Why Apple Introduced AR Now

On March 1 of 2017 I wrote a piece in Techpinions titled “How Apple Might Deliver AR on the iPhone.”

In that article I stated-

If Apple decides to bring AR to iPhones soon, I believe Apple’s initial move into AR will be at the platform level and delivered on some next generation iPhones. This is just speculation on my part but it is highly plausible Apple tackles the AR opportunity by creating a special AR SDK kit for iOS that takes full advantage of the two cameras in the iPhone 7 Plus and, most likely, will be in some new iPhone models they release in the fall. There are additional rumors Apple has a special 3D camera coming in some high-end models. If that is true, this camera may also play a key role for user-created AR content on this special AR platform.

By creating an iPhone that supports a special AR SDK, Apple could be well positioned to expand the idea of AR-based apps and features to millions of users almost overnight. Like other SDKs of the past, first generation AR apps could be pretty straightforward and, like Pokemon Go, allow a person to just place virtual objects or specialized information on top of a live image. Imagine going into a museum and pointing the iPhone at a woolly mammoth and seeing information about this animal on your screen. Or, if you are in NYC and have the Empire State Building in your view, you point the camera at it and see data about its dimensions or info on its history.

It could utilize the cameras in innovative ways for anyone to create specialized AR content of their own. Over time, and with a powerful AR SDK kit to work with, developers could innovate on this special platform and create AR content we can’t even imagine at the moment.

Knowing Apple well, it was not much of a stretch to predict how Apple could get into AR. They usually start at a platform level and then create an SDK that allows developers to go crazy on creating innovate apps that help define the focus on Apple’s platform strategy.

Although my comments were pretty accurate on how Apple could get into AR, I had assumed that Apple might wait and introduce it on the new iPhone in the fall and in this case take special advantage of the cameras and maybe even a 3D like camera either integrated or as an accessory.

But at the same time, I told my staff that if Apple were smart they would introduce it at WWDC and help their developers get a start on helping Apple define AR for mobile by the time a new iPhone comes out in the fall.

I had the chance to spend some time with Tim Cook after the event and I asked him why Apple introduced their ARKit SDK now and not in the fall.

He stated that Apple believed that given their platform approach that their AR program should be able to be run on most iPhones and iPads and not be tied to a specific new design if they wanted to move the AR market forward fast.
It is clear from talking to Tim Cook that Apple has a really well baked AR strategy in place and more likely an even grander vision for AR in the future.

When you think about it, this strategic move will most likely allow Apple to become the major leader in AR in mobile almost overnight as Cook said in his keynote and I wrote in the March 1 column on this subject. Although Google has the Tango AR project and SDK out, the fragmentation of Android and the need to create dedicated Tango phones to run Tango AR will make it hard for the Android crowd to compete at this level with Apple.

It was also important to use the iPad as the vehicle to introduce the AR SDK program and give people in multiple markets a look of how it would work on a small and large screen. Cook told me that he believes that there will be serious interest from the enterprise and verticals for their AR apps and the iPad would most likely be the device optimized for the business audience. You can especially see how interior decorators, home furnishing stores, real estate and other similar companies can show off how a piece of furniture might look in an actual home they are selling or about to decorate.

AR will be a huge differentiator for Apple on both the iPhone and iPad and will be another one of Apple’s sticky programs that help Apple expand their base of users and tie them to their echo system. Because Apple announced so many things during the keynote I am not sure the media or the public really understand how big a deal this ARKit SDK program will be for Apple. I imagine that it will eventually become a key building block for them to extend their UI prowess to perhaps even other devices such as a Google or glasses when and if the technology is available to make it acceptable to a mass audience.

Apple’s move into AR will be the thing that brings AR to the masses much sooner than I had anticipated and place them in a powerful position to lead the AR charge to a very broad market fast.

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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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