On numerous occasions, Apple CEO Tim Cook has stated that he is extremely excited about AR and believes it will usher in a new era in mobile computing. I have done many interviews on Cook’s comments with media and industry folks about Apple’s overall optimism about AR and I tell them that I believe Apple is moving in a very calculated manner when it comes to how their AR strategy plays out.
One big lesson we learned from Google Glasses is that you don’t just bring out a new technology like glasses without doing a lot of prep work in advance. Google Glasses was targeted at consumers and was a disaster that has tainted their position in this space since they were introduced.
I have always maintained that any new technology gets started at the high end and vertical segments of a market where it is flushed out and can find companies and customers who are willing to pay the early high prices because it meets a specific need. That should have been Google Glasses target market with their first generation of glasses. Only now, three years later, are they doing a new version of Google Glasses that are just targeted at vertical markets. How successful they will be is hard to tell as many other major glasses and goggle makers have been doing glasses for vertical markets for over 20 years and still less then 1-million of these are sold worldwide each year.
I believe Apple understands this market very well and knows that doing AR glasses now and even in the next two years would be folly without many years of getting people use to AR on their smartphones before even suggesting that there is another way to deliver AR that could be more optimal for any AR experience. Indeed, What Apple has done and continued to do so well is to enhance their hardware as they have with the iPhone X so that developers can create AR apps using the new cameras and sensors built into Apple’s top of the line smartphone.
While the optimal AR experience will be on an iPhone X, they have made AR apps work with iPhone 5’s and up. The heart of their strategy lies in the idea that with AR on the iPhone, they can introduce mainstream users to AR and use the iPhone as a way to make AR easily understandable to consumers and give them cool apps that are imaginative and useful for everyday activities.
A good example is of course the IKEA app that lets you place furniture in a blank room through their AR app on the iPhone and iPad so a person can virtually see how it would look in any room. Or the various ones that use AR to see the exact image of your face and then tells you the size of the glasses you should order online. You can keep track of new AR apps here.
Think of the next few years leading up to 2020 as the evangelistic period for Apple to get all of their users use to and engaged in AR apps on the iPhone and make these apps indispensable to them over this period. During this time we will see Apple enhance AR Kit, bring more AR technology to at least two new models of iPhones created during that period so that when they do introduce their AR glasses most likely in 2020, it will just be a natural evolution of their user interfaces.
From the time Steve Jobs introduced the Mac, Apple has been on the leading edge of user interfaces. With the Mac they gave us the graphical user interface and a mouse. With the iPhone they gave us touch screens, gestures, and most recently voice and Touch ID and Face ID as new elements of their user interface design and progress.
I believe from a hardware standpoint Apple could deliver glasses as early as 2019 but I don’t see that in the design plan. Rather, they are not here to beat anyone to market with AR glasses. Indeed, I suspect many AR glasses will come out from competitors between now and 2020. Instead, Apple will play to the big long-term win and only bring them to market when they are certain that their customers will be ready for what will be for most a radical addition to the Apple experience.
In the chart below, you see how the VC community has already decided that AR is where they should invest in a big way. Although VR came to market much earlier even they understand that VR will have its greatest impact in vertical markets and AR is the technology that will eventually have the biggest impact on the market.
Tim Cook and his team have a grand plan to make AR the heart of their future products and user interfaces. It is easy to see that using the plan I suggested above how they could achieve a strong position in AR and make it a mainstream technology in the next decade. That is why when you hear Tim Cook talk about AR, he does it with such confidence. He knows that if they do this right they could dominate this space and change mobile computing again in ways Steve Jobs perhaps did not even dream about when he was still here with us.