Comment: Why did some of Apple’s brightest inventors go to work with Android at Humane?

I’ve been looking forward to getting a glimpse of what the people at Humane are working on for years. The company, founded by Apple inventors Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri, was launched in 2019 and has kept its work completely secret. Humane’s website said the company’s mission is to create “innovative technology that feels familiar, natural and human.” They want to build “the best human experience ever”. It’s a tall order, and so far what that meant was unclear.

Fund

Imran Chaudhri was at Apple from 1995 to 2016, and his name has been featured on hundreds of patents for groundbreaking user interface inventions. One of them is the infamous “Slide to unlock” patent. Chaudhri is also responsible for the design of the iPhone home screen, among many other macOS and iOS conventions. Bethany Bongiorno was at Apple from 2008 to 2016 and helped lead software development for iPhone, iPad, and later the Mac. Both appeared at WWDC 2016 to showcase new features in Messages, marking their first major public appearance in the business. But a few months later, the duo left the company.

In 2019, they announced they were launching their own tech company called Humane and recruited dozens of former Apple employees who have worked on other legendary products. Ken Kocienda, the creator of the iPhone’s touchscreen keyboard, joined the company in December 2020 as a product architect. Gary Schulz, a member of Apple’s industrial design group from 2007 to 2019, joined Humane in August last year as a senior industrial designer. Humane’s chief services officer, Jeremy Werner, oversaw the engineering for iCloud, Apple Pay, Home, and more. These names are only scratching the surface. Almost 50% of Humane’s workforce are former Apple employees. Everything they’re working on is interesting enough to pique the interest of some of the best and brightest inventors of our time.

Patents

Our friends from 9to5Google recently discovered a patent issued in 2020 that shows what appears to be a “body worn device” that “does not include a screen, allowing the user to continue to interact with friends, family and colleagues without being immersed in a screen. ”Interestingly,“ minimal user interaction ”seems to be the primary focus of the product.

A user would wear a “laser projection system” that can turn any surface around you into a screen that can be removed when you no longer need it. It is essentially projected augmented reality. According to the patent,

Laser projection can label objects, provide text or object instructions, and provide an ephemeral user interface (eg, keyboard, numeric keypad, device controller) that allows the user to compose messages , control other devices or just share and discuss content with others.

Humane’s product apparently includes a camera, a 3D camera, and a depth sensor. Combined, these three components can identify objects in the real world and apply digital images to them. Humane’s product is certainly not a set of smart glasses, but rather a combination of the camera body and a portable battery. The product patent also features a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, heart rate sensor, and the ability to connect headphones.

Android

In addition to discovering patents, 9to5Google also looked at job postings at the company and found plenty of comments on Android’s development. Like many other tech companies, it looks like Humane is not developing its own dedicated operating system, but rather a fork of Android. Meta used Android to create the Oculus operating system with its own app platform. Humane seems to be planning a similar situation with an ecosystem of apps specifically geared towards its version of Android. Examples mainly include lifestyle apps for “personal live broadcast”, “senior watch”, “memory recall” and “personal guide”.

It’s fascinating to see so many former Apple software developers seemingly working with Android, a platform many see as a direct clone of their work. It’s unclear why Imran, Bethany, and many others left Apple to join Humane, but you can assume they didn’t agree with the company’s current vision. Humane seems to be creating products that fit more naturally into your world and offer a much healthier feature set to improve your quality of life. They clearly don’t want to create another screen that you get glued to and addicted to.

Duopoly effect

Using Android makes a lot of sense in the grand scheme of things. There are two established software platforms for mobile devices: iOS and Android. One of them is untouchable and the other is infinitely malleable. Previously, I expected Humane to develop its own operating system from scratch given the number of former Apple software engineers the company has hired. But due to the duopoly that forced even Meta to abandon its plan to create a dedicated VR / AR operating system, Humane likely chose Android because it already has a solid foundation to work with.

Render of the alleged Apple headset (Ian Zelbo)

While it’s disappointing to see another company forced to work with one of the two mobile operating systems rather than create something entirely new, it’s still exciting. This will be the first time we see the perspective of Apple’s pioneers on Android.

Retain talent

Apple appears to be struggling to retain top talent, as many have left the company for competitors. As I said above, almost 50% of Humane employees worked at Apple. From creative directors and purchasing managers to long-time engineers, people from all walks of Apple have joined Humane.

More recently, Apple has started offering large stock bonuses to some employees in an attempt to get them to stay with the company. It is not clear why people leave so often, however. This can be for several reasons. It could be visions of a duel or something as boring as massive pay raises. But regardless, people have left big teams at Apple, and that’s obviously not good for tech companies.

Expectations

My expectations are extremely high for Humane. The caliber of people the company has recruited to lead the development of its first product is simply exceptional. It has attracted the brightest minds in the field of technological input. Hopefully, the talent of the company will be able to make the first truly awesome ambient computing product that doesn’t interfere with our lives and our health. It seems that they build a subtle natural supplement to our body rather than an addictive extension.

There is something quite admirable about this. This group has developed products that have shaped the lives of billions of people over the past decades. You could argue that this is a course correction, that they are not happy with the way people have become addicted to technology. I’m sure that’s part of the story, but I also see it as a natural development.

Almost all of the big companies in the valley are working to put screens on our faces. Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft are all working hard to develop what they believe is the next phase in the evolution of consumer technology products. But Humane is developing a countertop product that seems to offer much of the same functionality without putting ubiquitous glasses on your face. It’s clear that the future of mobile technology is changing the world, it’s just a matter of who does it best.

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