest in British indie.

Anyway, the iPhone. Imagine having a device that allows you to surf the Internet, send emails, listen to as many MP3s as you want, and more, in a package that fits your hand? Yes, I want that, yes, never mind that I was still a student then and didn’t really have the money to buy that phone, much more support it with expensive mobile plans, or a wifi router at home – something that also wasn’t as widespread at the time.
Sixteen years later, the smartphone is so ubiquitous, it long ceased to become an indicator of how well-off you are. Everyone had one because it was deemed necessary. It allowed us to keep in touch with our friends through social media, or be entertained by streaming YouTube or TikTok or Spotify, or take selfies – lots and lots of them. And sure, these devices existed in one way or another for years, but the introduction of the iPhone didn’t just make it appealing to a greater slice of the population; it broadened their imaginations and showed what can be done.

I remembered all that when Apple confirmed its long-rumored foray into augmented reality and virtual reality – sorry, I mean, “spatial computing” – the Vision Pro. It isn’t a beat-for-beat reprise of what happened to me sixteen years ago, though. For one, I don’t have the urge to have one. I don’t think I want one. I don’t think it’s something I would need. Sure, the tech journalists and reviewers say the hardware is impressive, but I don’t think I’d jump into the chance to be more “immersed” in what I’m watching, not while I’m still making the most of a 4K flat screen. And I’m not saying all this just because it costs roughly PHP 200,000 – and will only be available in the United States, initially.

But I think the Vision Pro is still a watershed moment for augmented reality and virtual reality. Sure, those technologies have been around for a while. There’s a chance you may have experienced it yourself, either through a gaming device or by toying with the iPhone X’s then-novel Animoji function. (Remember that?) Maybe, just maybe, you’ve used a Google Glass. And yes, the Vision Pro isn’t the first AR/VR device in the market these days. Facebook owner Meta, of course, has staked its claim in the “metaverse”, and that includes a stronger push for its Oculus headsets. It was exciting for a while, and then folks who aren’t evangelists to begin with just stopped being excited, or curious.

What makes this different is Apple’s ability to widen our imaginations and show us what is possible. It’s done so with the iPhone, and it might as well do so with the Vision Pro. Perhaps it’s the company’s marketing acumen; perhaps it’s wide media interest. But what’s key here is the timing of the announcement: at least six months before it is released, because they have to sell the device to software developers who would create new programs suited for the new device. From there, anything can happen.

We in supply chain have talked about embracing these emerging technologies for a while now. And, again, the use of AR and VR in our operations is not new – although it has been the domain of well-resourced or more forward-looking operations. (I mean, when the Google Glass came out, we did discuss using that to aid warehouse picking, for example.) But what I think will happen is that the release of the Vision Pro will start a new front in the race to dominate the AR/VR field. Perhaps Meta will begin letting more developers into its ecosystem, allowing them to develop more software for their Quest 2 devices. Perhaps a new player will come in to revolutionize the field further – imagine the smartphone market without the ubiquity of Xiaomi, for instance.

In any case, the ecosystem will definitely grow, and there may be applications specific for our needs across the supply chain. (Imagine, again, a picking system that you can access without pulling up, say, a smartphone, like you do now.) Prices will go down somewhat, and added values will definitely go up. Suddenly, the use of such devices won’t be so unusual in the warehouse. Sure, the discussion now is about using the Vision Pro for personal computing and media consumption, but I feel the future still lies in more industry-specific functions. That happened with smart watches, which pivoted into health monitoring devices with better connectivity.

But then, that’s a few years down the line, and it all depends on what developers believe is possible. Whatever happens, your supply chain operation has to be ready for these possibilities. Our imagination widens, maybe – it’s up to us to make sure we are ready to transform that into reality.

2023 SCMAP Supply Chain Conference: The most prestigious event in Philippine supply chain returns on 21-22 September at the EDSA Shangri-la Manila. Join us as we discuss industry challenges as one supply chain setting transformation in motion. Sponsorship packages are now available; learn more and sign up at scmap.org/events/conference.

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications director of SCMAP, and editor-in-chief of its official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

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