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Apple CEO Tim Cook is upbeat about the future of augmented reality (AR) but believes the technology for AR headsets isn't ready to deliver a "quality experience" that customers would enjoy.
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Later this month consumers will be able to buy several Microsoft partners' mixed reality headsets from $299. But like Facebook's Oculus Rift, these sit on the virtual reality end of the spectrum, compared with Microsoft's $3,000 augmented reality HoloLens headset that displays holograms over real scenes.
Despite the emergence of AR headgear, Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Independent newspaper that the "technology itself doesn't exist" to build AR headsets and glasses in a "quality way".
"The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face - there's huge challenges with that. The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it's not there yet," said Cook.
HoloLens has been adopted by some large businesses such as Volvo and Ford, but one of its widely noted shortcomings is its narrow field of view, which requires the wearer to move around to see holograms in a room and work more to figure out what's going on.
Apple's acquisitions and patents suggest it is exploring ways to overcome the challenges of creating a better augmented reality headset, but Cook suggests an actual product is a while off.
"We don't give a rat's about being first, we want to be the best, and give people a great experience. But now anything you would see on the market any time soon would not be something any of us would be satisfied with. Nor do I think the vast majority of people would be satisfied," he said.
Apple has launched iOS 11, which comes with ARKit, to get developers started building AR apps for the iPhone and iPad. Since ARKit is supported on all iOS devices with Apple A9, A10, and A11 processors, developers can build AR apps for iOS that will work on all iPhones through to 2015's iPhone 6S and iPhone SE.
Using the iPhone to lead its AR efforts rather than a new headset meant that developers instantly have "hundreds of millions of potential customers", said Cook.
"If it were on a different device then you would never have a commercial opportunity, and without the commercial opportunity you'd never have 15 million [developers] that say, 'I want to design my passion with AR'," he said.
Cook boasted that unlike Apple, its rivals don't enjoy the combination of control over hardware and software that ties back into the App Store. He predicts that AR will follow the same trajectory as the App Store.
"Think back to 2008, when the App Store went live. There was the initial round of apps and people looked at them and said, 'this is not anything, mobile apps are not going to take off'.
"And then step by step things start to move. And it is sort of a curve, it was just exponential -- and now you couldn't imagine your life without apps. Your health is on one app, your financials, your shopping, your news, your entertainment -- it's everything.
"AR is like that. It will be that dramatic."
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