Saturday, February 24, 2024
Apple Vision ProOpinions

Tim Cook: The Modern-Day Tom Sawyer

By Steve Slavin

Back in the day when I was in high school, we read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain. Tom, then a schoolboy, was given the unpaid chore of painting the fence of his family’s house. But Tom did such a good job convincing his friends that this chore was so much fun that they were willing to pay him for the privilege.

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has just pulled off the same stunt, though on a much grander scale. He has conned over 200,000 Apple customers to folk over nearly $4,000 for the privilege of personally testing and then critiquing the company’s most promising consumer product since the introduction of the i-phone back in 2007.

The Vision Pro headset, a one pound and three-ounce personal computer, has already captured the attention of hundreds of millions of Apple customers all over the world, who had long been awaiting the company’s next best thing. Could this be it? After incorporating the feedback from this vast group of product-testers, Apple may soon have another cash machine of i-phone proportions.

Apple products – from the earliest Macs in the 1980s to the i-phone — and now the Vision Pro headset – have been considered not just very useful products, but even “status symbols.” They show off the good taste and the relative affluence of their owners – albeit not as gauchely as diamond necklaces or three-hundred-foot yachts.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the prominent economist and social critic, Thorstein Veblen, wrote the still relevant book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. In it, he stated that “Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure.”

Today, of course, the folks at Apple would maintain the exact opposite. Surely, most of their products – from the first Macs to the Vision Pro headset – are not so much status symbols as they are work tools. Of course, only a cynic might ask if you really need to wear your work computer over your face.

After years of development, Apple has sold the world’s first wearable personal computers to their relatively affluent customers to road test – at their own expense – and then provide the company with exceedingly valuable feedback.

Why didn’t Apple initially manufacture more than 200,000 Vision Pros?  Surely, they could have provided sufficient lead time since the company itself set the launch date.

Perhaps they planned an initial shortage to create a manipulated pent-up demand for the new device. Or possibly, there was a manufacturing problem.

Another question: Why were sales limited to just the U.S.? An economist – not a psychologist –I will not even try to get into the heads of Tim Cook and his merry band of Appleteers.

We do know that there will be new and improved iterations of the Vision Pro. And in their wake, vast numbers of Apple fans lining up to be among the first to lay their hands on them.

Viewing this product launch as more of a long-term learning experience than a short-term profit opportunity, Tim Cook and company may still end up selling as many as a million units by the end of this year. Still, they’ll surely consider what they learn during the coming months of much greater value than what they earn.

Whether or not Tim Cook is aware that his Apple Pro Vision launch is basically a later-day version of Tom Sawyer’s fence-painting business, he will have tens of thousands of buyers  provide invaluable feedback. That, in turn, will enable Apple to continually improve this product – earning the company perhaps tens – or even hundreds of billions in profits in the coming years.

So even if the Apple Corp is actually losing money on this product because of its huge development costs, in the long run the Pro Vision may rival the profits earned by the i-phone. But wait: there’s still more!

What Cook and company may learn from customer feedback just this year may enable it to go forward enhancing existing products and services with artificial intelligence (AI)– and even new ones not yet dreamed up.

To all this, let me add my own bit of advice: Reward the customers who come up with the best critiques, perhaps with next generation Pro Vision computers Combining the wisdom of Mark Twain and Robert Frost, we can conclude that “Good fences make good painters.”

Full disclosure: I own Apple stock.  

Steve Slavin has a PhD in economics from New York University, taught economics for thirty-one years, and wrote about twenty math and economics books, including an introductory economics text with McGraw-Hill, now in its twelfth edition, and “The Great American Economy” with Prometheus Books.

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