Apple CEO Tim Cook has been hyping up the coming revolution of augmented reality technology (AR), stating that it will change the way consumers interact with the world around them. In fact, last October, he said that people will “have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you.”
Apple clearly intends to bring AR to the masses. In the last few years, the company has acquired Metaio, which developed AR technology, and Thomas Alt, the former CEO, now works for Apple investigating strategic technologies for investment. FlyBy Media, a firm that developed AR applications for camera software, became another acquisition in 2016. And it’s an open secret that Cook made a visit to Magic Leap, which has been developing AR-eyewear technology. With all of these acquisitions and statements, all signs are pointing to Apple pioneering AR technology development.
Putting Together A High-Profile Team
In addition to acquisitions, Apple has recruited Mike Rockwell, the former Dolby executive who also served as an advisor to Meta, a maker of AR glasses. Since he signed onto Apple, Rockwell has been busy assembling a top-notch AR team. To date, members include Fletcher Rothkopf, who helped in designing the Apple Watch, and Tomlinson Holman, the creator of the THX audio standard spun off from Lucasfilm.
They continue to bring in a variety of experts that specialize in hard- and software: Cody White, the lead engineer for Amazon’s VR platform; Duncan McRoberts, who headed up Meta’s software development; 3D tech experts like Yury Petrov from Oculus and Avi Bar-Zeev who worked on both MicroSoft’s HoloLens and Google Earth.
The AR team includes engineers who have experience with cameras, optical lenses, and the iPhone, as well as special-effects employees. Their office in Wellington, New Zealand is rumored even to be recruiting from Weta Digital.
The AR Market is Set to Expand Quickly
The stakes are high for Apple and anyone else interested in AR. A recent study by Global Market Insights predicts an 80% growth rate in demand in the AR products space by 2024, pegging the total market at around $165 billion. Industry watchers predict that AR products of all kinds eventually will replace current mobile devices, including the iPhone. In order to stay relevant and competitive Apple must evolve with the market, if not dominate it.
Growing the AR market faces two major challenges: Battery life and hardware. Current technology for AR glasses, for example, are either light-weight products that lack power or bulky goggles that are uncomfortable to wear. Apple’s reputation for sleek, useable products is on the line to find that hardware sweet spot.
Apple Has the Tech and Experience to Make it Work
Including AR features on the iPhone is within current capabilities, but not enough to jumpstart the market. Augmented reality glasses, on the other hand, have the potential to offer next-level apps like immersive games, rich media content, and straightforward apps that provide daily utility.
An iPhone will likely tether to AR glasses and power them, much like what the company did with the Apple Watch. However, developing long-lasting battery life and apps that consumers want to use will be critical to making it work. Sourcing the raw materials to manufacture these gadgets will also be crucial in order to offer them to the mass market at an affordable price.
Apple is devoting its significant engineering resources to the product development. Interesting ideas being explored are AR-related iPhone features like creating depth within photographs, or manipulating isolated features within photographs.
Taking cues from the way Snapchat functions, consumers would likely be able to place special effects or objects on photographs, too. The company already has some of the necessary technology, like depth-sensing and algorithms, through its earlier acquisition of the Israeli company PrimeSense.
The direction Apple chooses to go with these ideas and technologies remains to be seen. With the hated Google Glass as the cautionary tale, the company can take its time learning from mistakes. It would not be the first time Apple lets others enter the market early, only to come in with better products that dominate the space. If past is prologue, Apple can be depended on to find the path to success.