Apple’s Bullish Position on Augmented Reality

During last week’s earnings call, Tim Cook mentioned a couple of times how excited he is about products in the pipeline. While he did not reference anything specific, I am convinced that much of his excitement is around what they are doing in AR.

Of course they are doing exciting things with Mac’s, iPad’s, iPhones, Apple Watch, Apple TV and Services, etc. However, AR is a new frontier for Apple that at least on paper, promises great return for them in the future.

One of the best pieces I have seen written on the future impact of AR was done recently by Wired entitled “Mirrorworld.”

The article lays out quite well the the evolution of the three digital platforms that has and will drive our future:

“The first big technology platform was the web, which digitized information, subjecting knowledge to the power of algorithms; it came to be dominated by Google. The second great platform was social media, running primarily on mobile phones. It digitized people and subjected human behavior and relationships to the power of algorithms, and it is ruled by Facebook and WeChat.

We are now at the dawn of the third platform, which will digitize the rest of the world. On this platform, all things and places will be machine-­readable, subject to the power of algorithms. Whoever dominates this grand third platform will become among the wealthiest and most powerful people and companies in history, just as those who now dominate the first two platforms have. Also, like its predecessors, this new platform will unleash the prosperity of thousands more companies in its ecosystem, and a million new ideas—and problems—that weren’t possible before machines could read the world.

The article goes on to lay out how AR will be a key part of this third platform that digitizes the rest of the world and explains well why AR is important and will drive new innovation in the coming decade.

But this is the money statement in the article:

“Whoever dominates this grand third platform will become among the wealthiest and most powerful people and companies in history, just as those who now dominate the first two platforms have.”

It’s no wonder that Tim Cook and Apple officials, who know their AR strategy and, more importantly, know how they will implement AR into their eco system of products and services, are bullish these days.

After the WWDC keynote that Cook introduced AR Kit and spoke about their deep interest in AR, I had some time with Tim Cook at a private reception that evening. He had come early to the event, as did I, and was very open to spending some time with me to discuss AR. In fact, he was very animated when he shared his thoughts with me and even said that that for Apple “AR may be one of Apple’s biggest product contributions and successes in the future.”

Given their success with the iPhone, that was a pretty heady statement. But I could tell that he was sincere in his view and not being boastful or in Apple promo mode, but rather stating how important he saw AR to Apple’s future.

Many people have already experienced AR in some form. If you ever played Pokemon Go, you know how digital content can be superimposed on real life objects and spaces. The iPhone has many apps already that integrate AR into applications, such as the iKea app that lets you place virtual furniture into any rome in a house. Bit the apps are teasers.

Apple gave us another glimpse of AR being used in Apple maps at WWDC that will appear later this year. Instead of a flat 2D map we have today on IOS and Mac’s, these new maps are more 3D oriented with virtual data being superimposed on a person’s surroundings. This particular AR feature on their maps is best on an iPhone and iPad or their eventual AR glasses, and when walking instead of driving. But the short demo they showed was impressive and when AR is applied to maps, it will be a game changer in terms of personal navigation.

What is intriguing about Apple’s role in AR, is that they are most likely the company that will bring AR to the masses. There is a lot of work going on in AR from many companies but almost all are making AR devices in siloed efforts. While Google is the other company that could challenge Apple head on, the fragmentation of Android will make it harder for them to gain the kind of quick buy in where a IOS and its earlier iterations in most cases will allow for backward compatibility from any AR app or related solutions Apple brings to market. I do suspect that a special version of an iPhone that will be optimized for some type of AR glasses will be designed to maximize the experience. But, I also think that Apple will make AR glasses work with existing iPhones too, albeit without some extra AR capabilities that would come with an iPhone designed around glasses as an extension of the AR experience.

An iPhone will be the delivery system for most AR apps from Apple, but Apple clearly understands that some type of goggle or headset also needs to be part of their AR solution. They have many patents in the works on AR but the most recent patent applied for shows a mixed reality headset that tracks your whole face.

While it is impossible to completely decipher what Tim Cook and team are talking about when they say that they are excited about what is in Apple’s pipeline, I am convinced that the greatest excitement is around what they are doing in AR and how that will impact Apple’s longer term growth.

If Wired’s comment that the people or company who dominate AR “will become among the wealthiest and most powerful people and companies in history,” if accurate, Apple’s fortunes will be rising, not falling.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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