So the internet is ablaze with MS’s new HoloLens, and Polygon has a sober reaction. Famed Apple blogger, John Gruber reposted his fantastic 2011 critique of Microsoft.

But the exact same criticism I have for Microsoft today applies to 1987 Apple. “Knowledge Navigator” encapsulates everything that was wrong with Apple in 1987. Their coolest products were imaginary futuristic bullshit. The mindset and priorities of Apple’s executive leadership in 1987 led the company to lose what was then an enormous usability and user experience lead over the rest of the industry, and eventually drove the company to the precipice of bankruptcy. That 1987 Apple was a broken company is so painfully obvious from today’s vantage point that I didn’t think it needed to be mentioned.

“Knowledge Navigator” didn’t help Apple in any way. Apple never made such a product. It didn’t bring Siri to us any sooner than if that video had never been made. It only served to distract from and diminish Apple’s then-current actual products. 

- John Gruber, November 1st, 2011, daringfireball

Futuristic bullshit indeed.

 Anyone remember the Nokia Morph? No? In February of 2008, Nokia decided that it was time to showcase the future of nanotechnology, touting that its features could be seen as early as 2015 on high end devices. It was a shot across the bow at Apple, who was widely seen as the most innovative company in the world. 

Mind you, this was 5 years before the 2013-2014 hypegasm over wearables, and only a few short months before the second revision of the iPhone, the 3G. Smartphones were the new “it” product.

So here we are in 2015  almost none of the Morph’s features are available in the real world on a device of its type, other than the an ability to accept phone calls on your wrist (mostly aided by a cellphone). A short list of things that don’t exist: solar charging, completely transparent, raisable face, completely bendable surface, and so on.

Worst yet, Nokia isn’t even making smart watches, and its a backseat in the smart phone market, nearly forgotten. 

So what ends did Morph gain Nokia? Arguably nothing, other than being likeminded to its new MS overlords for a willingness to create concept videos.

The moral of the story is ideas are cheap, execution is not. Simply unveiling the Hololens probably would have been enough and letting the technology speak for itself. Its damn impressive, but wholly dishonest when the concept video is compared to the actual product


Having spent more time pondering, I think its important to draw a line between distinctions of vaporware and prototype hype videos. The Morph and Knowledge Finder was purely science-fiction, the HoloLens is real and has a strong possibility of shipping.

What Microsoft is trying to do is illustrate the potential of the HoloLens but set expectations beyond what the first few generations will be able to accomplish (assuming it ships and lasts long enough to mature).

In the case of the Surface, we’ve seen a natural progression and evolution through the magic of product cycles. Despite the misstep of the Surface RT, by all accounts the Surface Pro lineup has matured into a polished product. 

There’s no reason to create fanciful fiction for the HoloLens, its already the anti-Google Glass and counter Oculus Rift/Sony Project Morpheus. Instead an omnipresent face computer meant to overtake your life or blot out the world you live in, the HoloLens looks to compliment it. 

/edit #2 Jan 23 2015:

“It did remind me of [Kinect]. You kind of want to scream ‘don’t over promise these things’…My fear is that when you actually put the device on you’re not as blown away as you should be”

Molyneux commented, “The bizarre thing is a huge amount of effort and time and money goes into researching the tech, like the Kinect tech and scanning the bodies, and there’s always this one line that hardware manufacturers - whether it be Microsoft or anyone else - say and that’s 'we can’t wait to see what happens when it gets into the hands of developers.’ Now if Apple had said that when they introduced the iPhone, I don’t think we’d ever end up with the iPhone! What really should happen is that they put a similar amount of money into researching just awesome real world applications that you’ll really use and that work robustly and smoothly and delightfully.

Peter Molyneux (Former MS employee, designer of Fable) interviewed by former MS exec, James Brightman , GameIndustry.Biz

Indeed. Creating a product and hoping people find uses for it is the wrong way to go.