A recent interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook has offered up some interesting tidbits on how Apple will approach the subject of AR (Augmented Reality).
In an interview with The Independent, Cook at this to say on the subject of AR:
I'm excited about Augmented Reality because unlike Virtual Reality which closes the world out, AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what's happening presently. Most people don't want to lock themselves out from the world for a long period of time and today you can't do that because you get sick from it. With AR you can, not be engrossed in something, but have it be a part of your world, of your conversation. That has resonance.
I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don't have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it's for everyone. I think AR is that big, it's huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives. And be entertaining. I view AR like I view the silicon here in my iPhone, it's not a product per se, it's a core technology. But there are things to discover before that technology is good enough for the mainstream. I do think there can be a lot of things that really help people out in daily life, real-life things, that's why I get so excited about it.
There's quite a bit to unpack here. First and foremost is that Cook sees AR as a better technology than VR. Whereas VR required the user to wear goggles or glasses of some description, an AR overlay can be applied to the world using, say, a smartphone's camera and display (think Pokémon Go).
Cook is quick to trash VR, claiming that people don't want to be isolated from the world in headsets, and that the technology can make people sick. These are the two biggest complaints related to VR and it's clear Apple sees them as showstoppers.
Another interesting tidbit here is that Cook sees AR as being for everyone, not part of a niche market such as gaming. His claims that AR is not a product are interesting, and seem to suggest strongly that AR would be part of something bigger rather than being something standalone. If Apple is going to roll AR into anything, it's the iPhone, because this is the ecosystem that Apple is most keen to expand.
The "I view AR like I view the silicon here in my iPhone" line is incredibly telling. It suggests that for Apple, the goal is to make AR as invisible to the end user as the processor and RAM in an iPhone. It's another tool for people to use, not an end result.
It's important to realize that AR doesn't have to mean glasses or goggles. A heads-up display in a car or holding up a smartphone and having the display show information on your surroundings are both valid examples of AR. On top of that, factor in how big the overall market for AR and VR currently is. There are a lot of companies making a lot of noise in these areas, but mainstream products are thin on the ground.
Apple's ecosystem currently revolves around the iPhone (yes, iPhone, not Mac). A new class of product that sits outside of this would be a distraction unless Apple were almost guaranteed of its success. Strategically, it doesn't make much sense for Apple to crowd the marketplace with a new product. It makes far more sense for Apple to bolt AR onto the iPhone as a new feature than try to carve out a new product line.
It's easy to think that Apple needs a new product to take the edge off the iPhone sales slump, and AR wearables are what the cool kids are all talking about, so it seems like a logical pick. But the flipside is that new products move the focus away from existing products, and this might not be such a clever move given that Apple wants people to be buying iPhones, since that's where the company's biggest chunk of dollars still comes from.
AR on the iPhone would also pave the way for a whole new line of apps and accessories.
How soon could AR appear as part of the iPhone? Given how much Apple has been talking about the technology lately, I wouldn't be surprised to see it unveiled as the flagship feature of the OLED iPhone 8.