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iPod creator sees Apple tackling another new hardware category

Tony Fadell, the former Apple executive who helped develop the iPod and iPhone, thinks the company will push into another major new hardware category over the next decade — but probably not two.

Apple has been working on car technology and augmented-reality glasses, sparking speculation that one of those categories could be its “next big thing.” Fadell, in a wide-ranging interview on Bloomberg Television, demurred over whether one of those might be Apple’s next breakthrough. But he does think the company will attempt a significant hardware launch.

“And you’ll see a lot more accessories like Air Pods and things of that nature,” he said. There’s also plenty of room to enhance Apple’s existing product lines, Fadell added. “Just because you want to see a new hardware platform or a new thing — that’s not the only place you innovate,” he said. “You innovate in all kinds of software and services.”

One area that Fadell doesn’t see as promising is the metaverse — a concept touted by Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg that would let people work, play and exercise in a virtual-reality world.

“I heard about the metaverse in 1988 when we were doing VR glasses back in the day,” said Fadell, now a principal at Future Shape LLC. “I’m still skeptical it’s going to be a big thing. I think it’s going to be big in corporate and industrial. But to get that emotional aspect for consumers to want to be in it all the time? That’s tough.”

He also warned about unintended consequences of technology — including in a field he helped pioneer — referring to smartphones as the “refrigerator for all this dystopia that we see with social media.” Fadell said it is incumbent on tech executives to regulate themselves, and not to expect the government to do it. He referred to a decision by former Apple CEO Steve Jobs not to sell porn on the iTunes store, despite arguments that the category would be extremely popular and profitable.

“Steve got up and said, ‘Is this the kind of society we want to live in? Is this what we want to have our kids use as products?’” Fadell said. “It goes down to executive teams and boards of these teams to make sure they are self-regulating.”

Fadell also served as co-founder and CEO of Nest Labs, the smart-thermostat startup that was sold to Google in 2014.

But even with a background in smart devices, he thinks there are limits to what makers of the technology should do.

“You have to really look at what you’re trying to do — less is more,” he said. “They’ve tried microwaves, clocks. They need to focus and say, ‘These are the things that really matter.”

The indoor surveillance drone developed by Amazon.com Inc.’s Ring division may be one device that pushes things too far, he said. “I’m like, ‘Come on, really?’”

© 2021 Bloomberg

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